Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar today revealed that there was "a big conspiracy" to let rape convict Gurmeet Ram Rahim escape from Panchkula court soon after his conviction. He indicated that some policemen from Punjab Police could have been part of the plot.
Replying to questions from Rajat Sharma in the show 'Aap Ki Adalat', to be telecast tonight at 10 pm on India TV, Khattar said: "There is an element of truth (in conspiracy angle) since the baba had Z Plus security, and we found he had eight policemen from Punjab Police who had been sent to escort him. Under whose authority they were sent, we do not know. While five policemen from Haryana in his security had one weapon each, all these eight Punjab policemen had two weapons each. We arrested five of our policemen, immediately suspended and later dismissed them. We also arrested these eight Punjab policemen. There was a big conspiracy to help the baba escape if he was convicted, but our police and paramilitary forces foiled their plan, and the baba was sent to jail."
The chief minister said it was a very "risky" proposition to bring the baba to Panchkula court on August 25. Asked whether he was under pressure from the baba to allow his followers to assemble in Panchkula, Khattar said: "No, there was no pressure. But in view of our past experience with self-styled godman Rampal in November, 2014, we were careful this time.
'Priority was to make Ram Rahim appear in court'
"We were faced with a situation in which Ram Rahim could have refused to appear in court and give an excuse. There were one lakh followers inside his dera, and nearly one lakh outside, and our forces including the army, would have been sandwiched in between. You can just imagine the situation."
Asked why nearly one lakh followers were allowed to come to Panchkula, Khattar replied: "We did not welcome them. We took measures, stopped buses and train, posted 17 barriers around Panchkula. The town of Panchkula has only 30 pc border with Haryana, and the remaining 70 pc with Punjab and Chandigarh, and we could not have closed down the Himachal-Punjab National Highway No. 22.
"We wanted to avoid any flareup before August 25 otherwise it could have given the baba an excuse not to appear in court. Till the midnight of Aug 24, we did not know whether the baba would appear or not. And it was not clear if he decided to go, then through which route, and in which mode: by car or by air. His aides even announced once that he would come by helicopter.
'Foiled a big conspiracy to whisk away Ram Rahim from court'
"So there were at least nine viabilities or scenarios on which we worked. The baba was not meeting anybody, and the versions of his aides were changing every day. We did not want to take chances so that the baba could get excuses not to appear in court."
Asked why the baba was allowed to travel in a cavalcade of 200 vehicles, the chief minister replied: "The case was between the CBI and the baba. Our government had no role in it. We could not stop anybody from travelling. It was immaterial whether he travelled in a cavalcade of 200 cars, or a thousand, or 2,000 or 8,000 cars. Had we stopped his cavalcade, the baba could have refused to appear in court. So the number of vehicles was irrelevant. We were not worried about that. Yes, I would give credit to our intelligence guys who told us in which vehicle the baba was sitting. Since the court had allowed only two vehicles, these two vehicles were allowed to come in."
'Did not have a deal to save Ram Rahim'
Asked why the baba was sent in a helicopter to Rohtak jail after his conviction in Panchkula court, Khattar replied: "In the highly charged atmosphere after his conviction, we could not have taken the risk of travelling by road. It takes 4 hours to travel 200 km from Panchkula to Rohtak. Anything could have happened in those four hours. We could not take that risk."
When Rajat Sharma asked why his adopted daughter Honeypreet was allowed to sit with the convict inside the helicopter, the chief minister replied: "No, a convict is a convict. When his adopted daughter sought the court's permission to be present, she was allowed by the court. After he was convicted, she told the court that she was a physician, and she was required to give the baba medical help, and the CBI judge replied that granting permission for this was not his job. It was the job of prison authorities. Since the prison authorities were in Rohtak, she was allowed to accompany the baba on humanitarian grounds in case he required medical help. This was not a considered decision taken by the state government, but a localized decision taken on the spot. In Rohtak, the prison authorities decided that she could not be permitted to stay with the convict, and she was handed over to their relatives."
