The people of Punjab have made a strong statement by not bothering to respond to the arrest of self styled radical preacher Amritpal Singh, the way various forces and agencies expected them to. Instead they have demonstrated resilience and maturity.

They have sent a clear message that they cannot be taken for a ride by forces wanting to extract political dividends by resorting to the game of polarising the society on communal lines and continuing with the policy of divide and rule.

The general perception among the masses is that the rise and fall of this young radical was a ‘scripted’ phenomenon. The people of Punjab were able to outfox those trying to exploit them. They point out that it remains a fact that Punjab’s issues, particularly those of federal rights in context of the Anandpur Sahib resolution remain where they are.

They also agree that there is a thin radical stream that has always been there and has been using ‘democratic means’ to build their cause including ‘Azaadi’. But people are largely on the same page that no one wants the dark days of the decades of the eighties and nineties to return.

They underlined that those talking of Khalistan are people residing outside India where too different games are being played by the forces that be.

It is interesting to note that the people have followed the developments around Amritpal very closely and minutely, particularly since the hunt for him was launched on March 18. They have debated and discussed what has been going on all this while.

They have been both cynical and sceptical of the central and the state governments holding the view that the Amritpal phenomenon could not have been possible without the agencies playing a role in these developments. A large segment of the population feels that the Amritpal chapter has been closed for now in the wake of the designs of the forces behind being exposed.

At the same time they are wary of a new attempt to start something new to once again confuse the masses in order to fill that vacuum that has emerged with Amritpal’s arrest.

Questions are being raised around the arrest of this radical. The people are not convinced about the manner in which his ‘surrender’ and arrest took place at Rode village. They point out that this village in Moga district has been known for being the native place of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, the radical preacher and militant who was slain in Operation Bluestar in 1984.

Amritpal Singh was being projected as the second version of Bhindranwale. This was the village that had witnessed his Dastarbandi (turban tying ceremony) as a mega event last year.

Now his ‘surrender’ or arrest at the same place is being seen as yet another ‘dramatic’ event. Observers continue to draw parallels between the trajectory of growth of Bhindranwale and Amritpal.

The possibility of Bhindranwale’s nephew and former Akal Takht Jathedar Jasbir Singh Rode having played a role in Amritpal being arrested is yet another dimension that is being analysed by the people with a pinch of salt as they continue to question Jasbir Singh Rode’s credentials.

It may be recalled that he was briefly appointed the Akal Takht Jathedar in 1988 while he was reportedly in jail by a Sarbat Khalsa organised by the seminary Damdami Taksal. He was removed as the Jathedar by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) within barely two months.

Earlier he was reportedly deported from Britain in 1985 and had spent time in Thailand and Philippines before his subsequent return to Delhi and his arrest. He is the founder of the radical outfit Sikh Youth Federation. Observers have been questioning his credentials from time to time.

Many find the drama around Singh’s ‘arrest’ or ‘surrender’ unpalatable. “For one month we were fed with stories about his having travelled to neighbouring Haryana and the authorities being on his lookout at the Nepal border. And then all of a sudden he emerges at a Gurdwara in Rode village of all places. The people of the village themselves have been puncturing the narrative of his being in Rode. The story is simply not palatable,” said an observer.

It may also be recalled that Amritpal Singh’s wife Kirandeep Kaur had not been allowed to board a flight to London last week from Amritsar airport and was sent back to his native village of Jallupur Kheda in Amritsar district. The action of the authorities had come under criticism from various quarters.

The people are convinced that various political parties will try to use the arrest to garner votes through different narratives ahead of the high stake Jalandhar Lok Sabha by-poll that is scheduled to be held on May 10.

As of now, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have maintained a ‘calculated’ silence on his arrest while it is the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) that have been vociferous on the issue to which we will come later.

Chronicler of Punjab’s contemporary political history Vijay Bombeli had some interesting facts to share about the developments around Singh over the last one month. “It’s interesting to note that there was no noise being made around him over the last two weeks either by the centre or by the state governments. The people were discussing things among themselves and had seen through the designs of the powers that be.

