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Lok Sabha Elections: Why Odds Favour Jailed Amritpal Singh in Khadoor Sahib

'Helped Youth Leave Drugs, Will Support Him': Locals on why they support jailed Sikh leader Amritpal Singh in Punjab

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Edited By :Aakriti Handa

Jailed Sikh leader Amritpal Singh is emerging as a front-runner from Punjab's Khadoor Sahib seat in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections. 

30-year-old Amritpal, founder of 'Waris Punjab De' outfit, is detained 2,700 kilometres way from his home in Jallupur Khera village of Punjab’s Amritsar. He is locked in Dibrugarh jail of Assam since 23 April 2023 along with nine of his aides. Amritpal was accused of anti-India activities by the Indian government. 

While Amritpal is in jail, his father Tarsem Singh and mother Balwinder Kaur are leading his campaign. According to his father, people from across Punjab are coming on their own to support Amritpal. 

'Helped Youth Leave Drugs, Will Support Him': Locals on why they support jailed Sikh leader Amritpal Singh in Punjab

Tarsem said, "People are contesting elections on their own. Supporters of traditional parties have risen above party lines to support Amritpal in the election." 

Tarsem’s words appeared to be true if one listens to Sikh kavishers (musicians), who perform different kinds of religious music. Recently, a video went viral with a Ragi (religious singer) singing, "Please vote, people of Khadoor Sahib. It is a matter of self-respect.” A viral Punjabi song 'Khalsa Maidan Wich Aw' has called on people to vote for Amritpal.

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'Common Consensus in Nijjar Village to Support Amritpal' 

In neighbouring village Nijjar, a hoarding hangs on the wall of a langar (Sikh community kitchen). The hoarding declares that the entire village supports Amritpal Singh and that politicians should not come to demand votes in the village.

'Helped Youth Leave Drugs, Will Support Him': Locals on why they support jailed Sikh leader Amritpal Singh in Punjab

Two men, sitting on benches outside the kitchen, described why they support Amritpal Singh. 72-year-old Gurdev Singh, who retired from post of sub-inspector from the Border Security Force (BSF), said that Amritpal was "mistreated, given harsh punishment and oppressed." 

Gurdev said, "After killing General Dyer, freedom fighter Udham Singh had surrendered and faced punishment happily. Amritpal did not do anything. Yet has been punished for no reason.”  He added:

"Amritpal will become a Member of Parliament (MP) and raise the issue of drugs. That will help in dealing with the drugs problem in Punjab. We have seen such a wave in 1989, when Simranjit Singh Mann had got elected as an MP from our constituency while being in jail. Whoever will talk about Punjab, we will support that person."
Gurdev Singh, former BSF, local from Nijjar village in Punjab

Gurdev’s friend Balkar Singh, who has retired from the Indian Army, joined the conversation. 

He said, "Our entire village reached a common consensus to support Amritpal. With our votes, he can become an MP and can came out of jail.”

Then, Balkar went on to ask a question on the issue of human rights.

He asked, "Why didn't any government question the Punjab police when Jaswant Singh Khalra was picked? Why didn't Bhagwant Mann, Sukhbir Badal or anyone from the Congress ask where Jathedar Kaunke’s body was thrown?"

Jaswant Singh Khalra was a prominent human rights activist, whose efforts exposed several cases of encounters, abductions and human rights abuses that were carried out by the police in the name of fighting the Khalistan insurgency. He was picked up by the Punjab police on 6 September, 1995 and he was never seen again. His wife - Bibi Paramjit Kaur Khalra contested the Lok Sabha elections from Khadoor Sahib in 2019.

Jathedar Gurdev Singh Kaunke was allegedly tortured to death by security officials in 1993.

On being asked about Amritpal's support for 'Khalistan', both Gurdev and Balkar said that "they were Indians" but against Modi’s policies like Agniveer. 

'Amritpal Helped Youth Leave Drugs, Will Support Him'

70-year-old Surender Kaur is from the same village as Amritpal Singh. She praised Amritpal’s efforts to fight the drug problem. She said, "When he was here, he had helped many young men leave drugs."

Criticising the Central government for sending him to jail in Assam, she remarked, "It was wrong to send him to Dibrugarh. Don’t they have space for him in Punjab’s jails? There are so many corrupt people in the government and no action is taken against them. Some come out of jail.” 

"What Amritpal did in Ajnala was wrong. Why was he sent away? He spoke aggressively but did not commit any crime." 

