Things have developed alarmingly in Punjab, causing deep consternation and giving a cause for alarm for an entire generation of Indians who have seen the rise of extremism in earlier decades. There are several reasons why the sudden rise in the popularity of a terrorist like Amritpal Singh, chief of the “Waris Punjab De” outfit, which openly promotes violence and breakaway from India and the creation of a separate Khalistan, bring a sense of doom and déjà vu for many.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Congress Party led by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, allowed the rise of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a self-styled spiritual leader, who also advocated Khalistan and secession through violence, which spiralled out of control with terrible consequences for everyone. Mrs Gandhi was assassinated, the entire Sikh community was crestfallen both with the Army action at the Golden Temple, and anti-Sikh genocide that followed the Prime Minister’s killing. It took nearly a decade for India to quell the militancy in Punjab and restore peace.
Styling himself after Bhindrawale, the extremist preacher Amritpal Singh has used foreign funding and brainwashing techniques to create an atmosphere for suspicion, hatred and anti-India emotions to further his own political goals. Thankfully, there seems to be no political backing for his gameplan, and no support from ordinary people either. It is welcome and gives hope because without people and political support, such movements cannot go far, or long.
There have been deeply concerning news of alerts given by the intelligence and security agencies of the kind of armed force that Amritpal Singh was trying to raise, the funds from aboard, including Pakistan, he was accessing and using; and the prospect of suicide squads and human bombs he was working on developing.
Thankfully, both the Centre and the state government have reacted, albeit a bit delayed, but they have, and their actions seem to be singularly focused on arresting Amritpal Singh’s conspiracy and crimes before he commits any more, and restoring order. Some of his accomplices have been arrested including his uncle, driver and a key financier. A wide net has been laid for nabbing most of the key players, and it is hoped it’s just a matter of time before he is apprehended too.
The Punjab government has also shut down the Internet and SMS services in the state, never a good step to support but since it was done in national interest, one must hope the forces quickly nab the kingpin and it allows for the Internet ban to be removed as soon as possible.
It is equally crucial that we quickly reach out to the people of Punjab, especially young people, to ensure there is an open dialogue which wins the hearts of all and the seeds of hatred and separation sowed already are aborted at the root-level. We can’t let the same kind of rhetoric and brainwashing as it being seen amidst sections of NRIs in some countries like Britain and Canada reach our domestic communities.
With the government having issued a high alert, it will be a matter of time before the Amritpal Singh episode is brought to a legal and logical conclusion, but we must strive to ensure that no remnants of the separatist ideology takes root. Peace in Punjab cannot be risked again.