'All this while he has been maintaining that he is innocent and, if that is the case, why will he run away?'
Khalistani separatist Amritpal Singh has been on the run, and the Punjab police has launched a massive search operation to arrest him.
He was last seen with his convoy near Shahkot-Mehatpur area in Jalandhar district, when the police went to arrest him on Saturday, March 18, 2023.
Three weeks earlier, on February 24, Amritpal and his supporters stormed the Ajnana police station after one of his associates was arrested on charges of kidnapping.
Rediff.com's Syed Firdaus Ashraf spoke to former Aam Aadmi Party MLA Kanwar Sandhu about the latest developments in Punjab.
Sandhu edited the Chandigarh editions of the Indian Express and Hindustan Times before entering politics.
Is this action against Amritpal too little, too late?
Honestly, I am not sure how the government will be able to justify what is the immediate provocation against Amritpal.
It was three weeks ago when he stormed the Ajnala police station with his supporters. Ideally, the action should have followed immediately, as policemen, including a superintendent of police, were injured in the clash.
If not on the same day, action should have been taken the next day or a couple of days later.
I wonder why no action was taken at that point of time and why (it is being taken) now. Even now, news reports say there are four cases registered against Amritpal. I think the government needs to come clean on what those four cases are.
And, also on what are the accusations against him so as to avoid any misunderstandings that may incite his supporters. The government must make details of these cases public.
One of the cases mentions the Ajnala police station incident.
I don't know when this case was registered. Who all are named in this case?
I believe there is also a case of kidnapping, which actually led to the Ajnala incident.
Now, is he an accused in that case? I don't know.
Six people were named in the case and there are 20-25 unidentified people in the kidnapping case and I don't know whether Amritpal is one of the unidentified accused.
Therefore, I am saying the government needs to come clean on what are these four cases against Amritpal.
It is being said that the government was waiting for the G-20 event in Amritsar to concluded before taking action against Amritpal.
That may have been the government's consideration, but I feel the government needs to deal with law and order issue on a day-to-day basis.
I think the way to control these things is that whenever there is a provocation, the government needs to proceed and take action.
I don't think there is any individual who can be so important or powerful to disrupt such international events.
I feel whenever there is a case for action, the government must act immediately.
How could Amritpal elude the police, considering the fact that this operation was planned in such a detailed manner?
It is quite a surprise how he managed to escape. And, I don't know why the man himself escaped.
All this while, he has been maintaining that he is innocent and, if that is the case, why will he run away?
After all, you cannot run away from government agencies, can you? There is a case against you and there is the rule of law, so you surrender.
Amritpal had no valid reason to run away and, secondly, it reflects very poorly on the police that he could get away, despite the fact that he was seen at a particular function. His accomplices were arrested and still he escaped.
At this moment, 78 of his supporters are under arrest. So, what is the ground situation in Punjab? Is there anger among the public? Internet services have been suspended too.
Disconnecting the Internet was an overkill from the government side.
It reflects very poorly on the democratic set-up. As of now, some people have protested in one or two places like Chandigarh and Mohali (against the arrests).
There was a protest in Amritsar too, but these were expected. As of now, there are no large scale protests in Punjab. But if you continue putting restrictions on the Internet, then this will cause an uproar within the media and other social circles.
Does it reflect poorly on Amritpal theat he ran away?
A lot of people said he should not have run away, but faced the law. But I do not know how his supporters would take that.
I would not be able to comment on that, but personally speaking, if you feel what you are doing is legitimate, then you surrender and face the law, because you are not some fugitive.
He should have proved himself innocent rather than running away. What will Amritpal gain by running away? Sooner or later, he will either surrender or get caught. It baffles me why he ran away.
What happens to Waris Punjab De?
It will be an overkill if they ban the the organisation. The organisation as such has not indulged in any separatist agenda. If they have done so, then the government must make it clear and talk about that.
Yes, you have a case against Amritpal because of what he was speaking. But can all this be attributed to the organisation per se, I don't know, as it is a legal issue.
Do you feel the central government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, and the state government, led by the Aam Aadmi Party, have buried their differences to take action against Amritpal?
It looks like there was pressure from the central government. The Punjab government also felt that this man was disturbing the peace in the state.
On this issue, the chief minister of Punjab met Home Minister Amit Shah and asked for additional security, obviously on the pretext of Hola Mohallah celebrations (the 3-day Sikh festival in March) and the G-20 meeting in Amritsar, but I think the intent was also to crack down on Amritpal and his associates.
You are right, the BJP and the AAP seem to come together to take on Amritpal.
Was Amritpal's Khalsa caravan gaining popularity in Punjab?
The Khalsa vahir (caravan) was drawing crowds so obviously the government will not like anything that draws crowds.
But if you see, what did the Khalsa vahir do? It was baptising people (to Sikhism), talking against drug addiction. They were asking people to be better Sikhs. There is nothing wrong about it and people will appreciate it.
What disturbed the government was Amritpal's separatist statements from the stage and the interviews he was giving to the media.
The Khalsa vahir as such can't be faulted, but yes, some of Amritpal's statements, possibly, were outside the domain of the law.