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Himachal seals borders, steps up checks over ‘Khalistan’ referendum call

Chandigarh: Following provocative vandalism of the Himachal Pradesh Legislative Assembly building this morning and a banned group’s ‘Khalistan’ referendum call, the hill state has stepped up security from tonight. Interstate borders have been sealed and police barricades placed there.

Strict vigil of hotels and other “probable hideouts” has also been ordered. Bomb disposal units have been put on high alert and security strengthened for critical state infrastructure, the official order said.

Security has been put on high alert at the state borders and “intensive” night patrolling by the police has been ordered.

The renewed security measure comes after the banned outfit Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) announced that it will hold a ‘Khalistan’ referendum on June 6 in Himachal Pradesh. The order copy also details several recent incidents involving pro-Khalistan activities in neighbouring states.

Chief Minister Jairam Thakur had this morning ordered an investigation after flags of ‘Khalistan’ were found draped over the gates and boundary wall of the Himachal Pradesh Legislative Assembly in Dharamshala and pro-Khalistan graffiti was painted on its walls.

The state police had said they suspect the involvement of tourists from Punjab.

Chief Minister Thakur had said he will review the security along the borders with neighbouring states — Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh, Uttarakhand, Haryana, and Punjab. Himachal Pradesh attracts tourists from across India.

An intelligence alert issued on April 26 had warned of such an incident, sources said.

The alert claimed that the chief of Sikhs for Justice, Gurupatwant Singh Pannu, had issued a letter to the Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister stating that a flag of Bhindranwale and Khalistan would be hoisted in Shimla, sources said.

Himachal Pradesh had banned vehicles carrying Bhindranwale and Khalsitani flags, which agitated the SFJ. The organisation had announced that it would hoist the Khalistani flag on March 29 but could not do so due to heavy security.

“I condemn the cowardly incident of raising Khalistan flags at the gate of Dharamshala Assembly Complex in the dark of night. Only winter session is held here, so there is a need for more security arrangements only during that time,” Chief Minister Thakur tweeted in Hindi this morning.

“Taking advantage of this, this cowardly incident has been carried out, but we will not tolerate it. This incident will be investigated immediately and strict action will be taken against the culprits. I would like to tell those people that if you have the courage, then come out in the light of day, not in the dark of night,” a second tweet read.