The Cocky Pablo Escobars of Punjab

True Crime

The Cocky Pablo Escobars of Punjab

Illustration: Akshita Monga/Arré

D

avinder Bambiha wasn’t your average social-media influencer. Instead of gourmet food snaps, workout videos, and inspirational quotes, he preferred sharing his extensive arsenal of guns and ammo, and drug stashes, thus celebrating the swag of his glorious criminal lifestyle online. This A-category criminal, wanted by the Punjab police, lived as a viral hero on social media, notorious for his criminal exploits, and died as a legend.

After a life lived with chest-thumping celebration of gangsterhood, Davinder Bambiha (or Sharp Shooter, as he was known to the cops) was gunned down in a pre-dawn police encounter at Gill Kalan near Rampura, at the tender age of 25 in September 2016. Like the bad boy rockstars of the 27 Club, he became a cult hero in his death, that was inspired by and, in turn, inspired songs like “Guns and the Gunpoint”, “Live by the Gun, Die by the Gun”, and “Yehi Hai Lifestyle”, which put his short life into perspective. Even today, a full year after his death, Bambiha’s page – complete with a cover picture of guns of all shapes and sizes – is updated daily, like a prayer.

While Bambiha and his cronies, Jumpy Don and Bunty Dhillon, were alive, the group did all the updating themselves. Key accused in the murder of Khwajke village sarpanch Rajwinder Singh, Bambiha was regularly telling the world of his “achievement”. He’d post clippings of newspapers that had carried news of the murder, and receive a surfeit of likes. Bambiha & Co led a fairly active social- media life. Pictures and videos of him and his two henchmen, Jumpy and Bunty,  are all over Facebook pages like “Gangster Punjab” and “Davinder Bambiha Group”. In fact, the cover photo of Gangster Punjab is of a deadly looking Bambiha in killer sunglasses, with the words “Sharp Shooter” scrawled across it insolently.

The Davinder Bambiha group gained notoriety in 2013, crashing onto the scene with the Paonta Sahib shootout and then going on to rack up a laundry list of crimes: the Sewewala double murder, the Jaitoi Bihari murder, and multiple cases of looting and carjacking. As they went around Punjab causing mayhem, they made sure they posted regular Facebook updates of their latest exploits and issued taunts to the local police. For five long years, the boys made a mockery of of the police department until an extremely red-faced police force finally caught up with Bhambia 30 kilometres outside Bhatinda.

Just like Pablo Escobar — who led his reckless, flashy, lawbreaking lifestyle squarely in the public eye — Bambiha and lot found massive adoration instead of revulsion.

From Robin Hood to Veerappan, gangsters have always been part of folklore and cultural history in some way or the other, the legends whispered with reverence, under cloaks of secrecy.  Bambiha and his gang took the other way into history. The gangsters accomplished what our hall-of-famers like Dawood Ibrahim couldn’t. They wrote their own legends. Legends who are mourned in a way no Indian gangster had been mourned before. The were singular in the fact that they were the only ones who created in India the kind of inspiration that ’80s criminal overlord, Pablo Escobar, once did in his own heyday.

The group’s flamboyance and daredevilry does in fact seem straight out of an episode of Narcos. Just like cartel leader Escobar – who led his reckless, flashy, lawbreaking lifestyle squarely in the public eye – Bambiha and lot found massive adoration instead of revulsion. Just like Escobar, whose devotees were from among the poorer sections of Colombia, Bambiha’s group also spoke to rural Punjab.

Davinder Bambiha

Davinder Bambiha preferred sharing his extensive arsenal of guns and ammo, and drug stashes, thus celebrating the swag of his glorious criminal lifestyle online.
(Image Credit – Facebook)

Their devil-may-care persona, coupled with legit street cred, allowed people to look past their crimes and celebrate their lifestyle on Facebook. Bambiha also had the benefit of rakish good looks, and in a culture that celebrates gun-toting machismo, Bambiha’s cult was easy to build. Jumpy and Bunty were seen as the right and left hand of Bambiha, and were considered expert marksmen in their own right.

Less than a year after Bambiha’s killing, in June this year, Jumpy and Bunty Dhillon, along with an accomplice, were cornered on the roof of a house in Dabwali in Haryana’s Sirsa district. The killings were duly noted on the “Gangster Punjab” page and for a day or two allegations flew of police “murdering” them in a fixed encounter.  Soon after the deaths of Jumpy and Bunty, a video was uploaded on Davinder Bambiha’s Facebook page showcasing the journey of the gang. One of the comments, “miss you Bunty, Jimphy and Nisha, RIP” notched up 1,200 views and was shared five times. A Punjabi pop number by Mankirt Aulakh “Jail Vichon Phone Aaunge” that underlines how prisoners in Punjab’s jails use smartphones, and routinely update Facebook pages, went viral indicating that there are many more Bambihas in the making out there.

Bambiha may have been the first “social-media villan/hero” but there are 29 jails in Punjab and all inmates lodged inside them have access to smartphones, SIM cards, mobile chargers, internet, and TV. This ease of access to a platform as far-reaching as the internet means that social media has become their biggest marketing platform, to be used for enlisting others in into their “heroic” cause. Last heard, there are at least 10 gangsters active in Punjab who have Facebook pages with large fan followings – Bambiha was only one of them.

The internet not only holds the promise of instant celebrity but also gives a bigger promise – as a repository for lasting legacies. Some build those legacies with pictures of flowers and fashion and yet others with death and guns. Bambhia and Co may never have a Netflix series dedicated to them, but in the eyes of their online fans, they were, undoubtedly, the Pablos of Punjab.

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