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Were dera devotees planning to set Malwa on fire? One matchbox and ‘routine’ seizures raise question

25 litres of diesel, 52 petrol bombs, six “large” and 13 “small” bottles of petrol, three empty bottles that had carried petrol, and two “burnable” oil bottles were seized.

punjab Updated: Sep 01, 2017 09:45 IST
Ravinder Vasudeva
Ravinder Vasudeva
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Ram Rahim,Ram Rahim rape verdict,Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh
Policeman standing guard during the curfew in Patiala on August 28.(HT Photo)

There may be little debate on whether or not the Punjab government took all steps to ensure no major disruption of law and order in light of a rape case verdict against Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh last Friday. But a question is now being raised is that whether or not the dera followers — who call themselves ‘premis’ (the loving ones) — had really planned to set the Malwa region, in particular, on fire. At least the seizures made by the cops don’t add up to that theory of intelligence agencies and police.

Government figures provided on August 28 evening — the day the dera head was sentenced to 20 years in jail — of seizures made from dera followers during the Punjab police crackdown seem nothing extraordinary. It must be underlined that the more than 30 dera followers died in firing by security forces in clashes in Haryana’s Panchkula, where the court verdict was announced, and at least six in Sirsa, where the sect is headquartered.

In Punjab, among vehicles and firearms, the recoveries shown in the 66 cases against premis included nine two-wheelers; a four-wheeler; a .12-bore rifle, three live and two used cartridges; a revolver, 28 live and four empty cartridges; and 10 explosive crackers. Also seized were 25 litres of diesel, 52 petrol bombs, six “large” and 13 “small” bottles of petrol, three empty bottles that had carried petrol, and two “burnable” oil bottles.

Further on the list is one matchbox!

It must be recalled that the director general of police (DGP) for law and order had issued letters to all senior superintendents of police (SSPs) of the Malwa region — a hub of dera following — on August 23 that premis were hoarding “large amounts of diesel, petrol and other inflammatory material” and “may use it to disrupt peace of Punjab in case the verdict comes against the dera head”.

Sources said the seizures also include those made during searches of the naam charcha ghars (congregation centres) — the dera has 98 such centres across Punjab — and the police have named 336 persons. The list includes 31 red-chilli packets, two axes, three swords, 80 sticks, 112 iron rods, 30 iron pipes, 16 spades, a handpump handle, 17 iron khurpi (gardening axe), four iron buckets, and a ‘gandasa’ (a kind of axe).

“These are routine seizures. Most of the material found on the premis is generally found in houses or any premises,” said a senior dera follower who did not wish to be named, adding, “A fake hype was created that followers would resort to violence in Punjab.”

The police, meanwhile, said seizure figures alone do not reflect the success of the operation as “emotions of many followers were involved in the case”. Chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh has already praised the police for “success” in thwarting any major trouble.

“We wanted to create the hype,” said a DGP-rank officer closely involved in the operation, “so that unruly elements thought twice before coming out of their homes. It was only because of our strictness and the move to impose preventive curfew that the dera followers did not take the risk.”

First Published: Aug 31, 2017 20:11 IST