INDIA. Punjab: An internet blackout that has affected 30 million people and been enforced as part of a massive manhunt for a Sikh preacher Amritpal Singh who is advocating for a separate Sikh state has paralyzed economic activity in the north Indian state of Punjab.
To stop the spread of false information, the internet and SMS were shut down, but in the process, it also crippled businesses, schools, and digital payments for everyone in the state. The disruption, which was supposed to end at noon (0630 GMT) on Monday, was made to last an extra 24 hours.
After Singh’s followers were caught on camera damaging India’s consulate in San Francisco, the extension was granted. There was a comparable commotion in London.
More than 100 of Sandhu’s supporters have been detained in India, but he is still at large. When the police stopped his car in Bathinda on Saturday, they were on the verge of making an arrest, but Sandhu escaped during the following confusion.
Although authorities say he has been assembling a “militia” to fight for independence for some time, the preacher was unknown until lately.
Lovepreet Singh Toofan, a key member of the preacher’s team, was taken into police custody on February 23. On that day, the radical Sikh preacher did something brave to get him out.
Sandhu stormed the police office in Ajnala, demanding the release of Toofan, while accompanied by a group of supporters brandishing swords and firearms.
The police gave in to his demands, claiming that Sandhu was using the Sikh holy text as protection and they could not target him.
The home minister, Amit Shah, has sent out the border police to make sure Sandhu doesn’t get away.
In February, Sandhu issued a dire warning to Shah, claiming that he would suffer the same fate as Indira Gandhi, who was killed by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984.
The mid-1980s saw the beginning of a decade-long reign of terror in Punjab brought on by armed separatist organizations attempting to establish Khalistan, a Sikh state.
Official estimates say that more than 20,000 people died because of the movement. Of those, more than half were civilians who were caught between militants and the government.
Aside from the brutal police attack on them, the separatists also lost support from Sikhs who were turned off by their senseless violence.
Even though the state has been peaceful since about 1993, the event has left India with permanent scars. Fear of a revival has persisted, made worse by Punjab’s proximity to India’s bitter foe Pakistan.
Analysts say that Sandhu’s actions and the small number of unhappy Sikhs who seem to back him have caught the Punjab state government and New Delhi by surprise.
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