Dera Sacha Sauda chief Ram Rahim's followers erupted in fury yesterday after he was convicted of rape in Panchkula, about 250 km away in Haryana. Thirty-six people were killed in the riots in Panchkula and over 250 injured. Sirsa also saw large-scale arson by followers of Ram Rahim and the army was called in.
"We have asked security personnel to conduct searches at all Dera centres thoroughly and seize any weapons found," Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Ram Niwas told news agency Press Trust of India.
Centres of the sect in different cities, referred to as congregation centres, are being searched and sealed. Near the Sirsa campus, 2 AK47s and a pistol have been found in a vehicle.
In Sirsa, thousands of Dera members came tearing down on the police, thrusting aside police barricades that had been reinforced with boulders and barbed wires. Two rioters were killed in the police action near the Dera headquarters. On Saturday, the Army was moved closer to the Dera campus.
"At the moment there is no such plan," Major General Rajpal Punia clarified, adding that he was meeting the Dera leaders to request followers to move out on their own.
Sources said the heavy deployment was meant to demonstrate the administration's resolve to search the place and use force if the sect leaders do not cooperate.
Security agencies believe that people inside the headquarters have a significant number of weapons including firearms. From some cars that were part of the Ram Rahim's motorcade to the court in Panchkula yesterday, police had seized rifles, pistols and narcotics.
Before the court convenes again, the government wants to make sure that the police seize every firearm that they might have access to. Also, the police wants that a significant number of Dera followers aren't at a single place.
The Punjab and Haryana High Court today indicted the government for failing to protect people despite a week to prepare. Once it was announced that the verdict would be delivered, the states of Punjab and Haryana said they were undertaking urgent measures to ensure security.
But despite roads being blocked and buses and trains being cancelled, more than 1.5 lakh followers of Ram Rahim were able to gather easily in Panchukla, located on the outskirts of Chandigarh. They were not removed, though the High Court kept cautioning that their presence signaled imminent danger.
Once their chief was found guilty of raping two women followers in 2002, they unleashed three hours of violence in the small town, damaging public property, setting dozens of vehicles on fire, and attacking the media and broadcasting vans.
As ambulances rushed the injured to hospital, the police was easily outnumbered. Some cops were also filmed retreating as mobs of Dera members advanced on them in anger. Sources say that despite the collapse of law and order and the scale of violence, Chief Minister MK Khattar will not be urged to quit by the top leadership of his party, the BJP.