Amritpal, Sarabjeet Singh Khalsa — Sikh radicals’ poll victories pose challenge for Mann govt


Chandigarh: Two of the three prominent Sikh radicals in the Lok Sabha election fray have won the seats they contested — a mandate that has portentous implications for the Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann-led government in Punjab.

Jailed Sikh hardliner Amritpal Singh won the Khadoor Sahib LS seat as an Independent, defeating his nearest rival Congress’s Kulbir Singh Zira by nearly two lakh votes, a margin unsurpassed across Punjab in the current Lok Sabha election.

In Faridkot, Sarabjeet Singh Khalsa, the son of Beant Singh who is one of the two assassins of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, won as an Independent, defeating his nearest rival Karamjit Singh Anmol of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) by 70,053 votes.

Khalistan ideologue Simranjit Singh Mann, however, lost his Sangrur seat to Aam Aadmi Party cabinet minister Gurmeet Singh Meet Hayer, who won with a whopping 1.7 lakh votes against his nearest rival, Congress’s Sukhpal Singh Khaira. Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) president Mann could manage the third position.

Amritpal Singh remains incarcerated in the Dibrugarh jail in Assam under the National Security Act (NSA) for more than a year on the grounds of activities “prejudicial to the security of India and the maintenance of public order”.

Amritpal’s parents — father Bapu Tarsem Singh and mother Balwinder Kaur — campaigned for him ahead of the polls.

Sarabjeet Singh Khalsa is a resident of Mohali, and the 45-year-old has unsuccessfully contested three elections in 2004, 2007 and 2014 — the former two on a Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) ticket and the last on a Bahujan Samaj Party ticket.

His family members had successfully contested elections years earlier. In 1989, his mother, Bimal Kaur Khalsa, won the Lok Sabha polls from Ropar, while his grandfather Sucha Singh won the Bathinda seat — both on Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) tickets.

Both Khadoor Sahib and Faridkot are parliamentary seats on the international border with Pakistan. The victory of radicals on these seats will likely give a strong fillip to the consolidation of the otherwise marginalised extremist forces in the state.

“The rising popularity of the radicals, as it may seem from the election results, is going to pose the biggest problem for the Bhagwant Mann-led AAP government in the state. Does Mann have the political maturity and the sagacity to deal with the possibility of the emergence of such forces remains to be seen,” said professor Jagrup Singh Sekhon, formerly with the political science department of the Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar, speaking with ThePrint Tuesday.

Professor Paramjit Judge, a renowned historian, told ThePrint that while this development in the election results isn’t expected to have much of an immediate impact on Punjab politics, it was the direct result of the failure of the AAP to stitch up an alliance with the Congress in Punjab as had been done at the national level. “The alliance would not have given space to any other force to rise. But the personal egos of the leaders involved did not allow that to happen,” said Judge.

“Combined with agrarian distress and the continuing farmers’ struggle in rural areas, the development could also lead to a potent, if not an immediately explosive situation in Punjab, a grim reminder of the period of militancy in this state in the 1980 and 1990s,” said Dr Kanwalpreet Kaur who is with the political science department of DAV College, Chandigarh.

“All eyes will be on the Mann government — how it handles this sentiment. Though, they do not have much of a reputation in this field. More often than not, they have been criticised for flirting with the radical elements themselves,” added Kaur.

Also read: Congress’s Manish Tewari wrests Chandigarh from BJP after 10 yrs, Sanjay Tandon loses by slim margin

Pressure to release Amritpal set to increase

Amritpal (31) was the hot favourite in the run-up to the elections on the  Khadoor Sahib seat, which saw a close five-cornered contest. While Amritpal secured a little over four lakh votes, Congress candidate Zira got more than two lakh votes, Punjab minister and AAP candidate Laljit Singh Bhullar got close to two lakh votes, Akali candidate Virsa Singh Valtoha got 86,416 votes, and BJP’s Manjit Singh Manna got 86,373 votes.

The resentment of the masses in Punjab led to Amritpal Singh’s victory, Lawyers for Human Rights International advocate Navkiran Singh said in a statement.

“Punjabis reacted to the atrocities and highhandedness of Punjab and central governments. Hope lessons are learnt by both and Amritpal Singh and his associates are released… the state government can opt for not confirming the orders passed under NSA. The power lies with Punjab state under Section 14 of The National Security Act 1980,” said Singh.

Amritpal’s victory could well turn out to be the most significant political development in the border state, indicating the return of the Khalistani ideology after four decades.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Punjab witnessed a violent separatist movement led by Sikh militant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, and the electoral victory of Amritpal, who projected himself as Bhindranwale 2.0, can be seen as a revival of Bhindranwale’s cult.

However, such implications remain tempered since Amritpal’s entire election campaign was centred only on the menace of drug abuse, and his family did not make any reference either to Khalistan or Bhindranwale.

Amritpal Singh was working in the transport company of his uncle in Dubai and landed in Punjab in 2022. He became a baptised Sikh and started moving around Punjab villages, initially speaking against rampant drug abuse and the need to baptise Sikh youth. But, over the months, he started espousing the cause of Khalistan — a separate Sikh nation — and the need for Sikh youth to weaponise themselves. He openly declared that he did not believe in the Constitution of India.

Amritpal was arrested by Punjab Police 23 April last year under the NSA after a month-long manhunt. The police had cracked down on Amritpal and his men, arresting hundreds of his supporters and close associates.

Amritpal also faces a dozen criminal cases in Punjab if freed from the Dibrugarh jail. His victory will likely increase the pressure on both the Centre and state governments to release him.

The Khadoor Sahib constituency, earlier Tarn Taran, is considered to be a ‘Panthic (religious)’ seat and remained the hotbed of militancy in the state in the 1980 and 1990s. The constituency has been the stronghold of the Shiromani Akali Dal. From 1977 to 1985 and again from 1996 to 2019, Akali MPs ruled over the constituency — first, Tarn Taran and then, Khadoor Sahib. In the last 2019 election, the Akalis lost to Congress’s Jasbir Singh Gill.

Also read: Congress’s Gurjeet Aujla retains Amritsar, BJP’s Taranjit Sandhu pushed to third place

After three losses, Khalsa wins from Faridkot

Sarabjeet Singh Khalsa (35) secured close to three lakh votes, while AAP’s Karamjit Anmol — an actor-comedian and a personal friend of Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann — got 2.3 lakh votes. BJP candidate and singer-turned-politician Hans Raj Hans managed 1.2 lakh votes, the Congress candidate Amarjit Kaur Sahoke got 1.6 lakh votes, while Akali candidate Rajwinder Singh Dharamkot got 1.4 lakh votes.

Khalsa started his political journey in 2004 when he contested the Lok Sabha elections from the Bathinda seat and managed 1.1 lakh votes as a Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) candidate but lost to the Akali candidate. He contested the 2007 assembly elections from Bhadaur as an Independent but could muster a little over 15,000 votes and lost. In 2014, he contested the reserved Fatehgarh Sahib seat as a BSP candidate but lost again.

Ahead of the 2024 polls, Khalsa’s campaign focussed on the 2015 sacrilege row — the desecration incidents of the Sikh Guru Granth Sahib and the subsequent protests — whose epicentre was Faridkot.

Also read: Patiala stronghold crumbles as Preneet Kaur loses to Congress’s Dharamvira Gandhi

Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) fails to open account

Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) president Mann (79) won from the Sangrur constituency in the 2022 bypoll after Bhagwant Mann vacated the seat after he became the chief minister.

Mann has been espousing the cause of the creation of Khalistan — a buffer Sikh nation between India, Pakistan and China — for several years now. A former IPS officer, Mann left service following Operation Blue Star in 1984 and spent several years in jail during the period of militancy in Punjab.

Mann secured 1.9 lakh votes but failed to retain the Sangrur seat. The winner, Meet Hayer, secured over 3.6 lakh votes, while Khaira got 1.9 lakh votes.

The other candidates Mann had put up for various seats in Punjab have also not won. Contesting from Amritsar, his son Emaan could manage the fifth spot with 26,796 votes only, trailing by 2.3 lakh votes from the winner — Congress’s Gurjeet Singh Aulja.

(Edited by Madhurita Goswami)

Also read: Moosewala, anti-incumbency, farmers’ anger against BJP — Congress revival plan in Punjab for 2024


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