IN A presentation to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah just four weeks ago, Punjab Director General of Police Gaurav Yadav had ‘red-flagged’ the rise of Amritpal Singh, who had anointed himself as the chief of Waris Punjab De (‘Heirs of Punjab), an organisation floated by actor-activist Deep Sidhu in September 2021, months before his death.
Yadav’s January 22 presentation on ‘Khalistan Extremism – Communication and Logistics Networks in Punjab’, however, did not surprise officials in the Union government’s security establishment who were present at the all-India annual conference of DGs and IGs in New Delhi. “The ground situation in Punjab, pregnant with unease among youth due to the drugs menace and unemployment, and an apparent breakdown of administrative machinery in several districts, could have been exploited by any such radical element,” said an official, who did not want to be named.
The Union government has kept a close watch on the state, and its assessment two months ago in December 2022, highlights several areas of concern: the state’s inability to handle Kisan Union protests in several districts with police being asked not to act against them, the Bandi Singhs protest sites occupying large spaces with semi-permanent structures and tubewells, etc, protesters barging through police barricades and even injuring personnel (for example in Zira), appointments at lower levels of police in sensitive border areas being dictated by MLAs, a general loss of respect for people’s representatives, and dissatisfied youth.
The officials pointed out that Amritpal Singh has been committing mistakes, and the latest storming of Ajnala police stations near Amritsar using Sri Guru Granth Sahib as a shield was criticised by the Satkar Committee. “While he is fluent in conversation, and supposedly espouses purist Sikhism, this act by his supporters will be seen as anti-Sikh in the state,” another official said.
The Union Government has taken note of Amritpal Singh’s ‘warning’ to Amit Shah, but is right now letting the state police handle the situation. “The Ajnala police station episode was unfortunate, but should not be seen as a capitulation or abdication of duty by the Punjab police… it was a technical retreat… it can be said there was some intelligence failure about the ‘cowardly’ act of protestors using Sri Guru Granth Sahib as a shield… and probably they underestimated the strength of the mob,” said the official.
Officials hoped that Amritpal Singh would be “isolated” in the state because of his acts of rousing pro-Khalistan sentiments. “Posing a challenge to the police will not work if there is clear political direction…,” said the official, indicating lack of communication between the state police and the state political leadership.
The officials said the Union government’s security establishment is in touch with state police officials, and is available for any advice or suggestions.
In the DG conference, a third official, who did not wish to be named said, “Punjab DGP Yadav had mentioned in his presentation that Amritpal suddenly appeared in August, 2022, and took over the mantle of Punjabi actor and activist Deep Sidhu. In a short span, he gained huge popularity and was giving provocative speeches. He has a fundamentalist approach. He also launched Khalsa Vaheer, a religious procession to cover the entire state. He also mentioned that his activity was eye capturing for the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee.”
The Indian Express has learnt that intelligence agencies have prepared a dossier on Amritpal Singh, 30, after monitoring his activities for four-five months – recording more than 10 hate speeches, flaunting of weapons by his associates, activities in cyberspace, social media accounts, visits to drug rehabilitation centres, among others. Openly pushing the separatist idea of Khalistan, he has been challenging the theory of nationalism, drawing parallels between the idea of Sikh sovereignty and Hindu Rashtra. He even dresses like Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, calling him an “inspiration”.
Before coming to India on August 20, 2022, he spent one-and-a-half months in Georgia, a senior officer with the security establishment said. Intelligence agencies said he had organised a drug de-addiction camp at his village Jallupur in Amritsar Rural, in November 2022. They suspect that he is trying to form a band of loyalists after organising such drug de-addiction camps and Amrit Sanchar (baptism) to give religious connotations to his activities.