The alleged inaction of the Punjab Police in two major law and order incidents in less than a month have fuelled the opposition’s charge against the Bhagwant Mann-led government, of “encouraging” radical elements in the state.
The so-called supporters of the radical preacher, Amritpal Singh – who has openly been espousing the cause for Khalistan – attacked the Ajnala police station on Thursday. They vandalised and forced the administration to accept their demand of releasing Amritpal’s aide Lovepreet Singh, who was an accused in a kidnapping case. The preacher has been leading protests against the FIR against Lovepreet.
The protesters, brandishing swords and weapons, targeted the police station leaving half a dozen police personnel, including a superintendent of police, injured. Once again, Punjab Police was accused of being a mute spectator in such a situation involving protesters.
Earlier, during a protest for the release of Sikh prisoners, members of the Qaumi Insaf Morcha attacked Chandigarh Police as they marched towards the border with the police on the Punjab side looking the other way.
The opposition is fuming and has claimed that recent incidents were fanning extremist sentiments in the state. “This is not only a complete collapse of the law and order situation in Punjab, it is more serious than that. The incident has serious security implications for the state and country, and there was a particular pattern in these incidents that does not bode well for national security,” said former chief minister and BJP leader Captain Amarinder Singh.
According to Amarinder, when Pakistan was waiting to encourage and exploit incidents, the state government’s competence was being questioned.
National spokesperson of the BJP, RP Singh equated the incident with an event in 1981. Posting a newspaper cutting from that time mentioning the release of militant leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, he tweeted, “Is history being repeated?”
What is being seen as an embarrassment for the police is that Amritpal, who heads the organisation ‘Waris Punjab De’, had issued an “ultimatum” for the release of his supporter before the attack in Ajnala.
Under fire from the opposition, the state government tried damage control. Cabinet minister Kuldeep Dhaliwal, while claiming that the Ajnala incident was unfortunate, maintained that the people of Punjab had faith in Mann. “The police showed a very mature response. The protesters had brought in the Guru Granth Sahib and some kind of violent action could have aggravated the situation. They dealt with the situation professionally,” Dhaliwal said.
The opposition, however, was unrelenting in its criticism. “Barely some kilometers from the international border, if radicals are attacking a police station, what sort of a response is that? The state is in unsafe hands,” said Akali Dal leader Bikram Singh Majithia.