The long arm of the law has finally caught up with self-styled radical Khalistani preacher Amritpal Singh who was on the run since 18 March this year. Amid doubts over whether he was nabbed or voluntarily surrendered to the police, many questions remain unanswered. Where was the Waris Punjab De chief all these days and how did he manage to elude the manhunt launched by the Punjab police in close cooperation with the Union home ministry? He is said to have traversed four states in the last 35 days with videos and photos of his many disguises freely aired on television channels. Yet the police appeared clueless about his whereabouts. In a truce of sorts, the Aam Aadmi Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party hailed the arrest of the Khalistani preacher from outside a gurdwara in Moga district’s Rode village, the native place of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, Amritpal’s idol. However, the Khalistani preacher himself released a video message recorded before his arrest claiming that he had many other options including going abroad, but chose to surrender. He accused the Central government and the Punjab government of joining hands to launch an attack on the Sikh community. He said atrocities had been committed against Sikh youth and urged the community to resist forces of oppression.
Amritpal Singh’s meteoric rise is baffling as till just a few years ago he was a truck driver in Dubai. His radicalisation and his takeover of the Waris Punjab De outfit after the death of Deep Sandhu appear to be the outcome of a concerted campaign by pro-Khalistani groups to foment trouble in Punjab. In February, his supporters stormed a police lockup in Ajnala where a close aide of Amritpal was in custody brandishing copies of the Guru Granth Sahib. Since then at least six cases were filed against the radical preacher. Now that he has been booked under the stringent National Security Act and spirited away to a jail in Assam’s Dibrugarh, Amritpal Singh will be far away from his ‘native ecosystem’. His being imprisoned in Punjab or even in Delhi would have seen an outpouring of supporters thronging the jail but the authorities are hoping distance will prove a deterrent and he will slowly fade away from public memory. There is no doubt that Panthic politics will rear its head, with the Akalis already accusing the state administration of high-handed tactics. It is clear that the people of Punjab do not want a rerun of the horrors of the Eighties and Nineties. It is, therefore, incumbent upon the government to keep at bay external forces bent on creating unrest in the sensitive border state.