You let the city burn: HC slams Haryana govt for violence over Ram Rahim verdict

A three-judge bench of the high court made several scathing observations, taking apart the government’s defence for not reining in Dera Sacha Sauda followers.

india Updated: Aug 27, 2017 08:48 IST
Shailee Dogra and Neeraj Mohan
Shailee Dogra and Neeraj Mohan
Chandigarh, Hindustan Times
Ram Rahim rape verdict,Violence after Ram Rahim,Haryana
A security personnel at the scene of violence in Panchkula on Friday.(AFP)

The Punjab and Haryana high court indicted the Haryana government on Saturday for failing to control violence after the rape conviction of an influential “godman”, adding to calls for the chief minister to take responsibility for clashes that singed five states and claimed 34 lives.

A three-judge bench of the high court made several scathing observations, taking apart the government’s defence for not reining in Dera Sacha Sauda followers, who ran riot on Friday to protest against their flamboyant chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh’s conviction for raping two women 15 years ago.

“This was a political surrender to lure vote banks,” the court observed, asking the state why it couldn’t stop 200,000 followers of the sect from gathering in Panchkula despite prohibitory orders.

The death toll rose to 34 on Saturday as the Haryana government sacked its deputy attorney general and suspended a senior police officer in charge of security at Panchkula, where a CBI court convicted the Dera chief on Friday afternoon. Twenty eight of the deaths were reported from Panchkula and six from Sirsa, the headquarters of the sect.

But the court wasn’t impressed and even criticised the Centre, terming its response as “only a knee-jerk reaction”.

“The PM is of the nation and not of the BJP. National integrity is above parties. Are we one nation or a party nation?” asked the bench of acting chief justice SS Saron and justices Surya Kant and Avneesh Jhingan.

Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar is facing criticism for failing to check the violence, a virtual repeat of the shoddy security arrangements during the Jat community protests for quotas last year in which nearly 30 people died.

Khattar is already under fire for his government’s handling of a stalking case of a woman, allegedly by the state BJP chief’s son.

On Friday, minutes after Singh was convicted, his hysterical supporters clashed with security forces, burnt down buildings, vehicles and railway stations. The violence singed even Delhi, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. Outnumbered in many places, policemen were seen fleeing from mobs that armed with sticks and stones.

Singh’s sentence will be pronounced on Monday and the special CBI judge is being flown to a jail in Rohtak, where the controversial godman is currently lodged. The court’s observations came on a public interest litigation, whose next hearing is on Tuesday.

Security forces sealed scores of Dera congregation centres in Punjab and Haryana, detaining many people and recovering petrol and sticks in huge quantities. Police were assisted by army in carrying out the raids, conducted after a government order, sources said. More than 550 people were arrested across the two states and more than 70 FIRs registered.

In Kaithal, police sealed five congregation centres and a prayer centre. They recovered about 200 litres of petrol, sharp-edged weapons, sticks and empty bottles. Kaithal police also seized a luxury bus from a rest house of the Dera, frequented by its 50-year-old flamboyant chief.

In Kurukshetra, the police sealed nine congregation centres after conducting searches. Police sources said 2000 sticks and canes, sharp weapons and kerosene oil were recovered from there.

Late on Friday evening, Khattar admitted lapses and said his government made arrangements but the mob was too big. He also blamed “miscreants in the crowd” for the violence.

But the court was not convinced with his comments. “If the CM came to know in a day about antisocial elements, why couldn’t you prevent their entry over the past seven days?” The HC has already ordered the Dera to pay for all damages and sought a list of its movable, immovable properties, bank accounts and incomes.

From schools to shampoos and hair-oil to hospitals, the guru runs an empire under the brand name MSG. Often called the guru of bling for his flamboyant lifestyle, the Dera chief who studied up to Class 10 runs 11 schools and two colleges, including a management institute. The Dera also has factories for confectionery products in its 800-acre headquarters on the outskirts of Sirsa in Haryana.

First Published: Aug 26, 2017 23:27 IST