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Friday, July 01, 2022

Patiala Violence: Despite intel inputs, cops failed to gauge build-up on social media

Things normalised Saturday following a curfew the night before and suspension of Internet services during the day.

Written by Navjeevan Gopal |
Updated: May 1, 2022 7:10:51 pm
Clashes erupted between Shiv Sena (Bal Thackeray) workers and Nihang Sikhs near Kali Mata Mandir in Patiala on Friday. (Express Photo By Harmeet Sodhi)

The Punjab government Saturday shunted out the top brass of Patiala police, including an Inspector General, even as the district limped back to normalcy with security personnel keeping a tight vigil a day after clashes between two groups over an anti-Khalistan march left four people injured and the border state tensed.

The police booked 25 accused by name so far in six FIRs registered in connection with Friday’s incident and apprehended two more taking the total arrests to three. Mobile internet and SMS services were suspended from 9.30 am till 4 pm in the district.

Facing flak from Opposition, the Aam Aadmi Party government transferred Inspector General (Patiala Range) Rakesh Agrawal, Senior Superintendent of Police Nanak Singh and Superintendent of Police (City) Harpal Singh. They were respectively replaced by IG MS Chhina,

SSP Deepak Parik and SP Wazir Singh. The transfers came amid reports that Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann Friday evening gave a dressing down to Director General of Police (DGP) Viresh Bhawra for not being able to tackle the situation, “despite a buildup and intelligence inputs”.

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Earlier, a rumor, followed by a skirmish snowballed into a violent clash outside ‘Shri Kali Devi Mandir’, sending shock waves across the state. As things normalised Saturday following a curfew the night before and suspension of Internet services during the day, it became clear that the clash was not spontaneous. There was build-up after Shiv Sena (Bal Thackerey)’s working president for Punjab Harish Singla – the outfit expelled him after the violence – announced Khalistan ‘Murdabad March’ to protest against a call given by the outlawed Sikhs for Justice to hoist pro-Khalistani flags outside government offices in Haryana and Himachal Pradesh on April 29. A few fringe Sikh outfits declared to oppose the Sena’s march.

The Indian Express accessed a series of correspondences, which suggest that the confrontation was in the making for a week. Specifically for Patiala, but marked to other police officers across the state as well, a correspondence by Assistant Inspector of Police (AIG) Intelligence-2 Harcharan Singh Bhullar, on behalf of Special DGP (Intelligence) Prabodh Kumar, read that on Friday “70/80 workers of Shiv Sena Bal Thackerey led by Harish Singla has decided to take out a ‘Khalistan Murdabad’ march to counter the “khalistan Declaration Day”. It further read that “90/100 leaders/workers of Damdami Taksal Jatha Rajpura under the leadership of Barjinder Singh Parwana will gather” at Gurdwara Dukh Niwaran Sahib “to oppose the “Khalistan Murdabad” march. They (Parwana faction) have also announced to carry out Kesari march if the Hindu organizations will hold the said march. Subsequently, supporters of Bhindranwale Action Committee led by Bagicha Singh Rattakhera have also decided to oppose the above said Khalistan Murdabad March.”

The correspondence also read that SAD (Amritsar) under the leadership of Mohinderpal Singh (party general secretary) has also announced to celebrate “Khalistan Diwas” in Patiala on Friday.”

Apprehending “serious confrontation between different groups of Hindu and Sikh organizations” throughout the state, the correspondence read, “If required, suitable preventive and precautionary measures including lawful action like registration of FIRs and security proceedings under CrPC be also taken…to avoid any untoward incident(s).” It advised police officers to “make proper and foolproof law and order, security arrangements and take all suitable counter, preventive and precautionary measures for maintenance of law and order.”

Among the series of communiques marked as “secret” to the field police officers on Thursday, another AIG wrote that “various Hindu organizations will hold protest demonstrations and burn effigies of Gurpatwant Singh Pannu (chief advisor, SFJ) throughout the state over the issue of anti-national remarks by him”. The letter mentioned that if Hindu organizations held a protest march against supporters of Khalistan or raised slogans of “Khalistan Murdabad” at any place in Punjab, various Sikh radical organizations — Sri Guru Granth Sahib Satkar Commmittee, SSF (read Sikh Students Federation) Mehta, International Panthak Dal and Eknoor Khalsa Fauj will hold “Khalistan Zindabad March”.

