Controversial Satlok Ashram head Rampal, arrested by the Haryana police on Wednesday night, did not give up till the very end despite being pushed on the back foot by forces during the first phase of a shock-and-awe operation that had begun at noon on Tuesday.
Sources told HT that Rampal’s associates had started sending feelers about “giving up” from inside the ashram to the top police officials since early Wednesday morning. “But their audacity could be gauged by the fact that they were seeking a conditional surrender for the ashram head,’’ said a one of the police officials in the know of details.
Sources said that five conditions were put up by his associates for surrender — that he will be straightaway admitted to a hospital, the government will give a commitment to withdraw previous cases or hand them over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Rampal will appear before court only through video conferencing, and the control of ashram premises will remain with Rampal’s aides.
Police officials said the ashram head had a poor set of advisers who did not listen to rational voices. Even when earlier negotiations were carried out by politicians like former Barwala MLA Jai Prakash and BJP MLA from Tohana, Subhash Bharala, the ashram head and his advisers remained unyielding.
“His inner circle consists of 12-15 persons, most of whom are not even matriculate. These guys have no idea of how the system in government and judiciary works. Had he surrendered before the high court, he would have anyway got bail immediately in the contempt case. That is what happened today too in the contempt matter, but now he is anyway in trouble in a host of new cases,” said a source.
Inside story: Left all alone
“The intent shown by us was very clear. The ashram head will have to surrender without any conditions,’’ said another police official involved in the operation.
As the day progressed, a large number of his aides and associates were arrested. Eventually, he was isolated and surrendered, but not before he and his men had tried every trick in their bag, including backdoor negotiations.
Besides the arrest of his aides, the key to the police resolve was a mole among Rampal’s associates. “We had plenty of information about what was happening inside, about how their spirits were after the first strike, the strategy they were chalking out, who all they were in touch with.”
Police official steering the operation said breaching the ashram wall with a JCB backhoe loader (an earthmoving vehicle) was probably the turning point. “The fortified walls of the ashram epitomised their defences and gave them a sense of invincibility. Once the wall was breached, their morale took a plunge,’’ sources said.
Officials said the police plan was never to force their way into the ashram premises. “The idea was to soften them up, hit at their morale and make them vulnerable. Had Plan A failed, we were getting ready to shower the ashram premises with large quantity of aerosol pepper spray using a low-flying glider,’’ sources said.