In a major crackdown against pro-Khalistan propagator Amritpal Singh and his supporters, the Punjab Police on Saturday arrested 78 persons and launched a hunt for him. Several persons were also detained for questioning.
Internet services were suspended across the State till Sunday noon to prevent any incitement to violence.
The police seized eight rifles and a revolver. They have appealed for calm, cautioning people against spreading fake news or hate speech.
The police said the State-wide cordon and search exercise was carried out against the elements linked to ‘Waris Punjab De (WPD)‘, which is headed by Mr. Amritpal, in connection with multiple criminal cases.
The sequence of events unfolded in the afternoon when the police intercepted several activists of the WPD on the Shahkot-Malsian Road in Jalandhar and arrested seven persons.
Simultaneously, the others were picked up from different places. However, the police said, Mr. Amritpal and several of his associates were still on the run and a massive manhunt had been launched for them.
Earlier in the day, some video clips about the police chase had surfaced on social media. In one video, Mr. Amritpal was seen travelling in a vehicle and his associate saying that the police were after him.
The accused WPD activists are involved in four cases of spreading disharmony among classes, attempted murder, attack on policemen and creating obstructions in the lawful discharge of duties of public servants.
Mr. Amritpal, 30, sprung into the limelight after a mob led by him attacked a police station in Amritsar on February 23 to secure the release of his associate, Lovepreet Singh. He was arrested in an alleged kidnapping-cum-theft case.
Six policemen, including a Superintendent of Police, sustained injuries in the incident. The State government had then succumbed to the demand and released the accused.
Claiming that the Khalistan movement cannot be stopped, Mr. Amritpal has openly declared that he draws inspiration from Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who was killed in 1984. Born in Amritsar’s Jallupur Khaira village, he completed his schooling there and in 2012, shifted to Dubai to join his family’s transport business.
He returned to Punjab in August last year and was soon made the new chief of WPD, whose previous leader Deep Sidhu had died in a car accident in February 2022.
Mr. Amritpal’s anointment took place in Rode village of Moga, which is Bhindranwale’s ancestral place. He started moving across Punjab after he initiated the ‘Khalsa Vaheer’ campaign, which according to him was introduced to bring the youth closer to Sikhism.
During his public addresses, Mr. Amritpal allegedly glorifies weapons. “The lower strata of the society and aimless youth are the easy target of Amritpal Singh and he is exploiting their sentiments in the name of religion. His organisation’s earlier treasurer, Basant Singh Daulatpura, had known Pakistani links,” said a security agency official.
The agencies are conducting investigations to determine if Mr. Amritpal has links with United Kingdom-based Avtar Singh Khanda, allegedly a close associate of Khalistani “terrorist” Jagtar Singh Tara, and some others operating from overseas. They include International Sikh Youth Federation head Lakhbir Singh Rode, whose brother Jaswant was allegedly in touch with Mr. Amritpal when he was in Dubai.
On March 2, Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann met Union Home Minister Amit Shah to discuss the “law and order” issue in the State. About 1,900 security personnel drawn from the Central Reserve Police Force and the anti-riot Rapid Action Force were dispatched. The Centre had previously approved the deployment of 18 companies’ force in Punjab.