There is a real threat of Punjab once again falling victim to terrorist violence and mayhem. The meek manner in which the state police last week surrendered to the sword-, knife-, gun-wielding thugs and released a suspect from prison wanted on serious charges of abduction and criminal intimidation can only embolden the votaries of the so-called Khalistani movement. Followers of one Amritpal Singh, a former truck driver-turned-Khalistani advocate, who had laid siege to the police station in the state’s Ajnala town, will henceforth walk a few inches taller thanks to the police capitulation. If nothing else, the fear of creating another Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale ought to have dissuaded the guardians of law and order from giving in to the violent protest. If ever the use of force was warranted to prevent the siege of a police station it was in Ajnala last week. Well-documented video pictures of the siege reveal the complete failure of the police leadership. To say that the protesters brandishing a Sikh holy book as they inched forward towards the police station prevented strong police action is an afterthought.
The fact is not only was there a lapse in intelligence gathering but even the handling of the rowdy crowd was shoddy. Above all, it is the failure of the AAP Government led by a novice chief minister who is completely clueless in statecraft. Bhagwant Mann, the standup comedian-turned-politician, cannot get a grip on the levers of administration, particularly if he is remote controlled by outsiders 24x7 even in the smallest of matters. Whether it is the AAP Supremo, Arvind Kejriwal, who himself remains a habitual agitator and protester rather than maturing into an administrator, or his nominees who dictate every move of the Punjab Government, the truth is that it demoralises the entire bureaucracy and police in the State. Grandstanding 24x7 cannot be elevated into a mature policy of governance. A political executive alive to the ground-level developments ought to have tried and nipped the threat of Bhindranwale-II in the bud.
A few months ago, there was an audacious rocket attack on a police station in Mohali, on the outskirts of Chandigarh. It was later revealed that Khalistani elements prompted by ISI agents were behind the attack. In the case of last week’s siege of the police station, and the release of a follower of Amritpal Singh, who openly spews secessionist nonsense, even an ample advance notice of trouble proved inadequate for the police to get reinforcements to block the siege. Of course, the police could not have surrendered without getting the go-ahead from the chief minister. To release a prisoner arrested on serious criminal charges would do nothing to counter the charge that the AAP was soft on the Khalistani activists, a charge first heard in the previous state election. In recent months, a handful of Khalistianis based in foreign countries have felt emboldened to hold violent demonstrations outside various Indian consulates. Even Hindu temples were not spared, with obscene slogans scrawled on their walls and their priests threatened with violence and intimidation. That Amritpal Singh himself was till recently based in Dubai, where he drove a truck in the family-owned transportation business, would warrant a close look at his foreign linkages.
Punjab is a sensitive border state. Every other day Pakistan’s ISI dispatches drones loaded with drugs and fire-arms to its sympathisers on this side of the border. As it is, Punjab’s youth, for want of jobs and other self-employment opportunities, are vulnerable to the dangers from drugs and other intoxicants. With anti-India elements always ready to exploit the impressionable youth for nefarious ends, the state authorities need to be vigilant about socio-economic deterioration at the ground level. In such a scenario, allowing the Khalistani element to raise its ugly head yet again can be a costly mistake. If the AAP government fails to provide a modicum of governance and indulges in the gimmickry that AAP leader Kejriwal is notorious for, the central government should be ready to step in. The writ of the state cannot be so easily challenged as was done last week in Ajnala with the full approval of the AAP government. The criminal suspect released under duress last week must be brought to justice. And no quarter given to insurrectionists and secessionists lest they become a headache yet again for the entire nation.
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