M A I N   N E W S

Murder case against Dera chief
Day 2: Punjab, Haryana tense
Centre rushes additional forces
Followers continue to demand withdrawal of
case against Baba Ram Rahim
Tribune News Service

Security forces hold a flag march in Sirsa on Sunday. — PTI

Chandigarh, February 28
Tension continued to simmer in parts of Punjab and Haryana today, and public transport continued to remain affected even as the states limped back to normalcy after the previous evening’s violence and arson allegedly by followers of Dera Sacha Sauda. Additional central forces were rushed to the two states although no fresh outbreak of violence was reported on Sunday.

The Dera followers, however, continued to demand the withdrawal of a fresh case of murder filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) against the Dera chief, Gurmeet Ram Rahim. The CBI claims to have found fresh evidence to implicate the Dera chief in the murder of one Faquir Chand, who disappeared in 1991 and whose body has never been found.

The weekly satsang at the Dera headquarters at Sirsa (Haryana) passed off peacefully even as a large posse of policemen staged a flag march in the morning. Heavy deployment of security forces and an appeal for calm and peace by the Dera seemed to have cooled frayed tempers.

At Bathinda, hundreds of Dera followers offered a dharna at the mini-secretariat and raised slogans against the government. A delegation later submitted a memorandum to the Deputy Commissioner, warning that the administration and the Union government would be responsible for the consequences if the ‘false case’ against the Dera chief was not withdrawn. They also demanded the release of the Dera followers arrested yesterday.

Hundreds of supporters were rounded up in Moga, Abohar, Fazilka and booked under Sections 307, 427, 149 of the Indian Penal Code and also under sections of the Arms Act. They were accused of torching government property, including buses and trains, attacking the police and damaging ATMs.

The Malwa region of Punjab remained the worst affected with Punjab state transport corporation buses and even private buses, specially the ones allegedly owned by the Badals, keeping off roads. Normal train movements were also restored late on Sunday afternoon. Taxis either refused to ply longer distances or charged exorbitant rates.

The authorities here suspect that violence was “engineered” by “someone from Sirsa”, who phoned the followers of the Dera and instructed them to “set the buses and public property on fire”. However, an official spokesperson of the Dera has denied the allegation. Haryana DGP Ranjiv Dalal said the police arrested 40 persons today and added that no one would be allowed to danger human life or property and disturb the peace and tranquillity in the state.

The Dera spokesman and several politicians hinted at a ‘conspiracy’ and demanded an investigation into the sudden disturbances on Saturday. The manner in which violent mobs surfaced in different parts of the state, and almost simultaneously, they argued, indicated that they could not have been spontaneous. The disturbances also exposed the chinks in the Punjab police and the colossal failure of intelligence agencies, said a section of political leaders.

The authorities, however, seem to have hardened their stand and instructions have gone out to deal sternly with ‘mischief-makers’. Unlike earlier occasions when the administration encouraged formation of peace committees to restore communal harmony, no such attempt was visible this time. A clue to the administration’s mind was available at the Dera’s headquarters at Sirsa, where a senior officer told The Tribune, “Earlier there was a social and religious angle to the problem. (But) this time, they have tried to challenge the authority of the state”.

(Reports from Sushil Manav, Rajay Deep, Kulwinder Sandhu, Raj Sadosh and Praful Chander Nagpal)



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