After a month-long manhunt, pro-Khalistan preacher Amritpal Singh was arrested by the Punjab police from Punjab's Moga district on Sunday. He was later flown by a special flight from Bhatinda air force station to Dibrugarh and lodged in a high-security prison.
Singh's rise and his evasion of arrest ever since he and a group of arms-brandishing supporters stormed a police station last month, was seen as a challenge by the country's security apparatus, and brought back fears of the militancy which had stalked Punjab in the 1980s and early 1990s.
The preacher was taken into custody in the early hours of the Sunday morning at 6.45 am as he came out from the gurdwara in Rode village in traditional attire that included a sheathed sword. Rode is also Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale's native village. It is also the same place where Singh took over last year as the chief of Waris Punjab De.
How was Amritpal Singh arrested?
The Punjab Police had surrounded the Gurudwara where Singh was hiding.
"A joint operation was conducted by Amritsar police and the intelligence wing of Punjab Police. He was located in village Rode based on operational inputs with Punjab Police. He was surrounded from all sides. The village was surrounded by the Punjab Police," said Inspector General of Police Sukhchain Singh Gill.
Amritpal Singh and Waris Punjab De: Everything you need to know about them
Vivo V27 Pro review: All-round smartphone with focus on imaging capability
Samsung Galaxy Book3 Pro: Lightweight laptop lifted by ecosystem benefits
No leaves for Punjab police till Apr 14 as Amritpal calls for Sarbat Khalsa
Amritpal Singh in Hoshiarpur? Police launch door-to-door operation
Latest Live: Earthquake of magnitude 3.5 hits West Khasi Hills in Meghalaya
PM Modi to flag off Kerala's first Vande Bharat Express on Tuesday
India logs 7,178 new coronavirus infections, active cases dip to 65,683
India, Guyana forming a partnership fit for contemporary era: Jaishankar
Indian not allowed to bring pregnant Sudanese wife home, cries for help
Singh was then detained under the stringent National Security Act.
Shortly after his arrest, a video surfaced online in which the extremist preacher was seen delivering a brief address, indicating that he is surrendering.
Another clip showed him sitting before a portrait of Bhindranwale, who died in a controversial Army operation in 1984 to flush out militants holed up inside Amritsar's Golden Temple.
Former Akal Takht jathedar Jasbir Singh Rode said he met Singh at the gurdwara as the preacher prepared to surrender.
In the gurdwara clip, Singh claimed there were excesses by the government against Sikhs while he was on the run, appearing to suggest that the security agencies wanted to harass people rather than just arrest him. He said he would have cooperated with them had arrest been their objective.
"I have decided to surrender and this arrest is not an end, it is the beginning," he claimed.
Gill countered Singh's claim that it was a surrender and underlined that the fugitive was cornered based on intelligence inputs.
Gill said that a message was conveyed to the preacher that he had no chance of escaping.
"NSA warrants were issued against Amritpal Singh and these have been executed today morning. Further, the law will take its own course," he said.
Developments after Amritpal Singh's arrest
After the arrest, a special flight took him to Assam's Dibrugarh, nearly 2,000 km from Bhatinda Air Force station. It landed at Dibrugarh at 2.20 pm on Sunday and a double cordon of armed police personnel whisked him away for a medical check-up and other formalities before eventually lodging him in the Central Jail.
Singh's nine other associates, who were picked up over the past several weeks, have also been kept in the same jail.
In a video message hours after the arrest, Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann said those who disturb peace and harmony in the state will have to face the law, and innocent people will not be disturbed.
Who is Amritpal Singh?
Born in Amritsar's Jalluur Khera village in 1993, Singh passed his class 12th in India and then moved to Dubai in 2012. There, he worked in his uncle's transport company.
In 2022, he was anointed as the head of "Waris Punjab De". Singh and his supporters claim that Sidhu was murdered by the "state". Singh never met Sidhu but was "strongly influenced" by him. Singh said he stopped shaving his beard and cutting his hair in 202 at Sidhu's advice.
In 2022, after his "dastaar bandi" (turban-tying) ceremony, he started dressing like Bhindranwale. Some followers even started calling him Bhindranwale 2.0. He has been espousing the cause of Khalistan on Facebook for a while now.
In an interview with a news channel, Singh said he was drawn to activism after the Bargari sacrilege and Behbal Kalan firing in 2015.
What is Waris Punjab De?
Waris Punjab De, which roughly translates as "Heirs of Punjab", is an organisation floated by actor-turned-activist Sandeep Singh alias Deep Sidhu on September 30, 2021. The organisation's primary aim was "to protect and fight for the rights of Punjab and raise social issues".
Before Amritpal Singh, Sidhu headed Waris Punjab De. In an event in 2021, Sidhu said that the organisation would "fight for the rights of Punjab against the Centre and raise voice whenever there will be any attack on the culture, language, social fabric and rights of Punjab."
"It is a platform for those who are not satisfied with the social reality of Punjab in the current scenario. It is a social platform. We take everything to elections but I want to clarify that it is a social platform. It is not a poll gimmick. We are not supporting any political party. Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Christian, it is for all those who will fight with us for the rights of Punjab. Before 1947, we lived together in harmony, but the British snatched that brotherhood from us. Our Gurus fought against casteism," he had said.
The organisation took a pro-Khalistan turn after Sidhu extended his support for the Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) of Simranjit Singh Mann.
On February 15, 2022, Sidhu died in a car accident while travelling to Punjab to campaign for Mann. Mann later won the Lok Sabha seat from Sangrur. He demanded a judicial probe into Sidhu's death. Sidhu was cremated amid pro-Khalistan slogans in Ludhiana.
On September 29, 2022, Amritpal, a Dubai returnee dressed like Jarnail Singh Bindranwale, took over as the head of Waris Punjab De. The ceremony took place at Rode in Moga district, the ancestral village of Bhindranwale.
Sidhu's family has, however, distanced themselves from Singh.
(With agency inputs)