“They were sceptical about Amritpal not putting across any social media posts or videos which was quite unlike him as he had been responding to the minutest of things in the past. The people saw through him as a gas bag that just talked big but was not at all powerful on the ground.

“His conduct at the Ajnala Police Station episode actually exposed him. In addition, whatever he had been saying over the last one year was self contradictory.

“The people are not as naïve as they are assumed to be. They are wise. They want to live in peace and they, including an overwhelming majority of Sikhs’ do not want Khalistan.

“They understand that it is a concept that is being promoted by those who have settled abroad. Another interesting aspect all this while was that even those in the radical stream were sceptical about Amritpal’s credentials and the forces that ensured his meteoric rise in the religio-political matrix of the state in the last few months.

“Even those who often talk in terms of injustice to Punjab on the federal platform countered him on the Khalistan narrative. Above all it was the progressive forces, the intellectuals and the well read and aware masses who countered those peddling Amritpal’s narratives with logical arguments to which the latter had no response. The designs behind his growth stood exposed.”

When asked what he sees in the near future, Bombeli said, “The political parties looking for votes in the forthcoming polls will try to exploit the issue. The people are wary of any new design to mislead them.

“As of now the Amritpal story seems to be over. Those who were toying with the masses trying to polarise them through the rise of Amritpal have seen their plans backfire. They have drawn opposite results than what they were expecting.”

Equally interesting observations were shared by activist Kanwaljit Khanna who has been instrumental in organising various people’s movements, particularly those pertaining to the farmers.

“It has come out that Amritpal did not have many followers and was more of a social media phenomenon. Those talking about Khalistan are largely based outside India.

“The farmer organisations have been holding discussions at public spaces whether it is the sath (common seating place in villages), parks or other places. They discussed with the masses details about the idea of Khalistan that was being floated asking them what they thought would be the landmass, the programme, the ideology and other details.

“The people have understood that seeking a Khalistan or a Hindu Rashtra are the two sides of the same fundamentalist coin in India. The people are however concerned about the hounding of the youth after the operations against Amritpal were launched on March 18 and are opposed to the idea of imposing National Security Act (NSA).

“They saw for themselves how the state government was compelled to release those taken into custody for detention once the democratic forces got together to oppose the move. They feel that such actions on the part of the state only help polarise the society,” he said.

There is also scepticism about taking Amritpal Singh and his arrested aides to Dibrugarh in Assam as people are questioning the motives and also what can be extracted from them there.

Meanwhile, Kanwaljit Khanna further stated that the people understand that any sort of unrest is not in their interest. “Who were the people who suffered the most because of the disruption of internet services in the state for five days? The youth whose livelihood is linked to web based food delivery applications come from ordinary families.

“The common man is at a loss. They understand fully well that the developments are ‘scripted’. The people do not want the atmosphere in Punjab to be spoiled. The Hindu and Sikh communities here share strong cultural bonds where marriages have been taking place into the families of each other. ”

It’s an accepted fact in Punjab that there exists a thin radical stream that wants to keep the idea of Khalistan alive. For decades Punjab has witnessed Khalistan slogans being raised in Golden Temple premises on occasions like Operation Bluestar anniversary.

A memorial to Bhindranwale stands inside the complex itself. The minority sentiment also runs high in Punjab.

Dal Khalsa that calls itself a ‘pro freedom Sikh group’ was very vocal in expressing concern over ‘how majority and minority people were being treated by judiciary and law enforcement agencies respectively in a prejudiced manner’.

“On one hand Gujarat former minister Maya Kodnani and other Hindu nationalists were acquitted in the Naroda Gam massacre case in which 11 Muslims were killed in 2002 and on the other British Sikh citizen Kirandeep Kaur was mentally harassed at Amritsar airport and not allowed to return to her country.

“The developments are disturbing and disappointing as it reflects double standards of the state and its institutions,” said party leaders Kanwarpal Singh and Paramjit Singh Mand in a statement.

They further said that invoking NSA on Sikh youths, harassing women family members of Sikh activists with no fault of theirs and heavy presence of central security forces on Punjab's soil to create fear psychosis was alarming, “an indication of tough and hard days ahead for the people of Punjab.”

