Why Panchkula Was Allowed to Burn Even Though The Government Knew It Would

Raman Swamy

It felt good while it lasted.  Following the Supreme Court’s soul-soothing decision on Thursday to recognize the Right to Privacy as one of the inalienable Fundamental Rights under the Constitution, the people of India could bask in the glory and comfort of knowing that human dignity would be protected, at least on paper.

Faith in the virtues of Democracy was restored, albeit fleetingly.   Trust in the wisdom and independence of the Judiciary was vindicated.  Admiration for the vision and righteousness of the Founding Fathers of the Constitution soared higher than ever.   

Fear that the State would overwhelm the People was allayed for a while.  For one delicious moment, it was almost as if the inexorable march of Big Brother trampling on precious freedoms and values had hit the pause button.

It was almost as if the promised achcha din was here at last – even if the feeling of bliss is destined to last for just an all-too-brief day and one peaceful night. 

Then Friday dawned.  Reality returned with a thud. 

The scene shifted to another court, the CBI special court in Panchkula and another judge, Justice Jagdeep Singh of the Haryana judicial service.  

It was the Day of Judgment in a case involving charges of rape against Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh – the head of the spiritual cult Dera Sacha Sauda.  As was widely expected, the verdict was – Guilty as charged;  Quantum of sentence to be decided on August 28, after hearing arguments.

All hell broke loose.  As everyone knew it would.  Because Ram Rahim is an extraordinary man.  A rock star and god man rolled into one.  A cult hero (or satanic devil, depending on how you look at it).  A man whose story cannot be summed up in a few words.  It is not possible to easily describe the phenomenon that he is, nor to accurately portray his activities and achievements, his character and credentials, his talents and skills, his sins and virtues.   Suffice it to say that he is a spiritual leader, social reformer, actor, director and singer.  And an individual for whom lakhs of otherwise sane citizens are willing to cry for and even die for.

The Government of Haryana knew all this.  It had prior intimation of violent protests erupting.  Tens of thousands of Ram Rahim Singh’s followers had started pouring into the idyllic satellite city of Panchkula days in advance in anticipation that the CBI special court would deliver an adverse verdict.  

The Haryana Police was put on alert.  Para-military continents of the Central Reserve Police Force were deployed.   The Indian Army was asked to stand by. 

But, most perplexingly, when special judge Jagdeet Singh pronounced the dreaded words ‘Guilty as Charged’, the Haryana government did not swing into action.  It was almost as if the Police had been instructed to “stand-by till further orders”, just like the Army.
Even as news that the Dera Sacha Sauda cult guru had been convicted spread like wildfire via ‘Breaking News’ flashes on television screens and a flood of Tweets and WhatsApp posts clogged up the mobile telephony networks,  the police stood dutifully on stand-by mode, doing nothing.

Even as the angry backlash began – as everyone watching, even in the backwaters of Kerala thousands of miles away knew it would, the Haryana chief minister and his senior officials supposedly monitoring the situation waited without any sign of urgency. 

The fact that even the by now normal Standard Operating Procedure of imposing prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code was not followed till late in the afternoon, tells its own story.  

It was almost as if they themselves were under orders from their political higher-ups to remain on stand-by.   They wanted a riot before stepping in.  It was almost as if the Governments in Delhi and Chandigarh were waiting, watching and perhaps even wishing that the Dera followers would go on the rampage.  

They did go on the rampage -- without any hesitation, without any restraint and without any resistance from the forces of law and order. 

For the next four hours the streets of Panchkula became a battlefield – a startlingly one-sided battlefield.  The police still seemed to be on wait-and-watch mode, still awaiting orders to act, orders which still did not come.   

Meanwhile, mob violence gathered momentum.  Stones were hurled. Shop windows were   smashed.  Stores were looted.  Cars and bikes were set on fire.  At least three TV outdoor broadcasting vans were physically over-turned.  Passers-by were battered.  Reporters and cameramen were attacked. 

Soon, thick smoke billowed high in the sky above Panchkula,  providing at least some visuals for TV news channels to show, because their camera crews were marooned in isolated pockets, afraid to go anywhere near the action on the ground. 

Local residents and tourists locked themselves up inside their homes and hotels.  Sweating in fear and dread, clinging on tightly to their little children to comfort themselves.  Making frantic and utterly futile phone calls to friends and relatives in Delhi and elsewhere.  Crying out for help and pity from folks who could give nothing but empathy from hundreds of miles away. 

Because the local police was doing little to control the crowds, the CRPF stood smartly alert and inactive in tight groups in the far distance. 

The soldiers of the Indian army, the mighty third-tier of the elaborate precautionary deployment strategy, were nowhere to be seen.  All the action, all the mayhem was taking place at ground zero, not the outer cordon.   This was civil strife, at the centre of town – there were no infiltrators or terrorists trying to sneak in from the outside who needed to be captured and killed.

The men and women in police uniform were clearly not at fault.  Nor can the brave men of the regular army and para-military forces for obeying orders to stand by till further orders.

It was like waiting for Godot, the fictional dinner guest who never arrives.  It was palpably a deliberate decision to delay issuing orders.  The powers-that-be were holding back intentionally.  Letting the rampaging mob have a free run for a few hours. A diabolical strategy to wittingly abet a breakdown of law and order.   Waiting for reports of dozens being injured in the violence.  Waiting for confirmation from the hospital that at least a few citizens have died. Or so it seemed.  

There is no other plausible explanation for the horror story that played out in broad daylight in Panchkula which everybody knew would happen the instant that Gurmeet Ram Rahim was convicted.   In any case over a lakh of Dera devotees had flocked into the town in the previous two days, obviously with surcharged emotions and potentially hostile reactions in the event of an adverse verdict from the court.

There is, curiously enough, no other explanation for the manner in which orders were at long last issued, late in the afternoon.   But it is pertinent to note that this happened only after there were confirmed video evidence that a stream of patients were being admitted to the Emergency ward of the largest hospital in Panchkula.   

Many were injured, some died in hospital, some were brought dead on arrival.  The toll provides a sense of the scale of the mayhem -- 28 dead, 200 injured.  

The strategy has worked.  A day after Indians were assured of their privacy, a gory incident that makes a mockery of all the fundamental rights has been allowed to take place.  The State has regained lost ground.

Aug 26, 2017

Raman Swamy [email protected]

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