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Punjab: The Hunt For Khalistan Supporter Amritpal Singh Continues, Internet Shutdown Extended Till Monday

Punjab: The Hunt For Khalistan Supporter Amritpal Singh Continues, Internet Shutdown Extended Till Monday

In a statewide crackdown on fugitive Khalistan supporter Amritpal Singh's Waris Punjab De, 78 people were arrested and weapons and ammunition were recovered. The crackdown comes after the Union government dispatched large contingents of central forces to Punjab to beef up the state's security grid.

Crackdown against Amritpal Singh
Crackdown against Amritpal Singh PTI Photo

The hunt for Khalistan supporter Amritpal Singh continues for the second day on Sunday in Punjab amid crackdown on his radical organisation Waris Punjab De.

A total of 78 members of Waris Punjab De were arrested in the crackdown on Saturday, but radical preacher Amritpal slipped past the police net. The Punjab Police has said that the search for him is on and he would be placed under arrest. 

Amid the continuing crackdown on radicals, the cellular internet and SMS services shutdown in Punjab has been extended till Monday noon. In a order, Punjab Department of Home Affairs and Justice said the extension is "in the interest of public safety, to prevent any incitement to violence and to prevent any disturbance of peace and public order". 

Talking to reporters near Nakodar in Jalandhar late Saturday night, Jalandhar Police Commissioner Kuldeep Sinhh Chahal said, "Amritpal Singh is now a fugitive and we are looking for him and we will soon arrest him." 

Earlier on Saturday, officials said Amritpal 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. 

Weapons, vehicles seized in Waris Punjab De crackdown

The Punjab Police has seized vehicles, weapons, and ammunition belonging to radical Waris Punjab De during the ongoing crackdown.

In photos and videos, Amritpal was often seen with armed personnel around him with rifles and ammunition belts wrapped across their torsos. He also visited the iconic Golden Temple —the holiest Sikh religious site— with armed personnel. 

In a tweet, the Punjab Police said it seized eight rifles and one revolver in the operation. PTI reported that 373 live cartridges of different caliber were also recovered by police.

Jalandhar Commissioner Chahal also told reporters that two vehicles belonging to Amritpal had also been seized.

The crackdown on Amritpal Singh so far

The crackdown on Khalistan supporter Amritpal Singh began on Saturday afternoon. It's rooted in a number of cases registered against him and members of his radical organisation Waris Punjab De. 

The Punjab Police has said it launched a "massive statewide cordon and search operations (CASO)" against elements of the Waris Punjab De against whom several criminal cases had been registered. The police action also comes ahead of the start of Amritpal's 'Khalsa Wahir' —a religious procession— from Muktsar district. 

A police spokesperson said that the Waris Punjab De elements were involved in four criminal cases relating to spreading disharmony among classes, attempt to murder, attack on police personnel, and creating obstructions in lawful discharge of duties of public servants. An FIR dated February 24 stands registered against WPD elements for the attack on Ajnala Police Station.

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.  

First reports of crackdown on Waris Punjab De and Amritpal came on Saturday when some of his supporters shared 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.  

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.

How Centre beefed up Punjab's security grid before crackdown

In the run-up to the crackdown on Khalistan supporter Amritpal and his radical Waris Punjab De, 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 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 on Saturday said the Union Home Ministry was "closely monitoring" the situation in Punjab in the wake of renewed activities of some Khalistani supporters.  

Amritpal Singh's rise as Khalistan's voice

Amritpal has lately emerged as a leading Khalistani voice in restive Punjab. 

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.

The Khalistan movement is a decades-old call for a separate Sikh nation called Khalistan. The Khalistan movement 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)

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