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Amritpal Singh Arrested After 1 Month: Was it Really About Him? 4 Key Points

In the month-long chase & search for Amritpal Singh, the operation went much beyond a crackdown on Waris Punjab De.

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A month since the Punjab Police launched a crackdown against Amritpal Singh, the Waris Punjab De chief surrendered and was arrested in Moga's Rode village, the birthplace of slain militant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale.

Before his arrest, his last confirmed location disclosed by the police was from the night of 19 March. Amritpal Singh's last appearance was in a video released on 30 March from an unknown location.

Several questions were being raised during the month-long chase — Has he been caught already? Has he managed to escape the country? Or is he hiding in one of the many locations doing the rounds in the media including Punjab, Uttar Pradesh's Terai region, Rajasthan, Haryana, Maharashtra etc?

Even before the arrest, the story has been much bigger than Amritpal Singh's location. There are four aspects to this.

Amritpal Singh Arrested After 1 Month: Was it Really About Him? 4 Key Points

  1. 1. 1. The Crackdown Went Much Beyond Waris Punjab De

    Though the purported target of the crackdown was Amritpal Singh's organisation Waris Punjab De, it ended up being much broader in its scope.

    Many of the people detained had no connections to Waris Punjab De.

    Several journalists were questioned by the police in the last one month. The social media handles of many Sikh journalists and public figures were banned in India. Most of these people are unconnected to Waris Punjab De. Among the accounts banned are Canadian politicians Jagmeet Singh and Gurratan Singh, Sangrur MP Simranjit Singh Mann and poet Rupi Kaur.

    In the month-long chase & search for Amritpal Singh, the operation went much beyond a crackdown on Waris Punjab De.

    Jagmeet Singh, Rupi Kaur and Gurratan Singh are among the prominent diaspora Sikhs whose Twitter accounts have been withheld in India. 

    (Namita Chauhan/The Quint) 

    One of the activists who was questioned by the police, believes that Waris Punjab De was actually only one part of the crackdown.

    "Waris Punjab De wasn't the main focus. This was a psychological crackdown on a politically-conscious section of the Sikh community," the activist said.

    Elaborating on this, the activist said, "Independent journalists in Punjab, Sikh influencers in the diaspora, artists - they played a key role in putting forward a Punjab-centric narrative. They helped defeat Delhi's narrative during the farmers protest. This crackdown was aimed at silencing them and breaking their networks."

    Many Sikh activists believe that the roots of this crackdown lie not in Amritpal Singh's emergence in 2022 but in the 2020-21 farmers' protest.

    "Do you know who was affected by this operation? The entire 'non-kisan union', 'non-Left' strand of the farm laws protest," the activist added.

    Parmjeet Singh Gazi, editor of Sikh Siyasat, is among the journalists whose Twitter account was withheld in India. The police also landed up at his residence earlier this month.

    According to Gazi, "The overall aim is to control the spread of genuine information and only promote the government's narrative."

    Expand
  2. 2. 2. Centre Calling the Shots

    If indeed the roots of this operation can be traced to the farmers' protest, then the natural inference would be that it is the Centre and not the Punjab government that is calling the shots.

    This impression is further strengthened by two more facts.

    1. The fact that according to Twitter's disclosure to the Lumen Database, the requesting agency for the withholding of over 150 Punjab-based and Sikh accounts in the last one month, was the Government of India.

    2. The manner in which the top aides of Amritpal Singh were taken to Assam, a BJP-ruled state, couldn't have happened without the Centre's active involvement.

    If it was purely an AAP government decision, they could very well have sent the detainees to a state with a friendlier government - like Telangana or West Bengal, and not a state whose CM is often engaged in a war of words with AAP leaders.

    Due to the background of the insurgency, coordination between Punjab Police and central agencies has always been smooth, irrespective of the party in power at the state level.

    It may also have helped that the chiefs of two key central agencies - Samant Goel of Research and Analysis Wing and Dinkar Gupta of National Investigation Agency - are both Punjab cadre IPS officers.

    Expand
  3. 3. 3. Waris Punjab De Weakened

    It is likely that the crackdown may have left Waris Punjab De weakened beyond repair from an organisational point of view.

    Amritpal Singh's clout also may have eroded. This is evident from the fact that his appeal for a Sarbat Khalsa on Vaisakhi didn't receive much of a response.

    Most of Amritpal Singh's top aides are now behind bars, including Papalpreet Singh who had been on the run for several weeks.

    In the month-long chase & search for Amritpal Singh, the operation went much beyond a crackdown on Waris Punjab De.

    Amritpal Singh with Papalpreet Singh.

