Barwala: A much delayed move by the Haryana government to use force to arrest controversial sect leader Rampal from his Satlok Ashram near Barwala Tuesday turned violent with his followers fighting pitched battles with security forces to prevent them from entering the ashram premises.
The whole area around the ashram resembled a battlefield.
Hundreds of people, including nearly 110 policemen, were injured as sect followers fired openly at the police, lobbed petrol bombs and acid pouches, besides hurling stones and bricks outside the ashram in Haryana's Hisar district.
Ashram spokesman Raj Kapoor claimed that four women were killed in the police operation, as per IANS.
Meanwhile, Haryana DGP SN Vashisht told the press in the evening 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.
And in an earlier address he had said, "There was no intention or operational compulsion to attack the media. We will investigate and take action. It was easiest for us not to allow the media near the ashram. We permitted 86 reporters to reach the spot," he said.
He had said two policemen were injured by bullets fired by sect followers.
"We removed women and children (from the ashram). We saw a lot of resistance from the ashram. Two policemen received bullet injuries. Till we arrest this criminal, we will not relent. Petrol bombs, stones, acid pouches and bricks were hurled (at security forces)," Vashisht had added.
Asked about the whereabouts of Rampal, the DG had said: "Our information is that Rampal is inside the ashram. Our strategy is to take out the baba (Rampal) and save the women and children. The operation has started and we are committed to carrying out the high court's directions."
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 Zee Media 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.
Entry to Barwala town from Hisar and other places has been halted and people are being only allowed to exit from the town. Traffic on Hisar-Barwala-Narwana route has been diverted.
The violence has erupted at a time when the Haryana government is racing against time to meet the Friday deadline set by the Punjab and Haryana High Court for producing Rampal in a contempt case.
Security personnel including police and para-military forces stepped up efforts to disperse the followers, said to be in thousands inside the ashram.
Rampal has cited health reasons for not appearing before the High Court earlier on three dates.
This morning, some disciples who managed to come out from the ashram claimed that "thousands" of people were inside the premises and a vast majority of them wanted to leave immediately but were being prevented by lathi-wielding supporters of the 'godman'.
(With Agency inputs)