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High stakes for Punjab

If an adventurer like Amritpal is allowed latitude, it will spell disaster for the state

High stakes for Punjab

Reach out: It is very important for the state to win the hearts and minds of the community targeted by Waris Punjab De. ANI



Julio Ribeiro

Amritpal Singh, the self-styled Khalistan ‘chief protagonist’ in Punjab, is on the run. The Punjab Police have not been able to find him. He is street-smart and can play hide-and-seek with the police. There is nothing unusual about that. Our police forces have been involved in such chases some time or the other. Only, tracing this would-be terrorist is of utmost urgency considering what Punjab has gone through decades ago. One report hints that he has reached Nepal. The latest is that he is in Delhi, disguised. Remember the Scarlet Pimpernel of Baroness Orczy? To paraphrase: They seek him here. They seek him there. Punjab’s cops seek him everywhere. Is he in heaven? Or is he in hell? That damned elusive Amritpal!

Many young men frustrated by unemployment may gravitate to the idea of Khalistan without understanding its implications. It is incumbent on the Indian State to blunt its effect.

The Punjab and Haryana High Court wanted to know how Amritpal could have hoodwinked 80,000 police personnel who constitute the force! The court cannot be blamed for its caustic remark. The fact is that the figure 80,000 represents the sanctioned strength of the force. At any point of time, vacancies due to death or retirement or other logistical factors deplete the number by

5 per cent, if not more. Then there are men on leave or are ailing. Those on leave are a sizeable number. There are men on VIP security duties or guarding armouries, government offices, ministers, senior officials. Many of these duties are imposed on the police as there are no official sanctions for their deployment. Pressure is applied on the government, which takes the easy way out and instructs the DGP to provide the men from the sanctioned strength of 80,000.

The end result is that police stations cannot muster enough men to cater to extraordinary actions like the arrest of a budding leader who the government failed to tackle while he was still struggling to emerge on the centrestage.

But let us commend the Ministry of Home Affairs for goading the state government to act before it was too late. My friend Prakash Singh has written a perceptive analysis in an online magazine which gives an insight into the danger posed by Amritpal’s activities. On March 18, the mighty arm of the state finally struck! In the meantime, a fly had metamorphosed into a mosquito. Before the mosquito metamorphoses into a wasp, it needs to be swatted!

An operation to capture Amritpal needed many more men than what a police station can muster. He had acquired enough notoriety in the course of the year, since his return from Dubai and taking on the mantle of the headman of Waris Punjab De. After his successful skirmish with the Ajnala police, he got noticed beyond his limited sphere of influence and collected many more followers frustrated with the deteriorating economy. If an adventurer like Amritpal is allowed further latitude, it will spell disaster for the state.

There is no doubt that Amritpal was alerted by the movement of the policemen being marshalled in the nearby police station. He may also have had informers in the police ranks, just like the police normally maintains among lawbreakers and evildoers. It is also true that the evil ones have always to be ahead in the race since they are pitted against a much stronger and more powerful opponent, the state itself. The problem arises because of the complacency that overtakes the operatives of the more powerful entity. In the initial stages they are left redfaced but they are bound to prevail at the end. This is the usual pattern.

Amritpal’s movements from the time the police set out to nab him have been traced on CCTV. He was forced to resort to subterfuge to effect his escape. He changed vehicles and was once seen travelling in a contraption that I had not heard of earlier — a jugaad rehri. He spent one night in a woman’s house in Haryana but left before the police arrived to check.

Outside Punjab, his utility will be limited. Perhaps, it is more advantageous for us to allow him to operate from abroad, where he can compete with Gurpatwant Singh Pannun for leadership. His passport should be cancelled. He was sent to Punjab by his handlers to rouse the Jat Sikh peasantry to join the Khalistan movement. This movement is confined to the diaspora located in Canada, the US, Australia and the UK. Within Punjab itself, it enjoys scant support. The Sikhs in Punjab are being wooed by all political parties since their numbers in the state make them extremely relevant in political calculations.

Punjab has experienced terrorism in its rawest form and suffered immensely in the bargain. It is doubtful if the people would like to get involved again, even passively, in a movement that can only be described as doomed! In the entire world, no terrorist movement has ever succeeded.

It is doubtful if they would like the rhythm of their life to be disrupted by a bunch of malcontents, led by a young man craving for a place in the sun. Many young men frustrated by unemployment and the deteriorating economy may gravitate to the idea of Khalistan without understanding its implications. It is incumbent on the Indian State to blunt its effect.

The state must fan out to each district, each tehsil and each cluster of villages in a continuous stream of politicians and bureaucrats to explain the implications of the misguided movement. The members of the chosen teams must be trained and briefed on what they must put across to win over the people, especially the Jat Sikh farmers. Only men and women who are on the same page as the government on this issue should find a place in the team.

These men and women should be properly briefed in a two-day or even a day-long workshop addressed by the highest authorities in the state — the CM, the Chief Secretary and the DGP. It is very important to win the hearts and minds of the community targeted by Waris Punjab De, while dealing firmly and effectively with Amritpal and his cronies.


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