The Manohar Lal Khattar government had prior information that violence would break out in Panchkula if Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh was convicted in the rape case against him. The 2700-page chargesheet against, Ram Rahim’s aide Honeypreet and other Dera members makes clear that the state police was intercepting calls of Dera leaders and their followers as they spoke to each other and planned for an unfavourable verdict, discussed supply and distribution of weapons, and routes and modes of transport to reach Panchkula.
Ram Rahim’s August 25 conviction led to turmoil in Panchkula for a few hours, during which his followers torched buildings and vehicles in the city centre and the police and paramilitary responded by shooting to kill. As many as 40 were killed by the police and 200 injured in Panchkula and Sirsa where the violence erupted.
The call intercepts now form the bulk of the evidence against Honeypreet, who has been charged with sedition and criminal conspiracy besides various other provisions punishable under Indian Penal Code. The chargesheet contains 200 pages of transcripts alone. The other evidence in the chargesheet includes statements given by the accused to the police, photographs of violence, statements of policemen and other officials present on the spot.
Among the phone intercept transcripts are a call received by a Dera follower on August 23, five days before the verdict, from a person who was conveying a decision by the “45-member committee” of the Dera’s leadership on when and where to obtain weapons. “Hum Sector 4 ke pass hain..das pandrah hazar hain.. Pul ke pass 20 Rs mein lathi, 40 Rs mein gandasi, 70 Rs mein talvar aur chote-chote khunte 20-20 Rs mein hain. le jao tum.. humne to sabhi sangat ke hath mein diye hain.andhere hone par hi kaam chalega,” one of the calls’ intercept reads.
Six days before the verdict, on August 19, a woman in Fatehabad called Dera district leader Pyare Lal and informed him that she had received a message to arm the followers headed from her area to Panchkula with kerosene, acid, lathis and sticks with them.
“Bhai ji hum jo sangat ki gadiyan bhej rahe hain unke sath miti ka tel tezab lathi or dande bhejne ke aadesh hain mere ko abhi message mila hai maine aapko bata diya…,” said another call intercept, to which Pyare Lal agreed.
In other phone calls, Dera leaders and followers purportedly told each other to travel in groups of five or six vehicles and to carry umbrellas with pointed ends. In one, a caller is heard asking a Dera leader what would happen in the event of an unfavourable verdict. The response was “panga toh karenge” (shall create trouble). Asked why the government had not acted on this evidence to prevent the build up of people, Rajesh Khullar, Principal Secretary to Chief Minister, told The Indian Express: “If people were having such conversations, it is quite likely that the police was keeping an eye on them.”
He said the government had handled the situation “really well”. Haryana DGP B S Sandhu conceded that the police had prior information on the possibility of violence breaking out. “But our main motive was to get the Dera chief to the court. I agree, we were listening to calls but it is not that we kept sitting idle. Behind the scenes, we did take some preventive action”, Sandhu told The Indian Express.
Another senior Haryana police officer said that they had conveyed to the government about the plans as heard in the calls but were asked not to stop them from entering the city. “We were told what if the Baba (Dera chief) is acquitted…so why invite their wrath by stopping them from coming to Panchkula…but at the same time we had been asked to be prepared for the worst as well,” he said. The evidentiary value of the transcripts is also questionable, lawyes said.
“If the voice samples are not taken to prove these transcripts or the person refuses to give voice samples, these transcripts would not stand in the court,” said Manbir Singh Rathi, a senior Panchkula advocate.