Gurmeet Ram Rahim reaches Panchkula for rape verdict
Personnel of Punjab police and paramilitary forces taking out a flag march in a sensitive area of Bathinda on August 22. Photograph: (PTI)
A special CBI court will shortly deliver its verdict in a case of rape against Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim at Chandigarh suburb Panchkula.
Ram Rahim has arrived in Panchkula from his headquarters at Sirsa, escorted by a cavalcade of 100 cars.
Heavy security has been deployed in the Haryana suburb, where an estimated 1.5 lakh followers of the Dera chief have congregated since yesterday.
Fearing a backlash by frenzied followers, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has asked the Haryana government to use force if needed, and file an FIR against the sect's leaders if they make provocative statements.
Two columns of the army have been called in by the Haryana government and are at standby at Sirsa.
The US embassy in India has issued a safety advisory for its citizens ahead of the judgement, asking its citizens to "avoid large gatherings, follow advice of local authorities, monitor local media, and keep in touch with their travel company."
Earlier this morning, worried followers burst into tears and tried to block Ram Rahim's convoy in Sirsa. Many fainted.
Two companies of the army from the nearby district of Hisar have been called in to maintain law and order in Sirsa - where an estimated five lakh followers have gathered - a top police officer said. Senior police personnel carried out a flag march outside the sect's sprawling headquarters on Thursday night.
Ram Rahim supporters were asked to leave Panchkula by the police yesterday on the directions of the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
A large number of Dera Sacha Sauda followers, however, have continued to stay put in Panchkula giving a tough time to authorities.
Haryana Police assisted by central forces launched a night-long operation to flush out scores of followers - who are called "Premis - gathered over the past four days in Panchkula, but the followers have largely refused to budge.
The Chandigarh Police has warned Dera Sacha Sauda followers of stern action if they try to enter the Union Territory.
Government offices, schools and colleges in Panchkula and Chandigarh will be closed today as a precautionary measure.
Entrypoints to Panchkula were blockaded on Wednesday evening. Three stadiums in Punjab and Haryana have been set aside as makeshift prisons in case of trouble, officials said.
The Haryana government has also suspended mobile and internet services across the state for the next 72 hours - with the exception of satellite city Gurgaon - to prevent any untoward incident.
Fifteen thousand paramilitary troops have been deployed in Panchkula alone amid fears of a backlash by supporters in case the verdict goes against the Dera Sacha Sauda chief. More security forces were moved in after midnight.
Overall 5000 personnel of Haryana Police have also been deployed in sensitive areas across Punjab and Haryana.
Over 200 trains bound for Haryana have been cancelled for the day in the view of law and order situation.
A case of sexual exploitation was registered against Gurmeet Ram Rahim in 2002 by the CBI on the directions of the Punjab and Haryana High Court after two women followers accused the Dera chief of sexual exploitation.
The Punjab and Haryana High Court has asked the state to increase security by ensuring more paramilitary forces to be present during the pronouncement of the judgement.
The court had asked the state to take the help of the Army if the police are unable to control Dera followers, expected in large numbers at Panchkula.
The Punjab Government had imposed section 144 , which prohibits public gatherings, across the state yesterday. The section has also been imposed in neighbouring Rajasthan's Hanumangarh and Sri Ganganagar in light of the verdict.
Internet services have been suspended for 48 hours in Sri Ganganagar.
Gurmeet Ram Rahim has also featured in two movies, "Messenger of God" (MSG) and its sequel, "MSG2".