    (Papalpreet Singh/Instagram  )

    It would be difficult to imagine how Amritpal Singh would have been able to revive his fortunes without his key aides, even if he had somehow managed to evade arrest.

    Of course, it is also true that the crackdown brought Amritpal Singh sympathy of many people in Punjab who may otherwise have disagreed with him.

    Also, a section of Sikhs does see the crackdown as disproportionate to the offences Amritpal Singh may have committed.

    There is also a perception that the national media has gone out of its way to exaggerate the threat posed by Amritpal Singh.

    Expand
  4. 4. 4. Akal Takht Takes Centre-stage

    The Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh has handled the last one month's developments, astutely. The Akal Takht, the highest temporal body among Sikhs, was quick to speak out against the crackdown and call for the release of detainees.

    The Akal Takht Jathedar also held a series of meetings - including a high level meeting with Sikh bodies and intellectuals on 27 March and a meeting with journalists on 7 April.

    The Jathedar avoided Amritpal Singh's request to call Sarbat Khalsa on Vaisakhi. Had he agreed, it would have escalated the confrontation with the Central and state government.

    Under his directives, the SGPC will be providing legal support to all the people arrested during the crackdown, including those taken to Assam.

    By providing the Akal Takht's platform for articulation of grievances in a peaceful manner, the Jathedar helped de-escalate the situation to some extent.

    However, the Akal Takht and more so the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak committee finds itself on the receiving end of attacks from the Hindutva side. The latest incident was a viral video of a woman being denied entry into Harmandir Sahib. Despite many loopholes in the woman's story, the national media presented it as an act of hostility on the part of the management.

    Expand
  5. 5. What Happens Next?

    One thing is clear, multiple entities seem to be trying to increase the polarisation in Punjab. Following the Harmandir Sahib incident mentioned above, a number of journalists and at least one BJP leader went to the extent of labelling the Sewadar a 'Khalistani'.

    Since the crackdown, a perception seems to have been created nationally that Punjab has once again become a disturbed state.

    Even external agencies are playing in troubled waters - take for instance how Pakistan based handles tried to project the Bathinda military station fratricide as a militant attack.

    The bringing up of the 'Khalistan' angle even in unrelated things is only likely to increase.

    One milestone coming up is the Jalandhar by-election due in May. It may be an interesting to see what impact the crackdown has had on electoral dynamics.

    It is one of the four Lok Sabha seats in Punjab where Sikhs are in a minority - the seat has a sizeable number of Hindu, Ravidasi and Ad Dharmi voters.

    Two things to watch out for in the election would be - how much ground has AAP lost, how much have the traditional parties like Congress and SAD-BSP revived.

    The other aspect to watch is that even though Amritpal Singh goes missing in action and his organisation is reeling under a crackdown, the scope for more strident Panthic politics has expanded. Will any of the existing players fill this space or will another new entity emerge?

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

1. The Crackdown Went Much Beyond Waris Punjab De

Though the purported target of the crackdown was Amritpal Singh's organisation Waris Punjab De, it ended up being much broader in its scope.

Many of the people detained had no connections to Waris Punjab De.

Several journalists were questioned by the police in the last one month. The social media handles of many Sikh journalists and public figures were banned in India. Most of these people are unconnected to Waris Punjab De. Among the accounts banned are Canadian politicians Jagmeet Singh and Gurratan Singh, Sangrur MP Simranjit Singh Mann and poet Rupi Kaur.

In the month-long chase & search for Amritpal Singh, the operation went much beyond a crackdown on Waris Punjab De.

Jagmeet Singh, Rupi Kaur and Gurratan Singh are among the prominent diaspora Sikhs whose Twitter accounts have been withheld in India. 

(Namita Chauhan/The Quint) 

One of the activists who was questioned by the police, believes that Waris Punjab De was actually only one part of the crackdown.

"Waris Punjab De wasn't the main focus. This was a psychological crackdown on a politically-conscious section of the Sikh community," the activist said.

Elaborating on this, the activist said, "Independent journalists in Punjab, Sikh influencers in the diaspora, artists - they played a key role in putting forward a Punjab-centric narrative. They helped defeat Delhi's narrative during the farmers protest. This crackdown was aimed at silencing them and breaking their networks."

Many Sikh activists believe that the roots of this crackdown lie not in Amritpal Singh's emergence in 2022 but in the 2020-21 farmers' protest.

"Do you know who was affected by this operation? The entire 'non-kisan union', 'non-Left' strand of the farm laws protest," the activist added.

