The conviction of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, the guru of a sect called Dera Sacha Sauda, on charges of rape led to violent reaction from his followers in various parts of Haryana on Friday. The violence could have been prevented had the Bharatiya Janata Party government in Haryana prohibited the gathering of an estimated 1.5 lakh followers of his before the judgement was pronounced. The 16,000 policemen were outnumbered by the violent followers. Scores of vehicles belonging to media and public and private properties were torched. At least 36 people died in police firing and nearly 250 others were injured. The failure of the Haryana government to prevent violence has come in for harsh criticism by the Punjab and Haryana High Court. The court had warned the government to stop any violence by the sect guru’s followers. However, obviously, the politicians in power in Haryana did not want to antagonize the guru and his followers.
Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar decided to appeal for peace just a few minutes before the verdict, but that was too late and too rhetorical to be effective. It is not that the crowd gathered in Panchkula and other places within a few hours. It had been building up for almost a week; the government had all the time to take measures to disperse them (even if they sneaked in on foot and small groups, as Khattar claimed). There is room for suspicion that the followers were allowed to gather at Panchkula because the politicians in power had close relationship with the sect guru, who dresses up like a rock star, as he had called upon his followers to vote for the BJP in 2014 elections. The High Court roasted the Khattar regime for this: “You surrendered to the mob to lure vote bank.” The followers were allowed to move unrestricted despite imposition of prohibitory orders on assembly under Section 144. This was not the first time the Khattar government had failed to safeguard people and public property. At least 20 people were killed in the Jat agitation last year. In November 2014, six persons died during the 14-day standoff between police and followers of another godman Sant Rampal.
The BJP leadership has not taken any action against Khattar even though the Punjab and Haryana High Court censured his government in strongest terms. The court said there were huge differences between administrative and political decisions and that administrative decisions were paralysed because of political decisions. We will have to see how the state government acts on the High Court’s directive that the Dera assets be seized and sold for compensating those who suffered losses in the violence and arson by Ram Rahim’s followers.
For now, the government has sealed all the Dera congregation centres across the state. The High Court will have to monitor how the government handles the Dera properties. The guru has sympathizers and patrons among politicians, officers, lawyers and policemen. The additional advocate general of Haryana carried the briefcase of the guru as he walked out of the court after conviction. The ADG has since been removed. The state policemen, appointed to provide z security to Ram Rahim, tried to stop policemen from taking the guru away to jail. They have been arrested and charged with sedition and violence. In short, there is every possibility of High Court’s directives being not properly enforced owing to the connivance of the guru’s sympathizers in the government.
Khattar’s only defence for large-scale violence in Panchkula and Sirsa was that his government’s primary concern was to get Ram Rahim to the court for hearing the verdict. This is an absurd defence. Surely the Haryana government was not short of police manpower. There was the state’s police force, the paramilitary forces and even the services of six columns of army had been requisitioned.
The central government would have given more paramilitary forces had Khattar asked them for. The date for judgement by the CBI special court was known days ahead. The state government could have deployed a large section of police to get the guru out of his ashram on the day of judgement and taken him to the court. The rest of the police and paramilitary forces could have focused on stopping his followers entering Panchkula. Even if they came in ones and twos and on foot – and not by rail or bus, as these services had been suspended – the spies and law enforcers of the Haryana government could have identified them and kept them from entering Panchkula. Had the government not allowed the followers to form a large mob before the day of judgement, no lives would have been lost and no properties destroyed.