38 people died and over 200 were injured in the violence in Panchkula and Sirsa.
A 'youth brigade' was formed several days ahead of the verdict in the rape case against Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh to "trigger violence" in Punjab if the judgement goes against the Dera Sacha Sauda chief, a senior Punjab Police official said today.
Following his conviction, there have been 28 incidents of arson, besides damage to state, central government offices or properties in seven districts of the Malwa region in Punjab.
"Almost 15 days ahead of the court verdict, an 'A team' was formed to trigger violence in Punjab in case the court judgement went against the Dera chief," Sangrur SSP Mandeep Singh Sidhu told PTI.
The police have also identified the main accused allegedly involved in arson and rioting in Sangrur. They have been identified as Duni Chand, Prithi Chand and Bittu, Sidhu said adding that they are absconding. As many as 12 incidents of violence have been reported from Sangrur district since Ram Rahim's conviction, police said.
"We have arrested 23 persons including a woman in connection with arson and rioting," Sidhu said.
Minutes after the sect head was convicted on Friday, at least one lakh followers who had gathered over past few days in Panchkula, went berserk. 38 people died and over 200 were injured in the violence which broke out in Panchkula and Sirsa. The rioters attacked several private as well as government buildings, set afire vehicles and some of them even tried to enter homes in the area.
Intelligence sources say both Haryana and Punjab had been warned that the situation could go out of hand on the basis of reports that Dera supporters were arming themselves.
"The Dera Sacha Sauda Sirsa premises have started storing patrol, diesel in drums at Naam Charcha Ghars," a letter said on August 22 to both states. If the court ruled against Ram Rahim, it said, devotees "could use petrol and weapons to harm/destroy the government/public properties".
The police were asked to be more vigilant and to ensure "sufficient manpower" and adequate steps.
However, the situation went out of control and Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar was severely reprimanded by the High Court for the deadly rioting that unfolded. "You let a city like Panchkula burn for political gains," the court charged.(With inputs from agencies)