On February 23, 2023, in an unprecedented and horrifying incident, a violent mob attacked a Police Station in Ajnala, Punjab. Armed with rifles, pistols, swords and a variety of hand held weapons, the mob went on a rampage, breaking police barricades and shouting slogans as they took control of the Police Station. The incident sent shock waves through Punjab and the rest of the country. It triggered a widespread fear of revival of the terrible days of insurgency and terrorism in Punjab and caused a wave of insecurity among the people.
The architect of the violence was a new-born radical named Amritpal who has recently surfaced from Dubai. He has, under dubious circumstances, become the head of an organisation called “Waris Punjab De” that was created by another radical activist, Deep Sidhu, who died in a road accident. The organisation, under the garb of promoting cultural rejuvenation of Punjab, holds an agenda of separatism which Amritpal is actively pursuing.
Interestingly, the objective of the mob violence was not based on any religious, social or ideological pursuit. It was limited to a personal agenda of setting free a person called Lovepreet Toofan who is a close accomplice of Amritpal and was then under Police custody in the Ajnala Police station.
The sad part is that the mobsters carried with them the Saroop (copy) of Guru Granth Sahib, the sacred scripture of the Sikhs that has the stature of a living Guru. Sikhs across the world look upon this as a sacrilege of the holy Granth and are extremely anguished. The Punjab Police, otherwise known to be one of the best in the country, was caught totally unawares. It had no plan or structure in place to meet the eventuality of violence despite the tension brewing for many days. Even more perplexing is the docile manner in which the police capitulated to the demand of the radicals and found reasons to free Lovepreet Toofan. “In the light of the evidence presented before us, it has been decided that Lovepreet Toofan will be discharged,” said Satinder Singh, Senior Superintendent of Police, Amritsar (Rural).
Later, the Police tried to cover up its inefficiency by saying that it exercised restraint due the presence of Sri Guru Granth Sahib at the site of the mob violence. This is a noble thought, but it does not completely absolve the police from its intelligence and preparation failure. Overall, the situation exhibited a total collapse of law and order, a fact that has been pointed out by many leaders and intellectuals.
Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann was busy with investors summit when this terrible incident occurred. His reaction came much later and was in the form of a denial. “You have the wrong information. Law and order in Punjab is under control and Punjab Police is capable,” he is reported to have said. Immediately after the investor summit, the chief minister flew to Bombay with his boss and Aam Aadmi Party convenor, Arvind Kejriwal, where they met Uddhav Thackeray, obviously for a party level political discussion not concerning Punjab.
The disinterest shown by the chief minister has strengthened the popular perception in Punjab that the incumbent weak, vacillating and directionless Government is wholly responsible for the current indecisiveness and inefficiency of the Punjab Police. The morale of the force is at rock bottom. This perception is raising alarm bells among the political analysts and intelligentsia.
The Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) that is mandated to ensure Maryada (sanctity) of the holy has been quite reticent in addressing the sensitive and emotive issue of carrying the holy Granth for a violent activity. Akal Takht Jathedar, Giani Harpreet Singh, has done a cover-up job by forming a 15-member panel to look into the protocol of carrying the Saroop of Sri Guru Granth Sahib to the sites of protests and demonstrations. The report of the panel is awaited. Amritpal has also visited Sri Harmandir Sahib and held a meeting with Giani Harpreet Singh; he was quite unapologetic about his behaviour and that of his followers.
The proclivity of the SGPC in shielding the sacrilege is seen as a political compulsion due to its subservience to a particular political family that exerts unconstitutional influence over the autonomous body. The Sikhs are looking for more firm action against Amritpal and his gang of hoodlums led by the SGPC.
The major political parties of the state have taken a serious view of the incident. The Congress is giving threats of holding a massive protest if action is not taken against Amritpal. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has already held a massive protest in Chandigarh on 9 March and demanded the immediate arrest of Amritpal and all other perpetrators of the mob violence.
Amritpal Singh came to Punjab from Dubai, out of the blue, and positioned himself as a clone of the late Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. He started with the noble objective of baptising the Sikh youth with Amrit Pahul (Sikh nectar ceremony) and weaning them away from drugs. Sadly, his movement soon veered towards a demand for a separate state for the Sikhs whom he described as “enslaved” people.” Khalistan is the ultimate solution to every problem we have right now,” he says often in his interviews. He urges the Sikhs to become “Shastradhari” (armed) and get ready to offer their “sacrifice” in the name of the Guru and the Panth (community). Such rhetoric blatantly encourages an armed uprising in Punjab. Now, his political aspirations and proclivity to follow the path of violence are coming to the fore.
Amritpal is not as well versed in the study of the holy Granth as Bhindranwale was. It is this lack of knowledge that probably led him into making the cardinal error of carrying the Saroop of Sri Guru Granth Sahib to the police station at Ajnala. He is now trying to brazen out from the situation with resort to a more strident rhetoric on his demand for a separate state. What he is not realising is that the people of Punjab never have and never will be in favour of Khalistan.
Amritpal is merely a tenth class pass who went abroad to earn a living since he could see no future for himself in India. Now he eloquently addresses complex political and social theories to further his advocacy for the Khalistan cause. Apparently, he has been tutored. To the experienced eye, tutoring by Pakistan’s Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) is quite evident. He is possibly a foreign enemy sponsored agent who has come to Punjab to leverage the weakness of the incumbent AAP led Government towards creating dissension and divisiveness in the border state. The state and the Union Government need to remain sensitive to this probable persona of Amritpal.
The Indian state cannot allow this matter to fester.
The primary responsibility to control the situation lies with the State Government. Earlier State Governments too have faced such challenges and handled them with finesse, and as a result, the separatist voice has never gained any foothold in the state. It would be best for the State Government to respond before the situation worsens. The Union Government also needs to extend all support to the State Government in meeting this challenge. The Ajnala incident cannot go unheeded by the State and the Union Governments.
So far as Amritpal is concerned, it would be best for him to read the writing on the wall. If he has been duped by foreign masters into taking a path that is not acceptable to his own people, he can easily go for course correction. He can use his new found popularity for positive initiatives towards controlling drug abuse and a host of other issues that plague the state. In pursuance of such a positive course he will get assistance from all segments of the society and the Government, if not then ignominy awaits him.