In the violence of Panchkula, a tale of two Governments

On Friday, the 25th of August, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, the so-called ‘guru of bling’ and the head of the Dera Sacha Sauda, was convicted by a special CBI court in the township of Panchkula for raping two women, the judicial conclusion of a case that had been in motion since 2002.

Singh was subsequently charged with a sentence of imprisonment of 20 years- a laudable and bold statement of intent by the judiciary coming on the back of recent historic verdicts on triple talaq and maintaining the right to privacy as a fundamental right.

Even though justice had indeed been served, Panchkula was besieged by violence and hooliganism orchestrated by thousands of Singh’s supporters, who had steadily been streaming into the area, for days prior to the judgement. Under the nose of the incompetent BJP government began an orchestrated campaign of violence that soon spread across Haryana, and also spilled over to neighbouring Punjab and parts of the NCR.

Pre-meditated violence erupts

By the time some uneasy semblance of law and order was finally re-established, 38 citizens had lost their and another estimated 250 individuals were injured in clashes with armed forces. Property worth several lakhs was destroyed and curfew enforced by Section 144 was imposed on several districts in these states.

How were so many people allowed to take to the streets in support of a convicted criminal and rapist? The answer to this may not be easy to find and harder still to digest, but at its core offers possibly a case study on the impact of years of failed socio-economic welfare and inept governance in these areas.

Captain Amarinder Vs Manohar Lal Khattar

How could governance and a basic commitment to maintaining law and order fail so spectacularly in one state while in another state it prevailed and how.

In Punjab, Captain Amarinder’s quick and level-headed response to portents of trouble ensured that there were no major incidents of shooting, arson, looting or significant damage to public property in the state of Punjab. Under the Captain’s supervision, efforts were made to ensure safe passage for members of the Dera Sacha Sauda to return to their homes in Punjab without any further violence. The CM also promised to look into any damages to property in his state and direct the state to file a petition in the High Court seeking damages for the loss.

But for every bit of the Captain’s proactive response, Khattar’s reaction was, as India Today’s senior editor Rajdeep Sardesai put it, ‘a combination of incompetence, complicity or both’. Not only did the government deliberately allow thousands of Singh’s supporters (some of whom were armed) to gather in Panchkula, but also for the better part of verdict’s aftermath, it was reduced to a helpless spectator. Did the government that allowed the Jat agitation a year back to paralyse its state learn absolutely nothing? Even the courts did not spare the government for its negligence, criticising the fact that it let “Panchkula burn for political benefits”.

As the dust settles

In addition to providing services and looking after the welfare of its people, governance is essentially a confidence building exercise. It is about instilling the belief that any individual can roam around free to conduct their daily business without a threat of breakdown of law and order, societal norms and a basic civil structure. It is a promise to maintain a basic right to human dignity, minimize suffering and provide relief and reassurance when all the previous principles fall apart. In Haryana today, under this current government, it appears that governance means offering mild condolences as a state falls apart.

As the dust settles, one really wonders if, as the courts put it, the BJP-led Haryana government did indeed ‘politically surrender’ before the violence and breakdown in civil order in its state.