Friday, August 25, 2017

Panic in the city

Ratnakar Tripathy

It is difficult to get over one’s dismay at how the Haryana government deliberately botched up the security arrangements at the Panchkula court where Sant Ram Raheem was yesterday declared guilty of rape. The case goes back to 2002, when a local journalist published an anonymous letter addressed by an aggrieved woman to the Prime Minister of India among others, seeking justice and relief. The immediate outcome of the letter was the journalist was shot dead in front of his house. Ram Raheem has a large following of up to 5 crore devotees among the Dalits in Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan and is seen as anti-Sikh. But perhaps the most visibly interesting part of the Ram-Raheem story is his persona – he is at once a rock star, an actor, a singer, a filmmaker and believe it or not, a stunt man to boot. Clearly, he is not a phenomenon easy to unravel in a hurry except on the surface.  

What is easier to see how the CM of the Haryana state failed in his duty to maintain law and order on the occasion when around 150,000 of Ram-Raheem were allowed to assemble in the town – they were ready to take to arson and bloodshed if their guru received a guilty verdict. In a rampage that lasted for several hours, the police stood helpless and above 30 people got killed. The reaction to this by the BJP politicians and ministers were bizarre to say the least - the president of BJP in Haryana. Here's what he actually said! "On such occasions, nothing can be done. The media should not have ventured into the vicinity of the mob, or provoked the people whose emotions were running high." If this is not bad enough, the I&B minister Smriti Irani tweeted warnings to the press not to spread panic and promised punishments for the so-called misdemenours. The warning couldn’t be more ill-timed as the press was at the receiving end for several hours and their OB vans were torched by the mobs. Of course, there is another leader Sakshi Maharaj who openly defended the guru and blamed the courts for yesterday’s incidents.

The fact is the police forces successfully evacuated up to 1 lakh devotees from Panchkula and Chandigarh on the same evening though only after the crowds were allowed to do the damage. It is not difficult to see that instead of tackling the problem boldly, the state government showed hesitation and according to some even connivance with the crowds. There are reports that clearly suggest that politicians from both the parties, in particular the BJP have been hobnobbing with the guru since he controls a sizeable body of Dalit votes. Politicians regularly queue up to seek the blessings [read votes] from the guru before the elections and have no desire to displease him.

The Indian judiciary has however yet again exhibited great clarity by issuing a warning to the guru – the court order states “It is made clear that whosoever has been instigating and inciting the crowd that has gathered to commit these acts of arson and violence, they would be sternly dealt with. The damages that are caused to public and private properties shall be recovered from them. Respondent No.7 – Dera Sacha Sauda shall submit a list of its assets and properties which can be attached in case it is found that they and their followers are responsible for the said acts. All Judicial Officers at Panchkula shall forthwith be provided security by Para Military Forces round the clock.” Now everyone waits for the dreaded day next Monday when the court will issue a sentence, causing further anger among the guru’s followers.

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