In August and September, the Punjab Police registered at least three first-information reports against Simarjeet Singh Bains, a member of the state’s legislative assembly. Simarjeet represents Ludhiana’s Atam Nagar constituency in the assembly and is a founder of the Lok Insaaf Party. Two FIRs alleged that Simarjeet had held protests during which LIP members violated restrictions imposed by the government to contain the novel coronavirus pandemic. According to the police, one of the protests resulted in the assault of four police personnel. The third FIR, filed in Ludhiana, accused Simarjeet of encouraging the public to flout COVID-19 restrictions. Ludhiana had a total of 16,599 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus till 22 September—the highest of all districts in Punjab.
The MLA was booked under several sections of the Indian Penal Code in the three FIRs, including Sections 188, 269 and 505 which deal with disobedience of a civil servant’s order, negligence likely to spread infection of a disease which is dangerous to life and statements conducing to public mischief, respectively.
The FIRs are hardly an anomaly in Simarjeet’s political career. In the affidavits he submitted to declare his candidacy in the 2012 and 2017 Punjab assembly elections, Simarjeet had mentioned that six cases were pending against him. According to the affidavit he submitted for the 2019 Lok Sabha election, eight criminal cases were pending against him, which booked him under 23 sections of the IPC, including those dealing with theft, dacoity, house-trespassing and rioting. A few charges featured in multiple FIRs—for instance, the MLA was booked twice for attempt to murder; thrice for criminal intimidation; and four times for assault or use of criminal force to deter a public servant from discharge of his duty. Simarjeet claimed in the affidavit that all six cases were “false.”
For over a decade now, Simarjeet has faced several allegations of taking the law into his own hands. On multiple occasions, he characterised his alleged misdemeanours as a hands-on approach against corruption. Yet, despite the many accusations against him, Simarjeet has been elected as an MLA twice.
The most well-known charge against Simarjeet is from more than a decade earlier when he was a member of the Shiromani Akali Dal, which ruled the state between 2007 and 2017. A civil servant, reportedly the whistle-blower of a corruption scandal during the SAD’s tenure, had accused Simarjeet—who pitches himself as an anti-corruption leader—of assault.
In May 2009, The Tribune reported that “seven persons allegedly sold fake stamp papers worth crores causing loss to the state exchequer. The scam came to light when Sub-Registrar (central) Major Gurinder Singh Benipal found that the stamp paper of Rs 45,000 denomination submitted to him by a private party was only a coloured xerox.” The newspaper reported that of seven suspects in the case, two are a “father-son duo, who also happen to be Akali leaders.”
Next month, Simarjeet, his fellow SAD member Kamaljit Singh Karwal—who is now in the Congress party—and their supporters reportedly assaulted Benipal, a tehsildar and a retired officer in the Indian Army. A report in the Hindustan Times noted, “Besides assaulting him with knives, iron rods and hockey sticks and tearing his clothes, the accused had also snatched his licensed revolver before fleeing.”
Benipal, now a 55-year-old district revenue officer at Mohali, believed that he was attacked for exposing the fake stamp-paper scam during the SAD regime. He sounded agitated about the incident even when I spoke to him in September 2020. “I still remember the insult and the near-death experience,” he said. “Bains’s accomplices did not even allow senior police officials, including the then SSP and the deputy commissioner, to rush me to a hospital.”
Simarjeet has been booked under multiple sections of the IPC regarding the incident, including those which pertain to attempt to murder; rioting, armed with a deadly weapon; and criminal conspiracy. This year, Simarjeet claimed during a conversation with me that the Central Bureau of Investigation gave him a clean chit in the case. He said he would share a copy of the CBI report, but had not at the time of publication. The matter is currently pending in the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
This did not seem to harm Simarjeet’s electoral future. His elder brother Balwinder Bains—also an MLA in Ludhiana currently—was earlier a member of the SAD as well. The Bains brothers told the Indian Express quit the party in 2011. The report mentioned that Simarjeet claimed that he tried to “unearth the corrupt deeds of some officials or even our dear ministers,” but was silenced. He added that he was “a great follower of social activist Anna Hazare.”
Next year, Simarjeet and Balwinder contested from the Atam Nagar and Ludhiana South constituencies, respectively, as independent candidates in the state elections. The constituencies had been carved in a delimitation exercise that took place in 2008 and were going to polls for the first time. The brothers won, and wield influence in these constituencies even now.
By the end of 2016, the Bains brothers formed the Lok Insaaf Party and allied with the Aam Aadmi Party, which was built on the backs of an anti-corruption movement. The brothers were re-elected in the February 2017 state elections. I asked Harpal Singh Cheema, an AAP MLA, why the party had allied with a politician facing multiple criminal charges. He claimed that the AAP earlier thought that the Simarjeet’s party was against corruption but “when we got acquainted with their reality, we maintained distance.” Simarjeet had disclosed that six criminal cases were pending against him in his election affidavit. Within two months after the polls, the alliance fell apart.
Simarjeet was embroiled in more controversies even after his re-election. In 2018, Yashpal, an assistant passport officer, wrote in his complaint to the police that Simarjeet, his gunmen and 10–15 supporters entered a Passport Seva Kendra in Ludhiana without an appointment, on 24 April. He alleged that Simarjeet and his party members tried to record videos—which was prohibited—and manhandled a security guard. They were subsequently booked under sections of the IPC which pertain to house-trespass in order to commit an offence punishable with imprisonment, obstructing a public servant in the discharge of public functions, assaulting or using criminal force to deter a public servant from duty and criminal intimidation.
An Indian Express report quoted a response from Simarjeet regarding the allegations the next day. “I had gone to the passport office to expose unauthorised agents sitting outside and looting applicants,” he claimed while insisting that he was in the right. “I never stopped when the Badals, during the SAD-BJP rule, got 13 FIRs registered against me. I will not stop now when the Congress is doing same thing.”
Around the same time, the Regional Passport Office at Chandigarh issued a show-cause notice against Bains for hiding criminal cases pending against him while applying for a Tatkaal Passport. In September 2018, a Ludhiana court barred Simarjeet from entering passport offices without prior permission of the concerned officials.
A year later, Simarjeet was again in the news for using aggressive language with Vipul Ujwal, the deputy commissioner of Gurdaspur district. On 4 September 2019, more than twenty people had died in a blast in a firecracker unit in Gurdaspur’s Batala city. According to news reports and a video that circulated online, Simarjeet had approached Ujwal regarding an issue concerning a family being unable to identify the dead body of their kin. The video showed that an argument ensued, and Simarjeet began shouting at Ujwal. “This is not your father’s office!” Simarjeet said. He was reportedly booked under several sections of the IPC including one which dealt with obstructing a civil servant in the discharge of duties.