Ram Rahim Case Verdict: 15,000 paramilitary troops have been sent to Panchkula ahead of the verdict.
Panchkula: A court at Panchkula in Haryana will today deliver a verdict in the case against Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, dubbed the "guru in bling" for his penchant for ornate clothes and jewellery. Tens of thousands of his followers have descended on the city, just 11 km from Chandigarh, triggering concerns of violence after the verdict. Army columns arrived in Panchkula post-midnight, according to Press Trust of India, and the police said the followers would be moved out of the city by security forces. In a video message, Ram Rahim appealed at midnight to his followers to return to their homes.
Here are the 10 latest developments in this big story:
Officials said the army was deployed in Panchkula late on Thursday, where the court's verdict is expected at 2.30 pm. The army is also on standby in Sirsa, which hosts the main headquarters of Ram Rahim. Sources say the 50-year-old is likely to be flown in a helicopter from his headquarters in Sirsa to Panchkula.
A near curfew situation has unfolded in Panchkula but not before huge amounts of Ram Rahim followers managed to work their way into the city in a show of solidarity with their chief.
But police said they will have to leave. "The High Court order is that they should be told they will have to go. We are arranging buses and the entire night exercise will be carried out to send them out of Panchkula," top cop Sandhu said.
The centre has already sent 15,000 paramilitary troops to add to the many layers of police guarding Panchkula. The administration moved in more security forces into Panchkula after midnight.
Mobile internet services have been frozen in Haryana, though the police in Gurgaon tweeted that the satellite city, where top international firms have large offices, will not be affected.
Ram Rahim, the charismatic spiritual head of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect, has denied that he sexually exploited two female followers in 2002.
On Twitter on Thursday afternoon, the self-styled "godman" urged his supporters against violence and said he would personally appear in court. He also appealed to them much later at night to disperse from Panchkula. "Those of you who have gone to Panchkula, please go back to your houses. I will go and listen to the verdict in the court myself. It is our duty to respect the law," he said in the video message.
Government offices in Panchkula and Chandigarh will be closed today along with schools and colleges. 27 trains have been cancelled on routes that include Panchkula.
Roads into Panchkula were blockaded on Wednesday evening and three stadiums in Punjab and Haryana have been set aside as makeshift prisons in case of trouble, officials said.
But thousands of supporters were already camped out across the city, provoking strong criticism from the Punjab and Haryana court, which said the Haryana government has failed to make adequate arrangements to guard against violence.