“Tamatar tod do (pluck the tomatoes).” This was the coded message sent to certain Dera Sacha Sauda followers in Bathinda to set off violence on the day the Dera chief, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, was convicted, a senior police officer said. In Sangrur, it was “sabji tayyar hai, vartaoni hai (the vegetables are ready, they have to served)” and “labour tayyar hai, nihaan patnian han (workers are ready, the foundation has to be dug)”.
Punjab Police have claimed to have uncovered a conspiracy to unleash large-scale violence in Punjab on the day Ram Rahim was convicted, with the arrest of all seven members of a “state-level committee” of Dera followers formed earlier this year to deal with the court verdict. The committee was appointed by a 45-member political wing of the Dera Sacha Sauda. The members asked Dera followers in each district to form five-member committees, who chose block-level heads to pick four or five youths to follow their instructions.
The Punjab Police registered 44 FIRs in connection with the violence in the state on and after August 25. Major Singh, the alleged mastermind who supplied money for purchasing petrol and weapons, was arrested along with 24 others. “In Mansa, word was spread among Dera followers well before August 25 to be ready for all eventualities,” said Parminder Singh Parmar, SSP, Mansa.
In Muktsar, block-level meetings were held on a daily basis in August during which “task forces” were readied for Panchkula and Muktsar, the police said. Two state-level members of the committee were arrested in Muktsar. Five FIRs were lodged against Dera followers, said Sushil Kumar, SSP, Muktsar. “Unique code words were used by the heads to communicate. For Sangrur district, there was a team. Of them, Prithi Singh of Moga and Duni Chand of Sangrur are at large. We have arrested 24 people so far,” said Mandeep Singh Sidhu, SSP Sangrur.
“We arrested a state-level committee member, Baljinder Singh. During interrogation they told us about the codes. They had picked four-five persons from every block to trigger violence, and also sent people to Sirsa and Panchkula,” said Naveen Singla, SSP, Bathinda. Most of the followers who went to Sirsa or Panckula were told that there would be a satsang and langar, and that Ram Rahim would appear before them.