For Manohar Lal Khattar, a first-time MLA who made it straight to the coveted post of Chief Minister in his political debut, is twice bitten but evidently not third-time shy. The first three years of the BJP’s first government in Haryana witnessed two major police-public stand-offs, with a third one building up toward denouement on Friday, when a CBI court in Panchkula will pronounce verdict in the rape case against the Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram Rahim.
The dera chief is supposed to appear in person in the court on Friday. But despite being singed, once by the confrontation with the followers of godman Rampal in which six people were killed, and then the Jat agitation, in which 30 people lost their lives, the Haryana government has walked into its latest crisis in almost the same way as the earlier two. In both the previous instances of major violence in Haryana during last three years, the government machinery and police first allowed protesters to gather in large numbers. When the violence began, the state government gave up all pretence of being in control and immediately sought the Centre’s assistance.
The Khattar government’s approach to the present crisis has been exactly the same. The state government got its first warning on August 18, when hundreds of dera followers thronged the CBI court in Panchkula expecting that the verdict in the case would be pronounced on that day.
The Haryana police was caught napping. It appeared clueless and without any intelligence inputs. However, the verdict was not scheduled for that day, when the court was hearing a murder case that again involves Ram Rahim as prime accused.
But despite being forewarned, the state government took no measures to prevent dera followers from descending on Panchkula, especially around the CBI court, over the last few days. Describing the dera followers as “peaceful”, the police allowed them to gather, but at the same time the state government sought paramilitary support citing fears of a major law and order deterioration in case of an adverse ruling by the CBI court.
In the Rampal episode, his followers were first allowed to gather in his Satlok ashram at Barwala in Hisar district. Eventually, it took the state police more than 14 days to finally take Rampal into their custody. At least six persons, including five women, died in the 14-day long stand-off, besides a Rs 26 crore bill raised by security agencies as cost of “locating and arresting Rampal” for producing him before the High Court in a contempt case.
Despite knowing well in advance that the Jat community was serious about holding a state-wide protest, and having intelligence inputs that they would gather at various points on state and national highways in the name of “peaceful demonstrations”, the state government failed to realise the gravity of situation until it was too late.
In this instance, there is also the BJP’s proximity with the dera, which is no secret. Many BJP candidates who won 2014 Vidhan Sabha polls reached Sirsa soon after their victory to pay obeisance at the Dera Sacha Sauda, which had declared its support to the party. Senior BJP leader Kailash Vijayvargiya reached Sirsa from Delhi by a chopper and went straight to Dera chief’s residence along with various other BJP ministers and MLAs. At least 18 of BJP MLAs, including Haryana BJP chief Subhash Barala, paid obeisance to the dera chief after the poll verdict. Even those BJP candidates who could not win went to the dera chief, thanking him for his support.
So far, neither Khattar nor his cabinet colleagues have made any comments except “law will take its own course and nobody is above the law”.
Haryana DGP B S Sandhu said, “Paramilitary forces are being deployed at sensitive points. All necessary security arrangements are being made. The dera chief, who is is a Z+ protectee, shall be brought from Sirsa to CBI court tomorrow by the state police.”
Dera’s spokesperson Dr Aditya Insaan said dera chief had appealed to all his followers “only to keep faith in God and not resort to any violence”. Dera chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh also posted a tweet on his official Twitter handle, saying he would follow law and appear in the court tomorrow.