Indian police have arrested Sikh separatist Amritpal Singh after searching for him for more than a month, a state police official says of an operation against the revival of an independent Sikh homeland in the state of Punjab bordering Pakistan.
The rise of Singh – a preacher in the northwestern state of Punjab, where Sikhs are the majority – has revived talk of such a homeland and stoked fears of a return to violence of the 1980s and early 1990s.
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“Amritpal Singh has been arrested from the Rode village in Moga district, Punjab, on the basis of specific intelligence,” Sukhchain Singh Gill, a top official in the Punjab police, told reporters on Sunday.
Singh and supporters armed with swords, knives and guns raided a police station in February after one of the preacher’s aides was arrested for assault and attempted kidnapping.
Authorities deployed thousands of officers in the manhunt and cut off mobile internet for days in Punjab, a state of 30 million people.
They arrested more than 100 of his followers, transferring them to jails hundreds of kilometres away, and banned gatherings of more than four people in some areas.
Police have accused Singh and his supporters of attempted murder, obstruction of law enforcement and creating disharmony and said he had been on the run since mid-March.
He was arrested in the village gurdwara, a Sikh place of worship, under the National Security Act, which allows for those considered a threat to national security to be detained without charge for up to a year, the police official said.
Gill said Singh would be moved to Dibrugarh in the northeastern state of Assam, where some of his associates are already in jail.
Journalist and the editor of Hardnews magazine Sanjay Kapoor believes Pal’s will increase tensions in Punjab.
“In Punjab there was a great demand among people there that nothing should be done to upset the peace … in a state which has been experiencing a great amount of turbulence all these years,” he told Al Jazeera from Delhi.
“They didn’t want Mr. Pal to do anything more than what he had done … and in a way, it didn’t really cause the turmoil that was expected of him. So his arrest now is significant.”
Punjab, which is about 58 percent Sikh and 39 percent Hindu, was rocked by a violent separatist movement for a state called Khalistan in the 1980s and early 1990s, in which thousands of people died.
The Indian government conducted a botched 1984 raid on the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the holiest site in Sikhism. Hundreds of people were killed in what was called Operation Blue Star, which led to the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh security guards a few months later.
Her assassination sparked an anti-Sikh pogrom in New Delhi and elsewhere that lasted several days and killed thousands more people, including children who were shot, beaten and burned to death.