The call of ‘Amrit Kaal’ in the 75th year of Independence last year has been disrupted with the emergence of Amritpal Singh Sandhu, who is being described as Bhindranwale 2.0. Born in 1993, Amritpal became prominent in September 2022 returning to India from Dubai to head the organization ‘Waris Punjab De’ (WPD) after its previous head ‘Deep Sidhu’ (Sandeep Singh Sidhu) died in a car accident.
Deep Sidhu campaigned for Simaranjit Sigh Mann (former IPS, MP and proponent of Khalistan) and the Shiromani Akali Dal. His photograph with Prime Minister Narendra Modi is on social media. Amritpal was arrested on February 9, 2021 for planting a flag on the Red Fort and later a second time for damaging the monument and vandalism by rioters. Released on bail on April 16, 2021, he formed the WPD in September the same year.
Amritpal sported cut hair and no beard in Dubai. His taking over WPD was not liked by some followers of Deep Sidhu since the latter had not nominated him. Amritpal publicly calls for formation of Khalistan; arguing it is an ideology and none can suppress that sentiment. He dresses up and moves around with an armed escort like Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who he calls a hero.
In November, 2022, Amritpal was ‘briefly’ placed under house arrest on suspicion of WPD’s involvement in the murder of Shiv Sena politician Sudhir Suri. On December 9 and 13, 2022 Amritpal supporters vandalized a Gurudwara in Biharipura and in Jalandhar respectively.
In February 2023, Ajnala police arrested Lovepreet Singh Toofan (Amritpal’s closest associate) after an FIR was registered against Amritpal and six associates on a complaint filed by one Varinder Singh for having been kidnapped and beaten up by them. After the arrests, Amritpal issued an ultimatum to the police to revoke the case but with no police response, his supporters armed with automatic weapons and swords broke through police barricades and stormed the police complex. Several police personnel were injured and police vehicles were damaged. Punjab police later released Toofan after the court ordered his release “based on the police report”. The police station was under control of Amritpal’s supporters for two hours – unprecedented in the history of Punjab.
The reason for police inaction was attributed by SSP Satinder Singh to Amritpal’s supporters carrying the Guru Granth Sahib, which is a sic excuse because the supporters storming the police station were in hundreds and certainly action was possible against those not carrying the holy book. Why would terrorists not use the same tactics in future? It showed gross unprofessionalism of the Punjab police who probably were also shit-scared seeing AK-47s with the attackers or sympathized with the same ideology?
One of the fallout was the Governor calling off the budget presentation in the state assembly. Using Guru Granth Sahib to attack the police station also is unprecedented. This would not be liked by the Sikh community considering possible damage and desecration of the holy book in violent acts, but then radicalization has no limits for achieving whatever aim.
With the deteriorating security situation, there are calls for imposition of Governor’s Rule in Punjab. But we need to examine the following:
- How did nondescript Amritpal living in Dubai takeover WPD?
- Who is monitoring funding and internal functioning of WPD especially given Amritpal’s statements and actions since he assumed charge?
- Who is sponsoring/supporting ‘Amrit Prachar’ for Khalistan by Amritpal including in Haryana which suffered violence during Bhindranwale’s times, and why has the Centre not intervened? Is it for appeasing the vote bank?
- Why was the storming of Ajnala police station by hundreds not anticipated and necessary measures instituted?
- Over the last few months there were reports of Khalistanis moving with AK-47s in Gurudwaras in the area of Guru Har Sahai; why no action was taken, not even demands to surrender the automatic weapons?
Both the State and the Centre machinery are equally to blame for the intelligence failure and the state of affairs. The Centre can hardly wash its hands off by saying ‘law and order’ is state subject. Punjab, a sensitive border state, has been in Pakistan’s crosshairs for decades. So, what are the R&AW and IB doing? Both these organizations contribute Deputy NSA’s and the NSA with his IB background himself has close experience of the Sikh militancy.
Before launching Operation ‘Black Thunder’, an Army NCO of the NSG had stayed inside the Golden Temple complex for two days, pursuant to which when the then IG (Ops) NSG, Major General Naresh Kumar was briefing DGP Punjab KPS Gill, Ajit Doval (now NSA) as a youngster was present. There is speculation now that the Centre wants the Punjab situation to worsen before taking action for reaping political bonanza before the general elections next year – hopefully this is not the case.
More than a decade back, Sri Lankan officers training at Indian Army’s Special Forces Training School disclosed that during an earlier visit to Pakistan they were briefed how the ISI planned to destabilize Punjab (India), prelude to which was mass influx of drugs into Punjab. Drugs, weapons, ammunition and explosives continue to be sent to Punjab including using drones.
ISI plans included exploiting educational institutions. Radical teachers in J&K schools preaching children to hate non-Muslims and JNU’s Tukde Tukde Gang are examples. Colonel Hunny Bakshi, who headed the Army’s Technical Support Division, disclosed in a recent interview that when his son was studying in a reputed school in Punjab during 2005-2006, children were listening to Khalistani propaganda on pods gifted to them.
Pakistan has provided full support to Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) and institutionalized their link up with Chinese intelligence. Opening of the Karatrpur Corridor was to also exploit the ‘knife-in-the-back’ philosophy. Moreover, Khalistan resurgence is being supported from abroad by countries like the US, the UK and Canada. Hindu temples in the UK, Canada and Australia are being defaced and vandalized to create Hindu-Sikh divide. Canada’s Trudeau has Khalistanis in his government and the UK’s intransigence is because of the large number of Muslims (many Pakistan-origin) in politics and historical British-Pakistan camaraderie.
In September 2021, America’s Hudson Institute evaluated 55 interlinked Kashmiri and Khalistani groups operating in the US that were receiving funding, support, and military training from Pakistan; and recommended that activities of Khalistani groups in North America should be investigated. Hudson Institute further said the US has shown reluctance to act on intelligence from India concerning Pakistan-supported Khalistan militancy and this is further compounded by China blocking designation of Pakistan-based terrorists at the UNSC.
Above is not all. The Gurudwaras in California have institutionalized the Hindu-Sikh divide by glorifying Bhindranwale and Khalistan, which has led to violence.
External efforts to destabilize Punjab (or rather India) are likely to increase because of the war in Ukraine and India not bowing to the Western dictat to condemn Russia for aggression and break/reduce relations with Moscow. Amid all the sweet talk, the US wants India destabilized (preferably destroyed like Ukraine) also because the Indian rupee is going global and in trading with India multiple countries would be bypassing the US dollar – many already are. That is why even an American Professor of Security Studies like Christine Fair, who normally targets Pakistan, tweeted:
Finally, no one wants a strong India, least of all the West. Resurgence of the Khalistan movement should not be taken lightly given the external support to it. Keeping the Centre-State politics aside, we must tackle it as one nation.
The author is an Indian Army veteran. Views expressed are personal.
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