Amritpal’s uncle, driver surrender, NSA invoked

ByRavinder Vasudeva and Navjrajdeep Singh, Chandigarh/jalandhar
Mar 21, 2023 02:47 AM IST

The crackdown on Singh and his supporters began on Saturday when a police cavalcade intercepted his car near Mehatpur town.

The uncle and driver of absconding separatist leader Amritpal Singh surrendered to Punjab Police in the early hours of Monday as authorities extended a mobile internet ban and continued a massive manhunt across the state in a bid to nab the radical pro-Khalistan leader.

Punjab police personnel walk in front of house of Waris Punjab De Chief Amritpal Singh at village Jallupur Khera, Amritsar.
Punjab police personnel walk in front of house of Waris Punjab De Chief Amritpal Singh at village Jallupur Khera, Amritsar.

With the operation against the 30-year-old Waris Punjab De chief entering its third day, police invoked the stringent National Security Act (NSA) against four alleged aides of Singh, who were arrested on Sunday and sent to Assam for interrogation. Police also charged Singh’s uncle Harjit Singh under the NSA and sent him to Dibrugarh where he has been lodged in Central Jail.

Also read: Found bulletproof jackets, guns; Amritpal tried to form militia ‘AKF’: Punjab Police

“We have a very strong suspicion of an ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) angle, based on the facts and circumstances that have come to light so far. We also have a very strong suspicion of foreign funding. Going by the circumstances, it seems that ISI is involved and there is foreign funding as well,” Punjab inspector general of police Sukhchain Singh Gill said in a press conference.

The crackdown on Singh and his supporters began on Saturday when a police cavalcade intercepted his car near Mehatpur town when he was on his way to Bathinda to address a gathering. But Singh changed vehicles and managed to evade arrest, officials familiar with the developments said.

Since then, Gill said, 114 people have been arrested. “Of them, 78 were arrested on the first day, 34 on the second and two others were arrested last night [on Monday]. Ten weapons have also been recovered,” he said.

Read | Amritpal Singh trained by ISI in Georgia, linked to SFJ: Intel

Singh and his followers are facing seven first information reports (FIRs) across Punjab involving allegations of spreading communal disharmony, attempt to murder, and attacking policemen. The most prominent among them is related to the February 23 siege by thousands of Singh’s supporters of a police station in Ajnala town, which forced the state government to free a key aide, Lovepreet Singh Toofan, who was accused of abduction. The protests and the police’s decision to give into the agitators’ demands sent shock waves through the state and sparked concerns that the law-and-order situation was slipping in a state that battled militancy and separatism through the 1980s.In dramatic visuals soon after the incident, Singh and Toofan were seen with supporters at the Golden Temple in Amritsar to further fuel comparisons with the militancy era.

Singh, who fashions himself after 1980s separatist leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, has since been linked to a larger conspiracy involving the Khalistani secessionist movement, with intelligence agencies saying he was fast radicalising young men in the border state. The Union home ministry on Monday also asked the Border Security Force (BSF) and Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) to be on the lookout and foil any attempts by Singh to slip out of the country.

The developments also took on a global character as India registered a strong protest with the senior-most US diplomat in New Delhi over the vandalisation of the Indian consulate in San Francisco by pro-Khalistan elements, even as people familiar with the matter said recent anti-India protests in Australia, Canada, the UK and the US appeared to be coordinated. This came a day after some protesters chanting pro-Khalistan slogans attempted to pull down the tricolour outside the Indian high commission in London, prompting India to summon the UK envoy. In India, some Sikh members protested against the insult to the Indian flag outside the house of the envoy, Alex Ellis.

Singh’s uncle Harjit Singh and driver Harpreet Singh surrendered before the deputy inspector general Narender Bhargav near a gurdwara in Shahkot town around 2am, a senior police officer involved in the operation said. Harjit, who is considered the brains behind Singh’s meteoric rise over the past year after his return from the Middle-East, was booked under the NSA in the afternoon and then sent to Dibrugarh. “NSA is also likely to be invoked against Amritpal after his arrest… we have strictly followed the procedures to invoke NSA,” Gill said.

Senior superintendent of police, Jalandhar Rural, Swarandeep Singh, said Harjit and Harpreet were accompanying Singh in the same car when police personnel intercepted his cavalcade on Nakodar-Malsian road on Saturday morning. Both the men were wanted in the Ajnala case. Police also recovered Singh’s Mercedes car from their possession. Harpreet was produced in a local court in Amritsar after which he was sent to police remand till March 23.

In Dibrugarh Central Jail, Harjit joined four other alleged aides of Singh — Daljit Singh Kalsi, Bhagwant Singh, Gurmeet Singh and Pardhanmantri Bajeke — who were held on Saturday and shifted to Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled Assam. Kalsi is accused of managing the funds for Waris Punjab De and Bajeke used to look after the social media of the organisation, a senior Punjab police officer said. The other two were also assigned key roles in the management of the organisation.

In a video shot on Monday morning, Harjit Singh could be seen producing before the police his licensed .32 bore pistol and cash amounting to 1 lakh which he was said to be carrying in a Mercedes. Three other vehicles that were part of Singh’s convoy on Saturday were also seized. So far, seven FIRs were registered, 114 people arrested, and 10 weapons and 430 cartridges recovered in the operation, police said.

“There is a provision in the NSA under section 5 that to maintain peace and public harmony, anybody can be transferred to another state with its consent. It has been invoked in this matter and is totally legal,” Gill added.

Under the provisions of NSA, a person can be kept in detention for a period of one year without being produced in the court. A senior home department official said that police took permission to invoke NSA from the state advisory board.

On Monday, Punjab Police launched a village-to-village manhunt in the Shahkot and Nokodar areas of Jalandhar and certain parts of Moga district, and also collected CCTV footage from 1,000 locations in Jalandhar, Moga, Ludhiana, Bathinda, Barnala and Amritsar. “We are apprehending that he has not been able to move far from Shahkot,” another official said, requesting anonymity.

To facilitate the operation, the government extended the ban on mobile internet and SMS services for another 24 hours, till Tuesday noon. Punjab is now without mobile internet and SMS services for more than 72 hours, the longest ever for the state, said the official.

Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) president Sukhbir Singh Badal on Monday said “the puppet Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) regime” in Punjab has lead to an “undeclared emergency” and let loose a “reign of repression in the state”.

Coming down strongly on the AAP government, he condemned the indiscriminate arrests of “innocent Sikh youth”, especially the amritdharis(baptised Sikhs) on suspicion and “by resorting to unconstitutional methods”.

Punjab Congress president Amarinder Singh Raja Warring said the state government should take strict action against those trying to disturb law and order in Punjab, but not penalise youngsters who joined such elements with good intentions or due to ignorance.

Minister in the Bhagwant Mann cabinet Kuldeep Dhaliwal reiterated the government’s stand, and said the government will act against whoever tries to vitiate the atmosphere of the state.


But some opposition came from the Sikh clergy.

The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) asked the Punjab government to stop arresting innocent Sikh youth. “It is not in the interest of the state to arrest youths by creating fabricated stories without any charge. Punjab has seen many eras and it is very unfortunate that the present government of the state has added another chapter to the situation,” SGPC president Harjinder Singh Dhami said in a statement.

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