Sidhu Moose Wala Murder: There Is a Bigger Picture to Punjab's Gang Wars
Moose Wala's murder is being attributed to a rivalry between Bishnoi & Bambiha gangs. But there's a larger context.
The main theory that the Punjab Police appears to be working with, in the murder of internationally renowned Punjabi singer Sidhu Moose Wala, is that he was killed as part of a rivalry between two gangs in Punjab – the Lawrence Bishnoi gang (which includes Lucky Brar) and the Davinder Bambiha gang, presently led by Lucky Patial.
Moose Wala's murder is being projected as part of a series of killings between the two gangs that may have begun with the death of sarpanch Ravi Khwajke in 2016 and included the murders of Lavi Deora in 2017, Gurlal Brar in 2020, Gurlal Pehlwan and Vicky Middukhera in 2021, and Sandeep Nangal Ambiya in 2022.
The Delhi Police Special Cell is also closely involved in the case and has put forth its explanation of how the murder was carried out, given its knowledge of the Lawrence Bishnoi gang and the fact that the leader is presently in Delhi's Tihar Jail in connection with an MCOCA case handled by it. More on that here.
Two questions arise:
Was the killing purely a result of the tussle between the Bishnoi and Bambiha gangs?
Why was Moose Wala targeted even though – by the Punjab Police's own admission – he had nothing to do with any gang?
While we are not questioning the Punjab Police or Delhi Police Special Cell's theory, we believe that to understand these two questions, we may need to look at a broader chronology of gang violence in Punjab.
We will try and outline this chronology by briefly looking at the lives of some of the key gangsters who have operated in Punjab, particularly in the western Malwa districts of Ferozepur, Fazilka, Faridkot, Sri Muktsar Sahib, and Bathinda.
We begin the story with Sidhu Moose Wala's song 'Malwa Block', which contained a reference to Punjab's first major gangster – Dimpy Chandbhan.
"Industry Cho Thukk Salman Wargi
6 Foot’an Chheni 12 Bore Warga
Ni Teddi Pagg Banne Dimpy Chand Bhan Wargi"
(...In the music industry, fame is like Salman Khan
Height is 6 feet, like a semi-automatic 12 bore gun
Wears a tilted turban like Dimpy Chandbhan)
The story of organised gangs in Punjab is said to have begun with Prabhjinder Singh Dimpy of Faridkot district's Chandbhan village – aka Dimpy Chandbhan. His name had come up in connection with the murder of a Panjab University student leader called Makhan Singh in 1985, but he wasn't convicted for it.
Chandbhan was a student leader who allegedly had close links to the Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) of Simranjeet Singh Mann. Mann's party performed well in the 1989 Lok Sabha elections and was said to emerge as a major force in Punjab politics.
But the subsequent suspension of elections in Punjab and a brutal police crackdown constrained the rise of Mann's party. Chandbhan's political career was also cut short and he had to flee the state and take refuge in Uttar Pradesh, where he came into contact with figures like Mukhtar Ansari.
He faced extortion and kidnapping charges in Uttar Pradesh and was later arrested in Karnataka for planning the abduction of a diamond trader.
He was brought to Delhi and then Haryana but escaped from police custody, only to be re-arrested a few years later in another case.
When Dimpy Chandbhan was finally released from Bathinda Jail in 2004, over 500 vehicles were said to have gathered to receive him.
He was gunned down near Lake Club in Chandigarh in 2006. His former aide Jaswinder Singh Rocky aka Rocky Fazilka was accused of getting Chandbhan killed, though he was later acquitted in court.
Rocky Fazilka initially worked closely with Dimpy Chandbhan but later formed his own gang with Shera Khuban, Jaipal, and Vicky Gounder, carrying out kidnappings and extortion. With real estate booming in Punjab after 2000 and industries reviving after the easing of the conflict, it also became a boom time for gangsters like Rocky Fazilka.
