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Sikh separatist preacher continues to elude Indian police

22-03-2023

Bureau Report

NEW DELHI: Internet services remain restricted in parts of India’s northern Punjab state for a fourth day as thousands of police continue their search for Sikh separatist leader Amritpal Singh.

Over 100 of his supporters have been arrested in the manhunt since Saturday.

Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann promised strict action against those spreading “anti-national sentiments” in Punjab.

A self-styled preacher, Singh says he supports Khalistan, or a separate Sikh homeland.

His rapid rise has revived memories of a 1980s insurgency in Punjab in which thousands died.

Singh’s whereabouts remain unclear.

On Tuesday, the high court in Punjab demanded to know how he had managed to escape arrest when so many police were searching for him.

“You have 80,000 police personnel. How has he not been arrested? This is an intelligence failure,” the court said, as it ordered the state government to submit a report on the search operation within four days.

The court was hearing a plea filled by the legal adviser of Singh’s organization Waris Punjab De (Heirs of Punjab), alleging that Singh had been illegally and forcibly detained by the police, and seeking his release.

The government said it had managed to arrest all other accused, except for Singh.

Punjab police declared him “a fugitive” on Saturday after he escaped in a dramatic car chase which was live-streamed by some of his associates.

Since then authorities have blocked internet services, restricted messages and deployed thousands of paramilitary solders to Punjab as they began a state-wide search for Singh.

Six of his associates and an uncle have been arrested and charged under India’s stringent National Security Act (NSA) – four of them were sent to a prison in the north-eastern state of Assam on Monday.

On Tuesday, the Punjab government said it had partially lifted the internet ban while retaining it in a few places until 23 March.

Amritpal Singh claims to draw inspiration from Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a preacher accused by the Indian government of leading an armed insurgency for Khalistan. Bhindranwale was killed in the Indian army’s storming of the Golden Temple, the holiest shrine in the Sikh religion, in 1984.

The crackdown against Singh comes weeks after his supporters stormed a police station, demanding the release of an aide who had been arrested.

On Monday, pro-Khalistan supporters vandalized the Indian consulate in San Francisco, calling for Singh to be freed.

A similar protest took place at the Indian High Commission in London on Sunday where a man detached the Indian flag from the first-floor balcony of the building.

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