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Special: 'Radical' rise of Amritpal Singh is dangerous for Punjab

Intelligence officers say there seem to be organised forces -- enemies of the state -- behind Amritpal Singh who are eyeing the radical space. Girish Linganna explains

Special 'Radical' rise of Amritpal Singh is dangerous for Punjab
First Published Mar 22, 2023, 7:14 PM IST

Around March 18 afternoon, there was a buzz in the media that the Punjab Police had arrested 'Waris Punjab De' chief and radical self-styled preacher Amritpal Singh Sandhu, a resident of Jallupur Khera village of Amritsar district. The police, who had launched combing operations for Amritpal and his aides, were said to have cornered him at Mehatpur village in Jalandhar’s Shahkot -- on the Jalandhar-Moga-Barnala-Sirsa National Highway 703. But, by Sunday morning, the air cleared, and cops admitted that Amritpal had managed to give them the slip in the Shahkot-Mehatpur area on Saturday and that seven of his associates had been arrested. 

Also Read: Akali Dal slams Amritpal Singh manhunt, offers legal aid to those detained by Punjab Police

The Internet was also suspended across the state till 12 noon on Sunday to prevent any unrest in the state, even as the Punjab police urged people to keep the peace. Some of Amritpal’s supporters reportedly shared videos on social media showing ‘Bhai saab’ sitting in a vehicle, and one aide was heard saying the cops were hounding him.

Section 144 was imposed on many districts of Punjab, including Jalandhar, Nawanshahr, Fazilka, Muktsar and Faridkot, fearing a law and order breakdown and mobile Internet, SMS and dongle services were suspended. Over the next four days, Amritpal reportedly kept switching vehicles on the run. In the interim, the National Security Act was slapped on him and five of his aides. 

The 'Waris Punjab De' chief's legal adviser, Imaan Singh Khara, however, has gone on record with a different story. He is reported to have said that the fugitive pro-Khalistan leader was actually being held at the Shahkot police station and that there was a threat to his life. However, the police have denied the claim and said they are still making every effort to apprehend the radical preacher. Khara also alleged that the cops had the plan to eliminate Singh in a 'fake encounter'.

Dangerous Trend for Punjab

Punjab's Bhagwant Mann government seems to be yielding ground to Khalistani separatists. The AAP government seems to be handling Khalistani extremists with kid gloves, and this appeasement policy has rendered the police force powerless to resist the diktats of these radical elements.

In the past six months or so, the 30-year-old, who mimics the teachings and sartorial preferences -- including a turban and robes -- of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who had advocated the creation of a 'Khalistan' state and was killed during Operation Bluestar in 1984, has gained a certain aura as a self-styled religious preacher who advocates separatism and radical tenets and is sympathetic towards the Khalistani cause.

In the years following the countrywide 1984 anti-Sikh riots, many leaders have tried to indoctrinate the vulnerable minds of youths by building false narratives. Thankfully, most have been largely unsuccessful. Amritpal has been trying to usurp this space in radical faith.

Amritpal spent his childhood in the obscure Jallupur Khera village near Amritsar and sought ‘spiritual release’ by visiting the local gurdwara daily. After a dispirited bid to obtain a diploma from a local polytechnic college at age 19, he left his village in 2012 and joined his father’s transport business in Dubai.

Over the next few years, Amritpal tried various get-rich-quick schemes and posted several social media profiles. He spent hours listening to Bhindranwale’s audio cassettes. He then started posting his radical thoughts and attended online sessions based on extremist ideology. His social media following grew by leaps and bounds.

At Amritpal’s formal Sikh baptism ceremony at Anandpur Sahib on September 25, 600 people turned up. On his Rode village (Bhindranwale’s birthplace) visit for a turban-tying ceremony, almost 7,000 people of different sects gathered. Today, up to 10,000 people can congregate in his support at any given point in time. 

Given the fact that he entered the country only six months ago, this definitely cannot be termed 'organic growth'. Intelligence officers say there seem to be organised forces -- enemies of the state -- behind him who are eyeing the radical space.

Last year,  left behind his family’s transport business in Dubai and returned to India. He assumed charge as leader of the 'Waris Punjab De', a group set up by actor Deep Sidhu, who died in a controversial road accident. The group proclaims that it 'safeguards Punjab's interests' and 'fights for social causes'.

On February 24, 2023, a man lodged a complaint at Ajnala police station, on the outskirts of Amritsar city, claiming he had been abducted and assaulted by Amritpal’s aides. An FIR was registered against Amritpal and six of his accomplices. A close associate, Lovepreet Singh Toofan, was taken into police custody. Amritpal gave an 'ultimatum' to the Punjab police, demanding that the charges be withdrawn. When the cops failed to comply, Amritpal’s accomplices forcibly entered the police station complex, which became the scene of unmitigated violence. They overran barricades and stormed the facility with sticks, swords and guns, taking refuge behind the Guru Granth Sahib in a bid to free Lovepreet.

The author is a defence and aeronautical expert

Also read: Amritpal Singh manhunt enters day 5, Uttarakhand Police keeps close watch on India-Nepal border

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