West News Wire: A separatist leader who has resurrected calls for an independent Sikh nation and the secession of India’s northern Punjab state, which has a history of deadly conflict, was apprehended by Indian authorities on Sunday. 

Amritpal Singh has been missing since last month. In February, hundreds of his fans assaulted a police station in the Punjabi town of Ajnala with wooden batons, swords, and pistols to demand the release of an assistant who had been imprisoned. 

Singh was detained in the state’s town of Moga, according to a tweet from the Punjab state police on Sunday. 

According to Jasbir Singh Rodde, a prominent Sikh religious figure, Singh gave up after doing morning prayers at a Sikh shrine in Moga. 

Police officer Sukhchain Singh Gill said police had surrounded the village on intelligence that Singh was in the shrine. “Relentless pressure built by the police over the past 35 days left Singh with no choice,” Gill told reporters. 

He said the police didn’t enter the shrine, implying that Singh was taken into custody after he left. Gill declined to confirm whether Singh surrendered as claimed by his supporters. Singh was flown to Dibrugarh in India’s northeast where he will be detained until he is brought to court to face charges. 

Punjab suffered a bloody insurgency in the 1980s that led to the killing of India’s then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards at her official residence in New Delhi. Her assassination in 1984 triggered bloody rioting by her Hindu supporters against Sikhs in northern India. 

Ashwini Dubey, a lawyer in Punjab state, said Singh’s arrest would help police dismantle the separatist network and its supporters. 

Tavleen Singh, a political commentator and former journalist who covered the Punjab insurgency in the 1980s, said: “The police took this man out, which is good because had they gone into a gurdwara (Sikh shrine), and started shooting you would have had a reaction from the general populous. The Sikhs happen to be very sensitive to gurdwaras being attacked.” 

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Sikhs are a religious minority in India and say they are discriminated against by the majority Hindus. More than 3,000 people were killed by extremists during the 1980s insurgency in the prosperous farming state. The insurgency was crushed by Indian forces by 1990. 

Punjab borders India-controlled Kashmir and Pakistan. India accuses Pakistan of supporting, training and arming insurgents, a charge Islamabad denies. 

Police declared Singh, a 30-year-old preacher, a fugitive and accused him and his aides of creating discord in the state. Police accused them of spreading disharmony among people, attempted murder, attacking police personnel and obstructing public servants’ lawful discharge of duty. 

Authorities have deployed thousands of paramilitary soldiers in the state and arrested nearly 100 of his supporters. Singh’s wife was prevented from leaving India last week. 

Very little was known about Singh until he arrived in Punjab state in 2022 and began leading marches calling for the protection of rights for Sikhs, who account for about 1.7% of India’s population. 

Singh claims to draw inspiration from Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a Sikh militant leader accused by the Indian government of leading an armed insurgency for Khalistan in the 1980s. Bhindranwale and his supporters were killed in 1984 when the Indian army stormed the Golden Temple, the holiest shrine in the Sikh religion. 

Last month, supporters of the movement pulled down the Indian flag at the country’s high commission in London and smashed the building’s windows in a show of anger against the move to arrest Singh. India’s Foreign Ministry denounced the incident and summoned the U.K.’s deputy high commissioner in New Delhi to protest what it called the breach of security at the embassy in London. The supporters of the Khalistan movement also vandalized the Indian Consulate in San Francisco in the United States. 


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