Chandigarh: Punjab Police’s search for Sikh hardliner and pro-Khalistan preacher Amritpal Singh received a major setback on Thursday, March 23. The police have confirmed that he has managed to slip out of Punjab, and that too, left the state a day after the crackdown began on him and his outfit Waris Punjab De.
He was last spotted in Haryana’s Kurukshetra district on the night of March 19 and left the place early in the morning of March 20, according to Punjab police spokesperson Sukhchain Singh Gill during the press briefing this evening.
Kurukshetra is a town right on the main national highway which witnesses heavy movement of trucks and other transportation vehicles, as it serves as a major node for all directions in the country.
According to the police, Amritpal Singh used a different mode of transportation to enter Haryana from Punjab. However, this is still under investigation.
Gill expressed an apprehension that he might have moved in any direction from his last location. Therefore, an alert has been issued to all states with requests to keep a close eye on his movement.
On how Amritpal managed to escape Punjab despite heavy security said to have been in place, Gill told the media that he had changed his appearance by wearing a turban and had also changed the style of his moustache. Besides, he was moving in different vehicles and continuously changing them.
In video footage, which has gone viral, he was seen on a modified bike sitting along a stationary vehicle. “Our teams on the ground were very much alert but sometimes it was difficult to trace the person when he was moving like this. We hope to arrest him soon,” said Gill.
The escape trail
The police crackdown on Amritpal and his outfit began on March 18.
He was traveling in his Mercedes car when the police first intercepted him near Shahkot in Jalandhar. Without wasting time, he shifted to an ISUZU pickup car along with accomplices to evade arrest.
He dumped this vehicle, too, and then moved to another Maruti Brezza car.
He then took shelter in a gurdwara in Nangal Ambian, a village in Shahkot block.
According to the account of the preacher of the gurdwara and his wife to various media outlets, Amritpal came to the gurdwara at around 1 pm and left shortly afterwards, at 1.45 pm, on a motorcycle after changing his clothes.
According to the police, after leaving Nangal Ambian Gurdwara, Amritpal reached Sheikhupura in Jagraon Tehsil of Ludhiana district.
Then, along with his accomplice Papal Preet, he is believed to have crossed the river Sutlej on an abandoned railway bridge between Phillaur and Ladhowal.
From there, he arrived at the main national highway-1 near Hardy’s World at 9:30 pm and left for Haryana, possibly, to reach Kurukshetra on the early morning of March 19.
Then, he spent the night in Kurukshetra and left the place early in the morning of March 20.
The police released the latest footage from March 20, showing him walking in the rain with an umbrella in one hand and a bag in the other. The police claims that the footage is from Kurukshetra. This was the last available location known to security agencies so far, said Punjab police officials.
#CCTV visuals near the house in #Kurukshetra, #Haryana where #AmritpalSingh (under umbrella) and his aide Pappalpreet stayed on 19th March.
Haryana-based Woman harbourer identified as Baljeet Kaur has been arrested. pic.twitter.com/hnCNHiAghm
— Punjab Police India (@PunjabPoliceInd) March 23, 2023
A lady, in whose house he spent a night along with his aide Pappal Preet, has now been arrested for harbouring them, said Gill.
Identified as Baljeet Kaur, a resident of Shahabad in Kurukshetra, Gill said she was long known to Pappal Preet. “He used to visit her in the past too. After some questioning, Haryana Police handed over the woman to Punjab Police for further investigation,” he said.
More accomplices arrested
Punjab police on Thursday also announced the arrest of Tejinder Singh alias Gorkha Baba of Khanna, a close aide of Amritpal. Police claimed that incriminating videos of arms training and firing by Amritpal and his associates were recovered from his possession.
Police also recovered a hologram of ‘AKF’ from his possession, which is the short form of Anandpur Khalsa Fauj, which, police claimed, was the private militia that Amritpal was trying to raise. As per the latest data, the police have arrested 207 persons in connection with the Amritpal case.
Gill, however, told the media that only 30 of them are hardcore criminals while the remaining 177 have been kept in preventive custody.
“We are right now securitizing, and then, we will soon be releasing them with a warning, if they are not found guilty of any serious criminal activity,” he said.
He claimed that no innocent person will be harassed in this case. “Our chief minister is closely monitoring the entire police operation and is in touch with all officers,” he added.
The latest police announcement showing leniency in this case comes days after political parties in Punjab criticised the Aam Aadmi Party government for making indiscriminate arrests.
Punjab Congress president Amarinder Singh Raja Warring, too, shared a letter to the Punjab director general of police, highlighting the growing concern regarding the large number of youngsters being rounded up.
Meanwhile, five-time Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal on Thursday released a statement in which he expressed “grave concern and anxiety” over the sequence of recent events in Punjab and called for an end to the ongoing wave or repression against innocents and maximum vigil to preserve the hard-earned atmosphere of peace and communal harmony in the state.
“This is a critical hour and it calls for an exercise of optimum restraint, sagacity and far-sightedness by those in power,” he said. He expressed “anguish” over the prevailing situation and said that this is a direct outcome of inept handling of a sensitive situation by the ruling government.
“Their style of governance has posed a serious challenge to peace, law and order, and social harmony in the state. For 15 years, three successive governments led by me not only ensured peace and harmony among Punjabis of all faiths and shades of opinion but also put the state firmly on a fast-track development mode, visible everywhere even today. But things began to degenerate the moment we left and everyone can see that degeneration around them now,” he said.
However, members of the AAP government are lauding chief minister Bhagwant Mann for a definite action on Amritpal Singh, whom they believed had become a danger to the unity and sense of fraternity in the state.
In a police affidavit before Punjab and Haryana high court, the state said that “Amritpal was continuously acting in a manner prejudicial to the security of the state”. For some time he had been professing radical ideologies for the demand of the “secession of Punjab” from India and supporting the use of all means, including violent ones, for making a separate nation called Khalistan.