On March 16, Bhagwant Mann of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) formed the Government in the State of Punjab after his party won a comprehensive majority in the state assembly election. It was a first time government by the party, voted in due to the feeling of betrayal that the people felt against traditional parties like the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Congress.
It did not take long for the people to realise that they had committed a great blunder. While the state apparatus was misused by AAP central leadership to finance and run elections in other states like Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, the situation in Punjab started deteriorating very rapidly. The biggest impact was felt in the law and order domain where gangsters and mafia, buoyed by the soft approach of the new state government, went on a rampage.
Having realised their mistake the people of Punjab gave a tight slap on the face of AAP in the Parliamentary by-election held at Sangrur. The seat had been vacated due to the resignation of the AAP chief minister Bhagwant Mann and was looked upon as his stronghold. AAP lost the seat to a radical Sikh, Simranjit Mann, in June 2022. Mann won only due to the frustration of the people against AAP.
Earlier, another activist named Deep Sidhu had gained notoriety as a radical and a separatist during the farm agitation and started an organisation called “Waris Punjab De.” He died in a road accident in February, 2022.
Against the aforementioned backdrop, suddenly out of the blue, a person named Amritpal Singh landed in India from Dubai in September, 2022 and claimed to be the legitimate head of “Waris Punjab De.” He was successful in taking charge of the organisation despite protests from the family of Deep Sidhu.
Amritpal Singh leveraged Waris Punjab De as a platform to gain legitimacy for engineering separatist thought in Punjab. He positioned himself as a clone of the late Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and became a self appointed preacher of the Sikh religion, even though he had scant knowledge of the scriptures. He declared his intention as weaning away the Punjabi youth from drug abuse and advocated Amrit Sanchar (Sikh Baptism). On ground, however, he extolled the rural Sikhs to get ready to fight for creation of a separate Sikh state -Khalistan.
Waris Punjab De – Deep Sidhu & Amritpal Singh
Security experts and analysts did not take long to realise that Amritpal was a creation of the notorious Pakistani spy agency, the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). ISI had identified an opportunity, in the installation of a frail government in the state, to resurrect its long harboured agenda of Khalistan in Punjab and had trained Amritpal Singh in Dubai as its face for the job.
The experts reached this conclusion due to the similarity that they saw in the philosophy espoused by Amritpal with that of the Kashmiri militants. Also, the unlimited financial back-up that catapulted Amritpal from anonymity to a cult status could be provided by none other than the ISI. His social media presence that elicited a response in millions was apparently the product of a massive and very expensive exercise also had a signature of the ISI.
This author, in November 2022, wrote an article, “Amritpal Singh: The new face of foreign sponsored extremism in Punjab,” and later gave a large number of interviews/viewpoints clearly elucidating the theory of foreign support to Amritpal Singh. This is just one example, many others held the same view.
It was the duty of the State Government to carry out a forensic investigation into the activities of Amritpal and confirm if there was any evidence pointing towards the assessment given by the experts. Sadly, the Government did not take any step in this direction and allowed Amritpal to spout anti-national venom at will. The SAD that postures itself as a custodian of the Sikh faith also chose to remain politically silent on the activities of Amritpal.
Equally unfortunate was the loose rope that the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), which is responsible for the Dharam Prachar (religious teaching) of the Sikh religion, gave to Amritpal. He could have been denounced by the SGPC as an extra-judicial preacher not associated with the organisation. He could have been told to desist from making separatist statements in the name of religion. The organisation, however, chose to remain silent.
With a lot of support emanating from the political and religious spectrum, Amritpal grew stronger and more abrasive by the day. Soon, drugs and Amrit Sanchar were relegated to the background and he started speaking more about a separate Sikh state. He moved with a number of bodyguards carrying weapons openly and ammunition much beyond the authorised limit. His security detail was questioned by experts, but still, the government, the SAD and religious organisations chose to ignore the matter.
Drunk with power, Amritpal attacked those common people who did not adhere to his norms. He also caused disruption in several Gurdwara’s. Ultimately, on 23 February 2023, in an unprecedented and horrifying incident based on a personal agenda of freeing one of his accomplices from legitimate police custody, Amritpal led a violent mob in an attack on a Police Station in Ajnala, Punjab. Armed with rifles, pistols, swords and a variety of hand held weapons, the mob went on a rampage, breaking police barricades and shouting slogans as they took control of the Police Station. The mob carried with it the Swaroop (copy) of Sri Guru Granth Sahib for conduct of this nefarious activity.
The incident sent shock waves through Punjab and the rest of the country. It triggered a widespread fear of revival of the terrible days of insurgency and terrorism in Punjab and caused a wave of insecurity among the people. People were disgusted by the manner in which the holy scripture was misused by the mob and by Amritpal which was deemed to be a big sacrilege.
Operation Amritpal Singh launched by the Punjab Police
Sadly, even after this incident, the SGPC took a muted stand. It ordered an inquiry whose report has still not been made public. Amritpal visited Harmandir Sahib and thereafter stated confidently that he had committed no wrong.
The Union Government, all through the developing situation, maintained a righteous and justified position of not interfering in the preservation of law and order in the state since the subject constitutionally comes under the purview of the state government. However, all possible assistance in the matter, as requested by the state government, is being provided immediately by the centre.
The state government came under pressure and on 18 March, almost a month after the Ajnala incident, the Punjab Police was ordered to arrest Amritpal. The operation got botched up and Amritpal escaped the police dragnet. As I write this piece, he continues to be a declared fugitive of law charged under the National Security Act (NSA) . Most of his accomplices have been caught and some among them have also been charged under NSA, his family is being constantly questioned by the Police.
Whereas people of Punjab showed little interest in Operation Amritpal Singh, it elicited tremendous activism in some foreign countries. There were unsavoury incidents reported from the US and the UK with so-called Khalistanis demonstrating outside the Indian embassies and denigrating the Indian flag. The External Affairs Ministry of India has registered a strong protest. The incidents substantiated the theory that Amritpal was functioning under influence and with support of foreign powers inimical to India, who used international platforms to draw as much anti-India publicity from the events as is possible. However, the complete lack of response in India and especially Punjab established the total rejection of separatist tendencies in the state.
It has been established that Amritpal was no more than a small time stooge of the ISI., incriminating evidence towards which fact has now been collected by police and intelligence agencies.
Amritpal has been on the run for nearly two weeks now. This would not be possible without support in terms of finances, communication, safe houses, information etc. Such support can be provided only by very rich and powerful powers. It may be forthcoming since these powers are afraid of being exposed should Amritpal be caught. This also increases the chances of his being killed by these very powers. It would be best for Amritpal to surrender, by doing so he would remain physically secure and also remove the pressure on his family and close associates.
There are many lessons to be learnt from this unfortunate episode. The state Governments, especially so in sensitive border states like Punjab, should not allow a separatist scourge like Amritpal to raise his ugly head. He should have been nipped in the bud much earlier. Political parties and religious organisations should not give soft support to the cult of separatism. National security is a sacred responsibility of one and all and cannot be compromised at any cost.
The case needs to be dealt with by the state Government and Punjab Police with utmost sensitivity. Those responsible for breaking the law need to be given appropriate punishment; at the same time. it has to be ensured that no innocent or a person who got momentarily swayed by misinformation is punished. A humane touch in dealing with the situation is most important.