Self-styled ‘godman’ Rampal was tonight arrested from his ashram, ending an over two-week tense standoff between his supporters and the police after close to 15,000 of his followers were evacuated from the sprawling premises.
The controversial 63-year-old baba will be produced in a Hisar court tomorrow.
DGP S N Vashisht said that Rampal had been taken into custody following an operation which was “very tough” since the forces had to deal with a hostile army of his commandos.
Panipat SP, B Sateesh Balan, who was among the five SPs of neighbouring Hisar who took part in the operation to hunt down the engineer-turned ‘godman’, said he did not surrender but was arrested from Satlok ashram where four women died mysteriously and two others in hospital in the midst of the showdown.
“Rampal has been arrested from his Satlok Ashram. He is being taken for a medical examination after which tomorrow morning he will be produced before a court at Hisar,” Balan said.
The entire operation was carefully calibrated keeping in mind the safety of a large number of people stranded inside. “We are happy that the entire operation went off peacefully,” a senior officer said.
The arrest came in the night after over 15,000 followers including women, children and the aged, who were being forcibly kept inside the 12-acre ashram as a human shield to Rampal, were evacuated.
The security personnel had halted the operation last evening to enable the followers to come out.
Some followers of Rampal were still stated to be inside the ashram which had been well fortified by the self- proclaimed ‘godman’.
Locals of Barwala and surrounding areas took to the streets following his arrest.
Police said Rampal was arrested around 2120 hrs and whisked him away in an ambulance.
The media, present in large numbers, was asked to clear the way for the ambulances to enter the ashram, police said.
On a day of high drama, Rampal stuck to his defiant stand of not surrendering despite repeated announcements by the police asking him to do so.
Simultanerously, many followers including women with children stuck inside trooped out, many of them complaining that they were forcibly kept inside the ashram with its gates kept locked.
Haryana Police slapped fresh cases, including the serious charge of sedition, against Rampal who will be produced in the Punjab and Haryana High Court on Friday, the deadline set by the court.
Police said 70 supporters of the Rampal, most of them his ‘private commandos’, who indulged in violence yesterday, were arrested and produced before the local court which sent them to judicial custody till December 3.
Those arrested, include son of Rampal and chief volunteer Purushottam Dass, a cousin of the ‘godman’.
Unlike yesterday, when the vicinity of the ashram in this town of Hisar district looked like a war-zone when police and Rampal’s supporters clashed, including small arm firing from inside, the situation was peaceful today.
More than 10,000 followers, including aged men and women and children, who had been holed up inside the ashram for days, came out with raised hands, signalling peace. The desertion continued till late in the night.
By late evening, a large posse of CRPF personnel were brought to the periphery of the ashram. The Centre had also despatched 500 CRPF personnel to help the operations.
Earlier, the Centre appeared to be unhappy over the way the issue was being handled. Union Minister Rajnath Singh is understood to have told Haryana Chief Minister M L Khattar to end the standoff quickly.
“The state government is proceeding carefully and cautiously to arrest Sant Rampal,” Khattar said later.
While the clashes yesterday left over 200 injured, police today announced that bodies of four women were handed over to them by the ashram staff. Another woman and a one-and-a-half year old baby were taken in serious condition to a hospital where they died.
It was not clear what caused their death. State police chief S N Vashisht said there were no external injuries and only a post-mortem will reveal the real reason of death.
Earlier in the evening protesters from this town, located on the Hissar Ambala Highway, who were marching towards the ashram, were stopped by the security personnel.
Unidentified persons set on fire some vehicles in Banbori village here today, which had been brought there by the police yesterday after towing them away from near the ashram complex.
Police later said over 400 supporters of Rampal, who indulged in violence yesterday, were also arrested and produced before the local court which sent them to judicial custody tillÂ December 3.
During the day, Rampal’s followers, hailing from UP, Rajasthan, Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and other parts, left the ashram. Many of them narrated how they were prevented from leaving by the ‘godman’s ‘private army’.
Some of them said they had heard inside the ashram that Rampal was hiding in some bunker within the premises.
Police registered fresh cases last night against Rampal, ashram spokesman Raj Kapoor, another key functionary Purshottam Dass and several other followers. More sections would be added after fresh evidence comes up, DGP said.
The cases were filed under Sections 121 (waging, or attempting to wage war, or abetting waging of war, against the Government of India), 121A (conspiring to commit certain offences against the state) and 122 (Collecting arms etc. with the intention of waging war against the Govt of India).
Besides, the cases have also been slapped against the accused under Sections 123 (concealing with intent to facilitate design to wage war) and other charges that include attempt to murder, assault and under various Sections of the Arms Act, police said.
The Sections 121 (waging, or attempting to wage war, or abetting waging of war, against the Government of India), 121A (conspiring to commit certain offences against the state) and 122 (Collecting arms etc. with the intention of waging war against the Govt of India), are serious charges, DGP said.
Besides, the cases have also been slapped against the accused under Sections 123 (concealing with intent to facilitate design to wage war) and other charges that include attempt to murder, assault, rioting and under various Sections of the Arms Act, police said.
The fresh cases were filed after clashes broke out at the ashram between police and Rampal’s supporters, who allegedly resorted to firing and threw petrol bombs.
Earlier this week, Punjab and Haryana High Court gave the government time till Friday to produce Rampal in contempt of court case, after which authorities have been asking the devotees in and around the Satlok Ashram to disperse and help them comply with court order.
About the deaths, DGP said the women whose bodies had been handed over were identified as Savita (31) of Delhi, Santosh (45) of Rohtak, Raj Bala (70) of Bijnore and Malikit Kaur (50) of Sangrur in Punjab.
Besides this, 20-year-old Rajni, who was in a serious conditon having a heart ailment, was rushed to Hisar hospital at around 4 a.m., but died there four hours later.
A one-and-a-half year old infant, whose father’s name is Vipin Pratap Singh, was declared as brought dead at the hospital as he was suffering from congenital jaundice. The infant belonged to Rewa district in Madhya Pradesh, he said.