Indian police launched "massive cordon and search operations” and suspended internet and mobile services across Punjab in a push to nab prominent Sikh and pro-Khalistan leader Amritpal Singh, reported the country's media.
Authorities have also imposed Section 144 across the state.
According to a report by The Hindu, the 30-year-old first grabbed headlines last year when he took over as the head of ‘Waris Punjab De’ [heirs of Punjab], a social organisation established by actor-turned-activist Deep Sidhu. Since then, both the organisation and its leader have risen to prominence in the religiopolitical scene of the state, creating an atmosphere of disquiet and reviving the memories of the Sikh separatist movement of the 1980s.
The dramatic rise of the pro-Khalistan propagator has become a cause of worry for Indian security agencies, more so after his armed supporters stormed a police station in Ajnala near Amritsar to secure the release of his aide Loverpreet Singh alias Toofan Singh, who is accused of kidnapping and theft.
Scroll.in reported that several police personnel were injured during the violent clashes. Amritpal had also threatened to put up a permanent dharna at the police station if Toofan was not released and the first information report against him was not quashed.
The police had later said that in the “light of the evidence presented”, it was decided that Toofan would be discharged. He was released on February 24 following a court order based on an application by the police.
The Indian Express reported that the authorities had cleared the decks for police action against Amritpal more than a fortnight ago and police prepared a meticulous plan to arrest him en route to Rampura Phul, where the self-styled preacher had planned a function Saturday, a day after three G20 meetings got over in Amritsar.
Amritpal, who has been declared a fugitive by the state government, was to launch the second ‘Khalsa Wahir’ on Sunday.
According to the daily, the police, which had remained tight-lipped the entire day, issued a press release late on Saturday saying Amritpal was absconding and that 78 supporters associated with Waris Punjab De had been arrested. The press release added the police had also recovered several weapons from Amritpal’s supporters.
With Amripal on the run, India Today said the police have been conducting raids at multiple places in Jalandhar and Amritsar districts of Punjab where Amritpal might be hiding to avoid action.
Cops also used loudspeakers urging Amritpal and his men to surrender. Interestingly, many of Amritpal's supporters in viral videos claimed he has been detained by the police.
The authorities have stepped up security across the state, suspending mobile and internet services till March 20 in Punjab.
According to Punjab government officials, “all mobile internet services, all SMS services (except banking & mobile recharge) & all dongle services provided on mobile networks, except the voice call, in the territorial jurisdiction of Punjab suspended till March 20 (12:00 hours) in the interest of public safety,” reported the Indian Express.
Meanwhile, a large number of activists of the Qaumi Insaaf Morcha staged a sit-in protesting for 20 hours in Mohali in support of Amritpal and the front has even warned of fierce agitation.
Reports have said the Sikh diaspora will protest outside the Indian Embassy in New York. Several meetings will also be held in the US and Canada on Sunday over the issue.
British Columbia Gurudwaras Council had also written to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, House of Commons, Ottawa, about the happenings in Punjab.
Meanwhile, Jagmeet Singh of the National Democratic party in Canada tweeted, “I am deeply concerned about reports that India has suspended civil liberties and imposed internet blackout throughout the state of Punjab”.