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Dera devotees’ Panchkula mayhem: A frenzy foreseen, yet lessons learnt at loss of lives

Gurmeet Ram Rahim was not only ‘God’ for his gullible followers but could twist all wings of the governments by his clout or through the immense wealth that flowed from the misled ‘sheep’ comprising his followers.

columns Updated: Aug 31, 2017 00:52 IST
MPS Aulukh
MPS Aulukh
Hindustan Times
Dera sacha sauda,Gurmeet ram rahim,ram rahim news
Dera followers attack on an OB van after Dera Sacha Sauda chief Ram Rahim was convicted by a CBI court for raping two of his female followers on August 25.(Keshav Singh/HT)

It’s been nearly a week since the conviction of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in a rape case by a court in Panchkula, and the violence by his followers as a fallout that claimed more than 30 lives.

One is yet to see any political leader of any hue or standing condemn the modern-day Rasputin of the Sirsa-based ‘dera’, unless one missed the news in small print in some obscure corner. This adds further stink to murky tales of horror, sexual exploitation of innocent girls, and human disfigurement. It is unfortunate — and a travesty of our democratic system — that for personal ends our political leaders chose to be servile to this Satan in a saintly garb who was emboldened enough to threaten innocent, hapless victims into submission .

It is a quirk of our social system that the guardians of our political, social and religious institutions chose to be deaf and blind to all his misdeeds, and rather flocked to this evil man’s ‘dera’, making him feel powerful. He was not only ‘God’ for his gullible followers but could twist all wings of the governments by his clout or through the immense wealth that flowed from the misled ‘sheep’ comprising his followers. The guardians and those running governments had willingly acquiesced to his vile misdeeds and wishes, for selfish motives and narrow political ends.

Petitions, complaints and pleadings against him went unheeded, and social unrest in areas of Punjab over his demeanour and apparel was taken casually. He was summoned to the highest temporal seat of a faith to be pardoned. Travesty, indeed of the entire moral system.

Mercifully, the agonies of the victims of this lascivious evil man were heeded by the judiciary that ordered probes by the CBI, because the state investigators could not be trusted to deliver — not because of inefficiency, but due to the political and financial clout of this man. The CBI delivered, regardless of pressures on the investigating officers. All his legal and political antics to sabotage and subvert the judicial process could delay it but the Day of Judgment did come, and how.

Frenzy foreseen, not checked

What preceded it for days was an absurd, ham-handed approach to manage an expected violent frenzied situation on August 25, the day of reckoning for him. Despite intelligence reports, not much effort was made to check the large-scale movement of the ‘dera’ followers towards Panchkula. The consequent build-up by the committed followers of this so-called ‘godman’ not only held the peace-loving citizens of the city to ransom but also seriously affected its environs.

Prohibitory orders under section 144 of the CrPC were neither worded nor implemented properly. No preventive arrests seem to have been made. Presumably, the hordes had gathered to overawe the judicial system and, despite the high court’s clear directions, no worthwhile efforts were made to remove these people from Panchkula. To all intent, they were expected to indulge in violent activities and vandalism.

Surprisingly, in our democratic system, various wings of governmental machinery have been pulverised by political strangleholds and officials pandering to the wishes of political masters. In this case, not only did the political will to manage a potential disastrous situation appear to be lacking, but also apparent was an unwarranted dithering in conveying clear-cut instructions to ensure that law and order be maintained by all legal means. It could have probably been worse had the Punjab and Haryana high court, on August 24, not admonished the officers and castigated the government.

Patting self for what?

The authorities concerned are all praise for themselves, for having controlled the violent situation in a matter of mere three hours. Great! At what cost! The arson, the damage to state and private properties, the holding of an entire city to ransom, and virtual panic in the adjoining areas of Chandigarh, Mohali and Zirakpur, need to be explained. Something was amiss when the frenzied mobs could make the armed police personnel run to save themselves or watch the arson. If the deputy commissioner had to run to save her life, one wonders how this self-praise should flow.

The reason is an obvious lack of clear-cut orders and effective leadership. Over 30 persons killed and large numbers injured in the police firing — is it collateral damage? Mercifully, the court had issued instructions to ensure that the situation is kept under control by all legal means. This might somehow mitigate so many deaths in the firing. Otherwise, in many similar situations, each death is to be accounted for.

Net worth of action

The will and alacrity with which the forces were deployed and all measures taken to ensure that no violence ensues on the day of the pronouncement of the sentence (August 28), should have been there on the day of the judgment too. Why did not the officer who has been reported stating that shoot-at-sight orders had been issued on August 28, do so on or before August 25?

Unfortunately, those concerned appear to have abdicated their duties and let the situation deteriorate to such an extent that bringing it under control meant a heavy dose of firing and so many deaths.

While, as a precautionary measures, the curtailing of mobile internet services and SMS could be a means of containing rumuors or inflammatory exhortations, it should be resorted to sparingly. Not only does it impinge on personal liberties but also affects business.

The possibility of misuse of the internet and SMS may really not be as damaging to peace and tranquillity as being visualised, especially with the extensive minute-to-minute coverage by TV channels. If it has to be done, then it should not be for such long periods.

Punjab sought to control any potentially violent situations by a liberal use of curfew in different areas. True, it served a purpose, but imposition of severe restrictions on civil liberties and curtailing all movement is undoubtedly a harsh measure which also affects the economy. Suitable orders restricting gathering of five or more people, a ban on carrying of weapon, and other measures such as preventive arrests should normally be the course to follow. Curfew should not be the norm but a kind of last resort.

With the nouveau Rasputin safely confined, and hopefully his influence on the wane, political leaders and others who seek favours for electoral gains from such lumpen specimens should now be true to the people and also to their moral selves, and not help build such Frankensteins in future. Law and order should be dealt with by professionals without undue political interference. Unfortunately, over the years the political masters have usurped the command, leaving not much to the officers responsible. Sadly, most officers have also willingly abdicated their responsibilities, and in some cases lost their backbones too.

(The writer is a retired Punjab-cadre officer of the Indian Police Service. Views expressed are his personal.)

First Published: Aug 30, 2017 20:07 IST