Chandigarh | Suspense continued over the arrest of radical Sikh preacher and Khalistani sympathiser Amritpal Singh in Punjab on Saturday after his dramatic escape from a high-speed chase by the state police, officials said.
However, seven people accompanying him and carrying ammunition were arrested but Amritpal Singh, the chief of ‘Waris Punjab De’, managed to escape by changing his vehicle that was chased by the police to another one.
Meanwhile, the number of arrested people owing allegiance to Amritpal Singh rose to 78.
Some police officials told IANS that he has been zeroed in Sarih village in Nakodar tehsil in Jalandhar district where he was convinced to surrender.
A house-to-house search operation in villages in Nakodar is on, said a senior official. Even the central paramilitary forces have been involved in the search operation.
Meanwhile, internet services across the state were suspended as a precautionary step.
Supporters of Amritpal Singh have been sharing videos of police vehicles chasing Singh's cavalcade in Moga district.
Anticipating disturbance of peace, a large contingent of the paramilitary force was deployed outside his native village, Jallupur Khaira, in Amritsar district.
A special team of the police, comprising personnel from seven districts, had followed the separatist leader's convoy while he was on his way to Jalandhar's Shahkot tehsil. They had closed on his vehicles two to three times but Amritpal Singh managed to escape.
Section 144 has been imposed in many districts of the state. The police have also increased security in the state. In addition, all vehicles are being checked at the Punjab-Haryana border.
Thirty-year-old Amritpal Singh, a pro-Khalistan fiery propagator and self-styled preacher, has been running 'separatist' propaganda through speeches. Three cases, including two of delivering hate speeches, have been pending against him.
On the radar of Central investigating agencies, he has drawn comparisons to Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale owing to his similar looks and donning a navy blue turban, a white chola, and a sword-sized kirpan.
On February 23, an armed mob led by Amritpal Singh clashed with police and laid siege to a police station near Amritsar, demanding the release of one of their colleagues who had been taken into custody in an alleged kidnapping case.
Six policemen were injured in the bloody clash.
Police officials had later clarified that they were unable to control the crowd as they were carrying a physical copy of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, also called Bir in Punjabi, as a shield.
As the Internet was suspended on Saturday, Punjab Police urged people to maintain peace and harmony and not to spread panic, fake news or hate speech.
"Punjab Police is working to maintain law and order," the Punjab Police tweeted. "All mobile internet services, all SMS services (except banking & mobile recharge) & all dongle services provided on mobile networks, except voice call, in the territorial jurisdiction of Punjab shall be suspended from 18th March (12:00 hours) to 19th March (12:00 hours) in the interest of public safety".
Reacting to Amritpal's purported arrest, Congress MP Ravneet Singh Bittu said the man who "used to talk about taking up arms for Khalistan is today running away fearing the police".
"Does a Sikh ever run away? He would have faced the police if he had courage. He is running around in the streets like a jackal. I used to say earlier, too, that he has come to get our children killed. He is a man of (intelligence) agencies," he said.
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