Talk Point: What are the lessons from the violence after Gurmeet Ram Rahim’s conviction

A vehicle burnt by a mob in Panchkula after the verdict. Source: @singhnavdeep

Tens of thousands of angry devotees of the self-styled godman and convicted rapist Gurmeet Ram Rahim went on the rampage in Panchkula and other cities after the court verdict. As many as 31 people died in clashes with the police, as critics blamed a tardy and apathetic administration for failing to anticipate and crackdown on mobs effectively.

What are the lessons from the violence and deaths in Panchkula and how can we prevent similar incidents? We ask experts

Political procrastination and the absence of clear directions from the executive precipitated this preventable tragedy — Prakash Singh, Former Director General of Police and had conducted the inquiry into the Jat Reservation agitation.

Another tragedy has struck Haryana — 18 months after the widespread reservation riots rocked the state in February 2016, which affected eight districts. Compared to that, the protests over the conviction of Gurmeet Singh were localised and concentrated in Panchkula, though there were acts of vandalism in Delhi and Punjab.

But the recent incidents were more horrific. During the reservation agitation, a total of 30 people lost their lives over 15 days. In the recent agitation, 36 people died in just about six hours.

Was this tragedy preventable? The date of conviction was known in advance. It was also known that Gurmeet Singh would, in all likelihood, be convicted. It was also clear that the conviction would lead to some repercussions among his followers.

There were also intelligence reports that weapons and explosives were being collected at the Dera. In the face of these facts, it was incumbent on the government to ensure that people are not allowed to congregate at Panchkula, where the CBI Court was to pronounce its judgment. And yet, this simple precaution was not taken.

By the time the High Court expressed its dissatisfaction over the measures taken, it was too late. The police and the Central Armed Police Forces used force leading to heavy casualties.

Political procrastination in handling the agitators and the absence of clear directions from the executive precipitated the tragedy. The police were half-hearted in dealing with the agitators in the initial stage. By the time they decided to use force effectively, the agitators were rampaging.

Had the state government shown foresight, planned, and given clear and unambiguous directions to the police, the unfortunate chain of events would have been on a much smaller scale and the casualties, if at all, would have been in single digits.
Prakash Singh is a retired police chief, conducted the Inquiry into the Jat Reservation Agitation.

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Easy to blame politicians but it is a shameful case of abdication of legal responsibility by the state police – Vappala Balachandran, former special secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, and author of “Keeping India Safe: The Dilemma of Internal Security

The Panchkula incident resulting in 31 deaths and damage of national property worth crores is one of the most shameful cases of abdication of legal responsibility by any state police in independent India. It is easy to blame politicians for each incident like this, but should the police leadership cravenly surrender their legal responsibility to the political leadership and expose the public to such danger?

Although prohibitory orders were issued, no attempt was made to prevent the flow of the godman’s followers for days even when the visual media was broadcasting that they were agitated and armed.

This colossal neglect comes soon after the entire Haryana police leadership was indicted by the Prakash Singh Committee for their failure during the 2016 ‘Jat agitation’, which had taken a toll of 30 lives apart from bringing normal life to a halt. The report, which has not been made public, spoke of heavy political interference during that period and says that “police officers were waiting for political masters’ directions”.

We need to correct an institutional defect in our internal security: not many people know that only in India we have a peculiar legal system wherein the entire responsibility of internal security is left to our 29 states without any concurrent responsibility on the centre.

The 1992 Babri Masjid demolition, wherein the state did not utilize 20,000 central policemen positioned by the Union Home Ministry in the state is a classic example. The result was mayhem all over India, reverberations of which are felt even now.

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Can we allow Deras to proliferate without regulation and build private militia? – Lt Gen K. J. Singh (Retd), former Western Army Commander

The growing proliferation of religious cults and sects have led to the sprouting of ‘ashrams’ and ‘deras’. While ashrams have a benign connotation, deras have their origins in ‘laskkars’, used to organise their militias.

Traditionally, sects in northern India have preferred to establish deras spread over hundreds of acres. The Sirsa dera is spread over a sprawling 700 acres with a cricket stadium, helipad and even the infamous ‘gufa’. The Beas dera has a private airstrip and can accommodate lakhs of people.

Over the years, these cults have organised their own security and vigilance organisations and follow their own laws. Veterans from the armed forces and CAPFs get drawn into private security organisations and mis-utilise their skills for such cults, which often acquire militant character.

This was on display in the Ram Rahim cavalcade with private black cat-like militia, communication equipment, lethal weapons like AK-47s and had the temerity to shove (slap) an IG-level officer. Dubious trendsetter in this was Bhinderanwale’s rabble rouser Shabheg Singh. This malevolent streak has continued in all Deras, including Rampal’s Satlok dera siege and now the Sirsa dera. The militant character of activities at the Sirsa dera was flagged in 2009 and investigated, but not followed through.

Can we allow Deras to proliferate without regulation and build private militia? They should be subjected to periodic inspections, and the role of veterans must be reported.

Panchkula and its residents with loads of operational experience, saw a new form of dharna warfare with hordes of premis taking over the city in a naked, coercive attempt to intimidate the judiciary.

While the High Court ordered compensation, did Haryana deserve it? Unoccupied IT towers now ask: Who will invest in our IT city?

 

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