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Asaram life sentence: Rajasthan cops learn lessons from Haryana counterparts to prevent violence

Rohtak: Jodhpur could have witnessed a repeat of the violence and commotion that broke out on 25 August 2017, in Panchkula where yet another self-proclaimed godman — Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh — was convicted of rape. But 25 April couldn’t have turned out any different. While the conviction of Asaram or Asumal Sirumalani created waves in media and online, the situation was eerily quiet on the ground. The country, which has been witnessing a series of violent protests over the past few months, was spared another one.

 Asaram life sentence: Rajasthan cops learn lessons from Haryana counterparts to prevent violence

File image of Asaram Bapu. PTI

How and why was Jodhpur spared the ire of blind followers of a con godman upon his conviction is a question that requires one to look beyond the police force visible at every nook and corner in the district, suggests a senior cop from Haryana Police. A straight comparison between the two states’ police would not give a true picture of what worked in Jodhpur but went wrong in Panchkula, he opines.

Asaram got a life sentence in the 2012 rape case after having spent five years in the same Jodhpur Central Jail where the verdict was announced on Wednesday by a special SC/ST court.

‘Complicity of Haryana’

Rajasthan Police seemed to have absorbed lessons from past experiences — when Asaram’s mighty followers went on a rampage after he was jailed in 2013 and when Panchkula bore the brunt of clashes between Dera Sacha Sauda chief Ram Rahim’s followers and police forces last August. More than 38 people, most of them Dera followers who had camped in Panchkula, had died and hundreds of others were injured when riots broke out upon Ram Rahim’s conviction in a rape case by a CBI court.

Intelligence plays an important role in such cases, says Nandan Dubey, who retired as director general of police in Madhya Pradesh. "Besides imposing Section 144 (in Jodhpur), the police made adequate arrangements to ensure that nobody violates it. This shows they utilised the intelligence inputs wisely. Strategies should be made around intel inputs in such cases," says Dubey.

Senior journalist Lalit Shastri says complicity of Haryana government was very clear in the case of Dera followers. “If the police want, nobody can defy their order. But, they did not even try to enforce Section 144 in Panchkula despite written orders to do so, which led to a huge influx of Dera supporters in the town. Intelligence inputs were clearly ignored in Panchkula,” Shastri says.

With Sirsa and Panchkula being the epicenter of riots and incidents being reported from other districts as well, Haryana Police had to request the army to be on standby while they tried to curb the violence.

Dera’s clout

An administrative officer in Jodhpur who sought anonymity said that Asaram was inside the jail for last five years without any direct communication with his large base of followers while managers who owe allegiance to him were conducting activities of his empire. His son Narayan Sai is also in jail in a rape case.

However, Ram Rahim, much like the larger-than-life character he essayed in his MSG series of films, enjoyed Z-plus security cover until the moment he was convicted of rape at the CBI court in Panchkula. Ministers from the ruling BJP government were lately grabbing headlines with pictures that showed them posing at Ram Rahim’s feet at his Sirsa Dera headquarters.

Sports minister Anil Vij even went to the extent of announcing a grant of Rs 50 lakh for Sirsa Dera for promoting local sports while his real motive was to return favours to Ram Rahim for helping the first saffron government to come to power in Haryana in 2014.

Months before his conviction, even Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar was seen sharing the dais with Ram Rahim in Karnal at a cleanliness campaign.

Proactive Rajasthan cops

In Jodhpur, Rajasthan Police had targeted Asaram’s loyalists and deployed more than 2,500 policemen days ahead of the controversial verdict. They had also requisitioned five battalions of paramilitary forces anticipating surprise violence on the judgment day.

The professional manner in which police functioned in Jodhpur indicated the absence of any political pressure on them. Vehicles entering from states where Asaram enjoys a good base of followers were being scanned for possible troublemakers and all entry and exit points to the district were being monitored.

The Jodhpur Commissionerate said on Twitter that anti-social elements would be dealt with iron hands. It also activated a team to scan social media channels to keep a tab on content that could be harmful.

An important difference between both the cases was that Ram Rahim was out of jail and meeting his followers regularly while the hearing went on, but Asaram has been lodged in jail for about five years, with his charisma fading, said PC Mishra, a professor of psychology at Lucknow University.

It becomes impossible to control one’s followers if one is inside the jail, he said. "This shows that Asaram’s followers lost faith in him and accepted the decision of the court easily. The other side could be that his blind followers feared getting arrested or injured as the media had been discussing the security arrangements in place in Jodhpur," Mishra said.

In Panchkula, despite the imposition of Section 144, followers of the rapist godman kept pouring in droves near the CBI court premises or till wherever they could reach on foot.

Education minister Ram Bilas Sharma even announced that prohibitory orders were not for Ram Rahim’s followers and they be provided food and water by the government.

Panchkula DCP Ashok Kumar too had diluted the prohibition by saying that the order was on the assembly of people carrying weapons, not otherwise. Dera followers were given ample time to put up the pressure and showcase their might.

Kumar, however, had to face suspension as additional chief secretary (home) to Haryana government Ram Niwas quoted a PTI report that said it was because of the defective prohibitory orders issued under Section 144 by the deputy commissioner of police (Panchkula) that a large number of Dera followers managed to come in to Panchkula.

Jodhpur DIG Vikram Singh told Firstpost that their task was cut out well in advance.

“Only the judge, advocates were permitted inside the Central Jail where the verdict was announced today. CCTV cameras were put at the main door and a temporary jail was made at two different places to put Asaram followers if they were caught sneaking around,” Singh said.

Jodhpur DCP Amandeep Kapoor said that acting in advance proved to be advantageous in avoiding untoward incidents during Asaram’s trial. Persuading Asaram to appeal to his followers to maintain peace and harmony also worked to quite an extent, he said.

“There was no scope of lapse. Even if any lapse occurred, we had teams ready to handle tasks at their own level,” Kapoor said. State police had also alerted counterparts in the neighbouring districts to not let Asaram followers move towards Jodhpur until 25 April.

The Punjab and Haryana high court had pulled up the Central and state governments for putting lives of people at stake for ‘political motives’ back in 2017. Under fire from HC, the Haryana DGP moved to contain the lawlessness along with battalions of personnel but realized it was quite late by then to control the mob they had invited.

With inputs from Sangeeta Sharma in Jodhpur and Shahroz Afridi in Bhopal

Contributors are freelance writers and members of 101reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.

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Updated Date: Apr 26, 2018 07:21:23 IST

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