The organisation plans to hold ‘Ardas’ at Akal Takht on April 29 to commemorate the 37th anniversary of ‘Khalistan Declaration day’. Notably, during peak days of Sikh armed struggle on April 29 1986, the Panthic Committee constituted by Sarbat Khalsa on January 26 that year had announced the formation of Khalistan from Darbar Sahib precincts.

Pointing at sustained efforts at painting Sikhs as ‘villains of peace’, they said, "While observing the day, we would reiterate that Sikhs are neither against peace nor any religion and that they love to take Hindus of Punjab along with them in their struggle for Punjab's sovereignty.”

Coming to the political players, the SAD came out saying that following the peaceful manner in which Waris Punjab De chief Amritpal had handed himself over to the law, the AAP government should proceed against him only as per law and put an immediate end to the prosecution and harassment of innocent Sikhs.

Party spokesperson Dr Daljit Singh Cheema said the decision of Amritpal to hand himself over to the law as per the advice given by the Akal Takht jathedar at the panthic congregation held to discuss the entire issue recently.

It was on April 13 that the Jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh while addressing a ‘Gurmat Samagam’ (religious congregation) at Talwandi Sabo had asked Amritpal to surrender.

Dr Cheema said now that Amritpal Singh had submitted to the majesty of the law, it was incumbent on the AAP government to explain why it had created a fear psychosis on this issue.

“The actions of the AAP government till now have only served to defame the Sikh community worldwide besides resulting in a flight of capital from the State and led to a sense of insecurity amongst Punjabis. Communal tensions have also been deliberately inflamed,” he said.

The Akali leader said the manner in which Punjabis had maintained communal harmony and rejected divisive forces who wanted to divide them proved that they stood for peace and brotherhood among all communities.

“The AAP government was trying to create a deliberate hype on the issue by requisitioning para-military forces and imposing emergency like curbs on the media and intelligentsia. This must end immediately,” he added.

Meanwhile, the AAP leadership is patting itself on the back. Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann said that the AAP government is duty bound to preserve the hard earned peace and communal harmony in the state.

“Law is taking its own course in the case of Amritpal Singh, who was a stooge in hands of the forces inimical to the state and country, and no action is being taken against the innocents,” he said after the arrest.

Mann claimed that the state could have arrested Amritpal on March 18 only but they never wanted any bloodshed and today the separatist leader has been arrested without firing a single bullet.

He said that this was a deep rooted conspiracy to disturb the peace, amity and brotherhood in the state but the state government has foiled it by arresting all the key players. Mann said that the self proclaimed religious leader Amritpal, ran an organisation which provoked youth to take arms and indulge in illegal activities against the country, has been arrested.

In a claim that reminds one of the narratives spun around Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Mann said he knew about the operation to nab the fugitive since Saturday evening and had a sleepless night as he took the update after every 15 minutes from the officers.

He said that when Amritpal had attacked Ajnala Police Station by taking the shield of Guru Granth Sahib, he had directed the Police to ensure that no disrespect of Guru Granth Sahib took place. He added that the youth of the state will not be allowed to become raw material for the hate factories being run in the name of religion.

Observers say that the AAP wants to reap maximum political benefit from the arrest ahead of the Jalandhar Lok Sabha by-poll. This is evident from the statement of chief spokesperson of the party Malwinder Singh Kang when he claimed that in all the big police operations of the previous governments, there was a lot of bloodshed and violence and many innocent people became victims of the action.

This is the first time in the history of Punjab that such a huge operation was successful without any bloodshed and violence.

The party’s national convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal praised Mann and said that the AAP government is committed to the peace and security of Punjab. The AAP government is capable and ready to take tough decisions for this hard earned peace too, he said.

In one of his tweets, Arvind Kejriwal said that Mann has performed his duty well, accomplishing the mission with utmost maturity and courage. Kejriwal also praised the Punjab Police and thanked the people of Punjab for maintaining peace and supporting the Punjab government during the entire operation.

He said that it is the AAP’s priority to protect the people of Punjab and to establish peace and brotherhood in the state and no one will be allowed to disturb the peace of Punjab.