Punjab Police crack down on Amritpal Singh's Waris Punjab De , 78 held
Amritpal Singh and his associates were chased on Saturday by the Punjab police.
Punjab police launched a state-wide crackdown on Waris Punjab De on Saturday, arresting 78 people and detaining 500 others but failing to catch the group’s leader Amritpal Singh, who is wanted in connection with several criminal cases, including spreading religious hatred.
Singh, who has championed the Khalistan secession cause, was on the run till the time of going to press, and officials said a manhunt was underway after he gave a posse of police vehicles the slip in Jalandhar district.
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“On Saturday afternoon, several activists of WPD (Waris Punjab De) were intercepted by the police at the Shahkot-Malsian Road in Jalandhar district and seven persons were arrested on the spot. A search operation is underway to nab Amritpal and others,” a police spokesperson said, adding that large quantities of ammunition were recovered from the people held.
As videos began doing the rounds of social media showing Amritpal Singh escaping in his car with police in hot pursuit, the administration switched off mobile internet communications across the state till Sunday afternoon, and urged people not to believe in rumours.
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Amritpal Singh and his aides are named in four criminal cases involving allegations of spreading communal disharmony, attempt to murder and attacking policemen. Among these was the dramatic February 23 siege by thousands of supporters of Waris Punjab De of a police station in Amritsar district, which forced the state government to free Amritpal Singh’s aide Lovepreet Tufan.
Amritpal Singh has since been linked to a larger conspiracy involving the Khalistani secessionist movement, with intelligence agencies saying he is fast radicalising young men in the border state.
One of the FIRs registered against him involves sections that are yet to be determined since the police have kept the allegations under wraps, people aware of the matter said. This case was filed a day after the February 23 siege.
The state of Punjab has been put on high alert and Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which prohibits the assembly of a large number of people, has been invoked across all districts.
On Saturday, Amritpal Singh was on his way to Bathinda from his village in Amritsar to address a gathering in Shahkot early in the morning when a police cavalcade intercepted him in Mehatapur town, officials said.
The police first detained the controversial preacher’s supporters and, in the mêlée, Amritpal Singh managed to escape in his car.
Swarandeep Singh, rural senior superintendent of police in Jalandhar, told HT: “The search is still on as Amritpal has neither been arrested nor detained.”
During the state-wide operation, nine weapons, including one .315 bore rifle, seven rifles of 12 bore, one revolver and 373 live cartridges of different calibres were recovered, the police said.
“All 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,” said the official spokesman of the police.
In recent weeks, Amritpal Singh has issued threats targeting Union home minister Amit Shah and Punjab chief minister Bhagwant Mann, and has openly made statements supporting the demand for Punjab to secede and form Khalistan.
During the February 23 siege, Amritpal Singh’s supporters brandished swords and guns and broke through barricades to barge into the Ajnala Police Station on the outskirts of Amritsar city, and clashed with police.
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“Our CM has restored the rule of law. Law will take its course against violators. There is no discrimination. It is not as if people died of spurious liquor and nobody is responsible or there was sacrilege and nobody is responsible. This is called rule of law,” said Balbir Singh, Punjab’s health minister, when asked about action against Amritpal Singh.
On Saturday, a heavy deployment of security forces was made near Jallupur Khera village in Amritsar, the home of Amritpal Singh, for the operation.
Singh returned from Dubai last year and was anointed the head of Waris Punjab De, which was founded by actor and activist Deep Sidhu who died in a road accident in February last year.