Was Ram Rahim taken to a rest house after his conviction?
The chief minister also denied reports of the baba being taken to a rest house in Rohtak after his conviction.
"It is not a rest house, it is a room inside the mess of Police Training Centre, which had been converted, by order, into a temporary jail, since the prison authorities said they would need time to prepare a cell for the baba. Once the cell was ready, he was taken there, and the temporary jail was denotified."
Khattar also took a swipe at the media for incorrectly breaking the news about the quantum of sentence given to the baba. "The judge started hearing on quantum of sentence at 3 pm, and completed his order at 6 pm, but the media announced at 4 pm, that the baba was sentenced to 10 years jail and Rs 65,000 fine, which turned out to be incorrect."
'Responsibility of every citizen to follow traditions'
Asked why his police failed to stop the followers from setting fire to three Outdoor Broadcasting vans of news channels in Panchkula on Aug 25, Khattar replied: "There were 12 OB vans there. Nine OB vans were withdrawn when police asked them to take them to a safer place, but the other three refused to move, and were set on fire. After all, there is a limitation to media to listen to police officers who are in charge of security. This could have been avoided."
On chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh's claim that there was no violence in Punjab, Khattar replied: "The dera was in Haryana, the routes were in Haryana, the court was in Haryana, the entire scene of activity was in Haryana, and he is patting his own shoulder. The fact is, railway stations were burnt in Punjab, there were lathicharge, several power stations were set on fire, and nearly 50 per cent of those injured were from Punjab."
On the Haryana Deputy Advocate General lifting the baba's bag at Panchkula court, Khattar said: "He may have been the baba's follower. We immediately took action and he was dismissed. He had gone there as a lawyer like other lawyers."
Received support from Ram Rahim Singh in 2014 elections
The chief minister defended his party taking support from Dera Sacha Sauda during the 2014 assembly elections. "Yes, Ram Rahim supported us in 2014, but he became Dera chief in 1990, Since 1990 till 2009, there were eight elections in Haryana, and he supported the Congress in all elections. He still has connections with the Congress, both in Punjab and Haryana."
Asked why 31 BJP MLAs including the Speaker went and took the baba's blessings after winning the 2014 elections, Khattar said: "There was nothing wrong in going to the dera. Even Congress MLAs went there. In 2002, Om Prakash Chautala and his son Abhay also went there. Until and unless a person is convicted, there is nothing wrong in meeting him."
When Rajat Sharma pointed out that he had once wielded a broom with Ram Rahim, Khattar replied: "Yes, Karnal is my constituency. Look, Ram Rahim has two sides: one, his dark side, which we are seeing today, the other is his bright side, in which he does social work that includes Swachhta Abhiyan in Delhi, Haryana and other places, alongwith lakhs of his supporters. If anybody wants to join this movement, I will gladly receive it. Today, he is serving 20 years rigorous imprisonment. If he expresses his choice to sweep inside the jail, he can be given this job."
Khattar's swipe at media for coverage of Ram Rahim's sentencing
On the baba's adopted daughter Honeypreet who has gone underground, the chief minister replied: "The baba is not going to meet Honeypreet soon. ....We have issued a lookout alert for Honeypreet, and once she appears, she will face separate charges, and she will be kept in custody."
The chief minister said that the current search operation going on inside the dera in Sirsa would continue for another one or two days. "It is being headed by a judicial magistrate on the court's order. No objectionable material has been allowed to go outside the dera, since a cordon of paramilitary force has been thrown around."
Asked whether his government was being "soft" towards Ram Rahim, Khattar replied: "Had we been soft, would the baba been in jail? The court sent him to jail, but as (Congress leader) Bhupinder Hooda was claiming, that his party could have kept the issue pending, we could have done the same, had we been soft."
'Innocent until proven guilty'
Haryana chief minister M L Khattar in Rajat Sharma's show 'Aap Ki Adalat' will be telecast tonight, Sunday, 10 pm.