New Delhi: While the entire country remains under a lockdown to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus, a group of Punjab policemen were found accompanying controversial pop singer Shubhdeep Singh Sidhu, aka Sidhu Moosewala, while he practised how to fire a deadly AK-47 assault rifle and moved freely between districts. Ironically, Punjab was the first state to announce a curfew to fight COVID-19.
After a 40-second TikTok video of the singer practising with the rifle in the company of police personnel at Badbar village near Dhanaula in Barnala district went viral, three social activists – advocate Hakam Singh, Parvinder Singh Kitna and Kuldeep Singh Khehra – sent a complaint to Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh and state Director General of Police (DGP) Dinkar Gupta on May 4.
In response to the complaint, the Punjab police quickly lodged a First Information Report (FIR) against Moosewala and eight police personnel at Dhanaula police station on May 4 itself, in what was seen as a face-saving exercise. The police personnel include a sub-inspector, two head constables, two constables and two others seen with Moosewala in the video. The charges applied in the FIR were Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Section 51 of the Disaster Management Act. These charges effectively pertain to violating the lockdown order and related punishments, and are bailable offences.
A second FIR was lodged on May 5, after a second, 57-second video emerged of Moosewala firing a pistol at the Punjab police’s makeshift shooting range at Ladda Kothi, near Dhuri in Sangrur district. The same charges were applied against Moosewala and the same policemen in the second FIR. Allegedly, the policemen had been with Moosewala at Ladda Kothi and also accompanied him to open fields at Badbar village to try out the AK-47 rifle.
The policemen charged are all from lower ranks. A departmental inquiry has been ordered by the Punjab police top brass to find out whether they acted alone in aiding the singer, or with the knowledge of their senior officer, in this instance DSP Daljit Singh Virk, posted at Sangrur district police headquarters. DSP Virk has not been named in the FIR.
The Punjab police issued a press statement on behalf of DGP Gupta on May 5, confirming that the cops visible in the video and later booked in the case reported to DSP Virk. “The DGP took a stern view of the DSP’s act of deputing police personnel attached with him at the shooting range unauthorisedly and acting in a manner unbecoming of an officer,” the statement said. “The Punjab police headquarters has moved a reference to the state home department for initiating departmental inquiry against DSP Daljit Singh Virk,” the police spokesman further stated.
The complaint filed by Singh, Kitna and Khehra that led to the FIRs raised many questions. “Who are these police personnel and where are they deployed and what is the place where the weapon is being used?” the activists had asked.
Raising a question about whether the AK-47 assault rifle was issued to any of the serving cops visible in the video, the complainants asked, “Under what rules can a police officer/employee hand over his weapon to a civilian (against whom a case of promoting gun culture is pending before the court)?”
“All the relevant documents pertaining to the weapon should be brought on record,” the complaint further stated.
The complainants are also concerned about the bailable charges filed in the FIR. “It is inappropriate on the part of the police not to include the Arms Act in the FIR, despite the fact that the accused persons were clearly firing rounds from the AK-47 assault rifle,” whistleblower advocate Hakam Singh told The Wire. “We will move the (Punjab and Haryana) high court if the relevant sections of the Arms Act are not added in the FIR,” he said.
“Such an offence is very serious and non-bailable and, if we recollect, (Bollywood star) Sanjay Dutt was arrested and was not given a bail for merely possessing an AK-47 assault rifle,” Singh pointed out.
When asked why the Arms Act has not been applied in the FIR, Barnala Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Sandeep Goel told The Wire, “The matter is under investigation, all these things will be looked into”
Moosewala, whose songs have made him widely popular among the youth, is already on bail in a case pertaining to accusations of promoting violence and gun culture in his songs. That FIR was registered three months ago on February 1, against Moosewala and co-accused Mankirat Aulakh, at a police station in Moosewala’s home district, Mansa. The charges include IPC sections 294 (punishment for committing obscene act in public), 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace) and 149 (unlawful assembly). The three activists have also sought cancellation of Moosewala’s bail in this earlier case.
DGP Gupta had recently attracted controversy by tweeting a song video by Moosewala, in which the latter allegedly vilified deceased preacher Baldev Singh, the first COVID-19 casualty in Punjab, who had returned from a two-week foreign trip, did not follow self-quarantine and attended the Hola Mohalla festival from March 11-13, which was also attended by tens of thousands of people. The video, which carried a Punjab police logo, was later removed from the DGP’s Twitter account.
Another instance of Moosewala enjoying the patronage of the Punjab police can be seen in a video posted on Facebook on April 24 by Mansa district police, showing Mansa SSP Narinder Bhargava taking the singer along with him on a police public relations exercise, which involved delivering a birthday cake to a serving doctor in Mansa. The police press note mentioned Moosewala’s name along with the SSP in honouring the doctor for treating COVID-19 patients.
Prabhjit Singh is a freelance journalist with extensive experience covering Punjab and Haryana.