Chandigarh (IANS): Punjab Police on Saturday launched a massive state-wide search operation against Khalistan sympathizer Amritpal Singh, head of ‘Waris Punjab De’.
A total of 78 persons have been arrested so far, while, several others have been detained.
Several, including Amritpal Singh, are on the run and a massive manhunt has been launched to nab them, the police said in a statement on Twitter.
“During the state-wide operation, nine weapons, including one .315 bore rifle, seven rifles of 12 bore, one revolver and 373 live cartridges of different caliber have been recovered so far.
“‘Waris Punjab De’ elements are involved in four criminal cases relating to spreading disharmony among classes, attempt to murder, attack on police persons and creating obstructions in the lawful discharge of duties of public servants. FIR stands registered for the attack on Ajnala Police Station,” it added.
In an earlier report, IANS said:
A house-to-house search operation in villages in Nakodar tehsil in Jalandhar district is on, said a senior official. Even the central paramilitary forces have been involved in the search operation.
Meanwhile, internet services across the state were suspended as a precautionary step.
Supporters of Amritpal Singh have been sharing videos of police vehicles chasing Singh’s cavalcade in Moga district.
Anticipating disturbance of peace, a large contingent of the paramilitary force was deployed outside his native village, Jallupur Khaira, in Amritsar district.
A special team of the police, comprising personnel from seven districts, had followed the separatist leader’s convoy while he was on his way to Jalandhar’s Shahkot tehsil. They had closed on his vehicles two to three times but Amritpal Singh managed to escape.
Section 144 has been imposed in many districts of the state. The police have also increased security in the state. In addition, all vehicles are being checked at the Punjab-Haryana border.
Thirty-year-old Amritpal Singh, a pro-Khalistan fiery propagator and self-styled preacher, has been running ‘separatist’ propaganda through speeches. Three cases, including two of delivering hate speeches, have been pending against him.
On the radar of Central investigating agencies, he has drawn comparisons to Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale owing to his similar looks and donning a navy blue turban, a white chola, and a sword-sized kirpan.
On February 23, an armed mob led by Amritpal Singh clashed with police and laid siege to a police station near Amritsar, demanding the release of one of their colleagues who had been taken into custody in an alleged kidnapping case.
Six policemen were injured in the bloody clash.
Police officials had later clarified that they were unable to control the crowd as they were carrying a physical copy of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, also called Bir in Punjabi, as a shield.
As the Internet was suspended on Saturday, Punjab Police urged people to maintain peace and harmony and not to spread panic, fake news or hate speech.
“Punjab Police is working to maintain law and order,” the Punjab Police tweeted. “All mobile internet services, all SMS services (except banking & mobile recharge) & all dongle services provided on mobile networks, except voice call, in the territorial jurisdiction of Punjab shall be suspended from 18th March (12:00 hours) to 19th March (12:00 hours) in the interest of public safety”.
MEANWHILE, in Canada, federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh tweeted: “I am deeply concerned by reports that India has suspended civil liberties and imposed an internet blackout throughout the state of Punjab.
“These draconian measures are unsettling for many given their historical use to execute extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances during the 1984 Sikh Genocide.
“I am calling on [Prime Minister] Justin Trudeau and the Liberal government to immediately contact their Indian counterparts to express concern regarding the suspension of civil liberties and the safety of Canadians abroad.”
THE World Sikh Organization of Canada (WSO) said in a statement that it “condemns the security operations in Punjab to arrest Sikh leader, Bhai Amritpal Singh. Indian authorities have announced the mass suspension of internet services across Punjab until 12pm Sunday citing a threat to “public order by incitement to violence”. State-wide cordon and search operations are currently underway across Punjab.
“In addition to the mass arrests of associates of Bhai Amritpal Singh and other Sikh activists, section 144 of the Indian Code of Criminal Procedure has also been invoked in multiple areas in Punjab. The colonial-era law prohibits the gathering of four or more people and those found in violation of the order can be charged with rioting.
“The WSO fears the extrajudicial killings of Sikh activists in the guise of ‘fake encounters’ in the current circumstances.
“Bhai Amritpal Singh, head of the Waris Punjab De (Heirs of Punjab) organization, has recently come to prominence in Punjab with his successful campaign to inspire Punjabi youth to reject drugs and embrace the Sikh faith. Amritpal Singh has also been open and unapologetic in his support for Khalistan, a sovereign Sikh state, as well as highlighting discrimination against the Sikh community in India.
“Today, as Bhai Amritpal Singh was traveling to a religious program, a special police team comprised of over 100 police cars began to pursue his convoy. Police forces from eight districts were deployed to facilitate the arrest. According to initial reports, after a chase, Bhai Amritpal Singh and his companions were taken into custody and transported to an undisclosed location. In a recent news release however, the Punjab government has said that Bhai Amritpal Singh is not in custody and a manhunt is taking place to find and arrest him.
“Bhai Amritpal Singh’s village, Jallupur Khera in Baba Bakala District of Amritsar, has been sealed and surrounded by police and India’s Rapid Action Force. All major roads in Punjab currently have checkpoints by paramilitary forces. There are also reports of Sikh activists across Punjab being detained by police. According to reports, at least 78 persons have so far been taken into custody.
“No reasons have been provided by the government for these draconian measures or for the arrest of Bhai Amritpal Singh and his companions. Indian colonial-era laws like the National Security Act, allow authorities to detain individuals without charge for up to 12 months.
“The suspension of civil liberties in Punjab will also impact other protests taking place in the state such as the Quami Insaaf Morcha (National Justice Agitation) in Mohali which is calling for the release of Sikh political prisoners, and also the commemorations of the first anniversary of the murder of Punjabi singer Sidhu Moosewala which were scheduled for tomorrow.”