Chandigarh: The Bhagwant Mann-led government in Punjab seems to have shot itself in the foot with an order passed earlier this month, authorising the police to take action against those found to be glorifying the use of firearms on social media.
On 13 November, Punjab’s home department had issued detailed orders to curb the growing gun culture in Punjab. The instructions included a complete ban on the display of weapons in public, as well as on the glorification of firearms on social media and in songs.
However, the execution of the order has brought both embarrassment and criticism for the Mann government.
Days after the state police drew flak for booking a 10-year-old child for an old photo of him posing with an alleged toy gun, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Punjab is being criticised by opposition leaders like Bikram Singh Majithia and Amrinder Singh Raja Warring for it and for allegedly falling back on its order and not acting against party leaders whose armed photos are purportedly doing the rounds of social media.
In what must have come as an embarrassment to the AAP government, one of the photos being referred to by the opposition is that of the CM himself, possibly dating back to the time when he was in showbiz. Mann had been a stand-up comedian and had also participated in The Great Indian Laughter Challenge on television, before turning his attention to politics.
The other person whose purported social media images are haunting the party in power in Punjab is cabinet minister Anmol Gagan Maan.
For the second consecutive day Wednesday, senior Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader Bikram Singh Majithia challenged Punjab director general of police (DGP) Gaurav Yadav to take action against Maan, alleging that photos, where she is seen posing with weapons, were available for anyone to see on various social media platforms.
Majithia also posted a photo, purportedly of Maan, where the cabinet minister is seen dressed in a police costume and holding a revolver.
Majithia wrote: “ASLI @DGPPunjabPolice KON ? AJE TAK PHOTO DELETE NA KARN WALI @AnmolGaganMann ? Ja ORDER DEN WALE @DGPPunjabPolice ? 4 DIN BAAD V KOI KARWAI NAI ? DOHRA MAPDAND KIYON ? AAM PUBLIC LAI FIR PARCHE KYON ? @BhagwantMann A Law NAI BADLAW (ਬਦਲਾਵ ) HAI?” (Who is the real DGP Punjab? Anmol Gagan Maan who has not deleted her pictures till now? Or the DGP who gave the orders? Why different interpretation of rules for different people? Why FIRs for the common public? Bhagwant Mann is this a law or the promised change?)
ASLI @DGPPunjabPolice KON ? AJE TAK PHOTO DELETE NA KARN WALI @AnmolGaganMann ? Ja ORDER DEN WALE @DGPPunjabPolice ? 4 DIN BAAD V KOI KARWAI NAI ? DOHRA MAPDAND KIYON ? AAM PUBLIC LAI FIR PARCHE KYON ? @BhagwantMann A Law NAI BADLAW (ਬਦਲਾਵ ) HAI ? pic.twitter.com/0ECArh7Q2i
— Bikram Singh Majithia (@bsmajithia) November 30, 2022
A day earlier, Majithia had in a video message asked the DGP to act against Maan in the same way that the police had acted against others for glorifying weapons on their social media platforms.
ਅੱਜ ਲੱਗ ਜਾਊ ਪਤਾ, ਕਿ ਕਾਨੂੰਨ ਸਿਰਫ਼ ਆਮ ਆਦਮੀ ਲਈ ਹੈ ਕਿ ਖਾਸ ਆਦਮੀ ਲਈ ਤੇ ਵੀ ਪਰਚਾ ਹੋਵੇਗਾ?
ਜਾਂ ਮੰਤਰੀ ਲਈ ਕਾਨੂੰਨ ਵੱਖਰਾ ਤੇ ਸੰਤਰੀ ਲਈ ਵੱਖਰਾ ? @DGPPunjabPolice @BhagwantMann @PunjabPoliceInd @PunjabGovtIndia @AnmolGaganMann @CMOPb pic.twitter.com/NrBZQilR43
— Bikram Singh Majithia (@bsmajithia) November 29, 2022
A Punjabi language singer and member of legislative assembly (MLA) from Kharar, Maan has a huge following on Instagram and regularly posts photos.
While some of the photos flagged by Majithia, purportedly dating back to 2016, were reportedly removed by Maan’s team within hours of the SAD leader’s comments, there still appear to be some photos of her posing with arms available on social media.
Earlier, on Sunday, Majithia had tweeted a photo of Mann where the Punjab CM is seen carrying a gun. The image appeared to be a screengrab dating back to Mann’s time on television.
Mittran nu shonk hathiaran da?
ਪਰ ਪਰਚੇ ਬੱਚਿਆਂ ਤੇ ਹੋ ਰਹੇ ਨੇ 🤔 @BhagwantMann pic.twitter.com/81vHcdWtlf
— Bikram Singh Majithia (@bsmajithia) November 27, 2022
“Mittran nu shonk hathiaran da? Par parche bachiyan te ho rahe ne. (My friend is fond of weapons? But children are being booked)” wrote Majithia, with the image.
Majithia is not the only opposition leader training their gun on the AAP administration in Punjab for the gaps in the on-ground execution of its gun order. Congress chief Amrinder Singh Raja Warring too has taken to Twitter last week to criticise the Amritsar police for booking a 10-year-old child over a social media image.
Dealing firmly against gun culture is welcome.But police should exercise restraint in dealing with children, as happened in Tarn Taran where it booked a 10 yr old.
Kids should better be counselled in such matters.
I urge @BhagwantMann & @DGPPunjabPolice to cancel the FIR. pic.twitter.com/lJSik2jzV8
— Amarinder Singh Raja Warring (@RajaBrar_INC) November 25, 2022
Addressing a press conference Tuesday IG headquarters Sukhchain Singh Gill, who is also the Punjab police spokesperson, told the media that the FIR against that child had been cancelled and departmental action taken against the errant cop.
When asked about cabinet minister Maan’s purported social media images that show her posing with guns, Gill said he was not aware of any such thing.
The Punjab government order had come in the wake of the killing of Shiv Sena (Taksali) leader Sudhir Suri on 4 November and Dera Sacha Sauda follower Pardeep Singh on 10 November. Both had been shot. Earlier this year, singer-rapper and Congress leader Sidhu Moose Wala was also shot dead in Punjab’s Mansa.
Also read: Finding Channi: Punjab ex-CM still in US, writing PhD thesis on Congress poll strategy
Reinterpreting the order
Meanwhile, Punjab police and administration — under attack for the way its been acting on the home department’s orders — have been trying to reinterpret the government missive.
On Sunday, the police put a halt in its crackdown on those found to be posing with weapons on social media images and instead requested the public to voluntarily remove all such pictures from their social media platforms, allowing 72 hours for it.
Appeal to Everyone to voluntarily remove any objectionable content from their Social Media handles in the next 72 hours.
CM Punjab has directed that no FIRs for glorifying weapons will be registered for the next 3 days in Punjab to allow people to remove content on their own. pic.twitter.com/JwkrYVhN3N
— DGP Punjab Police (@DGPPunjabPolice) November 26, 2022
The police have also diluted the original order, which included a complete ban even on the display of weapons, limiting itself to action against only the glorification of weapons on social media.
#PunjabPolice conducted a massive state-level Cordon & Search Operations (CASO) in all 28 Police districts led by @DGPPunjabPolice.
District-level operation led by ADGP/IGP rank officers from 11am to 4pm across #Punjab#PunjabPoliceCASO pic.twitter.com/56qqUDlJA3
— Punjab Police India (@PunjabPoliceInd) November 15, 2022
.@PunjabPoliceInd will commence an extensive 90-day drive against illegal arms.
In case of hate speech against any community, FIRs will be registered and strict legal action will be taken. #StopHateSpeech pic.twitter.com/pcNVo8G3Jm
— DGP Punjab Police (@DGPPunjabPolice) November 20, 2022
“We have to go by the intention behind the display of a weapon. A person is free to carry a licensed weapon, but it should not be misused. It can be used only for an act of self defence. While carrying a licensed weapon the licensee should ensure that a small weapon like a revolver should always be kept in its holster. We understand that there is no option in case a weapon is large which has to be carried as it is,” Gill said Tuesday.
The state police had registered as many as 137 FIRs between 13 November and Sunday, against those allegedly displaying firearms in public. Last week, the police had also come under attack after a social media influencer couple was booked for posting their pictures with what they claimed were toy guns.
Taking to the media Tuesday, Gill said the police had learnt a lesson because of the episode of the 10-year-old boy and station house officers have since been instructed to ensure that proper investigation is carried out before any person is booked for posting a picture with a weapon on social media.
Alleged disparity in action
Majithia in a message to the DGP Tuesday asked, however, whether the Punjab police will take action against Maan if her purported photos are not removed at the end of 72 hours.
A day earlier, the SAD leader had demanded action against those who he claimed were going around brandishing weapons to instill fear among people.
Addressing a press conference in Mukerian, Majithia alleged police inaction in such cases.
Earlier this month, the leader had openly attacked Sikh preacher Amritpal Singh Sandhu for traveling across Punjab and addressing gatherings espousing the cause of Khalistan, flanked by heavily armed men.
Warring had also highlighted Sandhu’s free run across the state in the company of armed men.
On 18 November, Warring had posted a video of Sandhu and his supporters who had reached Moga city for a public meeting, armed with weapons.
People are ‘cocking a snook’ at @AAPPunjab government’s orders banning public display of weapons, including in songs. Here people are openly defying the ban in Moga by openly carrying weapons. Does the will of government really run anywhere in Punjab?” wrote Warring.
Cock a snook'!
People are 'cocking a snook' at @AAPPunjab government's orders banning public display of weapons, including in songs.
Here people are openly defying the ban in Moga by openly carrying weapons.
Does the will of government really run anywhere in Punjab? pic.twitter.com/6wO3abt8g5
— Amarinder Singh Raja Warring (@RajaBrar_INC) November 18, 2022
The Congress leader later also posted a photo of Sandhu carrying a weapon, and posing with an armed supporter.
“We welcome & appreciate baptising youth & bringing them close to Sikhi, but for Gurus’ sake don’t promote weapons which will eventually lead to violence. We have already paid heavy price. Those horrible memories are still haunting us. Please don’t push Punjab again into dark era (SIC),”wrote Warring.
We welcome & appreciate baptising youth & bringing them close to Sikhi, but for Gurus' sake don't promote weapons which will eventually lead to violence.
We have already paid heavy price. Those horrible memories are still haunting us. Please don't push Punjab again into dark era. pic.twitter.com/JUFSL76Lq7
— Amarinder Singh Raja Warring (@RajaBrar_INC) November 21, 2022
While one of Sandhu’s aide was booked on 22 November for exhibiting weapons on social media, no action has been taken yet against anyone in the leader’s retinue for displaying weapons in public.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)
Also read: Khalistan ideologue Amritpal’s onward march in Punjab, guns & all, aims to ‘spread Sikhism’