Chandigarh: In a major operation launched Saturday, the Punjab Police swooped down on Khalistan activist Amritpal Singh and his accomplices, arresting 78 people and detaining several others for questioning.
The self-styled Sikh preacher, however, managed to give the police the slip and is now in hiding.
A massive search operation was launched in the Jalandhar-Nakodar-Shahkot belt with multiple teams of policemen spreading out in the area and searching villages. Sources add that there is heavy deployment of police outside the prominent gurdwaras in the area.
The police have imposed Section 144 of the CrPC in several districts of Punjab to stop people from gathering.
Amritpal and members of his outfit ‘Waris Punjab De’ (WPD) have 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, the Punjab Police said in its official statement issued late evening.
The police added that case FIR No. 39 dated 24-02-2023 stands registered against WPD elements for the attack on Ajnala Police Station.
On 23 February, Amritpal along with thousands of his supporters had laid siege to the Ajnala police station to secure the release of one of his associates who was arrested in a kidnapping and assault case.
During the state-wide operation Saturday, nine weapons, including one .315 bore rifle, seven rifles of 12 bore, one revolver and 373 live cartridges of different caliber were seized so far, said the police spokesperson.
Sources add that Amritpal along with his associates was travelling from Jalandhar to attend a religious function when their cavalcade of cars was stopped at a police barricade at Mehatpur township on the Nakodar-Jagraon road.
When the cars were not allowed to move ahead, the cavalcade turned around and Amritpal managed to escape in his car along with some other cars of his cavalcade. However, two cars and seven persons were apprehended near the Mehatpur market.
Several police cars chased Amritpal for some distance, but, according to sources, he along with those in his car abandoned the vehicle and went into hiding. Police took custody of the abandoned vehicle.
Amritpal’s native village Jallu Khera near Amritsar has also been encircled by the Punjab Police and central forces.
Amritpal’s father Tarsem Singh, who lives in Jallu Khera, told media persons that he did not know where his son was and he also did not know whether he had been arrested or detained or was at large.
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Earlier in the day, internet was suspended in several parts of Punjab till Sunday afternoon.
The police statement added that citizens are requested not to pay heed to fake news and rumours. “Situation in the state is completely stable. All persons indulging in mischievous activities for disturbing peace and harmony in the state shall be dealt with strictly” stated the police spokesperson.
In a Twitter message, the Punjab Police requested all the people in Punjab to maintain peace and harmony.
Request all citizens to maintain peace & harmony
Punjab Police is working to maintain Law & Order
Request citizens not to panic or spread fake news or hate speech pic.twitter.com/gMwxlOrov3
— Punjab Police India (@PunjabPoliceInd) March 18, 2023
In the afternoon, unverified videos were put up by his supporters on Facebook showed Amritpal sitting in a vehicle with a request being made by a co-traveller that he was being chased by the police and that his supporters should reach in large numbers at the shared location.
Reacting to the video, Congress MP Ravneet Singh Bittu has in a video message ridiculed Amritpal for running away like a “coward” when the police was chasing him.
The Ludhiana MP pointed out that while Amritpal has been asking the Sikh youth to weaponise themselves and be ready to give up their heads for the cause of Sikhism, he himself did not have the courage to face the police.
— Ravneet Singh Bittu (@RavneetBittu) March 18, 2023
In Mohali, Amritpal’s supporters in the Quami Insaaf Morcha marched from their protest site to the main airport road blocking the road in front of the Singh Shahida Gurdwara.
Sources said that a protest by Amritpal’s supporters was also held outside a gurdwara in Bhadaur in Ludhiana where Amritpal was supposed to address a gathering on Saturday afternoon.
After returning from Dubai last year to claim the headship of outfit ‘Waris Punjab De’ following the death of its head actor-turned-Khalistan activist Deep Sidhu in a car accident, Amritpal has since then courted several controversies.
In December, Amritpal had launched the first phase of his Khalsa vaheer (march) from the Akal Takht in Amritsar. The self-styled preacher has been demanding the creation of Khalistan, a separate Sikh state, for which he is exhorting the Sikh youth to give up drugs, weaponise themselves, follow Sikhism in its most orthodox form by baptising themselves.
(This is an updated version of the report)
(Edited by Tony Rai)
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