The Punjab police and the forces of the central government have not been able to capture pro-Khalistan Sikh leader Amritpal Singh, who is also the head of Waris Punjab De, despite a week of intense efforts. This failure demonstrates that there is a severe shortage of intelligence regarding the growth of separatist groups and ideologies in Punjab. Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann should be held responsible for the lack of local intelligence and for not being able to catch Amritpal Singh. In Punjab, the Aam Aadmi Party has been in office for a year. Law and order in the state is getting worse, so the people of Punjab should ask the ruling party and the CM for extraordinary leadership, not experimental leadership.
Khalistan is the idea that the Punjab region of India should be a separate Sikh state. In the 1980s and early 1990s, the demand for Khalistan grew because of a complex set of political, social, and economic factors. These factors included religious discrimination against the Sikh community, the Indian government's response to the Sikh insurgency of the 1980s, and the desire of some Sikhs for more freedom and self-determination.
Pakistan shares a lengthy border with Punjab, and there is no doubt that it is directly involved in Khalistan's demands. It is very important to realise that when separatist ideas arise in India, Pakistan can make things even worse. It is difficult to govern a state with such complexity and a history of insurgency. Herein lies the importance of good leadership. The AAP unfortunately failed to put up a strong leader who can take responsibility for the demands of the Sikh community and also handle important policy decisions. Punjab's chief minister, Bhagwant Mann, has never been able to demonstrate his strength as a Sikh leader, and when it comes to governance, he has relied heavily on Arvind Kejriwal and Delhi leadership.
The government will need to be much more aware and careful to understand and deal with the problems in Punjab. There is no doubt that in India, the demands for Khalistan diminished over time, whereas in the Sikh diaspora of Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States, and other nations, the demands and separatist sentiments grew. Today, it is also evident that individuals from other states, including the United Kingdom, are responsible for Amritpal Singh’s success in Punjab. This implies that the situation in Punjab and its escalating unrest would have far more complex repercussions than in any other state.
The main problem with the Punjab government run by the AAP is that it doesn’t plan well or recognise the problems. After the arrest of Amritpal Singh, for instance, the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee, or SGPC, and many other Opposition politicians in the state denounced the action. The AAP government neither had an all-party meeting nor tried to reach out to the community leaders. If the AAP tries to handle Punjab the way they work in Delhi in the sectors of education and health, then the party is making a mistake. Maintaining order in a state is distinct from caring for education and health in the nation’s capital.
The AAP should also realise that tampering with Punjab is equivalent to playing with fire. Politicians were very well aware of the presence of separatist elements inside the farmers’ protest and subsequent actions. The AAP abstained from taking a position on these separatists and hardliners. With the rise of groups like Waris Punjab De and politicians such as Sangrur Lok Sabha Member Simranjeet Singh Mann, it is evident that separatists are gaining widespread support.
The AAP will be held accountable for the decline in law and order in Punjab. Arvind Kejriwal, the chief minister of Delhi and the national convenor of the AAP, kept the chief minister of Punjab busy in Gujarat while he had a large majority in a key state like Punjab. The Delhi unit of the AAP has not permitted any other tall leader to rise in Punjab, which is why when Bhagwant Mann is absent, the situation remains turbulent. In the past year, the AAP remained busy with advertisements for mohalla clinics, the improvement of education and other sectors, despite being warned about separatism.
There is no doubt that these sectors are also essential for the development of a state, but for a border state like Punjab, where separatism is on the rise, avoiding such an important issue is the worst thing the ruling party can do. After the Ajnala incident, in which Amritpal Singh and his supporters attacked a police station, Bhagwant Mann sought the support of Home Minister Amit Shah. The essential point is why the Punjab government did not collaborate with the central intelligence agency and military to take control of the state’s law and order crisis. Putting India’s internal security at risk by risking separatism in Punjab, which the AAP is doing through their populist actions, nothing worse can happen in India right now.
The victory in Punjab assembly election was the biggest achievement of the AAP after Delhi. People in Punjab supported the AAP more than ever before, indicating that they desired change. Without sustaining law and order and in the absence of a strong leader, this transformation would never happen to Punjab. The state has been troubled by insurgency in the past, political and social unrest, and recently the farm protests, Drug abuse is also a big factor, but its people voted for the AAP. People in Punjab thought that the AAP would support them and act on their behalf. Sadly, the AAP is currently more focused on its national expansion than on the state. From the first day of the Bhagwant Mann government in Punjab, there were a number of murders, assassinations, separatist demonstrations, etc., but the Punjab government did not do much. For Arvind Kejriwal and Bhagwant Mann, the time has come to reflect on their blunders in Punjab. There is still time to correct these errors, but delaying and allowing separatism to fester will be disastrous to India.
The writer is a doctoral research scholar in media and politics. He tweets @sayantan_gh. Views expressed in this article are personal
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