The jailbreak at Nabha that saw gangsters and a militant escaping is a grim pointer to the state of affairs in poll-bound Punjab. In a state where the morale of the police is perhaps at its lowest ebb, law and order has gone for a toss as the state government tries to give unpalatable explanations for the happenings. The jailbreak also points to the free-run that the anti-social elements have in the state.
Like in several other cases, the jailbreak too is indicative of the state of the political and administrative machinery as it throws up more questions than answers.
First, how could the criminals carry operate so smoothly without any challenge from the police?
Second, those who fled from jail were waiting at close to the main entrance in a prison that has several layers of security. How was that possible?
Also, did the escapees have a live communication link with those who had come to set them free? Inmates in the past have used social media and mobile communication from within jail premises.
State of errors
A grim pointer to the deplorable situation is also the fact that in the Nabha case the Minister for Jails in the state, Sohan Singh Thandal, was nowhere to be seen after the matter came to light. There has been no statement from him yet.
It was Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal and the Director-General of Police Suresh Arora who came out to talk about the incident. The episode also puts a big question mark on the big talk about increasing security in the jails and reforms which Thandal has been making in the past.
The government, particularly Sukhbir who also happens to hold the Home portfolio, is once again trying to take refuge in its oft-repeated excuse that it might have been the Pakistani agency ISI trying to create trouble in the border state.
Sukhbir, along with Arora, paid a visit to Nabha jail in the aftermath of the incident, carrying out the exercise of instructing a comprehensive assessment regarding the security of all jails and strengthening security. They were trying to ascertain whether any member of the internal staff of the jail was involved in the incident or not.
Arora disclosed that the Punjab government has announced a reward of Rs. 25 lakh for anyone informing about the whereabouts of the culprits. The government is also going to form an SIT .
Sukhbir also suspended ADGP (Jails) MK Tewari and dismissed the superintendent and deputy superintendent of Nabha jail.
He went on to speak to the National Security Advisor Ajit Doval apprising him of the details of the incident while updating him on the steps being taken to apprehend the culprits.
The Parkash Singh Badal government has also ordered the constitution of an inquiry committee headed by Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Jagpal Singh Sandhu to look into the security lapses leading to this jailbreak.
Meanwhile, ADGP (Railways) Rohit Chaudhary has been posted as the new ADGP (Jails) while S Bhupati has been appointed as the new superintendent of Nabha High Security Jail.
Observers and experts, besides the Opposition parties, are finding the ISI angle being peddled by Sukhbir as unpalatable.
Former DGP (Prisons) Shashikant finds the involvement of ISI a 'ridiculous' explanation. "First the Pakistanis carried out the Dinanagar attack and we could not do anything. Then they carried out Pathankot attack and we stood helpless and now they have come down to the level of organising jailbreaks?" he asked sarcastically.
Shashikant said that the episode and the explanation has a political connotation as well.
"Since there was a Khalistani militant involved, they might be using this ISI explanation to divert the main issue of gangsters ruling the roost in the state," he said while pointing out that in the aftermath of the recent demonetisation ahead of the polls, the gangsters are all set to play an important role in the forthcoming Assembly elections.
It is a general perception among the politically aware in the state that the gangsters have political patronage and they are all set to be used in the upcoming polls.
They also pointed to an admission that Suresh Arora reportedly made - that there are no less than 52 gangs operational in Punjab. They also pointed to recent reports that more than 20,000 proclaimed offenders were at large in the state.
Shashikant told Catch News, "The morale of the police is at an all-time low ebb in the state. The Station House Officers (SHOs) are governed by local Halqa in-charges of the ruling party, the senior officers by MLAs and the top by the ministers. The most revealing part of the ongoing affairs is that the middle-rung officers like the Senior Superintendents of Police (SSPs) are now scared of SHOs who threaten to get them posted out to remote locations."
This low morale phenomenon can be looked at in the light of a recent incident where Punjab's rural development and panchayat minister Sikander Singh Maluka reportedly abused and threatened a police personnel at the venue of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's rally in Bathinda last week.
There were videos that went viral of the police official alleging that the minister's vehicle tried to run him over and that Maluka manhandled him.
Shashikant drew a parallel of this episode with the slapping of a policeman by a politician in Patiala in 1979 that had led to a police revolt.
Politicians VS the police
With polls being just a couple of months away, the issue has assumed political overtones with the Congress President Captain Amarinder Singh accusing the Badal-led Akalis of resorting to communal polarisation when faced with imminent defeat. They added that the jailbreak also pointed to such an attempt by the state government.
Reacting to the arrest of Khalistani militant Harminder Singh Mintoo who had fled along with five others from Nabha jail, Amarinder said the whole episode smells of a major plot crafted at the highest levels, which needs to be exposed.
He has sought that the case be jointly probed by CBI and IB, with support from Delhi Police.
He has also said that the ease of Mintoo's arrest belies Sukhbir's claims of a Pakistani role in the escape. Expressing serious apprehensions of violence and possible terrorist attacks in the poll-bound state, Amarinder reiterated his demand for imposition of President's Rule to ensure free and fair elections in Punjab.
Just after the news of jailbreak went out, Amarinder alleged connivance of the Badal government saying the incident had exposed a complete breakdown of law and order while triggering fears of a revival of terrorism ahead of the Assembly elections.
Aam Aadmi Party's (AAP) in-charge in Punjab, Sanjay Singh, demanded the resignation of Sukhbir and Thandal saying, "Be it the attack on a religious preacher Ranjit Singh Dhandrianwale, murder of Mata Chand Kaur of Namdhari sect in broad daylight, series of incidents of sacrilege, drug haul in Punjab, murder of RSS ideologue Brigadier (Retired) Jagdish Gagneja or Nabha jailbreak, Sukhbir Badal has completely failed as home minister."
He also said the Punjab Police, which is directly under the control of Sukhbir, has failed to respond effectively to the Nabha jailbreak as they killed an innocent 24-year-old girl at Samana and injured another as they chased the escaped gangsters.
"If Sukhbir Badal is right that Pakistan was indeed behind Nabha jailbreak, then Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh should also quit for failing to protect the international borders," Sanjay Singh said.
"Every time Sukhbir merely constitutes a SIT to put the issue under the carpet, but no such SIT has yielded results so far," pointed AAP's state convener Gurpreet Singh Waraich.
Not taking the barbs lying down, Sukhbir has launched a counter-offensive saying Amarinder is playing into the hands of anti-national forces by making wild and malicious allegations against the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP government instead of rallying with the government to corner and confront such forces.
"I understand your frustration. Your career graph is on the downhill since the last ten years. Even now you have been cornered in the party by the senior leadership which has even forced you to change your political decisions. All this, however, does not mean that you lose stability of mind and make wild statements like the government wanted to use the terrorists and gangsters in the forthcoming elections. You have been out of the state mostly but Punjabis know that it is the SAD-BJP government which struck a death knell to the gangsters in the state and put all of them behind bars. Our stand on terrorism is clear. We will not allow Pakistan to create any disturbance in Punjab by using terrorist organisations and their sympathisers," he said.
"Any senior politician or statesman would have stood with Punjab and Punjabis at this crucial juncture. But it seems you have been so blinded by the lust of power that you are unable to see the welfare of your own people and do not want to stand up and be counted with those who are against terror and terrorism," Sukhbir added in his tirade against Amarinder.