Khalistan preacher ‘escapes’ police net
Punjab police on Saturday launched a crackdown against self-styled preacher Amritpal Singh, who has been accused of pushing the separatist idea of Khalistan, arresting 78 members of an outfit headed by him and suspending Internet and SMS services across the state till Sunday noon.
The elusive preacher, however, escaped the police dragnet when his cavalcade was intercepted in Jalandhar district. The police said Amritpal was on the run.
Police sources had earlier said Amritpal had been arrested following hours of chase.
Questions had earlier been asked about the silence of the Centre and the Aam Aadmi Party government in the border state as Amritpal openly campaigned for Khalistan and drew parallels between the idea of Sikh sovereignty and a Hindu Rashtra.
On February 23, hundreds of his supporters had stormed Ajnala police station, close to the Pakistan border, on the outskirts of Amritsar and compelled officers to release one of their activists whom the police had arrested on kidnapping charges.
On Saturday evening, the police said they had launched a “massive state-wide cordon and search operation” against elements of the Waris Punjab De (Heirs of Punjab) or WPD, headed by Amritpal.
The police action comes a day ahead of the start of Amritpal’s “Khalsa Wahir” — a religious procession — from Muktsar district.
A large contingent of police and paramilitary personnel has been deployed outside Amritpal’s native village, Jallupur Khaira, in Amritsar district. Internet services were suspended as his supporters began circulating inflammatory messages on social media.
A video shows Amritpal sitting in a vehicle while one of his aides purportedly says that policemen are after “Bhai Saab” (Amritpal).
Earlier this week, a senior AAP leader had told The Telegraph that a crackdown would take place without warning before the end of the month.
“The Akalis lost (the 2017 election) not because of their corruption or failures with the economy or law and order,” the source had said.
“They lost because of the instances of sacrilege on the Guru Granth Sahib. We had to be cautious….”
Several policemen were injured in the attack on Ajnala police station but did not retaliate as the mob carried the Guru Granth Sahib in front of them. Chief minister Bhagwant Mann has blamed Pakistan for Amritpal’s rise. But AAP leaders privately blame the Centre, accusing it of destabilising Punjab in order to “scare Hindus into voting for the BJP in 2024”.
“All the radicals (organisations and individuals that have expressed sympathies with the Khalistan cause) have issued statements against Amritpal. This has worked in our favour,” the AAP source had said.
Amritpal has had a meteoric rise since assuming the reins of the WPD separatist group last September in Rode, the native village of the 1980s militant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale.
The group was formed by actor Deep Sidhu, who was jailed for storming the Red Fort in 2021 during the farmers’ movement.
Farmer groups accused him of being a BJP agent after pictures, taken in 2019, emerged of Sidhu with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah. A police statement said that small arms and ammunition had been recovered during the crackdown. It said that WPD members faced four cases for “spreading disharmony among classes, attempt to murder, attack on police persons and creating obstructions in the lawful discharge of duties of public servants”.
For the first time, the police have admitted registering an FIR over the attack on Ajnala police station. “All the citizens are requested not to pay heed to fake news and rumours. Situation in the state is completely stable,” the police said.