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Indian Police Arrest Alleged Sikh Separatist Leader, Ending Vast Manhunt

Police in India say they have arrested alleged Sikh separatist leader Amritpal Singh, bringing to an end a massive months-long manhunt.

The news was announced in a tweet on Punjab Police India’s official Twitter account.

Singh was arrested in Moga, Punjab, in the northwest of India, but will be taken to a high-security jail in Assam in India’s far east, according to CNN’s Indian affiliate News 18.

Singh is a leading ideologue within the Khalistan movement, an outlawed separatist campaign that seeks to establish a sovereign state for followers of India’s minority Sikh religion.

Police have been searching for Singh since March 18, when he was accused of attempted murder, obstruction of law enforcement, and creating “disharmony” in society.

The manhunt has revived calls for an independent Sikh homeland in India’s Punjab state, stoked fears of violence, and revived painful memories of a bloody insurgency that killed thousands.

In March, while police searched for Singh, Indian authorities blocked internet access for about 27 million people in the state of Punjab, one of the country’s most extensive blackouts in recent years.

The controversial self-styled preacher was relatively unknown until the death of actor and activist Deep Sidhu last year.

Sidhu backed the country’s year-long farmer’s movement and founded Waris Punjab De – a group established to protect Sikh rights.

Waris Punjab De mobilized farmers and activists – many of whom were Sikh – against Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s attempt to modernize the country’s agricultural sector.

In a rare retreat, Modi repealed the laws in November 2021. But even after the revocation, Waris Punjab De continued its campaign to protect the Sikh religion and Punjab’s culture.

Sidhu was killed in a car crash in February 2022 and Amritpal Singh took over the reins, leading marches and giving impassioned – often provocative – speeches, building a large following and gaining popularity.

His comments about social issues and protecting religious rights of Sikhs against what he has described as Hindu nationalist elements led by Modi have struck a chord among many Sikhs in the state.

Singh has likened himself to Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a leading figure of the Khalistan movement who was killed by the Indian army in 1984 after they stormed Amritsar’s Golden Temple – Sikhism’s holiest shrine – in an operation ordered by former prime minister Indira Gandhi.

That operation caused huge anger within the Sikh community and Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards in the aftermath.

Earlier this year Amritpal Singh invoked Bhindranwale’s rhetoric by saying home Minister Amit Shah could meet the same fate as Gandhi after Shah spoke against Khalistan.

The Sikh religion was founded in the Punjab in the 15th Century by Guru Nanak and has about 25 million followers worldwide.

Sikhs are a minority group in India, comprising of less than 2% of the country’s 1.3 billion people, but they form a majority in Punjab.

The origins of the modern Khalistan movement trace back to around the time of India’s independence from Britain in 1947, when some Sikhs demanded that a nation be carved in the state of Punjab for followers of the faith.