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Sikh Separatist Leader Arrested in India After Weeks on the Run

FILE - Amritpal Singh, a separatist Sikh leader, leaves the holy Sikh shrine of the Golden Temple along with his supporters, in Amritsar, India, March 3, 2023.

A Sikh separatist leader accused of reviving a movement for a Sikh homeland was arrested in the north Indian state of Punjab Sunday after being on the run for weeks, authorities said.

Punjab police had launched a hunt for Amritpal Singh — who heads separatist organization Waris Punjab De or “Heirs of Punjab” — in March after hundreds of followers of the self-styled Sikh preacher stormed a police station in Punjab with sticks, swords and guns, demanding the release of a member of their group.

On Sunday, police in Punjab confirmed in a tweet that Singh was arrested in the Moga district of the state. In the tweet, the police urged people to maintain peace and harmony but gave no details on the situation that led to the arrest of the 30-year-old separatist leader.

Jasbir Singh Rodde, a local Sikh religious leader, said that Amritpal Singh prayed at a gurdwara, a Sikh place of worship, in the village of Rode in Moga before surrendering. Then the police arrested him and took him to a jail 2,500 kilometers away in Dibrugarh, in the northeastern state of Assam.

"Amritpal Singh came to the gurdwara at night Saturday. He himself informed the police that he was present at the gurdwara and that he would surrender Sunday at 7 a.m.," Rodde said to Indian news agency ANI.

In the Dibrugarh high security jail, eight of Amritpal Singh’s aides were already being held after being arrested weeks ago and charged under India’s stringent National Security Act. However, Amritpal Singh was being kept in an isolation cell away from his aides.

While searching for Amritpal Singh, Punjab police said they had received a tip a few days ago that said Amritpal Singh was hiding in Rode village.

After the arrest, Sukhchain Singh Gill, an inspector general of police in Punjab, said during a news conference that under “relentless pressure from police,” the separatist leader was forced to surrender.

“We surrounded him from all sides. He had no other option but to surrender,” Gill said.

Pictures of Amritpal Singh, wearing a white traditional robe and orange turban, showing him being taken into custody appeared on social media Sunday.

In the past weeks, thousands of police and paramilitary personnel combed different states in search of Amritpal Singh and arrested more than 150 of his supporters. Indian authorities suspected that he could escape to a third country after sneaking into Nepal. So, they requested that Nepal arrest him in case he traveled there.

Amritpal Singh’s surrender came days after his wife, who is a British national, was stopped at Amritsar airport before flying to the United Kingdom. Some weeks ago, Amritpal Singh said that he would live with his wife in Punjab and keep leading the movement for the Sikh homeland.

Before surrendering to the police Sunday, Amritpal Singh said in a video message that he had options to sneak out of the country and escape arrest in India, but he chose to surrender at the gurdwara in Rode because it was the birthplace of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, his guru.

Bhindranwale, a Sikh religious leader, became a political revolutionary and was accused of leading an armed insurgency for Khalistan, or an autonomous Sikh homeland, in the 1980s.

In 1984, Bhindranwale moved to the Golden Temple in Amritsar, taking along his followers and stockpiling weapons. Indian Army soldiers then stormed the site, one of the holiest Sikh shrines. The Army operation ended up killing Bhindranwale and hundreds of his followers.