At the end of a day that left 29 people dead and at least 200 injured in the state of Haryana, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar acknowledged that there were gaps linked to the handling of a crucial verdict for spiritual guru Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh whose sprawling headquarters are based in Haryana.
The “lapses have been identified and we are taking appropriate steps”. “This should not have happened,” he said.
Ram Rahim, 50, was declared guilty this afternoon of raping two women followers in 2002. In the last few days, tens of thousands of his followers poured into the town to Panchkula, just 11 km from Chandigarh, to await the verdict.
The Chief Minister did not answer directly when reporters asked him how nearly 1.5 lakh members of Ram Rahim’s Dera Sacha Sauda sect were allowed to enter the city with ease, despite the police and administration claiming elaborate arrangements to ensure otherwise.
“When such issue comes where you are dealing with followers in such numbers… We tried to stop them..,” Mr Khattar said.
It was glaringly clear that Panchkula was turning into a zone that could easily erupt in riots. Thousands of paramilitary troops and anti-riot police were brought into the town. But Dera members kept gushing in, often walking the last few km into the town after bus and train services were curtailed. The Punjab and Haryana High Court warned yesterday that Mr Khattar’s government had failed to maintain law and order by allowing such a large congregation of Ram Rahim’s “premis” as they call themselves. It proved to be tragically true.
Sources say senior BJP leaders are upset with Mr Khattar’s handling of a situation that foretold of a security nightmare. News agency IANS reports that Home Minister Rajnath Singh who cut a foreign trip short to return home ahead of the verdict made his displeasure clear in a conversation with the Chief Minister.
Early last year, Mr Khattar, 63, was heavily criticised for failing to rein in giant protests by Jats, a dominant case demanding affirmative action policies. At least 20 people were killed and about 200 injured in riots that lasted more than a week.
Before that, in 2014, six people died after a stand-off between supporters of controversial sect leader Rampal and security forces in Hisar district.
Mr Khattar, like other BJP chief ministers, was chosen to head Haryana by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party chief Amit Shah. The PM has tweeted his concern about today’s violence.
(With inputs from IANS and PTI)