Uneasy calm in Haryana amid clamour for Khattar's sacking
Chandigarh: An uneasy calm prevailed on Saturday in Haryana, a day after 31 people died after the rape conviction of Dera chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim, as the army prepared to get the sect headquarters in Sirsa vacated amid a clamour for the sacking of Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar for his government's failure to tackle the situation.
At least eight columns of the Army surrounded the Dera Sacha Sauda headquarters near Haryana's Sirsa town where thousands of sect followers were holed up.
Major General Rajpal Punia, the General Officer Commanding of 33 Division who visited Sirsa on Saturday, told media that the Army had no immediate plan to enter the Dera campus.
The officer said he would talk to the Dera management and ask them to vacate the campus peacefully. The death toll went up, with five more deaths reported on Saturday.
The authorities have also ordered security forces to crack down on 36 Dera campuses, known as 'Naam Charcha Ghar', across the state, including the sprawling 800-acre Sirsa headquarters and get them vacated. Two Dera premises in Kurukshetra district were sealed on Saturday.
The 50-year-old flamboyant spiritual leader, known for his lavish lifestyle, was convicted on Friday in a 2002 case of rape and sexual exploitation. There are apprehensions that more violence may erupt on Monday when the CBI court pronounces its sentence on the self-proclaimed godman, who is in a Rohtak jail.
The authorities have decided not to bring him to Panchkula for the sentencing. He will remain in jail in Rohtak where he is reported to be getting VIP treatment in an air-conditioned room.
"From arranging a special helicopter to providing an air-conditioned room and helping in using facilities meant for police officers, the government is extending all help to the disgraced Dera chief," a police source, who saw some of these things happen on Friday and Saturday, told IANS.
A woman, Honeypreet, whom the Dera website describes as his daughter (not real daughter), was allowed to accompany him along with bags and suitcases when Ram Rahim was flown on Friday in a specially arranged helicopter from the police lines complex in Panchkula.
Army units patrolled several places across Haryana and Punjab that were affected in the Friday mayhem that left nearly 250 sect followers injured.
Flag marches were held by the soldiers on Saturday morning in 10 places in southwest Punjab's Malwa belt and Panchkula and Sirsa towns. Curfew continued on Saturday in a few districts of the two states.
Haryana Police also recovered an AK 47, five pistols and other weapons from two vehicles that were part of the cavalcade accompanying the Dera chief to court on Friday, while two sedition cases were also registered against followers, including private security guards.
Two first information reports (FIRs) were registered over an incident of assault on a senior police officer when he tried to take the godman into custody after his conviction by a court in Panchkula, Chief Secretary D.S. Dhesi told reporters.
The BJP government in Haryana, led by Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, came under sharp attack from many, amid calls for his sacking, for going soft on the Dera chief, who had openly supported the BJP in the 2014 elections, and his unruly followers.
The Punjab and Haryana High Court also slammed the Chief Minister for "protecting and extending political patronage" to the Dera chief and asked his government to register a case against those who instigated the widespread violence on Friday.
But BJP sources indicated that the top party leadership was in no hurry to take action against Khattar and would like the situation to first "cool down". The issue could be discussed only after the situation normalises in the state, they said.
Stepping up the offensive, the Congress accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of "saving" Khattar and demanded President's Rule in Haryana.
Senior Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi said the death toll figures reported "seems to be false, and it's higher".
He said there was a failure on the part of the Centre as well the state government, adding that the "'nikammi sarkar' (useless government) should be suspended."
"It is unprecedented that a situation like this came with a notice of seven days, but both the Haryana and the central governments remained mute, impotent spectators," Singhvi said.
Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, who was in Bhutan, said Khattar should be sacked if he doesn't resign.
"Ultimately it is the Chief Minister and his cabinet who are responsible for law and order in their state. It is a complete failure of the Khattar government and he should be sacked," Tharoor said.
The CPI-M said in a statement that Khattar should be "immediately sacked" for failing to protect the lives of innocent people and demanded the dissolution of the BJP government in the state.