In a swift operation on Monday evening, Punjab Police arrested supporters of hardline Sikh activist Surat Singh Khalsa, who had assembled at his house at Hasanpur village near Ludhiana.
Senior district and police officials along with a team of doctors were with Khalsa in the house when reports last came in. They were awaiting the arrival of another team of specialist doctors to check on the health of 80-year-old Khalsa, who has been on “indefinite fast” since January 16 in support of the demand to release the political prisoners.
Earlier, an uneasy calm prevailed at the village a day after the police’s statewide crackdown on Sikh hardliners in which they took more than 10 radical leaders into preventive custody.
The crackdown, which left a deputy superintendent of police injured in Ajnala near Amritsar on Sunday, was largely peaceful and conducted to prevent hardliners from taking out marches to seek the premature release of Sikh prisoners in jails within and outside Punjab. The radicals had planned three marches — Faridkot to Hasanpur, Ludhiana to Hasanpur and Ajnala to Amritsar.
The police had inputs of an “aggressive build-up” in and around the house of Khalsa at Hasanpur.
Among the radical leaders arrested were Mokham Singh and Gurdeep Singh, president and general secretary of United Akali Dal, respectively, Amrik Singh Ajnala, chief of a Damdami Taksal faction, Harpal Singh Cheema of the SAD (Panch Pardhani), Wassan Singh Zaffarwal, former Khalistan Commando Force (KCF) chief and now activist of the United Akali Dal.
Tight security at Khalsa’s village
Meanwhile, the police set up checkpoints around Hasanpur, where the Central Reserve Police Force personnel have been deployed since Sunday, to prevent Khalsa’s supporters from entering. The supporters, most of who are camping outside the village, 15 km from Ludhiana, since Saturday braved the rain and raised slogans on Monday morning.
The police on Sunday removed stacks of petrol bottles, which were allegedly to be used as petrol bombs, tyres and bricks from Khalsa’s house. Later, senior police and administration officials held meetings with Khalsa and explained to him “facts” about Sikh prisoners in jails across Punjab and outside the state and why they cannot be released prematurely.
*The Punjab government’s decision to launch the crackdown indicates the failure of talks between police and the Sangharsh Committee behind the fast by Khalsa. His hunger strike had forced the government to fast-track the shifting of Sikh prisoners, including Devinderpal Singh Bhullar and Gurdeep Singh Khera, from other states to Punjab. The committee has been demanding other Sikh prisoners sentenced to life must be released prematurely. It has submitted a list of 82 such prisoners.
*According to the government, of the 82, five have already been acquitted, five are on bail, 15 are under trial, identities of six is yet to be established in the absence of details not provided by the committee, 26 are convicts in Punjab jails, while 25 are in prisons of other states for offences committed there. Government sources said of the 26 convicts in Punjab jails, one was sentenced to death, eight are life convicts and 17 are short-term convicts.