The people of Punjab are in shock. In addition to a statewide internet blackout, the effort to apprehend Khalistani rebel Amritpal Singh has revealed that he has “connection” to both Pakistan’s ISI and the Islamic State. Actors with nefarious intentions have put money into him, using the ongoing concerns of a subset of Sikhs as a springboard to disrupt India’s social fabric and security. Although the Khalistan problem has been brewing for some time, our monitoring and intelligence failed to anticipate Amritpal’s show of force.
The Sikh community has been vocal about its frustration with the sluggish handling of the 2015 sacrilege charges, and the trial of primary accused Dera Sacha Sauda founder Ram Rahim and followers has yet to begin. In a recent high court petition, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government of Punjab argued that the frequent paroles granted to the Dera chief, a rape and murder convict, in Haryana have rekindled calls for the release of ‘bandi singhs’ (Sikh prisoners) in Punjab’s prisons.
State vs. far-right militancy is a situation that neither Punjab nor India can afford. But, other nations also appear to be tolerant to far-right groups. For months now, Sakal Hindu Samaj, a coalition of far-right Hindu groups, has been holding demonstrations in several districts of Maharashtra that are blatantly Islamophobic. It is imperative that law enforcement understand that nothing is local and that every situation has the potential to become viral and dangerous.
The majority of economic activity is conducted through UPIs, so shutting down the internet for the sake of a police chase out of concern for the spread of fake news would be disastrous. The AAP government should consider the effects of a ban, which include stifling legitimate discourse, increasing public anxiety, and driving people away. The state must collaborate with Big Tech and crack down on them if necessary if they are to be effective in combating false news on social media. State of Israel frequently requests that online material be removed. And yet, it’s not hard to get recordings of Sakal Hindu Samaj rallies, films of Ram Rahim, or transcripts of Amritpal’s remarks.
Two days after the G20 activities in Amritsar, which were held under paramilitary bandobast, the crackdown on Amritpal commenced. The point is unmistakable. It is extremely risky for political parties and law enforcement to provide radical religious groups unrestricted public outreach both online and off.