ON A day the Punjab Police tightened security at two shrines amid reports that Waris Punjab De leader and Khalistan sympathiser Amritpal Singh, who has been on the run since March 18, was planning to surrender, he released a video statement on Wednesday in which he termed the crackdown on him as an “attack on the community” and sought to mobilise “Sikhs across the world” by calling for a “Sarbat Khalsa” (Assembly of Sikhs).
Wearing a black turban and a shawl, Amritpal made no mention of Khalistan or a separate state, but urged Akal Takht acting Jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh to call a ‘Sarbat Khalsa’ at the Takht Sri Damdama Sahib in Talwandi Sabo, on Baisakhi (April 14).
Expressing gratitude to the “sangat” (community) at home and abroad for protesting against the crackdown on him and his outfit, he said: “It is an attack on the Sikh community. I was neither afraid of arrest earlier, nor am I now… I am in high spirits. Nobody could harm me. It is the grace of God.”
Seeking to find common ground with the Akal Takht, Amritpal raised the issue of the war of words between acting Jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh and Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann. While the Jathedar had issued a 24-hour ultimatum for release of those arrested during the crackdown, Mann had accused him of “provoking” people.
“Jathedar Sahib gave a 24-hour ultimatum to the government. But the government challenged the institution of the Akal Takht and derided it. The Jathedar must take a strict stand on this issue. I request the Akal Takht Jathedar to call ‘Sarbat Khalsa’ at Talwandi Sabo on this issue. I appeal to the Sikhs across the world and all outfits to participate in this and discuss all the issues faced by the community,” he said.
“We must break the fear created by the government in the minds of people by calling ‘Sarbat Khalsa’,” he said.
Trying to defend his escape, Amritpal said that if the government wanted to arrest him, it could have picked him up from his house. “I would have given up. But the way the government laid a cordon, it was God’s grace that I managed to escape,” he said, speaking in Punjabi.
He claimed that when the crackdown began, he thought police were trying to stop him from reaching Muktsar Sahib in Malwa. With mobile internet services suspended, he was cut off from what was happening, he claimed.
“Now I have seen some news about what happened. The Punjab government has crossed the limits of oppression. The manner in which Sikh youths have been thrown into jails, women and children have also not been spared… It is similar to what happened during the Beant Singh government,” he said.
Pointing out that the National Security Act (NSA) had been invoked against him and others, he said it was unfair. “We are aware that we have to face this on the path we have been walking,” he said in an oblique reference to his separatist narrative.
Apart from this, the self-styled preacher, who has always been unapologetic about his demand for a separate state, did not mention the issue in his video statement. Instead, he said that it was a fight for the future of the youth of the state and for the existence of Punjab itself.
He concluded his video by saying, “my arrest is in the hands of God.”
Meanwhile, in a statement on Wednesday, the Akal Takht secretariat said the state government had informed it that 360 people had been taken into preventive detention, and most of them had been released.
Security was tightened at the Golden Temple in Amritsar and Takht Sri Damdama Sahib in Talwandi Sabo on Wednesday amid reports that Amritpal could surrender there.
On Tuesday night, following intelligence inputs that Amritpal had sneaked into Punjab, a police team chased an SUV which was later found abandoned near a gurdwara in Hoshiarpur. It is suspected that Amritpal was traveling in the SUV, a Toyota Innova, with his associates, including Papalpreet Singh.
Amritpal has been on the run since a police crackdown on him and his outfit began on March 18. While Punjab Police have detained and arrested a number of his associates, and invoked the stringent NSA against at least eight, including Amritpal, the radical preacher has continued to elude security forces.