The Amritpal Singh Saga is a Flopped Low-Budget Gangster Movie

Commentary on why the fugitive Amritpal Singh is akin to a gangster and not a Sikh theologian by any definition, and why his so-called movement has already flopped.
The Amritpal Singh Saga is a Flopped Low-Budget Gangster Movie

On 21 February, the Consulate of India in Brisbane, Australia had to shut down, just a few weeks after Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar visited the country and emphasized the importance of controlling radical elements against the Indian community in Australia.

 The Khalistanis had attacked and raised their flag on the Consulate of India. This incident came after almost six incidents of vandalization of Hindu temples in Australia. A few weeks later, pro-Khalistan supporters held a referendum – according to reports, not more than hundred Khalistanis showed up, mostly for the free langar. However, according to The Nation – a news portal in Pakistan – 11,000 people showed up. Some Pakistani newspapers further inflated the number (an obvious exaggeration, in a sparsely populated Brisbane), while the organizers of the referendum blamed Indian agencies for a cyber-attack that supposedly limited the participation.

In January, a similar referendum was organised in Melbourne and had culminated in the Khalistanis burning the Indian flag. It was only after Prime minister Anthony Albanese’s visit to India and his meeting with Prime Minister Modi earlier this month that photos of the perpetrators were released by the Australian state, Victoria’s police.

There have been similar attacks in the UK, Canada and the USA. Last year In Brampton, Canada a referendum was organised by Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) a banned outfit in India and its leader Guptawant Singh Pannu, a designated terrorist under the UAPA. The turnout was larger than in Australia. The referendum came after reported attacks on Hindu temples in Canada by pro-Khalistani groups.

In San Francisco, Khalistani slogans were found painted on the Indian Consulate.  

Last week after the Khalistani protests in London, where the Indian flag was pulled down in an attempt to replace it with the Khalistan flag, the Indian consulate in San Francisco was attacked again.

In India, the Dubai import named Amritpal Singh – the self-proclaimed leader of the Khalistani separatist outfit Waris Panjab De – remains underground. With the National Security Act slapped on him and his key aides, the story is playing out like a low-budget gangster movie with Amritpal and his pals accused of stashing weapons allegedly supplied by the ISI. He is also accused of trying to recruit youth from his deaddiction centers to build a ‘private militia’ called the Anandpur Khalsa Fauj (AKF). Unfortunately, Amritpal, instead of becoming the flashy mob leader with his convoy of luxury cars, has now been reduced to a criminal on the run on a motorbike and most recently, on a motorized cart.

Across the border in Pakistan, the former Prime Minister is on the run, and the country is facing a severe economic crisis while the Taliban is inching its way towards Islamabad. However, the Pakistani media and the ISI seem to remain obstinately obsessed with India. Instead of using funds towards meeting their own urgent needs, it has once again become clear that ISI is directing funds to fuel a pro- Khalistan sentiment.

Former Khalistani leader Jaswant Singh Thakedar recently claimed the role of Pakistan in this new wave of pro-Khalistan protests adding that ‘no Sikhs were involved in this’. These claims come after it became clear that the clean shaven Amritpal Singh neither went to a seminary nor was a dedicated Sikh during his time in Dubai.

He at best can be described as a truck driver-turned-self-styled preacher with access to illegal weapons and an unhinged political ambition. He is a rather unsecular figure with less in common with the terrorist Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who Amritpal would like to be compared to. Amritpal Singh has more in common with Abu Al- Bakr Baghdadi, the self-styled caliph of the Islamic State, who to his credit at least has a degree in Islamic theology.

But what is common in both is their objective to be political as well as religious leaders. Which defies the very core of Sikhism. However, Amritpal’s storming of Ajnala police station while hiding behind the palki that carried the Guru Granth Sahib or his cronies vandalizing two Gurudwaras speaks volumes of his understanding of the faith that he claims to belong to.

His actions, condemned by the entire Sikh community across the world has led to an investigation being ordered by the Akal Takht Sahib, one of the five seats of power of the Sikhs. In addition, it is widely claimed that he has received special training by the ISI in Georgia and agencies have traced illegal funds coming in from abroad to fund and arm his separatist agenda.

Amritpal’s connection with SFJ and designated terrorist Pannun are now public. Pannun has taken responsibility for the Rocket Propelled Grenade attack on the Punjab Intelligence HQs in Mohali and has twenty-two other cases against him. SFJ had also openly asked for Pakistan’s help in ‘liberating’ Punjab.

Former Chief minister Capt. Amrinder Singh had stated during his tenure that SFJ had the full backing of the Pakistan army and the ISI, and he feared that the opening of the Kartarpur corridor was an “ISI gameplan to help forces inimical to India, including SFJ”.

Thus, it’s unsurprising that organisations like Waris Punjab De or Sikhs for Justice are claiming Punjab in India but not Punjab in Pakistan even though some of the holiest pilgrimages for the Sikhs like the Nankana Sahib, the birthplace of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism and Kartarpur Sahib where Guru Nanak died are located in Punjab, Pakistan.

On the other hand, what is surprising is the utter lackadaisical response of agencies like Interpol who have rejected India’s request for a Red Corner Notice against Pannun in 2022. Countries like Canada, the UK and the US too, have hidden behind the smokescreen of ‘freedom of speech’ as an excuse to not ban outfits like SFJ. They are content with allowing external agencies to use their soil to create unrest in other countries, while looking at the attacks on the Indian High Commissions as merely law and order situations.

It took India to use a heavy hand by removing security from the British High Commission in Delhi to force the British government to provide security to the Indian High Commission in London. Unfortunately, what the west refuses to accept is that the Khalistan movement is not representative of the majority of Sikhs who call India their home and that Khalistanis are a fringe diaspora group centered around ‘gang culture’ and devoid of any deep theology or genuine grievance. Sadly, these Frankenstein monsters which these Western nations treat with kid gloves are very soon going to become their problem: after all, they are their citizens.

Finally, India needs to position itself as a country fully capable of handling these attacks on foreign soil: for instance, by placing its own paramilitary forces at its High Commissions and Consulates, entirely for purposes of self- defence.

India has already proven to the world while sending a strong message to the Khalistanis that it will not tolerate any attempt to challenge its sovereignty. Like in the case of Australia, India, through high-level dialogues, must insist on the release of the names and photos, and apply pressure for the extradition of those Khalistanis involved in acts of violence against the Indian state, Indian institutions and the Indian diaspora, while cancelling any OCI cards found on the perpetrators. This would also give the Indian state access to any property owned in India by those involved in violence.

As for Amritpal Singh, he might be able to evade arrest for the time being, but either way the longer he stays out of the public eye the chances are that he will disappear as quickly as he appeared, and the state of Punjab will once again find peace.

(The author is a Distinguished fellow at India Foundation and Consulting Editor Global Order)

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