After getting the Facebook account of gangster-turned-activist Lakha Sidhana disabled, security agencies in Punjab are now confronted by a plethora of accounts and pages operated directly or indirectly by gangsters for ‘disseminating their message’ through social media. According to police, about 100 such FB accounts/pages handles exist that are run either by gangsters or by their close aides.
Pages of these gangsters even carry messages on the ongoing farmer’s agitation, some even calling for an ‘armed struggle’ to assist the farmers. “There is already an apprehension that extremist elements are trying to take over the agitation. Use of these Facebook pages and social media accounts can come handy,” said an intelligence officer.
Some even use their accounts to openly own up criminal acts. For instance, gangster Sukha Gill, few months ago, ‘announced’ through his FB account that his gang members had gunned down a Dera follower in Bathinda. Though his account was disabled by the police, days later, he surfaced using another account. Another gang recently owned up responsibility for killing Shaurya Chakra awardee Balwinder Singh Bhikhiwind in Tarn Taran through a Facebook post. Yet again another account sprang up after this one was disabled.
This is where the challenge lies, say police officers. “It’s a sea of accounts out there. You disable one, they come up with another disseminating message to their followers,” said a police officer.
Even in the case of Lakha, police suspect that new accounts will surface through which the fugitive gangster-turned-activist could relay his message.
Some gangsters operate social media pages even while in detention. A Ludhiana gangster even issued a ‘statement’ on one such page denying a particular extortion bid by his gang. Another Patiala gangster intermittently used his page to send out messages that ‘he was alive and kicking’.
Some of the Facebook accounts of these gangsters exist even several years after they were killed in encounters. Gangsters like Devinder Bambiha and Prema Lahoria were killed in encounters few years ago, but their pages continue to remain active. On his Facebook page, Bambiha is celebrated as a “youth lion” and “son of soil”.
Some pages even provide an insight into the lives of the gangsters. “These gangsters bombard the online world with their ideology, their carefree attitude, and no fear of law. In fact, these pages act as potential recruiting grounds for impressionable minds,” another police officer said.