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Who is Amritpal Singh and what is happening in Punjab?

Amritpal Singh, who moves around with the army of heavily armed Nihang Sikh, has returned from Dubai
Last Updated : 25 February 2023, 10:13 IST
Last Updated : 25 February 2023, 10:13 IST
Last Updated : 25 February 2023, 10:13 IST
Last Updated : 25 February 2023, 10:13 IST

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In an unprecedented sequence of events that unfolded in Punjab, on Thursday, a group of men brandishing swords and guns barged into a police station in Ajnala on the outskirts of Amritsar demanding the release of a prisoner named Lovepreet Singh also known by his alias ‘Toofan’ who was accused of kidnapping.

At the centre of these events was a 30-year-old named Amritpal Singh, who has risen to fame in the past 6-7 months in Punjab as a Khalistan sympathiser, a radical preacher and who claims to be an ardent follower of Bhindranwale, a militant leader who advocated for Khalistan, who was killed in the infamous operation Blue Star on June 6, 1984.

A day later, Lovepreet Singh was released from jail and this whole episode has led to a myriad of questions pointing fingers at Punjab politics, governance and law and order.

These visuals, however, have reawakened the memories of a past in Punjab, the days of militancy and bloodshed that the state has been trying to put behind.

Who is Amritpal Singh?

Amritpal Singh, who moves around with the army of heavily armed Nihang Sikh, has returned from Dubai. He has been recently anointed as the head of ‘Waris Punjab De’, an organisation founded by Deep Sidhu, an actor and activist who died in a road accident in February last year.

During the launch of the organisation, Deep Sidhu emphasised that ‘Waris Punjab De’ was formed as a voice against the Centre for the rights of people in Punjab.

Amritpal Singh’s appointment as head of ‘Waris Punjab De’ was controversial because the ceremony took place in the ancestral village of Bhindranwale, where he dressed like the militant leader, sending out a larger message of what he represents. The ceremony was attended by thousands.

Since then, Amritpal Singh has been trying to seep into the echelons of Punjab politics. He has been conducting long marches like ‘Panthik Vaheer’, to promote Sikhism in the state and has been giving provocative speeches triggering various controversies. He was also seen attacking Christian missionaries and talking about the drug menace in the state.
But the demonstration on Thursday represented the clout Amritpal Singh was able to garner in the past months.

Author of Panjab: Journeys through fault line, Amandeep Sandhu enunciates the larger problems which have been plaguing the state and which might have come into the forefront with such issues.

“Punjab is a land that has been riddled with issues. It has a huge population of unemployed youth paving way for radical figures like Amritpal Singh”, Amandeep Sandhu told DH.

Punjab is one of the states with the highest number of unemployed youth in India.

According to Sandhu, the growth of a figure like Amritpal Singh points to the historical failure of multiple governments to address various issues at its core.

Harjeshwar Pal Singh, an assistant professor of History based in Chandigarh thinks that issue is more on the religious lines harbouring the scattered fringe elements that were always present in the state.

According to him, the usage of Guru Granth Sahib as a shield by Amritpal Singh makes it clear that radicalism is on the lines of religion more than anything else.

Harjeshwar, however, asks a poignant question, how was Amritpal Singh allowed to make a mockery of justice and why was he not stopped by the Punjab government while he was gathering the crowd?

The opposition in the state has targeted the AAP government for taking a soft stance on a radical leader like Amritpal while there are reports of the Centre keeping a close eye on him.

Will there be a rise of a militant era in Punjab?

The Khalistan movement which has been reduced to more of a foreign diaspora issue in the past has currently grabbed headlines in India with the farmers protesting but with the recent chain of events and the emergence of Amritpal Singh as a pro-Khalistan leader, the issue is gaining more prominence.

However, Harjeshwar thinks that it will not lead to a rise in militancy because there has been strong criticism within the community against the ways adopted by Amritpal Singh.

“The Sikhs are divided on Amritpal Singh and his ways, many think that using Guru Granth Sahib as a shield was wrong,” he said.

According to him, Amritpal is trying to fill the lacunae left by Bhindranwale. There were leaders like Simranjeet Singh Mann who tried to become radical leaders but failed. But Amritpal with his strikingly deliberate resemblance to Bhindranwale is seen as somebody who can achieve that.

Sandhu points out that the recent events will make people look at Amritpal as a figure who is untouchable by the state, giving him and his followers more confidence there.

Analysts also believe that this issue might escalate in the upcoming months as the 2024 General Assembly elections will be used to gain political momentum by several parties.

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Published 25 February 2023, 06:01 IST

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