NewZNew (Chandigarh/Barwala) : The situation is still tense in Hisar on Wednesday as the controversial sect leader Sant Rampal continues to evade law and defy Haryana and Punjab High Court and police orders to surrender.
The Haryana Police, which yesterday failed to arrest Sant Rampal and produce him before the state high court after more than six hour of concerted action and violent clashes with the godman’s supporters which also left scores injured, will make another attempt today to arrest him.
The Haryana Police have set 10 am deadline for his supporters to vacate the ashram peacefully after which the operation to arrest Sant Rampal will begin. The police is still clueless whether Sant Rampal is staying inside the Satlok ashram.
The police safely evacuated a large number of Sant Rampal’s supporters, who claimed that were forced to stay inside the Satlok ashram, in the intervening night of Wednesday and sent them to Hisar in state government buses and police vehicles.
The local authorities had earlier cut off water and power supply to the ashram and the police appealed to Sant Rampal’s supporters to vacate the premises. Several supporters of the godman are still believed to be inside the ashram to put pressure on the law enforcement agencies and resist police from arresting their spiritual head. The followers were from Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.
Sources also claim that women and children are being used as human shields. Sant Rampal’s supporters appear divided into two groups within the ashram, with one group in favour of leaving the ashram premises, while the other deciding to stay back.
The Haryana government’s decision to use force to arrest the controversial sect leader from his ashram near Barwala turned violent after his followers fought pitched battles with security forces to prevent them from entering the ashram premises yesterday.
Hundreds of people, including nearly 110 policemen, were injured as sect followers fired openly at the police, lobbed petrol bombs and acid pouches, besides hurling stones and bricks outside the ashram in Haryana’s Hisar district.
Ashram spokesman Raj Kapoor claimed that four women were killed in the police operation.
Haryana Director General of Police SN Vashisht, however, denied the claim, saying, “No deaths have occurred in the (police) operation. A total of 109 policemen were injured.”
“Innocent people inside are being held hostage,” Vashisht said.
The police action came after a stand-off of nearly 10 days. The police launched the operation Tuesday afternoon to arrest the self-styled godman and produce him in the Punjab and Haryana High Court which has issued non-bailable warrants against him.
The 23-day-old BJP government in Haryana led by Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar drew flak from various quarters for its inept handling of the Rampal episode. The Khattar government allowed hundreds of followers of the sect to assemble at the ashram over the last few days, before launching the operation to arrest Rampal. Sect followers, who were shielded in the front by women and children, rained missiles from the rooftop of the ashram complex whose outer walls are about 25 feet tall.
Minor explosions were heard as petrol bombs were thrown when police in large numbers tried to enter the ashram. Sect followers set on fire a JCB excavator which had been brought to the site by security forces to break a wall of the ashram complex. Other vehicles were also set on fire or damaged.
Smoke could be seen on the roof of the ashram. A sect spokesman claimed, however, that Rampal was not in the complex and that he was in a hospital outside Haryana. Police fired tear gas and used water cannons against the hundreds of followers.
Several media persons covering the stand-off and clash were injured when the police carried out an unprovoked attack on them. The cameras of many journalists were broken. Haryana DGP S.N. Vashisht said the police attack on the media would be “looked into” after the operation against the ashram gets over.
“There was no intention or operational compulsion to attack the media. We will investigate and take action. It was easiest for us not to allow the media near the ashram. We permitted 86 reporters to reach the spot,” he said.
The Broadcast Editors Association (BEA) said that the attack on the journalists looked “pre-meditated”. “Till we arrest this criminal, we will not relent. Petrol bombs, stones, acid pouches and bricks were hurled (at security forces),” Vashisht said.
Asked about the whereabouts of Rampal, he said, “Our information is that Rampal is inside the ashram. Our strategy is to take out the baba (Rampal) and save the women and children.”
Police sources said over 20,000 security personnel, including the Central Reserve Police Force, Rapid Action Force and Haryana Police, had ringed the ashram complex, which is spread over 12 acres of land.
Hundreds of Rampal followers, including women and children, have been camping outside his ashram for nearly a fortnight in a bid to prevent security forces from entering the complex.
The sect leader has been avoiding arrest and has failed to appear before the Punjab and Haryana High Court although non-bailable warrants were issued against him Nov 5. Rampal’s supporters had indulged in vandalism in a court in Hisar in July this year when he was going there in connection with a 2006 murder conspiracy case. The high court took suo motu notice of the incident and summoned Rampal.
Supporters of the sect leader held a protest in New Delhi Tuesday and demanded a CBI probe into the allegations against him. A five-member team of supporters also met President Pranab Mukherjee and submitted a memorandum requesting a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation.