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Massive manhunt underway in India's Punjab against pro-Khalistani leader

Amritpal Singh addressing his supporters (Photo by ANI)

A massive search operation has been launched in the north Indian state of Punjab to arrest a radical Sikh preacher and Khalistan sympathizer, Amritpal Singh, after he was declared a "fugitive" by the Punjab police and has been on the run since Saturday.

The operation that continued on the second consecutive day on Sunday has led to declaring the state of Punjab on high alert, along with an internet shutdown throughout the state that is home to around 30 million people.

The state-wide manhunt has also led to the arrests of a total of 78 people including the seven aides of Amritpal so far, along with the seizure of Amritpal’s vehicle and several other vehicles that contained live ammunition, according to the police.

“One car used in Amritpal Singh’s convoy has been seized,” the senior superintendent of police Jalandhar rural, Swarndeep Singh told ANI.

“During the state-wide operation, nine weapons, including one .315 bore rifle, seven rifles of 12 bore, one revolver and 373 live cartridges of different caliber have been recovered so far,” the police said in a statement on Twitter on Saturday evening.

The search is mainly focused on the Jalandhar district, from where he managed to elude the police when they tried to stop his car to arrest him.

“He was chased by police for about 20–25 kilometers, but he managed to escape,” Jalandhar commissioner of police, KS Chahal told ANI.

Amritpal’s father Tarsem Singh told the media the police should have arrested him before he left the house.

“We don’t have any information about his whereabouts. They carried out a search at our residence for 3–4 hours, but did not find anything illegal.”

The mega-crackdown comes a month after Amritpal along with his supporters stormed into a police station with swords and guns for the release of one of his aides, and led to six police officials being injured in the clash.

In the 1980s the north Indian state was rocked by a violent separatist movement for the creation of an independent country for the Sikhs, called Khalistan, and had led to the deaths of thousands of people.

The operation is said to resemble operation Blue Star, which was launched in 1984 by then-Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi to nab the head of the movement, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale.

Amritpal, 30, who leads "Waris Punjab De", a radical organization started by actor and activist Deep Sidhu, is being called “Bhindranwale 2.0”.

Indian authorities regularly shut down mobile internet service, particularly in the volatile northern region of Kashmir.

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