A widespread police crackdown is underway in Punjab against radical preacher Amritpal Singh and his supporters, accused of spreading communal tensions in the state.
With the operation underway, the Punjab government suspended internet services in the state until Sunday noon to prevent the spread of rumors and potential tensions.
Officials familiar with the development said six of Singh’s close supporters have been arrested so far, while a manhunt for the radical preacher is still ongoing.
They said the preacher was almost caught but managed to evade the approaching police team who intercepted his cavalcade in Mehatpur village in Jalandhar district on Saturday.
Some supporters of the Waris Punjab De chief shared some videos on social media claiming police officers were following them. Video also showed Amritpal sitting in a vehicle and one of his aides could be heard saying police were after “Bhai saab” (Amritpal).
Punjab police registered cases against Singh and his supporters in Ajnala earlier last week for alleged hate speech. Singh gained more notoriety in February this year when a man complained to Ajnala Police Station, claiming he had been kidnapped and beaten by the radical preacher’s associates.
An FIR was registered against Amritpal Singh and six of his associates. Police later arrested a Lovepreet Singh Toofan, a close associate of Amritpal, over the matter.
Toofan’s arrest prompted Amritpal to warn police to drop his case, and matters turned ugly when hundreds of his supporters broke through police barricades and stormed the police complex, armed with automatic rifles and edged weapons.
Toofan was released under pressure, but only after the police told the court they would investigate the matter further.
Six police officers, including a Superintendent of Police rank officer, were injured during the incident.
As the crackdown continued on Saturday, some videos of radical preachers circulated on social media, including one shared by a supporter who claimed cops were after him.
A massive operation by security forces was carried out near the village of Jallupur Khera in Amritsar, the birthplace of Amritpal.
Meanwhile, Punjab police urged people to maintain peace and harmony.
“Call upon all citizens to maintain peace and harmony. The Punjab Police work to maintain law and order. Urge citizens not to panic or spread fake news or hate speech,” one tweet said.
Earlier this month, Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann visited Union Home Minister Amit Shah and discussed the prevailing rule of law in the border state.
The center had deployed about 1,900 personnel from the CRPF and its specialized anti-riot unit, the RAF, to reinforce the security net.
The Union Home Office also last week ordered the deployment of 18 companies in Punjab to “assist the state government in law and order tasks”.
Of the 18 contingents, eight will be withdrawn from the Anti-Riot Rapid Action Force (RAF), while the rest will be deployed regularly. The total strength of these companies is around 19,000 employees.
Officials said the Union Home Office was “closely monitoring” the situation in Punjab amid renewed activity by some Khalistani supporters.
Amritpal Singh, a returnee from Dubai, was appointed last year to head Waris Punjab De, founded by actor and activist Deep Sidhu, who died in a road accident in February last year.
The event took place at Moga’s Rode, the home village of slain militant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale.