The men behind Amritpal Singh’s election campaign from jail

A resident of Jallupur Khera, Amritpal Singh’s village, looks at a campaign poster for the jailed Sikh separatist. SAMEER SEHGAL / HINDUSTAN TIMES
Elections 2024
31 May, 2024

The pro-Khalistan radical Amritpal Singh is set to make a political comeback. A year after he was placed in preventive custody under the National Security Act, he remains in Assam’s Dibrugarh Central Jail but is an independent candidate for the Khadoor Sahib Lok Sabha constituency, a former bastion of the Shiromani Akali Dal that votes, along with the rest of Punjab, on 1 June. In a crowded field, he faces the Akali’s Virsa Singh Valtoha, a former aide of the Sikh fundamentalist Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale; Laljit Singh Bhullar, the transport minister in the Aam Aadmi Party-led state government; and the former state legislators Kulbir Singh Zira, of the Congress, and Manjit Singh Mianwind, of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Amritpal’s short political career so far—he returned to Punjab, after a decade abroad, less than two years ago—seems to have suited the ruling BJP the most. The Narendra Modi government has used the demand for a separate Sikh homeland as a bogey to discredit the Punjab farmers who led the opposition to its controversial agricultural reforms. Sukhbir Singh Badal, the SAD president, said as much in a recent interview with The Print, in which he called the separatist leader a nominee of the union government. He noted that Amritpal’s entry into electoral politics was stage-managed by Rajdev Singh Khalsa, a former MP who later joined a Sikh offshoot of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. During my reporting on the Punjab elections, a BJP campaign manager directed me, unprompted, to seek out Amritpal’s family and write about his candidature.

Sukhbir also asked how a detainee under the NSA was able to file his nomination with such ease. “The jail superintendent of the Dibrugarh jail in Assam”—where Amritpal is currently incarcerated—“is calling up the deputy commissioner here to tell him that the oath has been taken before him and his papers are in order,” he told The Print. “Why is there so much government support to make sure that everything is in order?” The AAP government in Punjab used the arrangements to argue against Amritpal being paroled by the high court, but Sukhbir alleged that there were several lacunae in Amritpal’s nomination form that were ignored.

Vikram Jit Singh, an independent candidate in Khadoor Sahib, complained to the Election Commission of India that Amritpal had “indiscriminately and illegally concealed their properties and assets, as well as those of their family members,” including details of his bank accounts in Dubai and four vehicles he allegedly owns. He noted that Amritpal had also not disclosed his contact information and social-media profiles, and that the nomination form had not been properly notarised. It had not been signed in the presence of the returning officer, Vikram Jit added, and the ECI had not verified that Amritpal’s proposers were part of the constituency’s electoral rolls.