The video is still live on his YouTube page, one of the last he uploaded, and has at least 14 million views. On May 15, Sidhu Moosewala released a song called “Last Ride”, a tribute to rapper Tupac Shakur, the American rapper who was shot dead in his car in 1996 at the age of 25. The song’s cover photo is of the Tupac vehicle he was traveling that day, and has the lyrics “Ho chobbar de chehre utte noor dassda, ni ehda uthuga jawani ch janaja mithiye (The glow on this young man’s face shows that ‘he will die young).” Two weeks later, in a planned attack on Sunday evening, Moosewala, 29, was dead, his body slumped at the wheel of a bullet-riddled black Mahindra jeep. The song could well have been the chronicle of an announced death.
Hours after his murder, Punjab Police DGP VK Bhawra said it was a fallout of gang rivalry, with members of the Lawrence Bishnoi gang saying they carried out the murder as an act of revenge for the murder of Vicky Middukhera, an Akali. Dal Youth Wing leader, for whom they held Moosewala responsible. Although it was the first murder of a singer in Punjab since the end of militancy three decades ago, the attack shone a spotlight on the dark underbelly of the Punjabi music industry, their affinity for violence and firearms in their eminently popular music, and its relationship with organized groups. criminality.
The Rise of Moosewala
The rise of Shubdeep Singh Sidhu, better known by his stage name Sidhu Moosewala, has been nothing short of meteoric. In 2016, after completing an electrical engineering course in Punjab, Moosewala moved to Canada on a student visa. A year later, he released his first rap single titled “So High”, quickly followed by two consecutive albums.
But for most of his six years as a performing artist, one of Moosewala’s primary motives was guns. His social media handles Instagram, Facebook and Twitter often showed him carrying weapons or in the company of armed men. At one point, the logo for his YouTube channel showed a man dressed in black with his face covered, carrying an AK-47 assault rifle.
The singer first broke the law in February 2020 when he was convicted under Sections 509 (intentional insult with intent to cause a breach of the peace), 294 (recitation of obscene songs) and 149 (gathering illegal) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) in Mansa district for allegedly promoting gun culture through a song titled Panj Golian (five balls). After being released on bail, Moosewala released a song called “Sanju”, proud of the cases registered against him under the arms law, comparing himself to Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt, who was also convicted of possession illegal assault rifle.
The police then registered another case against him under the Weapons Act and Articles 188 (disobedience of order), 294 (obscene acts and songs) and 504 (provocation to disturb public order) of the ICC in July 2020 for advocating the use of weapons and praising the FIR through this song.
It wasn’t just Moosewala. In 2020, the teaser for a movie titled Shooter was released, allegedly glorifying the life of gangster Sukha Kahlwan, a man with more than 48 cases against him, including for murder, extortion and criminal intimidation. The film was later banned.
Moosewala was the favorite child of controversy, but there was no denying Moosewala’s popularity, so much so that when Congress sought a candidate for Mansa Assembly District, his home district, they landed on him. There were murmurs of outrage, pointing to his provocative music, but offered himself a meeting with Rahul Gandhi himself, Moosewala fought the election on a Congress ticket, but lost to AAP’s Vijay Singla , ironically the man impeached by the Bhagwant Mann government on corruption charges.
Protection, money and gangsters
But while Moosewala’s music, and that of other Punjabi artists, brought unprecedented, almost cult-like popularity with huge traction on social media, this in turn led to an influx of money, which led to the growing involvement of criminal gangs.
Senior Punjab police officials involved in operations against organized crime said the flow of wealth from dubious sources and extortion have only increased in recent times. The intelligence wing of the Punjab police, for example, has collected details of 12 cases in the last three months where a ransom was paid by singers in the name of protection money. The Jaggu Bhagwanpuria and Lawrence Bishnoi gangs are among those carrying out the racket, police said. “In some cases, it was found that some people linked to these gangs were also receiving money from singers in the form of ‘hawala’ abroad,” a senior police official said.
Another senior officer of the Anti-Gangster Task Force (AGTF), set up by Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann after he took office, said the singers received routine extortion calls from gangsters. “Since a huge amount of black money is involved in the music industry, gangsters take advantage of it. Many singers don’t even report these calls and don’t pay. Those who hesitate receive death threats,” the officer said.
