The Growing Threat Of Amritpal Singh Sandhu and The Revival Of The Khalistan Movement
Why the rise of Sandhu to a position of power and influence is ringing alarm bells.
A wave of unrest is sweeping through the state of Punjab as the Bhagwant Mann government appears to be yielding to Khalistani separatists. In a recent incident at a police station complex in Amritsar, supporters of radical preacher Amritpal Singh Sandhu overran barricades and stormed into the facility, exposing the inadequacy of the Punjab police.
The AAP government seems reluctant to offend the Khalistani extremists. This policy of appeasement has left the police force powerless to resist the ultimatums of these radical forces.
The brazenness of Sandhu's supporters, who were able to brandish weapons and assault police officers with impunity, is indicative of the worsening situation in the state. The government's failure to take decisive action against these radical forces has emboldened them to hold the entire law and order machinery of Punjab to ransom.
Sandhu's rise to prominence can be traced back to the farm law protests that erupted in India in 2020. Although these protests initially sought to oppose progressive laws aimed at modernising agriculture, they quickly became a breeding ground for Khalistani forces to sow seeds of hatred towards the Indian state.
With support from international backers, the platform of the farm law protests provided legitimacy to threatening and abusing the state as a form of protest and exercise of freedom of expression. This gave India's hostile forces an opening to promote and legitimise extremists like Amritpal Singh Sandhu, who have since been at the forefront of reviving the Khalistan movement.
Born in 1993, Sandhu was living in Dubai and working in his family's businesses just two years ago. However, he has since risen to become the leader of 'Waris Punjab De', a group established by actor and activist, Deep Sidhu, who died in a car accident in February 2022.
Sandhu was declared the head of the organisation during a massive gathering in Rode in September 2022, where the crowd chanted "Khalistan Zindabad" and he promised to restart the struggle for "azaadi".
However, Sidhu's family has distanced themselves from him, challenging his claims of taking Sidhu's ideology ahead. The family claims that he had never met Sidhu but was in touch with him through social media during the farm protests.
The location of Sandhu's anointment is significant, as Rode is the native village of slain Khalistani terrorist Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who serves as Sandhu's inspiration. According to Punjab-observer, Rohit Pathania, Sandhu, who did not even wear a turban just two years ago, has undergone a remarkable transformation, ascending to a position of power and influence in the Khalistani movement.
In Sandhu's old photographs, he appears like any other youngster wearing T-shirts, denim jeans, and sporting short hair. However, after coming to Punjab, he began styling himself to resemble Bhindranwale and even started carrying a steel arrow, just as Bhindranwale used to do.
Like Bhindranwale, Sandhu aims to capture the imagination of the youth of Punjab through fiery speeches and has a message for them to stop using drugs and join the movement to revive the “panth” and free it from the mindset of “slavery”. He openly advocates for “sampuran raj” instead of “Waziri” or slavery, and he openly disdains other religions, reminiscent of Bhindranwale.
Sandhu has been in the news for his provocative statements, with the most recent one being against Union Home Minister Amit Shah. Sandhu stated that Shah's “fate will be similar to that of former prime minister Indira Gandhi.”
The Punjab Chief Minister, Mann, has been evasive on Sandhu's dangerous rhetoric, owing to political compulsions. The fear is that if the AAP government takes a tough stand, they might lose the support of radical Sikh elements that have propelled their victory in Punjab.
Besides the tacit support of the AAP, Sandhu has also found an ally in the President of Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar). and Sangrur MP, Simranjit Singh Mann, a known advocate of the Khalistan movement. He won the Sangrur by-poll in Punjab after Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann vacated the seat. His win did forbode a revival of dark times for Punjab and Sandhu is the pure manifestation of it.
The rise of Sandhu to a position of power and influence is ringing alarm bells about the potential for a resurgence of the tumultuous times in Punjab's history. The current state government's lack of experience and opportunism, coupled with a fragmented state polity, is providing Sandhu with the opportunity to consolidate his power and incite a violent unrest in Punjab.
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