Last week when Assistant Sub-Inspector (ASI) Ravinderpal Singh of the Punjab Police was shot dead in Amritsar by a worker of the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), the incident provoked widespread outrage across the nation. Within Punjab though, there is a sense of déjà vu , because, increasing incidents of lawlessness by ruling party workers, in the last couple of years has become a given.

Less than two months ago, 19-year-old Nishan Singh from a well connected family of Faridkot, abducted the 15-year-old daughter of a businessman in broad daylight, after beating up her parents. Singh, who has links with SAD was assisted by half-a-dozen goons. It took days of dharnas by Faridkot residents, in which two leaders from the ruling Akali — Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance also participated, for the police to nab the accused. Faridkot town remained closed for two days.

In the last few days alone, a traffic constable was attacked by the relative of an Akali leader in Gurdaspur and, on Saturday, an Akali leader and his goons opened fire in Muktsar district and an Akali sarpanch in Ajnala has been booked for a murder. Even earlier, similar cases involving Akali activists had been reported. The sense of anger is not just confined to these incidents, but stems from a move of the SAD-BJP government to make their legislators and, in constituencies where there are none, the defeated candidates as the ilaqua in charge of their constituencies.

This coincided with delimitation of police stations in April 2010 in which jurisdiction was reorganised based on Assembly constituencies. Though this was done ostensibly for better administrative efficiency, it meant top police officials of a constituency informally reporting to the ilaqua in charge.

Joginder Dayal, national executive member of the Communist Party of India, said, “This system of giving them informal charge of the police and revenue machinery in a constituency is creating lawlessness. They decide which DSP or tehsildar to post in their areas, because of which the chain of command in the police districts has collapsed.”

The situation has provoked Manpreet Badal, estranged nephew of Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and leader of the Sanjha Morcha, to say “the jathedar-thanedaar-tehsildar nexus in Punjab has to be broken for law and order to be restored in the State.”

This explains the outcry not only from Opposition parties, but also some BJP leaders wanting a check on Akali workers. The Sanjha Morcha, which comprises Mr. Manpreet Badal’s People’s Party of Punjab and the Left parties, began a weeklong demonstration on Wednesday against criminalisation of ruling party workers at district headquarters.

Following the outrage over the ASI Ravinder Pal’s killing, SAD has initiated an exercise to get all its party workers screened by the police’s Criminal Investigation Department. The police are also checking indiscipline in their ranks. In the last two months, six officers have been suspended on this score.

Conscious of the impact criminal incidents could have on the party's image, Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal has set in motion a damage control exercise wherein those policemen held guilty of not reacting to the ASI’s appeal for help, or running away when trouble started, are being punished. Mr. Sukhbir Singh Badal is the Home Minister and Opposition parties have been calling for his resignation following the ASI's killing.