The first ransom attack case emerged in 2018 when mobster Dilpreet Dahan allegedly attacked producer and singer Parmish Verma in Mohali on April 13 of the same year. Verma was shot and wounded in the attack while returning home from a performance at a mall in the city. Dahan was arrested for the attack.
A few days later, on June 2, 2018, singer and film producer Gippy Grewal also received a ransom call for ₹10 lakh from the Dahan gang, after which the matter was reported to the police. “We continue to receive such complaints. Sometimes singers and producers give in and ask us not to name them as complainants in the media,” said a DSP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
An official from a Jalandhar-based music producers association admitted that calls from gangsters for protection money had become commonplace. In fact, on March 24 this year, singer Mankirat Aulakh contacted CM Mann, citing the threat of gangsters and asking for protection.
Moosewala and its rivalries
But Aulakh himself has had his share of controversies, including his famous rivalry with Moosewala. When Vicky Middukhera was killed on August 7, 2021 by a group of gangsters, former Moosewala secretary Shubhamdeep Singh was named as a defendant by the police. He fled to Australia. Aulakh said Muddukhera was “brother-like”, and shortly after the murder the Lawrence Bishnoi gang announced that they would avenge his death.
On Monday, another gang, led by Davinder Bambiha, claimed that Aulakh was involved in Moosewala’s death. In a Facebook post on Sunday evening, the gang also alleged that Aulakh had extorted money from singers in the Punjabi music industry. While Aulakh could not be contacted despite repeated attempts, he condemned Moosewala’s killing on social media.
In October, Mohali police alleged that it was the Bambiha gang who claimed responsibility for Middukhera’s murder on August 7, but also alleged that they believed the gang entered the music industry and invested in two music companies. Former DGP Shashikant said gangsters have now adopted a Mumbai underworld-like pattern, feeling the money involved in the music and film industry. “The industry itself is responsible for this threat. They glorified this culture to the point that it started to become counterproductive,” the retired IPS officer said.
Punjab Congress leader Amarinder Singh Raja Warring and former Home Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa said the singer was given security blanket during their party’s rule in Punjab because the IB shared information specifics on the threat to his life and that of former Punjab DGP Sumedh Singh Saini.
In his recent television interviews, Moosewala called the security withdrawal an attempt by the AAP government to gain political advantage.
In prison but free
Moosewala’s assassination has also renewed attention on criminal activities in Punjab controlled from inside prisons across India. Lawrence Bishnoi, for example, is currently being held in Delhi’s Tihar prison under Maharashtra’s strict organized crime control law. On Monday, prison authorities conducted searches in the cell of Bishnoi and his accomplice Shahrukh, seizing “prohibited items”, a day after the murder. Delhi police have also questioned Bishnoi’s main accomplices, Kala Jathedi and Kala Rana, who are also in custody in separate cases.
Of the 700 known members of the approximately 80 organized gangs that are active in Punjab according to state police records, 350 are currently being held in different prisons across the country, including Jaggu Bhagwanpuria, Neeta Deol, Dilpre and Baba Jaggu, at the exception of Bishnoi. Last week, a mobile phone was recovered from Jagdish Singh Bhola, accused of organizing organized drug trafficking, from his person in a prison in Patiala. “In the recent past, many heinous crimes, murders, extortion rackets have direct links to gangsters housed inside prisons. We have so far been unable to control it, as there is no proper supervision and technical specialization,” admitted a Punjab prison official.
However, music industry pundits trace the roots of violence to music itself and the glorification of “macho culture.” Famous music director Atul Sharma, who has recorded 8,000 Punjabi music albums and 50,000 songs, said: “Culture, especially in rural Punjab, has always glorified the bandits of Dullah Bhatti, Jagga Daku or Jat Jeuna Maur. .
Filmmaker Daljit Ami, director of the Center for Educational Multimedia Research, said, “The daredevil culture we see with the rise of guns and popular music has always been an integral part of the culture. In Punjab, one of the eternal heroes is Mirza, who is still remembered for having said: “Meri bakki ton daran farishte, Mere kolon khuda darda” (the angels are afraid of my mare and God is afraid of me).
(With contributions from Nirupama Dutt)