Fugitive and alleged separatist Amritpal Singh was arrested without resistance on Sunday from a gurdwara in the village where Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was born, bringing a 36-day manhunt to an end.
Police said they surrounded the Gurdwara Rodewal at Rode village in Punjab’s Moga district early in the morning, following which Amritpal walked out.
He was led away by plainclothes police and was driven to the Bathinda air force station, from where he was flown to Dibrugarh in Assam. By afternoon, he had joined nine of his alleged accomplices from the Waris Punjab De (WPD) group in Dibrugarh central jail.
They are detained under the National Security Act (NSA), which allows detention for up to a year without being charged.
Rode is the birthplace of Bhindranwale, the separatist leader killed in Operation Bluestar in June 1984. It was here that Amritpal took over the leadership of the WPD last September after the group’s founder, actor Sandeep Singh Sidhu, died in a car crash in February 2022.
On Sunday, Amritpal was dressed and carried himself like Bhindranwale — as he has often done in the past — wearing a traditional white chola, a kirpan and an orange turban.
At a news conference where Punjabi, Hindi and English were spoken, inspector-general (headquarters) Sukhchain Singh Gill said: "Under relentless pressure from Punjab police… and all the wings of Punjab police have worked in coordination for this special operation… NSA warrants were issued against Amritpal Singh and NSA warrants have been executed today morning."
Gill added: “Amritpal Singh was arrested by Punjab police at around 6.45am… in village Rode. A joint operation was conducted by Amritsar police and (the) intelligence wing of Punjab police. He was located in village Rode based on operational inputs by Punjab police and he was surrounded from all sides. Since he was inside a Gurdwara Sahib, to maintain sanctity, the police did not enter the Gurdwara Sahib.”
Gill continued: “A message was conveyed to him that he was surrounded and there was no escape. He was taken to Dibrugarh under the NSA.”
The officer evaded questions on Amritpal’s whereabouts before his arrest.
On February 23, a mob led by Amritpal had stormed Ajnala police station near Amritsar. The police did not retaliate despite being assaulted as the mob carried the Guru Granth Sahib in front of them.
On March 18, the police said they had intercepted Amritpal near Jalandhar but he had escaped after a car chase. Mobile Internet and SMS services were suspended in Punjab and scores of suspects were arrested, most of whom were later let off.
Amritpal, in hiding since then, had appeared in purported CCTV footage in Punjab, Haryana and Delhi. People were arrested for allegedly harbouring him in these states as well as Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh.
Raids were carried out in other parts of the country too, and India requested Nepal not to let him fly out of the Himalayan nation.
Amritpal’s British wife Kirandeep Kaur was prevented from flying to London from Amritsar last week.
Not a shot was fired during the two-month saga, which Punjab’s Aam Aadmi Party government has claimed as a success in a state that witnessed an armed rebellion in the 1980s and 1990s.
Chief minister Bhagwant Mann said that Amritpal’s whereabouts had been learnt on Saturday night.
“I did not sleep all night. I got the information last night. I would ask for updates every 15 to 30 minutes. I did not want any bloodshed and a situation in which law and order caught fire,” he said in webcasts in Punjabi and Hindi.
Mann added: “On March 18, some people were caught and some were not. We could have caught him on that day itself but we did not want bloodshed or firing….”
The chief minister thanked the people of Punjab for maintaining peace and social harmony and affirmed that they would continue to do so.
The former Jathedar of the Akal Takht, Jasbir Singh — who happens to be a nephew of Bhindranwale — told reporters in Rode that the police had informed him about the developments on Saturday night, following which he came to Rode at 4am.
He claimed that Amritpal told him that he had informed the police and would surrender in the morning.
Before being arrested, Amritpal delivered a sermon to worshippers at the gurdwara.
Sources in the Union home ministry said Amritpal was arrested following the combined efforts of Punjab police and central intelligence agencies.
“Teams of central security agencies including IB and RAW are being rushed to interrogate Amritpal,” a home ministry official said.
Sources said the special aircraft carrying Amritpal landed at Dibrugarh airport around 2.20pm, and he was brought to the jail around 2.35pm in an 11-vehicle police convoy.
Security within and outside the jail has been beefed up since his alleged accomplices began to be brought there from March 19 onwards.
“There were 57 CCTVs inside and outside the jail but 12 more were installed before Amritpal was flown in. Police, police commandos and CRPF personnel have also been deployed within and outside the jail,” a source said.
Additional reporting by our Guwahati bureau