After a 35 day long manhunt, the Indian government stated on Sunday April 23rd that they arrested Amritpal Singh, a Sikh separatist leader of the “Khalistan” separatist movement “Waris Punjab De”. He was arrested in the Punjab town of Rode, in the Moga district.
The manhunt, which began in March, saw hundreds of arrests of Singh’s supporters, including several family members. India’s government also severed internet and cell service for several days, cutting off Punjab States 30 million people from the outside world.
According to police, they acted on intelligence that had brought them to the town, where they then launched a series of raids which forced Singh to surface, where he was then arrested.
This story, however, differs from what his supporters and family are saying. They are claiming it was Singh himself who called the police, and then surrendered to police.
“Through TV we came to know that he surrendered before the Police. We too wanted the same because people were being harassed due to him. We will fight the case. The entire community should fight it. He was working to save people from the drug menace; an offer has been made to us for it” -Singh’s father, Tarsem Singh
“We saw the news and came to know that he has surrendered. I felt proud that he surrendered like a warrior…We will fight a legal battle and we will also go and meet him at the earliest” -Singh’s mother, Balwinder Kaur
The government, of course, denies this.
“He was arrested. This is very clear. There is nothing to revisit here. He surfaced as raids were done and pressure was built. After that, he was arrested” -Director General of Police Gaurav Yadav
The recent tensions in Punjab have brought back memories from the 80’s when Punjab suffered from severe ethnic/religious tensions, which culminated in the assassination of India’s Prime Minister at the time. Though Singh has only been the leader of Waris Punjab De since 2022, he has gained significant influence in the region and amongst the people.
How did it all begin..?
Amritpal Singh took over for the Khalistani separatist movement, Waris Punjab De, which was founded by Deep Sidhu, an actor turned Sikh activist who was killed in a car accident in February 2022. Waris Punjab De was originally founded in September 2021 and organized as a way to represent the farmers in Punjab.
However, under Singh’s leadership, the organization has shifted its focus to establishing an independent Khalistan consisting of the Punjab regions of India and Pakistan. Historically, the Punjab states of Pakistan and India have served as the homeland of Sikhism. With Waris Punjab De, the jump from its origins as an organization meant to support farmers to a separatist movement is fascinating, but not incredibly shocking given the ties both Deep and Singh had to Sikhism and the Punjab state. Deep himself had sympathies for founding Khalistan but reportedly did not espouse those beliefs as Singh has.
The foundation of the organization was a reaction to the various protests headed by farmers across India in 2020 and 2021 in response to three farm acts that the farmers claimed would leave the price of their produce at the mercy of corporations. Deep was a part of the infamous Farmers’ Day Protest which occurred on 2021-01-26 in Delhi. The protest made its way along unapproved routes at unapproved times and was struck with occasional violence. Deep was amongst the group of protestors who made it to the Red Fort where the Nishan Sahib flag and Farmers’ Unions flags were hoisted on the ramparts. Deep was accused by leaders within the Farmers’ Unions of leading protestors to the Red Fort. Afterward, Deep faced various charges and was arrested twice but was bailed out both times.
After Deep’s death, Singh came to power despite some claiming he had been blocked by Deep as they communicated only in person. Singh has had several issues with the law which have led to his arrest. The first occurrence came when a suspected member of Waris Punjab De murdered Sudhir Suri, a Shiv Sena politician. Singh was held under house arrest as a precaution against any retaliatory violence, but he was also questioned about his connection to the assassination and the assassin. He was quickly released from home arrest. The major charge against him came in February 2023 when a man claimed he was kidnapped by Singh’s associates and reported the incident to the Punjab Police. An associate of Singh’s, Lovepreet Singh Toofan, was later arrested on charges of kidnapping. Singh issued an ultimatum to the police to release Lovepreet and when they did not, members of the Waris Punjab De stormed the police complex with guns and swords, injuring personnel and damaging police vehicles. Lovepreet was later released after being ordered by a local court to do so.
-Written in cooperation by Joshua Baker and Sebastien Gray