India: Punjab police step up search for Sikh separatist preacher

Source: BBC

Police in India’s Punjab have launched a massive search for Amritpal Singh, a controversial self-styled preacher who has been on the run since Saturday.

Internet and messaging services in the state have remained suspended since the search began and security has been tightened.

The 30-year-old says he supports the Khalistan movement for a separate Sikh homeland.

The police have arrested several of his aides so far.

The crackdown comes weeks after Singh’s supporters stormed a police station, demanding the release of an aide who had been arrested.

On Saturday, police declared Singh “a fugitive” and launched a state-wide search for him. Traffic blockades were set up across the state to check vehicles.

Local media reported that Singh travelled in a cavalcade and dodged the police near the Shahkot-Mehatpur area in Jalandhar district after a dramatic chase.

The chase through villages was live-streamed by some of his associates, Times of India newspaper reported adding that they also uploaded videos on social media urging supporters to gather near Jalandhar.

One of the videos showed Singh’s convoy being stopped at a check post near Jalandhar and then being followed by several police vehicles.

Singh’s uncle Harjit Singh, who was part of the convoy and surrendered to the police on Sunday night, told   Indian Express newspaper that Singh was in the car with him as they were heading to Moga district in Punjab.

He said that they were alerted about a “heavy deployment of armed forces” and so they changed route and Singh switched to another car.

On Sunday, a top police official told ANI news agency that Singh had managed to escape after “he had been chased for 20-25km (12-15 miles)”.

Swapan Sharma said the police had seized three cars allegedly used by Singh and his associates, as well as illegal weapons and bullets.

He said seven of Singh’s aides had been arrested and a case had been registered against them as well as Singh.

The police have also detained many of Singh’s supporters who have been protesting against the plan to arrest him.

Also on Sunday, people carrying banners that said “Khalistan” protested outside the Indian High Commission in London. Videos showed a man detaching the Indian flag from the balcony of the building.

Angry Indian officials summoned the UK’s most senior diplomat in Delhi and lodged a strong protest.

Meanwhile, BBC Punjabi reports that Singh’s legal adviser Imaan Singh Khara has claimed   that he has been “illegally and forcibly” detained by the police and has approached the Punjab and Haryana High Court, demanding that Singh be produced in court.

The court has ordered the Punjab government to reply by 21 March.

The police have marched through the streets in several areas to “instil confidence in public” and to urge them to maintain law and order in the state.

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