Ajnala violence brings back Punjab’s ‘dark days’ memories

In releasing one of the close aides of radical leader Amritpal Singh in a kidnapping case, a day after a massive attack on a police station in Amritsar by his supporters, the AAP government in Punjab seems to have caved in to the pressure of radical elements. A report by Rajesh Moudgil

Just about a fortnight ago, the Punjab police had nabbed one Lovepreet Toofan, accused in kidnapping and assault case and an aide of radical preacher Amritpal Singh, little aware of its ramifications.

On February 23, virtually hundreds of supporters of radical leader and a Khalistan sympathiser Amritpal, attacked Ajnala police station and injured several police personnel, demanding Toofan’s release, till night on that day. Led by their leader Amritpal, the supporters stormed into Ajnala police station, carrying swords, traditional weapons and even guns, breaking through heavy police deployment and barricading, demanding Toofan’s release, who they held was falsely implicated.

Next day – February 24 – Lovepreet Toofan walked out of jail on the basis of an application filed by Amritsar police for his release in which the police said the lawyer of the accused had given evidence in the court that the accused was not present at the spot in the alleged case of kidnapping.

Amritpal, Toofan and several others were booked by police on February 16, 2023, in a case in which he had allegedly kidnapped one Barinder Singh from Ajnala, taken him to an unknown place and brutally beaten him.

Dubai-returned radical preacher, Amritpal, 29, was made the head of the Sikh organisation “Waris Punjab De’’, which was set up and funded by Punjabi singer Deep Sidhu, who died in a road accident in February last year. Amritpal was also in news recently for his alleged threat that Union Home minister Amit Shah would meet the same fate as that of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

Reminiscent of dark days

The incident has put the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in poor light even as it has come under heavy fire from opposition with the president of the principal opposition party Congress president Amarinder Singh Raja Warring condemning it.

While warning the AAP government against letting such incidents go without law taking its own course, Warring said, people of Punjab had not elected the AAP government to push Punjab back to the dark days of violence. “What we are seeing today is reminiscent of the past which every Punjabi is scared of”, he said, while asking the Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann to take firm action.

Warring further warned that Punjab could not afford another era of darkness and violence which, he held, people like Amritpal were trying to thrust on the state. Lashing out at the AAP government for succumbing to the pressure of the protesters and deciding to withdraw the cases of violence, he warned chief minister Bhagwant Mann that the latter was setting a dangerous precedent and there would be no end to it. He asked him to let the law take its own course and not surrender to lawlessness.

Condemning Amritpal for carrying holy Bir of Guru Granth Sahib to the police station, Warring said, it showed only his (Amritpal Singh) cowardice.

Another opposition party, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), president Sukhbir Singh Badal also came down heavily on the incident stating “the sacrilege committed by lawless elements at Ajnala trying to use the Holy Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji as a shield for their selfish motives and by taking the sacred scripture to a police station’’. He lashed out at both the BJP government at the Centre and the AAP government in Punjab for vitiating the atmosphere and ruining the hard earned atmosphere of peace and communal harmony in the state.

The BJP also blasted the AAP government with its senior leader Capt Amarinder Singh stating the Ajnala incident not only indicated a complete collapse of the law and order situation in Punjab but was more serious than that. The state BJP vice president Subhash Sharma said that the incident was an open challenge to the state government and Punjab police.

However, the AAP Cabinet minister Kuldeep Dhaliwal held that police personnel were attacked by the protesters by using holy Guru Granth Sahib as a shield and that the police acted with restraint. Accusing opposition of running slanderous campaigns to tarnish AAP government image, cabinet minister Kuldeep Dhaliwal held that the law and order situation was intact in Punjab.

Guv-Mann ties sour further

Meanwhile, another worrying scenario in Punjab is that instead of any thaw, the relationship between the governor Banwarilal Purohit and the chief minister Bhagwant Mann continues to sour.

Sample this: In response to a governor’s letter expressing his displeasure over not replying to his queries, Mann said in a Tweet (in Punjabi) that he had received his letter through media ….. all the subjects mentioned in the letter were all state subjects. He said that he and his government were accountable to three crore Punjabis according to the Constitution and not to any Governor appointed by the Central Government. Mann went on to add that this may be seen as his reply.

Last week, Purohit held that he would allow the budget session to take place only after receiving legal advice on the chief minister’s “extremely derogatory and patently unconstitutional tweets’’ in response to a February 13 letter from Raj Bhavan. The Punjab Cabinet had decided to hold the session on March 3 and had thus requested the Governor to summon the House.

The governor had, in a letter to Mann on February 13, raised questions about the selection of school principals for a training trip to Singapore, saying he had received complaints of “malpractices and illegalities” in this regard. He had also questioned the appointment of Guninderjit Jawandha as the Punjab Information and Communication Technology chairman pointing out that his name figured in a kidnapping and property grabbing case.

The governor also looked askance at the promotion and posting of IPS officer Kuldeep Singh Chahal as the Jalandhar police commissioner and the Naval Aggarwal, a non-official, attending the meetings of senior officers where sensitive and confidential matters of security of the country were discussed. Purohit had also raised questions over the non-disbursal of scholarships to 2 lakh SC students.

 The governor told the chief minister that the people of Punjab had elected him (Mann) to run the administration as per constitution and not according to his “whims and fancies’’.

 However, Mann in his written reply, said: “You have asked me on what basis the principals selected for training in Singapore. The People of Punjab want to ask, on what basis are the governors in different states selected by the central government in the absence of any specific qualification in the Indian Constitution?” he wrote.

 Meanwhile, the AAP government is also said to be upset with the governor over the latter’s interactions with the media about the complaints he had received about the rampant availability of drugs in the state and the criminals indulging in grave crimes from inside jails.