New Delhi/Chandigarh: Officials of the Punjab police were given the “strong advice” to take decisive action against Khalistani sympathiser Amritpal Singh Sandhu soon, as time was running out for the state administration, with his clout growing rapidly.
Official sources told The Sunday Guardian on Saturday, even as Punjab police was still trying to arrest Amritpal, that if the police had not done what they did on Saturday, the only option that would have been available to restrain him was to involve the Central forces, a scenario that would have opened the border state to civil disruptions similar to what it had witnessed in the 1980s.
After getting this advice from Delhi, Punjab police officials decided to act and try to detain him after a G-20 meeting ended in Amritsar on Friday.
The much delayed action against him came after questions started being raised as to what political benefits the state government leaders were factoring in while treating him with such “affection”.
As per discussions in relevant circles, influential people in Punjab wanted Amritpal to become “big”, a scenario that would have forced the Centre to intervene with its full might, an event that would have caused the bloodshed of Khalistani sympathsiers, security officials apart from causing collateral damages, all of which would have dented the image of the decision-makers at the Centre.
Official sources in New Delhi told The Sunday Guardian that regular inputs were being shared from the beginning with the state police apparatus on Amritpal’s links with people working with Pakistan’s intelligence agencies. However, the action of acting on these inputs was the state police’s responsibility, which for a long time kept dithering as the timeline of events shows.
The Punjab police action came after almost 25 days of Amritpal and his armed supporters storming a police station in Ajnala, Amritsar to free one of his supporters who was arrested for physically assaulting an individual.
After this incident, the morale of Amritpal and his supporters increased a lot as the response of the law and order machinery—the state police, which he had challenged—was weak and inadequate.
The Punjab police on Saturday launched a massive state-wide cordon and search operations (CASO) against elements of Waris Punjab De (WPD) against whom several criminal cases stand registered. The manhunt or Amritpal was continuing into the night on Saturday. More than seven district police forces along with CRPF jawans have been deployed in Jalandhar and Moga for the operation.
During the operation, a total of 78 persons have been arrested so far, while, several others have been detained for questioning. Nine weapons, including one .315 bore rifle, seven rifles of 12 bore, one revolver and 373 live cartridges of different calibers have been recovered so far.
The official spokesperson of Punjab police said that on Saturday afternoon, several WPD activists were intercepted at the Shahkot-Malsian Road in Jalandhar district and seven persons were arrested on the spot.
The WPD 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. Case FIR No. 39 dated 24-02-2023 stands registered against WPD elements for the attack on Ajnala police station, he added. More than 100 police cars chased Amritpal’s convoy but until 6.40 pm, he had been able to evade the police.
On Saturday evening, there was news that Amritpal had been arrested from Nakodar, Jalandhar. However, later, there was news that he had managed to escape from there. In between all the rumours and the police chase, no official was willing to confirm if he had been arrested or not. Amid all this ruckus, internet was suspended in Punjab until Sunday night and Section 144 was imposed in many districts of the state. The ancestral village of Amritpal, Jallupur Khera has been sealed and no one is being allowed to enter nor exit the village. The police has arrested six close aides of Amritpal.
By the afternoon, many Sikh Nihangs started marching towards Mohali based Gurudwara Singh Shaheedan while openly brandishing their swords. They were demanding the release of Amritpal as they believed that he had been arrested. Similar chaos could be seen in Moga and Jalandhar where a heavy deployment of force could also be seen.
The Ajnala incident, which took place on 23 February, was a blot on the face of Punjab police, which did not file even an FIR against Amritpal, who used the Shri Palki Sahib as a shield and attacked the Ajnala police station.
The ruling state government of Bhagwant Singh Mann of the Aam Aadmi Party has come under questions from all corners on the deteriorating law and order situation in Punjab.
In the period of just one month, Punjab has witnessed the Ajnala incident, an interview of the incarcerated criminal Lawrence Bishnoi from inside the jail and the murder of a 6-year-old child who was shot dead by unknown assailants.
Some supporters of Amritpal shared some videos on social media claiming that policemen were chasing them. A video also showed the WPD chief sitting in a vehicle and one of his aides could be heard saying policemen were after “Bhai saab” (Amritpal). As Internet was suspended, Punjab police urged the 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 police tweeted. “All mobile internet services, all SMS services (except banking & mobile recharge) & all dongle services provided on mobile networks, except the 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,” the government said.