PANCHKULA: A trail of death and destruction descended on Panchkula, otherwise a peaceful city of Haryana, as soon as the self-styled godman Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh was convicted by a special CBI court here in a rape case.
The violence and arson by the supporters of the Dera Sacha Sauda chief brought back the chilling memories of last year when this city, on the outskirts of Chandigarh, witnessed agitation by the Jats over reservation.
Followers of Ram Rahim, who had gathered here in thousands over the past four days, went on a rampage, hurling stones, vandalising media vehicles and setting afire several vehicles, many among them two wheelers.
At least 12 deaths were reported so far and the count is likely to go up.
Thick smoke billowed high in the sky as terrified local residents locked themselves inside their homes as scenes outside shook even the toughest of the tough to the bone.
"My motorcycle has been burnt down. I had parked it near the road and gone nearby for some work," said a young man working with a private company.
A steady stream of ambulances was bringing scores of injured people to the local civil hospital.
It was not clear if the injuries were due to police action or violence by Dera followers. At least one person was seen lying motionless by the roadside. Many women among the followers who had gathered here gave a tough time to the police and paramilitary personnel.
Immediately after the CBI court here convicted the Dera Sacha Sauda chief, many of his followers broke police barricades and security cordons.
At least three OB vans of private television channels were damaged. Two vans were overturned by a mob.
CBI judge Jagdeep Singh, while holding the 50-year-old Dera chief guilty of rape, said the quantum of sentence would be pronounced on August 28, CBI counsel HPS Verma told reporters outside the court.
Punjab and Haryana High court had come down heavily on the Haryana government for its apparent inability to maintain law and order in the state ahead of the CBI court verdict and pulled it up for not imposing Section 144 CrPC correctly to prevent the huge gathering of Dera followers in Panchkula.
The bench had asserted that the court did not want a repeat of situation similar to the one witnessed in February last year when violence during Jat reservation stir in Haryana claimed 30 lives and property worth hundreds of crores of rupees was damaged by arsonists.
Today's violence which broke out here was third major incident after last year's Jat agitation violence and November 2015 when there was a two-week tense standoff between some of the self-styled 'godman' Rampal's followers and the police in Hisar during which five women and a child had died.
Rampal had later been arrested after tense standoff between some his supporters and the police after close to 15,000 of his followers were evacuated from the sprawling premises.