‘Waris Punjab De’ chief Amritpal Singh arrested from Punjab’s Moga under NSA; shifted to Assam’s Dibrugarh jail
Amritpal Singh, a pro-Khalistan propagator and the chief of Waris Punjab De (WPD) outfit, who is facing charges under the National Security Act (NSA) was arrested by Punjab Police from Moga on April 23. Amritpal’s arrest comes a month after the police launched a massive crackdown against him and his outfit.
Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Headquarters Sukhchain Singh Gill said Amritpal was arrested today at around 6.45 a.m. from Rode village in Moga district, following a special operation carried out in the past 35 days. Rode is the native village of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, the militant leader who was killed in 1984.
The symbolism of Amritpal’s arrest
Amritpal was arrested today from the Rode village in Punjab, which carries a special significance in the history of the state. Rode was the native village of Jarnail Singh Brar, who rose to the top of a Sikh seminary, Damdami Taksal, and came to be known as Sant Bhindranwale by his followers. It is most likely that Amritpal chose to get arrested from Rode in an attempt to enact the Bhindranwale symbolism right till the end. In the Khalistani lore, Rode comes next only to the Akal Takht in the Golden Temple where Bhindranwale got entrenched and turned it into a bully pulpit for himself. Amritpal’s arrest at Rode could be his last signal to his followers that he indeed carries the legacy of Bhindranwale and is the rightful claimant to the leadership of the Khalistani movement.
Amritpal’s beginning at Rode
Though Amritpal the Khalistani hothead had emerged in the public discourse in social media much earlier, Amritpal the Khalistani figurehead had popped up at the very Rode village where he was arrested today. Last September, Amritpal was anointed the head of Waris Punjab De, the Khalistani separatist organisation started by Deep Sidhu who had died in an accident. The choice of the venue was loaded symbolically. Four decades later, Amritpal was starting out as a Khalistani leader from the village of the man with whom the Khalistani terorrist movement started in Punjab. What he started at Rode last year, he rounded that off at Rode today. But a lot has changed between Amritpal’s anointment at Rode last year and his arrest at Rode today — Amritpal the fire-spouting leader who dared the state morphed into Amritpal the scaredy cat who was scurrying to save himself from the state.
Amritpal as Bhindranwale 2.0
Bhindranwale has lived on in Punjab as a Khalistani icon and a versatile symbol that could be conveniently deployed in any protest movement, from the one against sacrilege at the gurdwaras to that against farm laws. Amritpal’s short and happening career was a well-coordinated attempt at recreating Bhindranwale, and he was rightly called Bhindranwale 2.0. Amritpal gets full marks for staging the Bhindranwale iconography. A tall Amritpal in a full beard and flowing robe, always surrounded by armed men, looked every bit like Bhindranwale. There were media reports that claimed Amritpal Singh had gone to Georgia to get a nose job done for an unmistakable Bhindranwale brand recall. To ace the styling, he would sometimes pose with an arrow just like Bhindranwale. But Amritpal’s was a steel arrow while Bhindranwale carried a silver one — like any fake, the resemblance was only a scratch deep.
Once Amritpal had managed to carry the Bhindranwala style, he brought a great vim to it by curating his spiel from the vast separatist and communal repertoire of Bhindranwala’s rhetoric. Borrowing from Bhindranwala’s trademark belligerence and defiance, he made the Indian government, the “ghumat” as he pronounced it, his chief adversary; warned Sikhs that he had come to get their sons martyred for the cause; and declared murder and mayhem his agenda. In one of his statements that went viral, he said if a few boys died for the cause, it won’t stop the ‘massya’ (the new moon night, a day of religious significance). In short, Amritpal was Bhindranwala 2.0, but only as real as any imitation could be. Like the sneakers with Adidas spelt wrongly, the difference was minute but right before your eyes.
Amritpal also got onto the launchpad that had shot Bhindranwale to public gaze — baptising Sikhs and preaching against intoxicants, which would help him claim righteousness and soften his hawkish persona for a wider acceptance among the Sikhs.
How Amritpal’s act turned into a farce
Before Bhindranwale got his outsized image, he had made his way to the top of Damdami Taksal through long, fierce power struggles. Before Amritpal tried his hand at Bhindranwale 2.0, he was a young truck driver in Dubai, without the customary unshorn Sikh looks and, quite possibly, inclined to the various joys of being an NRI youth with good looks and social media appeal. Bhindranwale, in stark contrast, was a small farmer grappling with the destitution and distress small farmers typically suffered in Punjab of those days. The real Amritpal Singh began in Dubai; in Rode, it was an imitation cleverly manufactured by his handlers.
And as with all imitations, Amritpal’s Bhindranwale act too wore off quickly. Of course, many had doubted Amritpal right from the beginning, but he had overcome the doubters as his traction deepened among the youth who were looking for a separatist icon after Deep Sidhu’s death. Amritpal Singh was trying to fill that hole with a far bigger peg, the Bhindranwale 2.0, as against Deep Sidhu’s persona of a defiant youth.
Amritpal’s undoing was his attack on a police station in Ajnala to free one of his associates arrested in a kidnapping case. The government was waiting for him to make a mistake, and he did by attacking the police station. It was not the sheer anarchy of this act that turned a lot of people against him but using Guru Granth Sahib as a shield to force his way into the police station. The police, however, got into action days later after Amritapal faced heavy flak from Sikhs for his indecorous act.
It was in those days that many thought Amritpal, just like Bhindranwale, would entrench himself in a gurdwara where police would be reluctant to enter. That’s when the cleverly manufactured imitation started coming apart — Amritpal ran away instead and what followed was a veritable Netflix escape drama with lots of ironic reversals and dark comedy twists. Amritpal, who wanted to get sons of the Sikhs martyred for the Khalistani cause and made light of his followers getting killed by the police, was himself running to save his life. From initial suspense and shock, the events soon turned into a CCTV spectacle. Amritpal in various disguises; Amritpal slinking down a street; Amritpal sipping an energy drink; Amritpal now in Haryana, now in Delhi; Amritpal cornered in Rajasthan. If that wasn’t enough, the media leaked what were purportedly his chats about girls from his life as an NRI youth, hardly becoming of someone who went around preaching religious piety.