AA Edit | Threat to Punjab growing: Centre needs to act swiftly

The Asian Age.

Opinion, Edit

On a continual basis in the state there have been incidents of masses of men wielding firearms and other weapons going on the rampage

'Waris Punjab De' founder Amritpal Singh visits Golden Temple after the release of his associate Lovepreet Toofan from the Amritsar Central Jail, in Amritsar, Friday, Feb. 24, 2023. (Photo: PTI)

Fears have been expressed for some time about the resurgence of terrorism in Punjab. This followed from reports of weapons being dropped from drones, the inference being that the source had to be Pakistan, given the geography. Captain Amarinder Singh, when he was Congress Party’s chief minister in the state, would frequently raise this issue with the Centre. Since then, the situation appears to have got worse.

On a continual basis in the state there have been incidents of masses of men wielding firearms and other weapons going on the rampage. There are said to be 70-odd armed gangs on the loose. When armed gangs roam without fear of attracting penal action, the situation can turn alarming if corrective steps are not taken at the earliest.

In a state where unemployment is high and the youth are in the grip of the drug menace, the situation can lend itself to be harnessed by unwholesome causes. When religion is thrown into this volatile mix, and married to strong nativist ideas suggestive of secession, the situation is apt to raise red flags in a state that was swept by a decade of insurgency and intense terrorism in the 1980s. Worries on these counts appear to have intensified since the arrival of the AAP government on the scene last year. 

The most recent incident of violence was witnessed on February 23 when a young Sikh man, Amritpal Singh Sandhu, accompanied by hundreds of armed followers, stormed the police station at Ajnala in Amritsar district to secure the release of one of his men who had been taken in on kidnapping charges. The police caved in although a handful of them were injured in the fighting. The arrested man was released. The excuse for inaction was that the attackers had brought with them the Guru Granth Sahibthe Sikh holy book, and police action might have caused desecration of the scripture.  As a consequence, the marauders have walked away scot free. No criminal cases have been registered. The state government hopes there will be no further incidents of this kind. 

This is a ridiculous expectation. Amritpal, returned from Dubai barely six months ago, has proclaimed himself the head of a secessionist outfit called Waris Punjab De (The Inheritors of Punjab) on the basis of Sikh communalism, exactly the element that had stoked ambitions in an unlettered cleric called Bhindrawale in the ’80s and caused a chain of events leading to Army action inside the much revered Golden Temple in Amritsar and the subsequent reprisal assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. What's also egregious is that Amritpal Singh made a public declaration that the Union home minister would meet the same fate as the former PM.

It is evident that the state government finds itself at sea in this situation. The state police had been demoralised even before the AAP government came into being. Since the end of 2021, Punjab has had four directors-general of police. A demoralised force can be inspired to step up when given adequate backing by the political authority.

When governments show resolve, it may be expected that Sikh religious institutions such as the Akal Takht and the SGPC may summon the resources to firmly propagate moderation. We cannot countenance a destabilised situation in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab, both bordering regions, especially when Chinese soldiers are already sitting inside our territories in Ladakh.