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How Indians hunted Amritpal Singh led to diplomatic disputes with British | religious news

How Indians hunted Amritpal Singh led to diplomatic disputes with British |  religious news


The ongoing pursuit of hardline Sikh separatists in India’s western Punjab state has snowballed into diplomatic clashes with Britain.

On Wednesday, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverley said the UK would hold a security review at the Indian High Commission in London for unacceptable acts of violence against mission staff.

Cleverley’s statement came shortly after India’s alleged retaliatory action for removing a makeshift security barricade outside the British High Commission in New Delhi, the India Press Trust news agency reported.

Earlier this week, India also summoned a senior British diplomat in New Delhi to protest the actions of separatists and extremists against India’s mission in London.

An abandoned security post outside the British envoy’s residence in New Delhi after security barricades were removed on Wednesday. [Manish Swarup/AP]
How did it happen?

It all started Saturday after police in Punjab launched a search for separatist leader Amritpal Singh, who has revived calls for an independent Sikh homeland, stoking fears of violence in a state with a bloody history of insurgency.

Police accused the 30-year-old Singh and his aides of fomenting a feud in a state plagued by memories of a violent separatist movement in the 1980s for an independent Sikh state called Khalistan.

According to official estimates, the movement sparked a controversial military operation by the Indian government that killed thousands of people.

Protesters in front of Consulate General in San Francisco [File: Jeff Chiu/AP Photo]

Authorities have deployed thousands of paramilitary troops to the state and cut off mobile internet service in some areas to prevent unrest, Sukhchain Singh Gill, an inspector general with the Punjab Police Department, said Wednesday.

He said police had so far arrested 154 of Singh’s supporters and confiscated 10 guns and ammunition while the preacher fled.

Who is Amritpal Singh?

Singh, who said he supported the Khalistan movement, drew national attention in February when hundreds of his supporters stormed a police station in Punjab with knives and guns to demand the release of an imprisoned aide.

Little is known about Singh, who spent 10 years running his family’s transport business in Dubai before returning to India last September.

Since then, he has led marches calling for the protection of the rights of Sikhs, who make up about 1.7% of India’s population.

Singh claims to have been inspired by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a Sikh rebel leader whom the Indian government accused of leading an armed revolt for Khalistan that began in the 1970s.

Bhindranwale and his supporters were killed in 1984 when Indian troops raided the Golden Temple, the holiest site in Sikhism.

Singh’s speeches are increasingly popular among supporters of the banned Khalistan movement in India.

At a rally in his hometown of Bhindranwale last September, Singh said a drop of his blood was given for the community’s freedom.

We are all still slaves. We must fight for freedom, Singh said.

Police and security guards patrol a village near Amritsar, Punjab, India. [Narinder Nanu/AFP]

Indian officials see the movement and related groups as a threat to national security.

Although the movement has declined over the years, it still enjoys some support in Punjab and beyond, including in the UK and Canada, home to a sizable Sikh diaspora, and in countries such as the United States and Australia.

An Indian security official said while Singh has tens of thousands of supporters in India, he has extensive social media reach, particularly abroad, and has linked it to the embassy protests.

Certainly what happens in foreign missions is a response to operations against them. A police officer, who declined to be identified, said there was a direct link.

Residence of Amritpal Singh in Jallupur Khera village near Amritsar [Narinder Nanu/AFP]

Singh also heads Waris Punjab De (Punjabs Heirs). The group was part of a massive campaign to mobilize farmers against controversial agricultural reforms being pursued by Prime Minister Narendra Modis’ government.

The bill sparked a year-long protest that began in 2020. The farmers, most of them Sikhs from the state of Punjab, have been camped out on the outskirts of New Delhi through harsh winters and a devastating coronavirus surge. The protests ended after the Modi government withdrew the bill in November 2021.

Waris Punjab De is a company founded by Indian actor Deep Sidhu, who died in a car accident in 2022.

How did the UK and the US get involved?

There are over 500,000 Sikhs in the UK, the fourth largest religious group in the UK. Although Sikh separatism in India has subsided, pro-separatist groups have been active internationally, primarily in the UK, Canada and the US.

India has often complained to foreign governments about the activities of Sikh hardliners among the Indian diaspora who seek to revive armed uprisings with massive financial aid.

A day after Punjabi police launched an operation to arrest Singh, his supporters lowered the Indian flag and smashed the windows of the building in a display of anger at the Indian High Commission in London.

People show Indian flags from the roof of the Indian High Commission as supporters of the Khalistan Movement stage a protest on the streets of London. [Kin Cheung/AP Photo]

The BBC and Indian media reported that protesters carrying Khalistan flags removed Indian flags from the first-floor balconies of the diplomatic mission building to protest recent police actions in Punjab.

According to the BBC, a crowd gathered outside the High Commission building on Sunday and windows were broken, after which India demanded an explanation for the complete absence of British security around the building.

India’s foreign ministry has condemned the incident and summoned Britain’s High Commissioner, Alex Ellis, in New Delhi to protest the security breach at the embassy in London.

Cleverly said the police investigation into the act of violence was ongoing and his government would take necessary steps to ensure the safety of the Indian Mission staff in London.

India On Wednesday, a Hindu newspaper reported that at least 100 police officers were standing guard on both sides of the road outside the High Commission in London on Wednesday.

Supporters of the Khalistan movement vandalized the Indian consulate in San Francisco on Monday, sparking strong protests in New Delhi.

The US government has been reminded of its basic duty to protect and secure its diplomatic representatives. India’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Monday that it had requested that appropriate steps be taken to prevent a recurrence of such incidents.

Police stand outside the Consulate General of India in San Francisco. [File: Jeff Chiu/AP Photo]




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