Amritpal Singh: How a 29-Year-Old From Dubai Rose Dramatically in Sikh Politics

While Amritpal Singh's critics accuse him of trying to destabilise Punjab, his fans say he's trying to revive Sikhi.

8 min read

Video Producer/Editor: Shohini Bose

(The Punjab Police on Saturday, 18 March, launched a crackdown on Amritpal Singh. The following is Singh's profile, originally published in October 2022.)

"We (Sikhs) have become a community of slaves" – this is a message Amritpal Singh, the head of Waris Punjab De, tries to push in most of his speeches.

Just 29 years of age, the Dubai-returned Amritpal Singh has suddenly burst into Punjab's religiopolitical scene after he took over Waris Punjab De, an organisation formed by actor-activist Deep Sidhu before his death in an alleged accident in February 2022.

Two of Amritpal Singh's recent public gatherings attracted a sizable crowd.

  • On 25 September, a large event took place at Anandpur Sahib where several Sikhs took Amrit (initiation into a life of piety).

  • On 29 September, Amritpal Singh addressed a large gathering at Rode, the native village of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale in Moga district.

However, public opinion around him is deeply divided, with fans hailing his efforts to revive Sikhi and his campaign against drugs, besides the large crowds in his gatherings. On the other hand, critics accuse him of trying to destabilise Punjab and also of being a usurper.

The ministry of home affairs is reported to have told the Punjab government to keep a watch on his activities. Captain Amarinder Singh has asked the government to take action against him and a Shiv Sena faction wants him booked under UAPA. His Twitter account '@sandhuamrit10' was withheld in India on 7 October 2022.

So, who is Amritpal Singh? What does he stand for? What explains his sudden rise? What impact could he have in Punjab? We'll try and examine some of these aspects in this article.

Who is Amritpal Singh?

Born in 1993, Amritpal Singh Sandhu hails from Jallupur Khera village in Baba Bakala tehsil of Amritsar district.

He is said to have studied up to the plus two level, before he left for Dubai for work in 2012. He worked in the transport business in Dubai and came back only in 2022 to take over Waris Punjab De.

Social media activity around him indicates that he had been speaking out on issues related to Sikhs for at least the last five years or so.

He came became part of the protests against the farm laws, especially the strand of the movement associated with Deep Sidhu.

Based on Deep Sidhu's speeches at the Shambhu Border, this strand differed from the farm unions as he believed that the movement shouldn't stop with the repeal of farm laws but lead to a larger political and social transformation in Punjab.

Amritpal Singh's own views are in the same direction but he articulates them in a different vocabulary from Deep Sidhu. More on that in the next section of the article.

While Amritpal Singh's critics accuse him of trying to destabilise Punjab, his fans say he's trying to revive Sikhi.

(A huge crowd gathered to pay tribute to Deep Sidhu)

Apparently, Amritpal never met Deep Sidhu and the two interacted only through social media.

So up to this point, the facts are clear.

It is from this point on, that there are disputing versions around Amritpal Singh.


His supporters claim to that Deep Sidhu was close to Amritpal Singh and that he came to head Sidhu's Waris Punjab De through a legitimate process.

His leadership of Waris Punjab De is disputed by some of Deep Sidhu's aides like Palwinder Singh Talwara and a few members of Sidhu's family.

Journalist Bhagat Singh Doabi claims that Sidhu had even blocked Amritpal on social media. This allegation remains disputed.

His critics say that Amritpal Singh was announced as the head of Waris Punjab De through a sudden announcement on social media, that too not an official page, and that this wasn't endorsed by Deep Sidhu's family.


What Does He Stand For?

As we mentioned earlier, like Deep Sidhu, Amritpal Singh also calls for a large political and social transformation in Punjab and he believes that the farm laws shouldn't be seen in isolation.

But his choice of words is sharper and, some would say, more controversial than Deep Sidhu.

Amritpal Singh says that be it the farm laws, the water crisis in Punjab, the drug menace, migration of people from UP and Bihar into Punjab, arrest of political dissidents, undermining of Punjabi language are all part of a "silent genocide" of Sikhs.

For instance, when he addressed the people protesting against a liquor manufacturing plant in Zira, he said that such factories are part of the silent genocide of Punjabis as it would lead to increased addiction, besides polluting water.

He also says that the dilution of Sikh values and promotion of pop culture encouraging Sikhs to cut their hair and shave their beard, is also part of the same process of "silent genocide".

"Not all genocide involves killing. If a grandson doesn't look like his grandfather? If a lion's progeny don't look like lions but deer, isn't that also a kind of genocide?"
Amritpal Singh

He also says that "Punjab is for Punjabis" and that jobs need to be reserved for locals at all levels.

Amritpal Singh's critics say that his speeches could take the youth in the direction of extremism and on a path that gets them arrested or even killed.

To such allegations, Amritpal Singh responds that, "Didn't Guru Gobind Singh sacrifice his sons? What if he had also thought of the consequences? What would have become of Sikhs then?"

"I don't want anyone to die but if someone's son gives up his life for Sikhi then he becomes Guru's son," he says.

While Amritpal Singh's critics accuse him of trying to destabilise Punjab, his fans say he's trying to revive Sikhi.

(Amritpal Singh says 'Punjab is for Punjabis')

(Amritpal Singh Sandhu - Waris Punjab De Facebook Page)

The mainstream media and political parties have accused him of trying to destablise Punjab, while some of his critics say he is increasing the divide between Sikhs and other communities, especially Hindus.

