Punjab remained on the boil for the fourth day on Thursday as the Sikh clergy called for a social boycott of the Dera Sacha Sauda for allegedly insulting the tenth Sikh guru, Guru Gobind Singh. The call sparked fresh attacks by Sikh protestors against properties of the controversial religious sect in parts of the state.
[One person was on Thursday killed in a clash between Dera Sacha Sauda followers and Sikhs near Sunam in Sangrur district in Punjab and at least 22 people were injured in sporadic incidents of violence, PTI said.]
The state government, as a precautionary measure, has asked for 50 companies of Central forces to be deployed in sensitive areas in the state. Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal spoke to Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil to apprise him of the situation, a state government spokesperson said.
In Delhi, Union Home Secretary Madhukar Gupta held a meeting to review the situation. The ministry had earlier in the day sent advisories to Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan to remain vigilant and maintain calm, while promising all possible assistance.
The chief minister also held several rounds of consultation with top civil and police officials to review the law and order situation.
With tension spilling over to neighbouring Haryana, the Congress government in the state too demanded Central police forces. There have been protests in Karnal and Panchkula districts, and Sirsa and Fatehabad are being considered “sensitive” due to the concentration of Dera followers there.
Earlier, rejecting the clergy’s call for a boycott of the Dera as inadequate, hardline Sikhs who had gathered at a Sikh conclave (Sarbat Khalsa) at Talwandi Sabo near Bathinda tried to forcibly take control of several properties of the Sirsa-based sect.
Setting out in over 100 vehicles, hundreds of youths headed towards nearby Salabatpura village where Dera head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh was recently seen dressed like Sikh Guru Gobind Singh, the action which sparked the controversy.
On the way, the group attacked another Dera base at Maur Mandi, clashing with Dera followers in a bid to take over the base. At least 25 Dera followers were injured.
At the Salabatpura, the situation was on the edge as Sikhs laid siege to the property, where a large number of Dera followers were camping inside. The Sikhs also ransacked Mansa chowk, which was developed as tribute to the Dera.
The police also had to resort to firing in the air and lathicharge near Sunam in Sangrur district, when hundreds of Sikhs returning from Talwandi Sabo attacked the Nam Charcha premises of Dera Sacha Sauda.
In the clashes that ensued at least nine persons were injured. The area still remains tense. While no violence was reported from the rest of the state, there were peaceful protests by Sikhs across Punjab against the alleged insult to their guru by the Dera chief.
As news and rumours of arson and clashes in Punjab started pouring in, anti-government and pro-sect sloganeering filled Dera headquarters in Sirsa late on Thursday.
The situation became tense in the Dera soon after the news of the Akal Takht's social boycott call reached here. It was around majlis time in the Dera.
Soon after the Dera head's sermons when reports of fresh violence started coming in hundreds of the sect's followers, including several women, sloganeered "Jai Satnam" and "Punjab government murdabad". As more reports of violence came, the situation became even more surcharged at the Dera.
"Innocent people are being killed. Deras are being burnt," said Dr Aditya Arora. The deputy commissioner and SP were closeted in a room in the administrative block of the Dera discussing the situation with senior Dera men. Some members were seen persuading them not to volunteer outside to avoid any untoward incident in the city.
Meanwhile, the Congress party in Punjab demanded a judicial probe to identify those behind the violence and rejected the charge by Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal that the party was behind the turmoil.
The party said that the Badal government had tried to shift the blame to the Congress instead of admitting its "weak control over the administration, the police and intelligence agencies".