Chandigarh: In what appeared a complete change of story, a late-night press release by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government revealed that the Punjab police was still hunting for Sikh hardliner Amritpal Singh
As per the state government’s spokesperson, the crackdown on him and his supporters began Saturday morning.
Amritpal, the chief of Waris Punjab De and a pro-Khalistan leader, was intercepted at the Shahkot-Malsian Road in Jalandhar district around noon and seven persons were arrested on the spot.
“But several others, including Amritpal Singh, are still on the run and a massive manhunt has been launched to nab them,” stated the government release.
Punjab police have so far arrested 78 people and have seized 9 weapons, including one .315 bore rifle, seven rifles of 12 bore, one revolver and 373 live cartridges of different calibres.
Even as the state government claimed that all persons involved in criminal offences shall soon be nabbed, the situation on the ground appears very delicate at the moment.
All across the state, the internet services were shut down since morning, and are likely to remain shut down on Sunday as well.
Request all citizens to maintain peace & harmony
Punjab Police is working to maintain Law & Order
Request citizens not to panic or spread fake news or hate speech pic.twitter.com/gMwxlOrov3
— Punjab Police India (@PunjabPoliceInd) March 18, 2023
The action on Amritpal comes weeks after he and his supporters laid siege to a police station in Ajnala near Amritsar to free one of his aides. The government confirmed that the action against him and his supporters was linked to his attack on the Ajnala police station last month.
A first information report (FIR) was already filed against him and his supporters on February 24 for their involvement in four criminal cases relating to spreading disharmony among classes, attempt to murder, attacking police persons and creating obstructions in the lawful discharge of duties of public servants.
With pressure mounting on the AAP government since the Ajnala incident, the action on Amritpal was not unexpected.
The Punjab police crackdown began on Saturday morning as Amritpal was scheduled to address a programme in Shahkot in Jalandhar district. As soon as he entered the district, the police intercepted him at the Shahkot-Malsian Road but he escaped police action.
A video shared by one of his aides revealed a long chase between police and Amritpal, which according to the government is not over yet. The search operation is underway in and around the Nakodar area of Jalandhar, where he is believed to be hidden. The whole area – including parts of the national highway – was sealed.
A red alert has been sounded across the state, even as his supporters held a protest in Mohali against his arrest.
(📷: Ravi Kumar / Hindustan Times) pic.twitter.com/4TFEpXtisu
— HT Punjab (@HTPunjab) March 18, 2023
Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which prohibits the assembly of five or more persons, has been imposed in many districts of Punjab – including Sri Muktsar Sahib and Fazilika, two of the six border districts of Punjab.
Heavy police deployment was made in all district headquarters, including Amripal’s home town near Amritsar. The paramilitary forces have sealed off the Jallupur khera, which is Amritpal Singh’s native village.
The Union government too is learnt to have been in touch with the Punjab police for regular updates.
Meanwhile, political reactions have been coming from all sides.
Congress Member of Parliament Ravneet Singh Bittu took a dig at Amritpal after he evaded the arrest, saying that his escape from the police brought forth his “reality”.
The state government, meanwhile, has asked citizens not to pay heed to “fake news and rumours”.
It claimed that the situation in the state is completely stable. “All persons indulging in mischievous activities for disturbing peace and harmony in the state shall be dealt with strictly,” it said.
Note: An earlier version of this story said Amritpal Singh was arrested. The Punjab police later clarified that this was not the case.
This is a developing story and will be updated as and when more information is available.