During some of his public addresses he alleged that "migration of Hindus from UP and Bihar" and "Gujjar Muslims from Jammu" may represent an economic threat to Punjabi Hindus and Muslims but are not a cultural threat and that's why they may be happy about such developments.


Interestingly, many within the pro-Khalistan sphere are also a little distrustful of Amritpal Singh. This is mainly because the older guard understand the machinations of state agencies and they don't trust new entities easily.

Also, often many organisations who may be pro-Khalistan, often make common cause with diverse groups including Leftists, Bahujan groups, Muslim groups, Kashmir based groups. Amritpal Singh's shrill rhetoric, many feel, isn't conducive to such solidarities.

However, Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) president and Sangrur MP Simranjit Singh Mann has been very supportive of Amritpal Singh.


What Explains Amritpal Singh's Sudden Rise?

Two factors have helped Amritpal Singh's sudden rise in the last few months.

First, he has received a considerable degree of attention in the media as well as social media. The attention of the mainstream news channels in Punjab is particularly surprising because they are largely known to black out pro-Khalistan elements.

The second factor is that any criticism of him has been met with aggressive resistance from his supporters, especially on social media.

There a number of videos on YouTube of his supporters responding to his critics like Palwinder Talwara of the other Waris Punjab De faction, Baba Banta Singh of Manji Sahib Gurdwara and journalist Bhagat Singh Doabi.


Though this is an extremely early stage and one can't say what Amritpal Singh's political trajectory will be. His rise can be seen as the result of a vacuum at three interconnected levels in Punjab: political, religious and the unrest among the youth.


The vacuum in the Panthic space began with the delegitimisation of the Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) due to the 2015 Bargari sacrilege and Kotkapura killings. This led to the Sarbat Khalsa that year and formation of the Bargari Morcha. The Badals decline and the churn in this political space has been going on since then.

The farm laws further increased the divide between Punjab and New Delhi.

The sudden revival in the political fortunes of Simranjit Singh Mann and the rise of Deep Sidhu and now Amritpal Singh, are results of this churn.


The Badals stood delegitimised beyond repair due to the 2015 sacrilege cases and the alleged increase in corruption and drug menace in their tenure.

But the lacklustre Congress government led by Captain Amarinder Singh and later Charanjit Channi failed to provide stability and address people's aspirations. The Aam Aadmi Party was a default beneficiary of this political vacuum and won a thumping majority in the 2022 elections. But its honeymoon period was even shorter than that of the Congress.

AAP's defeat at the hands of Simranjit Singh Mann in Bhagwant Mann's Lok Sabha seat Sangrur, was a clear indication of this.

While Amritpal Singh's critics accuse him of trying to destabilise Punjab, his fans say he's trying to revive Sikhi.

SAD (Amritsar) candidate Simranjit Singh Mann receives the 'Certificate of Election' after winning the Sangrur Lok Sabha bypolls, in Sangrur, Sunday.

The perception that Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann is being controlled by AAP's Delhi leadership is also a cause of resentment.

Basically no one in the political sphere seems to inspire people. There is a vacuum and different entities are trying to fill it.


Dissatisfaction Among the Youth

The untimely death of Deep Sidhu and the killing of Sidhu Moose Wala has hurt a large section of Punjab's youth badly. Though different in their appeal, both stood for an independent political stand on issues concerning Punjab and Sikhs.

The youth lacks role models and Amritpal Singh is trying to fill that vacuum at least for a section of Sikh youngsters.

By encouraging the youth to take Amrit and give up drugs, combined with an aggressive stand on Sikh issues, Amritpal is showing the youth his cure for hopelessness: the prospect of a life of pride and piety.

In addition to this, the appeal of "Punjab for Punjabis" and demand for reservation of jobs, may also get some traction with unemployment being a major issue.

"At least someone is doing something" is a common refrain one hears among his younger supporters.

In that sense, there are some parallels with the early efforts of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale in the 1970s – when he used to travel across Punjab preaching against pornography, addiction and consumerism. That too thrived in a political and social vacuum created by the Green Revolution, the Centre's policies and a state leadership seen as self-serving.


What Will This Lead To?

Punjab seems to be in a political and social flux. An individual like Amritpal Singh is both a product of this flux as well as someone who can intensify it.

A lot would depend on how the AAP government in Punjab and BJP government in the Centre respond to Amritpal Singh.

This is not the first time such political actors have emerged in Punjab. The government has at times decided to crackdown in a draconian manner and at times it has allowed such voices to remain, let off steam, and wait for them to fizzle out.

If AAP wants to send a strong message to the national constituency it is trying to woo, it may take strong action against Amritpal Singh. If it wants to maintain a balance in Punjab, it may wait and hope his popularity declines on its own.

While Amritpal Singh's critics accuse him of trying to destabilise Punjab, his fans say he's trying to revive Sikhi.
New Delhi: Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal addresses media after signing a Knowledge Sharing Agreement with Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann, in New Delhi on Tuesday, April 26, 2022. (Photo: IANS/Anupam Gautam)

From the BJP's point of view, it may see an opportunity to put AAP on the mat and present itself as the sole protector of Punjab's Hindus as well as of "national security".

Irrespective of whether one believes the allegations against Amritpal Singh or not, we can safely say that the political discourse in Punjab is likely to get shriller in the near future.

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