A total of 78 members of of Khalistan supporter Amritpal Singh-led Waris Punjab De were arrested on Saturday, said Punjab Police in the evening.
However, radical preacher Amritpal remains on the run, according to Punjab Police. The official word late in the evening comes after reports through the day of widespread crackdown on Waris Punjab De.
Earlier, it was reported that six aides of Amritpal were detained in Punjab and internet was suspended till Sunday. Radical preacher Amritpal is under the scanner for spreading communal tension in Punjab.
Earlier, supporters of Amritpal's organisation Waris Punjab De claimed that six aides were detained in Punjab's Jalandhar on Saturday.
Reports suggest that radical preacher Amritpal's arrest is imminent. NDTV cited sources to report that police personnel from seven district chased Amritpal and his associates and surrounded him at Mehatpur village in Jalandhar's Shahkot.
However, officials aware of the ongoing developments told PTI that the manhunt for Amritpal is still going on. They said he was almost caught but he managed to give a slip to the approaching police team, which intercepted his cavalcade in Mehatpur village in Jalandhar district on Saturday.
Earlier on Saturday, there were reports that Amritpal had been detained, but PTI reported that there was no word on this by Punjab Police. The latest Punjab Police's statement, as reported by PTI, shows the news was incorrect.
Crackdown on Khalistan supporter Amritpal Singh
Some supporters of Amritpal shared some videos on social media claiming that policemen were chasing them. A video also showed Amritpal sitting in a vehicle and one of his aides could be heard saying policemen were after 'Bhai saab' (Amritpal). Another supporter in a field shared a video in which he was claiming that policemen were after him.
- Amritpal Singh's aide did Facebook Live and claimed that about 100 of Punjab Police officers is following him for arrest.— Nikhil Choudhary (@NikhilCh_) March 18, 2023
- Punjab police have sealed the road and put up barricades and the vehicles are being checked for looking #AmritpalSingh near Dharamkot area of Moga. https://t.co/h7I3ccG8Om pic.twitter.com/7m725agtkG
Last month, Amritpal and his supporters, some of them brandishing swords and automatic guns, broke through barricades and barged into the Ajnala Police Station on the outskirts of the Amritsar city and clashed with police for the release of one of Amritpal's aide — Lovepreet Singh Toofan. The case was related to a complaint of a man at Ajnala Police Station in which he alleged that he had been kidnapped and beaten by the associates of Amritpal. An FIR was registered against Amritpal and six associates in the case.
After the attack on the police station, Toofan was freed under pressure by the police. However, the court was informed that the police will investigate the case further. In the attack on the police station, six policemen, including a Superintendent of Police-rank officer, had suffered injuries.
Earlier on Saturday, CNN News18 reported that a car chase happened earlier on Saturday in which police went after Amritpal but he is believed to have escaped.
"Officials said there was a tense car chase involving Amritpal Singh’s team and the Punjab police, but Amritpal Singh may have escaped from the spot. However, Punjab Police sources say they are continuing their chase to nab Amritpal Singh and around 100 police cars are following Singh’s convoy," reported News18.
#BREAKING #AmritpalSingh fleeing in an #SUV driver asks supporters to gather. #PunjabPolice on toes may arrest him soon.District borders sealed #Khalistan #Khalistanis #PunjabNews #punjabdathugamritpal #Amritpal_Singh #Khalistanis #AmritpalMisleadingPunjab pic.twitter.com/1eDlqAkyge— Sumedha Sharma (@sumedhasharma86) March 18, 2023
Internet suspension to avoid violence: Punjab govt
Internet and SMS services were suspended on Saturday across Punjab till 12 noon Sunday, said the department of Home Affairs and Justice, which issued the order fearing incitement to violence by "certain" people.
The state home affairs department ordered suspension of internet services in the state citing probable incitement to violence by some people.
"Whereas DGP has brought to my notice that certain sections of society are likely to threaten public order by incitement to violence as also resorting to widespread violence with an aim to stoke and cause communal tension, obstruction or injury to persons, danger to human life and property.
"Therefore … it is directed that all mobile internet services …, all SMS services (excluding banking and mobile recharge) and all dongle services provided on mobile networks, except the voice calls, in the territorial jurisdiction of Punjab shall be suspended from March 18 (12.00 hours) to March 19 (12.00 hours) in the interest of public safety to prevent any incitement to violence and to prevent any disturbance of peace and public order," read its order.
Punjab government order on suspension of Internet in the state: pic.twitter.com/gui8vlTZzW— Kanchan Vasdev (@kanchan99) March 18, 2023
How Centre beefed up Punjab's security grid before crackdown
In the run-up to the crackdown on Khalistan supporter Amritpal, the Union government had deployed security personnel to Punjab, including specialised riot control paramilitary personnel.
Earlier this month, Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann met Union Home Minister Amit Shah and discussed with him the prevailing law and order situation in Punjab. Notably, Amritpal had referred to Shah's comments earlier this year and said drew a comparison with Indira Gandhi's fate who was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards after she mounted an military operation against Khalistani leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale.
Following the meeting, the Centre sent around 20,000 paramilitary personnel to Punjab, drawn from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and its specialised anti-riot unit Rapid Action Force (RAF).
Initially, about 1,900 regular personnel of CRPF were deployed to Punjab along with specialised anti-riot unit RAF personnel for strengthening the security grid. Last week, the Union Home Ministry also ordered the deployment of 18 companies in Punjab for "aid of the state government during law and order duties." Out of the 18 contingents, eight are drawn from RAF while the rest are regular ones. The overall strength of these companies is around 19,000 personnel.
Officials said the Union Home Ministry is "closely monitoring" the situation in Punjab in the wake of renewed activities of some Khalistani supporters.
Dubai-returned Amritpal was last year anointed the head of 'Waris Punjab De', which was founded by actor and activist Deep Sidhu who died in a road accident in February last year. The event was held at Moga's Rode, the native village of slain militant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale.
Amritpal Singh rise as Khalistan's voice
Amritpal has lately emerged as a leading Khalistani voice in restive Punjab. The Khalistan movement is a decades-old call for a separate Sikh nation called Khalistan. The Khalistan waged a bloody insurgency in Punjab for decades before it ebbed in 1990s. Though the armed element ebbed in '90s, there continues to be support for the movement from abroad, such as from Canada, where several groups are based that advocate the Khalistani cause.
Amritpal has said that he does not identify himself as an Indian and has also threatened that Union Home Minister Amit Shah might meet a fate similar to former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards.
"Amit Shah had said that he won't let the Khalistan movement rise. I had said that the same was done by Indira Gandhi and if you do the same then you'd have to face consequences. If the Home Minister says the same to those demanding 'Hindu Rashtra', then I'll see if he remains Home Minister," Amritpal had said on February 23, as per ANI.
"I don't consider myself a citizen of India. I just have a passport, which does not make me Indian. It's a travel document," said Amritpal further to ANI.
(With PTI inputs)