Amritpal's supporters allegedly resorted to violence on 23 February 2023 while trying to secure the release of an associate detained by the police in Ajnala.

Surinder claimed that Amritpal’s mother never stepped outside her house before his arrest. But now, she has no option but to visit jails in the other part of country.

Meanwhile, a group of 15-20 women were working under the MNREGA job guarantee scheme on a roadside in Khadoor Sahib. One of the women from the group, Joginder Kaur said, "We will vote for Amritpal Singh. He was helping youngsters fight drug addiction. All of us are with Amritpal."

'Helped Youth Leave Drugs, Will Support Him': Locals on why they support jailed Sikh leader Amritpal Singh in Punjab

All women nodded in agreement. 

60-year-old Gurmukh Singh, who hails from Vein Poin village of Khadoor Sahib constituency, expects Amritpal to win the election. He said, "Amritpal will stay in high spirits in the elections. His opponents are just bluffing."

Gurmukh claimed that despite being a Sikh-dominated constituency, there is "no scope here" for the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), a party that has won from the Khadoor Sahib constituency (and its predecessor Tarn Taran) many times in the past. He added:

"We have tried everyone. Now we want Amritpal as an MP. With God’s miracle, the game has changed and he is in the election fray.” 

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Does Amritpal Have an Edge in These Elections?

As per Gurmukh, Amritpal talked about everything that concerned people. On Amritpal’s arrest he said, "Drug peddlers are invisible to the government. But Amritpal, who was trying to connect people with the Guru Granth Sahib (the holy book for Sikhs) has been arrested."

He added that though Bibi Khalra's impact was limited last time around, but Amritpal has succeeded in gaining a large support base. Khadoor Sahib constituency is considered a 'panthic' seat, where the impact of Sikh religio-politics is the strongest.

It has six segments in the Majha region, two in Doaba and one in Malwa.

In the 2022 Assembly election, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had won all six Assembly segments in the Majha region and Zira segment of Malwa. In the Doaba segments, Congress’ Rana Gurjit had won from Kapurthala constituency while his son Rana Inderpartap had won the Sultanpur Lodhi seat as an Independent.

Amritpal has an edge over others due to a couple of other factors too.

The Khadoor Sahib constituency has a strong association with Sikhism, Sikh movements and Sikh politics. Of the ten Sikh Gurus, eight had visited Khadoor Sahib town. Majha region had become the epicentre of militancy against the Indian state between 1984 and 1995.

The Sikh secession movement is said to have started after the Indian Army had attacked the Golden Temple in Amritsar in 1984, in what was called Operation Bluestar. Sikhs still see that as an attack on their faith.

In 1989, Khadoor Sahib’s predecessor constituency Tarn Taran had elected SAD(A) leader Simranjit Singh Mann to the Parliament while he was still in jail. On 1 June, when Sikhs observe the 40th anniversary of the attack on Golden Temple as 'Genocide Day', people from the Sikh majority state of Punjab will be voting for India's parliamentary elections. 

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'Will Not Repeat the Mistake of 2019'

In 2019, Congress’ Jasbir Singh Dimpa had won from the Khadoor Sahib constituency with SAD’s Jagir Kaur being at second spot and Bibi Paramjit Kaur Khalra at the third position with 20 percent votes.

After the result, there was a condemnation of voters of Khadoor Sahib for defeating Bibi Khalra. Punjabi singer Sidhu Moosewala had called Khadoor Sahib voters as two-faced in his song 'Scapegoat'.

This time around, people from Khadoor Sahib are claiming that they will not repeat mistake of 2019.

In Khadoor Sahib constituency, Amritpal Singh’s flags and posters can be seen everywhere. But Congress, AAP and Akali Dal’s flags and posters are somewhat missing. Akali Dal’s Virsa Singh Valtoha has faced criticism from Amritpal’s father for contesting against Amritpal.

'Helped Youth Leave Drugs, Will Support Him': Locals on why they support jailed Sikh leader Amritpal Singh in Punjab

Punjab’s grand old party SAD has ended primary membership of former MLA and Minister Adesh Partap Singh Kairon. Buzz is that he was helping Amritpal Singh and Sukhbir Badal was unhappy with him. Kairon is the son-in-law of former Punjab chief minister Prakash Singh Badal and Sukhbir's brother-in-law.

Initially, Amritpal had shot to fame when he had started using the Clubhouse app and gained considerable following for his opinions. He has now been allocated 'mic' as an election symbol.

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Edited By :Aakriti Handa
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