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Violence after Ram Rahim convicted of rape: How Khattar govt failed the Dera test

HT Analysis: Death toll in Friday’s violence is as high as it was in 2016 Jat stir

punjab Updated: Aug 26, 2017 12:50 IST
Hitender Rao
Hitender Rao
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Ram Rahim,Baba Ram Rahim,Dera Sacha Sauda news
A roadside vendor shows her cart that was burnt by Dera Sacha Sauda followers during violence after the verdict against Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in Panchkula on Friday.(Anil Dayal/HT)

The Manohar Lal Khattar government in Haryana underestimated the situation ahead of a verdict in a rape trial against Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, allowing a massive build-up of his supporters in Panchkula.

The error of judgement was evident after a CBI court convicted the 50-year-old sect leader on Friday and his angry followers ran amok. Thirty people were killed in police action, vehicles and public property were set ablaze and the violence spread to New Delhi and UP as well.

Police say stopping the people from massing in Panchkula could have led to a pre-verdict confrontation and created an ugly situation. But it appears the administration followed instructions from the political executive to handle with kid gloves the influx of tens of thousands of supporters of a vote-bank shepherd.

The flamboyant spiritual leader, who has scripted and starred in his own films, is sought out during state and parliamentary elections as he claims to command a near-devotional following of 50 million people.

The BJP is said to have benefitted during the 2014 general elections from the Dera’s generosity in terms of its large support base.

“No party wants to antagonise the Dera because of its substantial vote bank. BJP ministers have been speaking in a rather sympathetic tone and tenor for the Dera,” said a retired official. “Despite knowing that the Dera head is facing serious charges, there has been no attempt by the ruling party politicians to distance themselves from the sect. The build-up was allowed with a view to tacitly pressurise the CBI court. What do images of ministers prostrating before the Dera chief suggest?” he asked.

Besides, the government seems to have had no plan to handle the post-verdict situation. Priority should have been accorded to a formula for evacuating the nearly 200,000 followers from Panchkula once the verdict is delivered.

The Dera chief appealed from peace and asked his followers to exercise restraint in a video message on Thursday. Other than that, the government did little to engage the sect’s leadership to persuade the people to remain calm. If the government was exercising patience, it should have held its nerve till the end.

The Punjab and Haryana high court had virtually given police and paramilitary forces a free hand to go after troublemakers. “Now it seems obstructing the entry of Dera followers to Panchkula by sealing the city would have been a better option rather than opening fire to kill people,” a police officer said.

The government’s image took a severe beating from the deaths, clashes and arson. And his is second time in two years.

The government appears to have learnt no lesson from its gaffes during the Jat stir for reservation in jobs and education in February 2016. At least 30 people died in violence that rocked Rohtak and parts of Haryana.

First Published: Aug 26, 2017 10:26 IST