Peril in Punjab

The Punjab Police and the state government would need to give a lot of explanation as to how they have allowed the situation to reach a level wherein a ‘militant’ preacher by name Amritpal Singh operated there without any hindrance for the past few years. He has projected himself as Bhindranwale 2.0, moved around with armed supporters, raised a militant outfit by name Waris Punjab De, and finally escaped with relative ease from a police crackdown last week. The High Court in Chandigarh has asked a pointed questions as to how all this could happen when the state is having a police strength of 80,000 personnel.
The sensitivity about Punjab needs no reiteration. It was after much bloodshed and painstaking efforts over several years that calm was restored in the state since the eruption of the Khalistan movement spearheaded by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale with backing from the Pakistan army’s ISI intelligence wing. The events in Punjab had veered towards a separatist movement and ultimately claimed the life of the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi in October 1984, four months after Operation Bluestar in which Bhindranwale and many of his followers were killed by security forces in the holy Golden Temple. The Indira assassination sparked the Delhi riots where the Sikh community were targeted and many lost their hearths and homes. Yet, the political leadership showed a sense of maturity in restoring peace and granting Punjab what was its due. There has been peace and political stability ever since, with the state’s leadership firmly in the hands of Sikhs through successive governments. It ended up with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) after the Akali Dal, Congress era.
Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann’s promise on Tuesday to do his best to maintain peace in the state in itself cannot exonerate him from the guilt of having abjectly failed to rise up to the occasion and to act effectively in checking the recurrence of militancy. As per reports, Amritpal Singh was planning a state-wide outreach to “baptize youth for suicide attack missions and used de-addiction centres to stockpile weapons sourced from Pakistan.” It is another matter that Pakistan no longer has the capacity to needle India but a collapsing power can sometimes go any lengths too. The question that arises is what were the central agencies and the Union Home Ministry doing so far to checkmate these fresh attempts at re-igniting militancy in Punjab? The crackdown on Saturday saw the involvement of the central agencies too and yet the key figure has made good his escape. All efforts to locate Amritpal Singh have failed. This is a serious matter and one of great concern for the country.

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