Sudhir Suri, a Hindutva right wing leader in Punjab, was shot dead on a busy street in Amritsar this afternoon in an attack that was caught on camera while there were over a dozen cops around him.
Leader of a local outfit that uses the name Shiv Sena Taksali, Mr Suri was holding protest outside a temple against its management when at least five shots were fired from a pistol, allegedly by a local shopkeeper.
Due to threats from gangsters and Khalistani extremists, Mr Suri had police protection, yet the attacker — Sandeep Singh, who has been arrested — was successful in landing at least two shots that killed him before he could be brought to a hospital. There were also local cops deployed at the spot.
“The accused was arrested immediately and weapon seized. Further investigation is on,” said city police commissioner, Arun Pal Singh, who did not give more details.
Sources said the attacker, a resident of Sultanwind area of the city, had come to the place with three others in an SUV but they escaped.
Mr Suri, who wasn’t an electoral player, was mostly known for his fiery — and allegedly communal — video messages on social media targeting some Sikh outfits and Khalistan supporters in particular. Police did not draw a connection as yet.
The police commissioner appealed to the people to keep calm and not give in to any communal calls. Tense messages and conspiracy theories were going around among residents of the Sikh holy city, said local sources.
Earlier today, Mr Suri had got into an argument with some men from the management of Gopal Mandir near Majitha Road — one of the busiest places in the city — over alleged sacrilege of idols. He was live on Facebook barely an hour before the attack, showing some older idols “shamelessly dumped in garbage”. “We will not tolerate such sacrilege, even if by fellow Hindus,” he said in that video.
When he was shot, he was on a dharna on the street, sitting next to an associate who was seen firing back at the attacker from a revolver.
The killing comes just months after the murder, in May, of another prominent person with police security — singer Sidhu Moosewala — raising questions on Bhagwant Mann’s Aam Aadmi Party government that was formed in March.
Punjab BJP chief Ashwani Sharma was among the first leaders to react: “The law and order situation has completely broken down in the state.”
State Congress chief Amarinder Singh ‘Raja’ Warring tweeted: “Law and order is deteriorating and going from bad to worse. Congress condemns murderous attack on Shiv Sena leader in Amritsar. Political differences apart, violence is unacceptable. Culprits must be brought to book.”
Sudhi Suri’s murder also brings back memories of a series of killings of right-wing or religious leaders, most of them from Hinduva outfits, in 2016 and 2017, when the Akali Dal-BJP and the Congress were in power at different times.
In October 2017, Ludhiana RSS leader Ravinder Gosain, 60, was shot dead in the the eighth such incident in the state in about a year’s time. In June 2017, Christian pastor Sultan Masih was shot dead, while others killed in that series of attacks were Dera Sacha Sauda followers in Ludhiana, a leader of an organisation called ‘Hindu Takhat’, also in Ludhiana, and RSS leader Brigadier Jagdish Gagneja (Retd) in Jalandhar.
In Punjab, a number of Hindutva outfits use the name ‘Shiv Sena’, but don’t formally have anything to do with the Maharashtra-based party founded by Bal Thackeray. State police have been giving security cover to many of these leaders as there’s a history of attacks on them. .