A government functionary said that a day before the clash, the AIG (Intelligence) posted in Patiala held a meeting with SSP and “a real time” information about gatherings of the rival factions was shared with the district police. “DGP Prabodh Kumar also spoke to Patiala Range IG on Thursday to sensitize about the gravity of the situation”. A detailed note prepared by Punjab intelligence wing was learnt to have been submitted to Mann in this regard.

While social media was abuzz with posts where pro and ant-Khalistan activists challenged each other, the police, however, it seems could not gauge the gravity of the situation.

IG Chhina, addressing a press conference along with Deputy Commissioner Sakshi Sawhney and SSP Parik, in the evening said Barjinder Parwana has been identified “the mastermind” behind the clash. Parwana is self styled chief of the outfit Damdami Taksal (Rajpura) and was behind the gathering of Nihangs and Sikh activists at SGPC-controlled Gurdwara Dukh Niwaran Sahib, which later marched towards Kali Devi temple.

Chhina said that Parwana faces four police cases and is an under-trial who is out on bail.

“He is yet to be arrested. Several police teams have been formed to nab him,” he said, adding out of total 25 accused, three have been arrested — Harish Singla, Daljeet Singh and Kuldeep Singh.

A local court sent Singla, who was arrested Friday, to two-day police remand.

CM Mann, who was in Delhi, said the clashes in Patiala were between two political parties and not two communities, as he blamed the Akali Dal and the BJP for the violence.

“This was a clash between two political parties and not between two communities. In Punjab people live in peace. A probe is going on over who instigated the violent incidents. No one will be spared,” he said.

“It is the opposition which is instigating such incidents as they cannot see the success of Aam Aadmi Party in the state and that is why they are indulging in this,” he alleged.

At Gurdwara Dukh Niwaran Sahib, an eyewitness told The Indian Express that the gathering led by Parwana headed towards Kali Devi temple after someone said that Singla was out carrying out the march.

“Generally, there are four to five policemen remain stationed near the gurdwara. On Friday, however, there were 35 to 40 of them. As Sikh activists ran towards Kali Devi temple, police personnel tried to stop them but were outnumbered,” said the eyewitness.

The route Sikh activists took was through Leela Bhawan chowk.

The SSP Nanak Singh (now transferred) stopped the marching Sikh activists at Leela Bhawan chowk, just two km before Kali Devi temple, assuring them that Singla was not allowed to carry out the march.

Some Sikh activists, however, reached Kali Devi temple. A skirmish ensued between them and those inside the temple. The Nihangs, after learning about this, headed towards temple and all the hell broke loose with both factions resorting to violence and stone pelting.

Panchanand Giri, the organizer at the temple and the chief of Hindu Suraksha Samiti distanced temple management from Singla. Talking to The Indian Express at his office, Giri said, “I had gone to Haryana to hold a march against SFJ call to hoist pro-Khalistani flags. The call by him was for Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. We held a procession in Ambala. I was informed that temple [in Patiala] had been attacked by Sikh activists. Then, I told the temple men to retaliate (Pai jao ena nu)”.

He deferred a procession and lifted a dharna from outside the temple Saturday after police assured that they will arrest those who “attacked the temple”.

Apart from Nihang faction led by Parwana, SAD (Amritsar) leaders also held a separate event outside mini-secretariat in Patiala to observe “Khalistan Ailan Nama Divas”.

SAD (Amritsar) general secretary Mohinderpal Singh said, “We celebrate the event annually. Khalistan Diwas (Khalistan Day) was announced by Panthic Committee led by Gurbachan Singh Manochahal on April 29, 1986 at Darbar Sahib after January 26, 1986 Sarbat Khalsa authorized the committee to take any decision to that effect.”

The permission to hold the event was denied to SAD (Amritsar) by the Patiala police. “It was conveyed very late so we decided to go ahead with the event. As far as Parwana is concerned, people like him only want publicity,” said Mohinderpal.


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