In a dramatic turnaround of events, supporters of controversial ‘godman’ Rampal on Tuesday opened fire using country-made weapons on security personnel at the Satlok Ashram in this town of Hisar district of Haryana. Case of stone-pelting was also reported.
Escalating tensions, unruly mob also lobbed crude bombs and acid pouches on police when they tried to break the barricades of followers to enter into the ashram and arrest Rampal, against whom fresh Non-Bailable Warrants were issued by the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
In response to the firing, security personnel, including police and paramilitary forces, had to resort to lathicharge, firing of tear-gas shells and using water cannons.
The faceoff between security personnel and Rampal’s followers left several persons, including women, injured.
Meanwhile, police have given last warning to the disciples of the godman to leave the premises as they are set to bulldoze into the ashram and have reportedly reached inside the Ashram. Haryana DGP SN Vashisht told the press that efforts were on to arrest Rampal and that the police did not want to harm innocent people. He added that they had information of arms and ammunition hoarded inside the ashram.
“We launched the operation at Rampal’s ashram at the behest of the High Court,” he said, adding, “Bombs were hurled at us from inside the ashram.” On the reports of media persons being beaten by the police, he assured that the matter would be looked into and called media an ally of the police.
Earlier, Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar called an emergency meet in the wake of escalating tension. The Ministry of Home Affairs has sought a report from the state government on the matter.
A source has told that the MHA is upset by the response of the Haryana government to the whole incident. The Haryana government has reportedly informed the MHA about the presence of petrol bombs, abundant acid stock and a crude oil tanker in the ashram.
In another development, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has reserved its judgement on the cancellation of bail of the controversial 63-year-old ‘godman’ in connection with a murder case registered against him in 2006.
After reports of violence in Barwala came, around 1,000 followers of Rampal gathered at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, singing bhajans and praying for the safety of their `guru`. A five-member team of supporters also met President Pranab Mukherjee and submitted a memorandum requesting a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation. Some of the supporters met Home Minister Rajnath Singh in this regard.
However, it was not clear in the melee whether Rampal was holed-up inside the ashram or had moved out as was claimed by an ashram spokesman.
In a statement, ashram spokesman said that Rampal was “unwell” and had left the ashram a day before yesterday to receive medical treatment at an “undisclosed location”.
Media crews faced the brunt of the violence that left some of them injured while cameras of many private electronic news channels were broken.
Police said that many security personnel had also been injured in the violence as they were was firing and stone pelting from the ashram side, with some followers making last-ditch attempts to thwart the forces from storming the premises.
Talking to a news agency, Jawahar Yadav, officer on special duty (OSD) to Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, said the government was aware of the attack on media personnel by police. He further promised to look into the matter.