Self-styled Khalistani preacher Amritpal Singh, finally arrested on Sunday from the village of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale in Punjab, after 36 days of cat-and-mouse chase across several states, was largely unknown till last September when he returned to India from Dubai where he was running his family’s transport business.
After taking charge of ‘Waris Punjab De’ or “the heirs of Punjab” – floated by lawyer-actor-turned-activist Deep Sidhu in 2021, he was trying to position himself as a new fulcrum for the Panthic cause by calling on the youth to “fight for the freedom” of the Panth.
Sidhu, one of the accused in the January 26, 2021 Red Fort violence, had died in a road accident near Haryana’s Sonepat in February 2022.
In September that year, Amritpal Singh’s ‘dastar bandi’ (turban tying) ceremony was held at Rode village, marking his official installation as the head of ‘Waris Punjab De’.
However, unlike Bhindranwale, he didn’t have any formal religious schooling. A dropout from apolytechnic, he had cut his hair and shaved off his beard while in Dubai.
However, Deep Sidhu’s family, which came in the media glare after the police declared Amritpal Singh fugitive, sought an investigation into the antecedents of someone “who was not liked by Sidhu”.
Even investigation by the police had revealed that the late actor blocked his mobile number.
Mandeep Sidhu, the Ludhiana-based advocate brother of Deep Sidhu, said Amritpal Singh’s appointment as head of ‘Waris Punjab De’, which was founded by his brother, was illegal.
“An impression is being given that our family is a party to the decision to appoint Amritpal Singh as the head. This is not true. In fact, Deep never talked about Amritpal and seemed to dislike him. He had blocked Amritpal’s phone for 15 days in January and February,” he had told the media.
He had said screenshots of the blocked number have been shared on social media. “My brother’s phone is with me. I have the evidence,” he had said.
“Deep had founded Waris Punjab De after much research. It has been hijacked. We need an inquiry into the issue.”
Even Reena Rai, a US-based actress, who was the fiancee of the late Deep Sidhu, had condemned the actions of Amritpal Singh.
She said Deep Sidhu was neither a separatist nor a believer in violence. But Amritpal Singh had clandestinely hijacked the party to meet his Khalistani ambitions.
She even alleged that everything was being done by Amritpal Singh to collect large amounts of donations from abroad.
Amritpal Singh, against whom the National Security Act (NSA) was invoked and a non-bailable warrant issued, had been on the run despite the massive manhunt launched to nab him since March 18.
The self-styled preacher, who returned from Dubai last year, tied the knot with Kirandeep Kaur in a simple ceremony in February.
A police team, comprising women officers, questioned her in her husband’s native place for nearly an hour in connection with alleged foreign funding for the activities of Amritpal Singh.
Official sources told IANS that the police had also scanned bank accounts of Amritpal Singh, his wife, and parents to trace sources of funds.
Confirming the arrest of Amritpal Singh, Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann said the Aam Aadmi government is duty-bound to preserve the hard-earned peace and communal harmony in the state.
“Law is taking its own course in the case of Amritpal Singh, who was a stooge in hands of the forces inimical to the state and country, and no action is being taken against the innocents,” he said in a statement.
Mann said the state could have arrested Amritpal Singh only on March 18 but they never wanted any bloodshed and today the separatist leader has been arrested without firing a single bullet.
He said this was a deep rooted conspiracy to disturb the peace, amity and brotherhood in the state but the government has foiled it by arresting all the key players.
Mann said the self-proclaimed religious leader Amritpal Singh ran an organisation which provoked youth to take arms and indulge in illegal activities against the country.
The Chief Minister said he knew about the operation to nab the fugitive since Saturday evening, adding he had a sleepless night as he took the update after every 15 minutes from the officers.
Mann said when Amritpal had attacked the Ajnala police station by taking the shield of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, he had directed the police to ensure that no disrespect of Sri Guru Granth Sahib took place.
He said Guru Granth Sahib is supreme for them due to which the police gave due respect to the vehicle carrying it and allowed its free movement.