Thursday will go down as a day defining Punjab’s immediate concerns, with the state government clearly in the dock. An armed radical mob under the leadership of self styled preacher Amritpal Singh, recently captured a Police Station in Ajnala near Amritsar seeking release of an accused in a kidnapping case.

The accused is an aide of Amritpal who has been making news for spewing separatist narratives and playing the Sikh victimisation card. The radicals later reportedly succeeded in having their way. The Police agreed to release Lovepreet alias Toofan Singh and also constitute a special investigation team (SIT) to probe the case registered against Amritpal and his supporters for alleged kidnapping of one Varinder Singh of Chamkaur Sahib some days ago.

This episode threatens to have a long term ramification in this sensitive and strategically border state where people are yet to forget the dark days of militancy. Ironically, there was no official word coming on the episode either from the state government or the Police on this episode till the filing of this report at midnight.

All this was happening on the day when Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann was seeking investment from the industry at the Progressive Punjab Investors Summit. The day had earlier seen the arrest of Bathinda (rural) MLA Amit Rattan from the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on the charges of bribery.

By evening there was another unprecedented dampener coming from the Punjab Governor Banwarilal Purohit who said that he will decide on allowing the state’s proposed budget session on March 3, only after he has sought legal advice on the ‘derogatory and patently unconstitutional tweets and letter’ written by Mann in response to his letter sent earlier this month.

Coming back to the Ajnala episode, many observers feel that it reflects the ‘collapse’ of governance as such an episode was never reported even during the dark days of militancy. According to reports Amritpal had announced a protest outside Ajnala Police Station yet appropriate preventive action was seen missing.

To begin with the mob could have been stopped in the villages from where they were coming. Secondly, if Lovepreet was not guilty, why was he arrested in the first place and sent to judicial custody. There is a lot to be explained here. The small town close to the border saw radical elements storming the Police Station carrying arms and then resorting to large scale vandalism.

But more importantly, observers feel that the episode undermines the authority of the state which is a sign of trouble. The Citizen has been pointing in its reports how radicalism is being allowed to grow in Punjab amidst deep concern of the people. This is a design being seen by many to discredit certain quarters.

A strong reaction came on the episode from the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) while the Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) decided to maintain a distance on the issue.

Punjab Congress chief Amarinder Singh Raja Warring came out tweeting, “Horrific scenes coming in from Ajnala! Raiding of a @PunjabPoliceInd station is an unprecedented & alarming incident. This represents a complete collapse of law & order situation. @BhagwantMann @AAPPunjab govt has failed to judge the pulse which will have terrible consequences.”

In another tweet Abohar MLA Sandeep Jakhar said, “On one hand, there is a progressive Punjab summit going on in Mohali & on the other, people bent on taking Punjab back to the dark days, when thousands of people of all faiths lost their lives, have taken over a police station in Ajnala...rule of law? @CMOPb@DGPPunjabPolice.”

Meanwhile former Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh who is now with the BJP while expressing grave concern over the Ajnala incident said, “This is not only a complete collapse of the law and order situation in Punjab, it is more serious than that.” He said this incident has serious security implications for the state and the country.

He drew the central government’s attention towards this incident warning that there was a particular pattern in these incidents which does not bode well for the national security ‘Particularly when Pakistan is there to encourage and exploit such a situation’.

He raised questions over the competence of the state government in dealing with such a situation. He also questioned the motive behind carrying holy Guru Granth Sahib to the protest site, which he said was unacceptable.

At the same time he appreciated the restraint exercised by the police in dealing with those who laid siege to the police station. “While the situation needs to be handled with care, at the same time, rule of law must prevail,” he added.

Referring to the news reports about Guru Granth Sahib being taken to the site by the radicals in a bus, the observers feel that all hell would have broken loose if the cops had retaliated to the attack on the Police Station.

Tempers are already running high among the masses on the unresolved matters pertaining to the incidents of sacrilege of holy text and Police action against the protestors at Behbal Kalan and Kotkapura in 2015. The issue of demand for release of ‘Bandi Singhs’ is also raging with a radical Morcha going on in Mohali for almost a month.

With things lying scattered in the aftermath of the farmers’ movement that led to the centre repealing three controversial agricultural laws, the radical stream is trying to dominate the present narratives in the social stream. Observers feel that despite a brute majority of 92 out of total 117 seats in the state assembly, the AAP government is yet to find its feet when it comes to governing a volatile state like Punjab.

With things heading towards Lok Sabha polls one year down the line, the political stakes are also very high amid the present scenario.

Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann has been claiming that the law and order situation is under control in Punjab while heinous crimes continue to be reported on a daily basis.

On Thursday, he was hard selling the state as an industrial destination asking the business tycoons to join the family of three crore Punjabis and become partners in the socio economic growth of the state. He envisioned a strong association between the state government and industrialists to make Punjab an industrial hub in the country.

The Chief Minister said that his government wants holistic economic and financial success of Punjab adding that he earnestly believes that the key pillars of Punjab’s growth are good governance, digitization, decisiveness, transparency and sensitivity. People feel that the government has to pull up its socks if it wants to realise these dreams spelt out by Mann.

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