WHERE: NEW DELHI Because of the ongoing manhunt for Amritpal Singh, the leader of a Sikh separatist movement in India, police have decided to temporarily shut down mobile internet services in the state of Punjab until Monday.
Singh is the controversial leader of Waris Punjab De, also known as the Heirs of Punjab, a group that openly backs the Khalistan movement for a separate homeland for the Sikhs, who make up about 1.7% of India’s total population.
According to an order issued by the Punjab government, mobile internet and SMS services will remain down until Monday at noon “to prevent any incitement to violence and any disturbance of peace and public order.”
Amritsar police have reported that a first information report, the standard procedure for opening an official investigation, has been filed naming members of the organization in the Punjabi city of Punjab.
An FIR under the Arms Act was filed against them late Saturday night, according to Satinder Singh, senior superintendent of the Amritsar police, who spoke to reporters on Sunday. Amritpal Singh is the main accused in the FIR.
He also said that six illegal firearms were confiscated by Amritsar police.
A tweet from the police in Punjab claimed that more than 70 people were arrested during the “mega crackdown.” Sikhism is the predominant religion in Punjab.
Last month, Amritpal Singh and his supporters stormed a police station armed with swords and guns, demanding the release of one of Singh’s aides, prompting the current crackdown.
Six police officers were hurt in the ensuing clash, and the Punjab government took some heat for the security lapse, propelling Singh to the forefront of the news across the country.
Singh’s supporters have apparently drawn parallels between him and Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, the militant leader of the 1980s Khalistan movement who was killed in a military operation in 1984.
Several thousand people were killed and tens of thousands were injured during that period of violence in Punjab, which also resulted in the assassination of India’s then-prime minister, Indira Gandhi, by two Sikh security guards.
The separatist movement has lost a lot of support in the decades since then.
“It’s truly bewildering how Amritpal was allowed to gain so much prominence in such a short time,” Sanjay Kapoor, chief editor of the political magazine Hard News and former secretary-general of the Editors Guild of India, told Arab News.
Since “he was breathing so much fire,” he questioned why neither regional nor national authorities had noticed him. The fact that he was able to insert himself into the Khalistani storyline with no prior history of struggle or even pedigree is also fascinating. He recently visited Dubai without donning a turban.
Little is known about Singh’s childhood, but he reportedly joined his family’s transportation business in Dubai in 2012. Upon his return to India last August, he appeared to have undergone a dramatic transformation into a practicing Sikh, and about a month later, in a ceremony attended by thousands, he was appointed head of Waris Punjab De.
Therefore, “any skeptics believe that Amritpal represented a diabolical plan to polarize the Hindus against the Khalistani threat prior to the 2024 elections,” as Kapoor put it.
Professor Ronki Ram from Panjab University’s political science department claimed that government support was the driving force behind Amritpal Singh’s meteoric rise to fame.
The government has given Amritpal Singh a lot of leeway. “In a short period of time, he became a celebrity,” Ram declared to Arab News.
The government’s harsh repression of Amritpal Singh has only increased his popularity. The widespread support he enjoys exemplifies how dire the situation in Punjab has become.
However, Ram claimed that the rising popularity of Singh did not lead to a revival of the Khalistan movement.
“Whenever something happens in Punjab, they associate it with Khalistan,” Ram said. It is highly improbable that the Khalistan movement will gain traction, as has been speculated.