Symbols have powers, perhaps more so than mere words. Amritpal seems to understand that. When he was about to take reins of ‘Waris Punjab De’ after actor Deep Sandhu’s demise, he chose the village of Rode for his ‘dastarbandi’, the native place of religious leader and militant Jarnail Singh Bhindrawala. On September 29th, 2022, he took to the stage at the Gurdwara built in the memory of Jarnail Singh and unleashed a similar rhetoric, declaring “Sikhs are still slaves”. Many political commentators and Sikh leaders find it hard to believe that his meteoric rise is coincidental. As the whispers of foreign hands rise, the law enforcement agencies continue their investigation.
Differences and Similarities with Bhindranwala
From the idea of a sovereign Sikh State to always being surrounded by armed guards and to the style of his rounded turban, Amritpal is mimicking Jarnail Singh in every way possible. But are these two really that similar? The rise of Bhindranwala was the result of a complex religious and political process. He rose to fame gradually with his sermons while the sudden emergence of Amritpal is quite the opposite. It is almost as if he appeared out of nowhere. Bhindrawala rose as an alternative to the Akali Sikh leadership and in 1970s. Prior to his fame, Jarnail Singh was well-versed with Sikh texts and doctrines. He led an orthodox Sikh, adhering to the 5 ‘Ks’ of Sikhism. In contrast, Amritpal was far from religious zealous leader. He was managing his family’s transport business in Dubai and supported quite an untraditional lifestyle. His supporters in fact claim this to be in his favour and point to his transformation from a Westernized man to a Sikh leader as inspirational, but sceptics are not convinced by his sudden change of heart. Commentators say that Amritpal’s resemblance to Jarnail Singh is a conscious effort on his part to establish himself as the heir apparent of the Khalistani Movement. But is he really going to be the next Bhindranwala? It does not appear to be so. The strength of Bhindranwala was that he slowly built an organised resistance. While circumstances were going in the similar direction as we witnessed violent protests, but the early police action we saw should ideally prevent things from spiralling out of order.
Where Is It All Going?
Amritpal is still a fugitive. While we cannot predict how exactly the events might unfold, but there only a few directions that things can go. The first is that he is arrested and produced in court. The law will then take its course and the public will be apprised of the details as the law enforcement agencies present evidence in courts. The second possibility is that he continues to evade the police and remains a fugitive. This will be the cause of severe headache for the government, especially if he manages to escape abroad. This would mean that he will continue to spread his agenda online through social media channels. It will make things complicated as government will have limited means to curb his activities. And finally, there could also be a possibility that he surrenders. No matter which way the things go, Punjabi leaders need to collectively reflect on the rise of violence over the past few years. There should be an effort to bring all social segments on board and address issues of discontent that plague Punjab. Addressing the root causes is the rational only way forward.