Rocky also was jailed along with Chandbhan for planning the kidnapping of Nirmal Jaipuria in Bengaluru. He is said to have escaped jail in Haryana with Chandbhan but the duo fell out soon after their return to Punjab.
Rocky dominated Punjab's organised crime scene after Chandbhan's killing. He later moved away from criminal activities and towards politics, though he continued to control key gangsters like Lakha Sidhana and Lawrence Bishnoi.
However, he fell out with his previous associates like Shera Khubban and Vicky Gounder, who joined hands with Jaipal Singh, accused of highway robberies.
During this period, Rocky Fazilka also grew close to liquor baron Shiv Lal Doda and the Shiromani Akali Dal. Rocky and Doda both veered towards politics, making Fazilka and Abohar their turfs respectively. Rocky was also said to have been close to senior Akali leader Sher Singh Ghubaya, a key leader of the Rai Sikh community, now with the Congress.
After the 2011 floods, Rocky is said to have helped with relief efforts in the Fazilka district.
Rocky contested the 2012 elections as an Independent from Fazilka but lost narrowly to the BJP's Surjit Kumar Jyani. Though the SAD was a BJP ally then, many of their cadres were said to have been backing Rocky.
Matters got so serious that Sukhbir Badal even had to threaten those campaigning for Rocky with expulsion. Doda contested from Abohar but lost narrowly to Sunil Kumar Jakhar, who was then with the Congress.
Rocky later fell out with Doda and campaigned against him after his name came up in a case of murder of a Dalit youth Bhim Tank.
Rocky Fazilka was killed in 2016 in a dramatic fashion at Parwanoo in Himachal Pradesh when he was on his way from Solan to Chandigarh. Both Vicky Gounder and Jaipal took credit for the killing on social media, terming it as revenge for the encounter of Shera Khubban who was killed in a police encounter in 2012, after being allegedly tipped off by Rocky's associates.
"Did you become an MLA now?" Gounder wrote on his Facebook page, a taunt about Rocky Fazilka's political ambitions.
Besides his foray into politics, Rocky Fazilka also had immense faith in godmen and used to host many of them in his massive house in Fazilka. Rocky's sister Rajdeep Kaur is taking forward his political legacy. She initially joined the SAD and later the Congress. She is currently with Captain Amarinder Singh's Punjab Lok Congress.
Gounder was born as Harjinder Singh Bhullar in Sarawan Bodla village in Sri Muktsar Sahib district. He became a state-level discus thrower and some say the moniker 'Gounder' got attached to his nickname Vicky as he spent a lot of time in the playground.
Sent to the Government Arts and Sports College, Jalandhar, by his father so that he could become a professional athlete, Gounder came into contact with criminals Lovely Baba, Prema Lahoriya, and Sukha Kahlwan in the city. In 2010, Kahlwan killed Lovely Baba and Gounder, and Lahoriya swore revenge. They killed Kahlwan 5 years later in Phagwara in 2015.
Interestingly, Lahoriya was also a former sportsperson – a hurdles athlete – before turning to crime.
In 2016, Prema became a key planner in the Nabha jailbreak in which Gounder escaped along with gangsters Gurpreet Sekhon, Neeta Deol, and Amandeep Dhotian, as well as pro-Khalistan militants Harimder Mintoo and Kashmir Singh Galwandi.
The jailbreak made Gounder and his associates among the most wanted gangsters of Punjab, especially with Jaipal Singh – the leader of Gounder's gang – going underground soon after the killing of Rocky Fazilka.
Gounder and Lahoriya were killed in an encounter near the Punjab-Rajasthan border in 2018. Their gang is presently being led by Gurpreet Sekhon Mundki, who is in jail.
Another key person is Ramanjit Romi, who is presently in jail in Hong Kong and facing extradition. The police have also accused him of being involved in the targeted killing of two Hindutva leaders in Punjab and of functioning as a link between Punjab gangsters and Pakistan's ISI.
Romi, in his defence in Hong Kong, said that these allegations were false and that the Indian government was targeting him for being a "young Sikh supporting the idea of Khalistan."
