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Lessons for authorities to learn from Dera Sacha Sauda violence | Column

Dera followers had been gathering in Panchkula and made elaborate arrangements. All this was allowed in spite of the state’s experience of its failure during the Jat agitation and added warnings of the HC.

columns Updated: Aug 30, 2017 18:38 IST
Lt Gen Harwant Singh (Retd)
Ram Rahim,Gurmeet Ram rahim,Dera sacha sauda
The paramilitary forces have been copying military’s uniform, including badges of ranks, resulting in confusion among the mob as to their true identity.(HT File)

Gurmeet Ram Rahim of Dera Sacha Sauda was facing some serious charges. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had carried out the probe, and the possibility of the dera chief being declared guilty was known to even the layman, leave alone the administration and intelligence agencies.

It was obvious that in the event of his conviction, his followers would create law and order problem. In fact, the followers were openly threatening to create mayhem in case Ram Rahim was convicted. No special effort was required to arrive at this simple conclusion. Consequently, there was no reason for the administration to be caught off guard.

In the first place, the administration should not have permitted assembly of nearly two lakh people in Panchkula, in spite of Section 144 of the CrPC being in force. Further, there is no logical reason to misinterpret this simple law and later find an alibi in clerical error.

The dera followers had been gathering in Panchkula over a few days and had elaborate administrative arrangements. All this was allowed to take place in spite of the state’s experience of its failure during the Jat agitation and the added warnings from the Punjab and Haryana high court. Politicians, of all hues had been paying obeisance to the dera chief and been seeking his blessings to garner votes of his followers. So how could they now act against him!

DCP made escape goat

While appropriate steps to stall the events leading to the mayhem at Panchkula should have been taken by the district administration, the responsibility to prevent situation getting out of hand in the state was that of the chief minister. However, in the end a deputy commissioner of police from Panchkula was made the escape goat and suspended for failure to perform his duty.

A cavalcade of nearly 200 vehicles was permitted to bring the dera chief from Sirsa to Panchkula. Some of the vehicles in this cavalcade are believed to have carried petrol bombs and weapons. How come Baba’s private security was allowed to accompany him when the escort was provided by the state?

Finally, did the intelligence agencies know that the loyalties of the guards, which the state government provided to Ram Rahim had been subverted, as they tried to assist his escape from court?

Why wasn’t army deployed in advance?

There is a need to look at the deployment and actions of state and central police. The Haryana government asked for over 120 companies of the central police. The simple question is as to why ask for companies and not the required number of battalions. In case these companies operate as part of their parent battalion headquarters, their ability to handle adverse situations would be far more effective and productive!

The real reason for demanding companies is because they get special allowances. So the imperative for proper command and control and efficient implementation of allotted task becomes secondary while the requirement of special allowances becomes paramount. Thus, there exists this convenient arrangement between the state governments and central police to milk the exchequer: in any manner. These special allowances are not sought by the army as it would impact performance if companies are deployed as independent entities.

The second issue is the inappropriate deportment, casual appearance, drill and slouchy movements on display by these policemen, which had no impact on the mob. The sight of police and paramilitary personnel running for their dear life, terrified as they were of the mob, makes for a sad visual. On the other hand, military, though similarly armed as these policemen, on such tasks, has the necessary salutatory effect and very often do not have to use force to sober down an unruly crowd.

Unfortunately, the central police have been copying military’s uniform including badges of ranks, resulting in confusion among the mob as to their true identity. Though there are rules that no one can copy any item of army uniform, but this rule is openly flouted.

The fallout of this is that the salutary effect, which military always had on unruly mobs, has somewhat diminished. It may be recalled that during the Jat agitation, one saw the sad spectacle of army columns carrying large posters to let people know that the column was of the military and not some central police. This situation needs to be corrected and if the central police organisations cannot be made to shed military’s camouflage uniform, then the military may seriously consider going back to olive green.

Need serious introspection

The other related issues are as to how Z-level security was give to one charged for rape and murder? How the intelligence agencies did not know the goings on in the Sirsa dera where a number of weapons without licence were seized later. Also why police is shooting to kill rather than incapacitate the rioters?

Finally, time and again it has been seen that the civil administration collapses at the first sign of serious trouble, be it major law and order problem or natural disasters. This aspect of functioning of the civil administration needs serious introspection.

(The writer is a former deputy chief of army staff and commentator on defence and security matters. Views expressed are personal)

First Published: Aug 30, 2017 17:38 IST