A manhunt for a hardline Sikh preacher in India has entered its third day as authorities shut mobile internet in the whole of Punjab state and arrest more than 100 of his supporters.
Amritpal Singh, 30, rose to prominence in recent months demanding the creation of Khalistan, a separate Sikh homeland, and with his hardline interpretation of Sikhism at rallies in rural pockets of the western state of some 30 million people.
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Last month, Singh and his supporters, armed with swords, knives and guns, raided a police station after one of his aides was arrested for alleged assault and attempted kidnapping.
The brazen daytime raid on the outskirts of Amritsar – home to the holiest Sikh shrine, the Golden Temple – left several police injured and heaped pressure on authorities to act against Singh.
Punjab police late on Sunday said it “made [more] preventive arrests” of people “attempting to disturb law and order in Punjab”. Singh’s uncle and driver were among those arrested, Indian media reports said on Monday.
“Thirty-four arrests have been made today. A total of 112 persons have been arrested so far … and there is complete peace and harmony in the state,” it added.
On Monday, there was a major police presence across Punjab, especially in rural pockets and around Singh’s village of Jallupur Khera, local media reported.
The police said its “manhunt” was ongoing and the overall “situation is under control, citizens [are] requested to not believe in rumours”.
Local media reports said a ban on mobile internet and short messaging service (SMS) has been extended across Punjab, with neighbouring Haryana state also on high alert.
All mobile internet services, all SMS services (except banking & mobile recharge) & all dongle services provided on mobile networks, except the voice call, in the territorial jurisdiction of Punjab suspended till March 21 (12:00 hours) in the interest of public safety: Dept of… https://t.co/kkq3eD8DLe pic.twitter.com/BMNM5uOvDi
— ANI (@ANI) March 20, 2023
It was worried that social media could be used to spread rumours and misinformation which could spark street violence, officials said.
Indian authorities frequently shut down mobile internet services, particularly in the restive northern region of Indian-administered Kashmir.
UK diplomat summoned
India summoned the “senior-most UK diplomat in New Delhi” late on Sunday after some Singh supporters allegedly entered and vandalised the Indian High Commission in London.
VIDEO | India on Sunday night summoned British deputy high commissioner and demanded an explanation over the complete "absence of security" after videos of pulling down the Indian flag at the Indian mission in London by pro-Khalistan elements emerged on social media. (No audio) pic.twitter.com/G2L6x3YlEE
— Press Trust of India (@PTI_News) March 20, 2023
The summon was “to convey strong protest at the actions taken by separatist and extremist elements” in London, India’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
New Delhi also sought “immediate steps to identify, arrest and prosecute” the suspects and demanded “an explanation for the complete absence of the British security that allowed these elements to enter” its official premises.
The British high commissioner to India, Alex Ellis, late on Sunday condemned “the disgraceful acts today against the people and premises” as “totally unacceptable” on Twitter.
Punjab – with about 58 percent Sikhs and 39 percent Hindus – was rocked by a violent separatist movement for Khalistan in the 1980s and early 90s when thousands of people died.
India has often complained to respective governments over the activities of Sikh hardliners who, it says, have been trying to revive the movement with a massive financial push.