Guns, Jutts, Glory

The hollow cult of Sidhu Moose Wala

The Punjabi rapper Shubhdeep Singh Sidhu, better known as Sidhu Moose Wala, at a concert in New Zealand, in 2019. Sidhu was shot dead near the outskirts of Mansa district, in Punjab, on 29 May 2022. COURTESY JASPREET SINGH
Elections 2024
31 July, 2022

LIKE HIS IDOL, the pioneering gangsta rapper Tupac Shakur, the Punjabi rapper and politician Shubhdeep Singh Sidhu—better known as Sidhu Moose Wala—was shot dead in the front seat of his car. On 29 May, Sidhu left his home in the village of Moosa, in Punjab’s Mansa district, driving a Mahindra Thar SUV. A day earlier, the Punjab government had reduced the number of security personnel assigned to the 28-year-old from four to two, though none of them were with him when he was killed. When he arrived at Jawaharke, a village on the outskirts of Mansa, unknown assailants surrounded the car and opened fire with automatic weapons. According to two others in the car, Sidhu fired back with a pistol but could not fend off the assassins. Around two dozen bullets hit his head, legs, abdomen and chest, entering his lungs and his liver. He died on the spot.

Sidhu had foreshadowed his own death—or so his fans claimed. They were quick to note that the date of his murder, 29 May, echoed the title of one of his most famous songs, “295.” They noted that, in another song, eerily titled “The Last Ride,” Sidhu had sung, “Ho chobbar de chehre utte noor dasda/ Ni, ehda uthuga jawani’ch janaza mithiye”—That glow on the young man’s face says he will be laid to rest in his youth. His latest album, Moosetape, contained several references to dying young and the constant threat of being gunned down. These seemingly symbolic coincidences and a dramatic shooting added a halo of greatness around Sidhu, bolstering his legacy as an icon.

He was given a hero’s farewell. His last rites were carried out in his family’s vast fields in Moosa. Thousands gathered outside his newly-built mansion for the antim ardas—the final prayer. Sidhu’s father wrapped a turban around his son’s head and, in keeping with an old ritual, adorned it with a groom’s headdress. As countless television and smartphone cameras recorded, Sidhu’s mortal remains were taken for cremation on his favourite HMT 5911 tractor, with his parents riding alongside. His mother stared motionless at her son, her head resting on his coffin. Tears streaming down his face, his father took off his turban—a striking gesture for a Sikh man—and offered it to the crowd. 

At the funeral, young men held up posters with slogans such as “We will protect your legacy at all costs” and his catchphrase, “Dil da ni mada, Sidhu Moose Wala”—Not bad at heart, that Sidhu Moose Wala. They delivered breathless paeans in front of the media, praising Sidhu for his down-to-earth demeanour and his “realistic” portrayal of the Punjabi ethos.