Just before Amritpal Singh went underground, Open travelled with the radical separatist in the region that was once the epicentre of insurgency in Punjab. FOUR DAYS BEFORE THE police swooped down on him, the self-styled Khalistani leader, Amritpal Singh, stood in the courtyard of his house in Jallupur Khera village, about a 40-minute drive from Amritsar city. He talked in whispers to his uncle, Harjit Singh, who handled his affairs, including media interviews. From inside the house, a child giggled. Outside, on a cot, and on plastic chairs, a few armed men, wearing traditional cholas like Amritpal, sat listlessly; two of them watched a video on loop of Amritpal in which he was referred to as “teer wale baba”. It alluded to him carrying an arrow, considered both a spiritual and temporal weapon in Sikhism—something that the extremist, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, killed during the Army’s action on the Golden Temple premises in June 1984, used to carry as well. Ever since he appeared in Punjab in August last year, Amritpal has fashioned himself like Bhindranwale, copying all his mannerisms.
Four days later, things changed swiftly. The machismo of teer wale baba was drowned in memes.