Jaipal Singh Bhullar
Jaipal Singh Bhullar was the son of a policeman, and like Gounder and Lahoriya, he too was an athlete – a national level hammer thrower. He joined a government-run sports academy in Ludhiana in 2003. He committed his first crime in Ludhiana in 2004 with the kidnapping of a cinema hall owner's son.
His claim to fame was a spree of high-profile robberies. After splitting with Rocky Fazilka, Jaipal formed his own gang along with Shera Khubban, Vicky Gounder, Prema Lahoriya, Gurpreet Sekhon, and others.
After Rocky's death, Bhullar took to Facebook to claim credit for the killing, terming it revenge for the killing of Khubban.
However, unlike Gounder who gained prominence after Rocky's killing, Jaipal is said to have gone underground. Even on social media, Jaipal Singh's posts became extremely irregular after claiming credit for Rocky's killing.
However, in 2017, he was said to have masterminded a Rs 1.33 crore robbery in Himachal Pradesh's Banur.
He once again increased his activity in Punjab in 2020, with a robbery of 30 kg of gold in Ludhiana. In May 2021, Jaipal and three of his accomplices were booked for allegedly killing two policemen at Jagraon near Ludhiana.
Bhullar was gunned down in an encounter in Kolkata in June 2021 in a joint operation of the Punjab and West Bengal Police.
Lawrence Bishnoi was born in Dhattaranwali in Punjab's Ferozpur district (now in Fazilka district) to a well-off family, and studied at DAV College, Chandigarh. He was also the president of the Student Organisation of Panjab University (SOPU) over a decade ago. He belongs to the Bishnoi community, which is present in a higher concentration in Rajasthan.
He has a sizable following in his community. Along with Sampat Nehra, he is said to have planned to kill Bollywood actor Salman Khan in retaliation to the blackbuck case as the Bishnoi community holds blackbucks in high regard.
Bishnoi expanded his group across north India, forming key alliances with Kala Jathedi and Subbe Gujjar in Haryana, Anand Pal Singh in Rajasthan, and Jitender Gogi in Delhi.
Bishnoi, 30, was arrested in 2016, and is accused of at least two dozen cases ranging from murder, attempt to murder, trespassing, assault, extortion, and robbery, among others. After his arrest, Bishnoi was lodged in Rajasthan’s Bharatpur jail but was moved to Delhi’s Mandoli jail a year ago in connection with a Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) case. He was later shifted to Delhi’s Tihar Jail, where he is currently lodged.
While Bishnoi and his main aides are in prison, another aide of his, Goldy Brar – who allegedly took responsibility for the high-profile murder via a purported Facebook post – is said to be in Canada. As per the purported Facebook post, Moose Wala was targeted allegedly to "avenge the death of Vicky Middukhera," a Youth Akali Dal leader who was killed in August 2021.
Davinder Bambiha was born as Davinder Singh Sidhu in the Bambiha Bhai village in Moga district. He was good at studies and was also a kabaddi player. He was sent to jail after his name came up in a murder that took place during a local brawl. He met several gangsters in jail and formed his own gang by the time he was barely 21.
In a very short period of time, Bambiha and his associates gained prominence with a spree of crimes.
Bambiha didn't just commit crimes, he also liked boasting about them on social media.
"If you can't account for a murder in this area, then put it down in my name," he is rumoured to have said.
In September 2016, Bambiha was killed in an encounter by the police near Rampura Phul in the Bathinda district.
The Bambiha gang was independent of the other major gangs of the time – be it Rocky Fazilka, Jaipal, or Lawrence Bishnoi. But his gang is known to have a "relationship of mutual respect" with Vicky Gounder.
The Bambiha gang continues to operate first under Dilpreet Baba and Sukhpreet 'Budha' and now Armenia-based gangster Gaurav 'Lucky' Patial assuming greater prominence.
