Chandigarh: Even as the Punjab police’s operation against Sikh hardliner Amritpal Singh entered the third day with officials claiming that he is still at large, a man claiming to be the Waris Punjab De chief’s legal advisor filed a plea in the Punjab and Haryana high court on Sunday evening, claiming that Amritpal was already detained.
The ‘habeas corpus’ plea was filed by Iman Singh Khara, the legal adviser of Waris Punjab De, the pressure group which Amritpal Singh heads. More than 110 members of the group have been sent behind bars in the Punjab police’s state-wide crackdown which began on Saturday.
Multiple cases slapped against the arrested members of Waris Punjab De were initially linked to last month’s siege of a police station in Ajnala. Amritpal and his supporters stormed the police station to free an aide who was arrested in connection with a kidnapping case.
After Saturday’s crackdown, fresh charges under the Arms Act and other offences have also been added against several of the arrested. The National Security Act (NSA) – which allows detention without charges – has been invoked against five people – Daljeet Kalsi, Basant Singh, Gurmeet Singh Bhukhanwala, Bhagwant Singh and Harjeet Singh, all close aides of Amritpal. While four of them have been shifted to Dibrugarh in Assam, possibly to isolate them from the others, Harjee Singh – who is Amritpal’s uncle – is en route.
The high court, in the latest order passed on Monday, asked the Punjab government’s counsel to file a reply by Tuesday. The petitioner claimed that the Punjab police and the Central Paramilitary Forces illegally and forcibly detained Amritpal Singh from the area of Shahkot in Jalandhar without disclosing any reasons.
He was not informed about the grounds of arrest, the petitioner claimed, while adding he has been detained for more than 24 hours and the security forces are not disclosing his whereabouts.
However, on Monday afternoon, the inspector general of police (IGP) Sukhchain Gill categorically said that Amritpal Singh was not arrested yet – but that he would be behind bars very soon. Gill said that the police strongly suspect Amritpal has links with the Pakistani ISI, and funding from foreign funding. He said that central agencies are also in the loop, with pictures of Amritpal Singh being sent to all border security forces to prevent him from fleeing the country.
The IGP said the NSA will also be slapped on Amritpal when he is arrested.
The police have recovered the Mercedes car in which Amritpal was last seen, but his whereabouts are not known yet.
Punjab Police crackdown | There is peace in the state, situation is stable. There is no law and order situation…Particular action was taken against a few elements of ‘Waris Punjab De’ against whom six criminal cases are registered: IGP Punjab, Sukhchain Singh Gill pic.twitter.com/xcjgqoKhaF
— ANI (@ANI) March 20, 2023
AAP lauds Mann government
Breaking silence for the first time, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)’s central leadership on Monday lauded Punjab chief minister Bhagwant Mann for the ongoing crackdown. It claimed that the action has sent a clear message that if anyone tries to disturb peace and harmony, strict action will be taken.
AAP senior leader and Delhi cabinet minister Aatishi said in a media briefing in Delhi on Monday said the move should put an end to questions about AAP’s ability to tackle crimes in Punjab.
However, opposition parties in Punjab slammed the Mann government as the internet shutdown in Punjab entered the third day. Besides, the Twitter handles of many journalists and politicians were suddenly suspended on Monday.
The accounts of Indian Express’s Amritsar correspondent Kamaldeep Brar; Gagandeep Singh, a journalist with the Punjabi Digital TV channel; and Simranjit Singh Mann, a pro-Khalistan leader and an MP from Sangrur, were suspended.
A person close to Kamaldeep Brar criticised the move, telling The Wire that he did not post any misinformation or fake news. His account should be reinstated immediately, he added.
As per media reports, as many as 75 Twitter handles have been suspended at the Punjab government’s request. The Wire has not verified this claim independently.
Anger against internet ban
A petition was moved in the Punjab and Haryana HC against the suspension of mobile Internet and SMS services in Punjab. However, the Punjab government cited the delicate law and order situation while extending the internet shutdown until Tuesday, March 21, 12 pm.
The order, issued by the additional chief secretary (home department), read that the extension of the Internet shutdown was necessary to prevent “any incitement to violence” and “disturbance of law and order”.
Reacting to the situation, Shiromani Akali Dal president Sukhbir Badal came down heavily on the AAP government for the “undeclared emergency and reign of repression and terror” that he said were let loose in the state.
The SAD chief also warned against “dangerous conspiracies” to defame the “patriotic Sikh community for communal polarisation and electoral gains”. He said, “The same conspiracies were hatched and implemented by the Congress in the past and now the present regime is following in their footsteps to set Punjab on fire.”
Punjab Congress leader Sukhpal Khaira too said that the entire episode in Punjab shows the complete failure of the Bhagwant Mann government in tackling the critical situations.
Such “draconian measures” only lead to chaos and rumours, he tweeted, asking why the chief minister has remained silent. “Has he handed over Home Deptt to center? Who’s running Punjab (sic),” he asked.