Parmjeet Singh Gazi, editor of Sikh Siyasat, is among the journalists whose Twitter account was withheld in India. The police also landed up at his residence earlier this month.

According to Gazi, "The overall aim is to control the spread of genuine information and only promote the government's narrative."

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

2. Centre Calling the Shots

If indeed the roots of this operation can be traced to the farmers' protest, then the natural inference would be that it is the Centre and not the Punjab government that is calling the shots.

This impression is further strengthened by two more facts.

  1. The fact that according to Twitter's disclosure to the Lumen Database, the requesting agency for the withholding of over 150 Punjab-based and Sikh accounts in the last one month, was the Government of India.

  2. The manner in which the top aides of Amritpal Singh were taken to Assam, a BJP-ruled state, couldn't have happened without the Centre's active involvement.

If it was purely an AAP government decision, they could very well have sent the detainees to a state with a friendlier government - like Telangana or West Bengal, and not a state whose CM is often engaged in a war of words with AAP leaders.

Due to the background of the insurgency, coordination between Punjab Police and central agencies has always been smooth, irrespective of the party in power at the state level.

It may also have helped that the chiefs of two key central agencies - Samant Goel of Research and Analysis Wing and Dinkar Gupta of National Investigation Agency - are both Punjab cadre IPS officers.

0

3. Waris Punjab De Weakened

It is likely that the crackdown may have left Waris Punjab De weakened beyond repair from an organisational point of view.

Amritpal Singh's clout also may have eroded. This is evident from the fact that his appeal for a Sarbat Khalsa on Vaisakhi didn't receive much of a response.

Most of Amritpal Singh's top aides are now behind bars, including Papalpreet Singh who had been on the run for several weeks.

In the month-long chase & search for Amritpal Singh, the operation went much beyond a crackdown on Waris Punjab De.

Amritpal Singh with Papalpreet Singh.

(Papalpreet Singh/Instagram  )

It would be difficult to imagine how Amritpal Singh would have been able to revive his fortunes without his key aides, even if he had somehow managed to evade arrest.

Of course, it is also true that the crackdown brought Amritpal Singh sympathy of many people in Punjab who may otherwise have disagreed with him.

Also, a section of Sikhs does see the crackdown as disproportionate to the offences Amritpal Singh may have committed.

There is also a perception that the national media has gone out of its way to exaggerate the threat posed by Amritpal Singh.

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

4. Akal Takht Takes Centre-stage

The Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh has handled the last one month's developments, astutely. The Akal Takht, the highest temporal body among Sikhs, was quick to speak out against the crackdown and call for the release of detainees.

The Akal Takht Jathedar also held a series of meetings - including a high level meeting with Sikh bodies and intellectuals on 27 March and a meeting with journalists on 7 April.

The Jathedar avoided Amritpal Singh's request to call Sarbat Khalsa on Vaisakhi. Had he agreed, it would have escalated the confrontation with the Central and state government.

Under his directives, the SGPC will be providing legal support to all the people arrested during the crackdown, including those taken to Assam.

By providing the Akal Takht's platform for articulation of grievances in a peaceful manner, the Jathedar helped de-escalate the situation to some extent.

However, the Akal Takht and more so the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak committee finds itself on the receiving end of attacks from the Hindutva side. The latest incident was a viral video of a woman being denied entry into Harmandir Sahib. Despite many loopholes in the woman's story, the national media presented it as an act of hostility on the part of the management.

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

What Happens Next?

One thing is clear, multiple entities seem to be trying to increase the polarisation in Punjab. Following the Harmandir Sahib incident mentioned above, a number of journalists and at least one BJP leader went to the extent of labelling the Sewadar a 'Khalistani'.

Since the crackdown, a perception seems to have been created nationally that Punjab has once again become a disturbed state.

Even external agencies are playing in troubled waters - take for instance how Pakistan based handles tried to project the Bathinda military station fratricide as a militant attack.

The bringing up of the 'Khalistan' angle even in unrelated things is only likely to increase.

One milestone coming up is the Jalandhar by-election due in May. It may be an interesting to see what impact the crackdown has had on electoral dynamics.

It is one of the four Lok Sabha seats in Punjab where Sikhs are in a minority - the seat has a sizeable number of Hindu, Ravidasi and Ad Dharmi voters.

Two things to watch out for in the election would be - how much ground has AAP lost, how much have the traditional parties like Congress and SAD-BSP revived.

The other aspect to watch is that even though Amritpal Singh goes missing in action and his organisation is reeling under a crackdown, the scope for more strident Panthic politics has expanded. Will any of the existing players fill this space or will another new entity emerge?

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Golden Temple   sikhs   Akal Takht 

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