In Delhi and Haryana, gangsters Neeraj Bawana and Tillu Tajpuria work closely with the Bambiha gang, which also has an alliance with the Kaushal Chaudhary gang in the region.
As reported earlier, the Bambiha gang is a direct rival of the crime syndicate headed by Lawrence Bishnoi and there have been a series of killings between the two sides, including people not directly associated with the gangs.
It is not clear when the rivalry between the two gangs began exactly.
But the killing of sarpanch Ravi Khwajke in 2016 allegedly by the Bambiha gang and Lavi Deora allegedly by the Bishnoi gang in 2017 are said to have been the first acts of violence between them.
The other murders in this series are said to have been Gurlal Brar in 2020, Youth Congress leader Gurlal Pehlwan and Youth Akali leader Vicky Middukhera in 2021, and kabaddi player Sandeep Nangal Ambiya in 2022.
Ambiya was a key star in the Kabaddi League organised by Jaggu Bhagwanpuria, the Bishnoi gang's ally in the Majha region of Punjab.
The murder of Sidhu Moose Wala is being attributed as part of this gang war, though he had no direct relation to the Bambiha gang.
When Moose Wala released the song 'Bamibha Bole' along with Amrit Mann, some did allege that this was a tribute to Davinder Bambiha. However, this could have been pure conjecture as well.
Dilpreet Baba of the Bambiha gang, along with another gangster Harwinder Rinda, is said to have been behind the attack on singer Parmish Verma in 2018.
They are said to have parted ways after the attack. Originally from Tarn Taran, Rinda's family moved to Nanded in Maharashtra.
According to the police, Rinda is now in Pakistan. They accuse him of being involved in the murder of a relative in Tarn Taran when he was just 18. In Nanded too, he got involved in extortion and is alleged to have killed two people. The cases in Maharashtra forced him to return to Punjab. Along with his relatives Harjinder Singh and Dilpreet, Rinda reportedly has three cases of murder and extortion against him.
The police believe that Rinda is involved in the attack on the Crime Investigation Agency office in Nawanshahr in November 2021. His name also came up in connection with the grenade attack in Mohali last month as well as the arrest of men with IEDs in Karnal. However, both cases are still being probed and the allegations against Rinda in all three cases cannot be confirmed.
What Does All This Tell Us About the Moose Wala Murder?
Now, it is quite possible that Moose Wala was indeed killed because the Bishnoi-Brar gang believed that he was somehow involved in the murder of Vicky Middukhera. However, we need to keep in mind the larger context.
Moose Wala's killing has happened at a time when the Bishnoi crime syndicate is in the process of establishing itself as the dominant player in organised crime in North India.
The elimination of a number of its rivals in police encounters – Shera Khubban, Davinder Bambiha, Vicky Gounder, Prema Lahoriya, and Jaipal Bhullar – has also worked to the advantage of Bishnoi and his associates.
Though the Bishnoi gang has also suffered through arrests such as that of Bishnoi himself, Kala Jathedi, and Sampat Nehra, it has seen comparatively lesser police encounters than its rivals like the Jaipal-Gounder and Bambiha gangs. The encounter of Ankit Bhadu is an exception in this regard.
Another aspect is that the one set of Bishnoi rivals – such as Ramanjit Romi and Harwinder Rinda – are also accused by the security agencies of being involved with Pakistan's ISI and, therefore, face closer scrutiny from a variety of agencies.
Despite this, the Bishnoi gang is nowhere near the kind of mainstream support a figure like Rocky Fazilka received.
Now, the group is likely to face more heat, at least in Punjab, due to the anger following Moose Wala's murder. There will be a great deal of public pressure on the state government and police to act tough against the Bishnoi gang.
Not surprisingly, Bishnoi is resisting all attempts by the Punjab Police to bring him back to the state, and considers himself safer in Delhi.
The other space to watch out for is the possibility of rival gangs like Bambiha and Gounder gangs indulging in retaliatory killings. Singer Mankirat Aulakh has already received threats.
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