Punjab limps back to normalcy, but tension persists (Second Lead)

May 26th, 2009 - 8:17 pm ICT by IANS  

Jalandhar, May 26 (IANS) Punjab Tuesday limped back to near normalcy after nearly 40 hours of mayhem and widespread violence as followers of the Dera Sachh Khand sect protested the attack on religious leaders in a Vienna gurdwara Sunday. Most residents stayed home. Many passengers were stranded at various rail stations as about 40 trains were cancelled.
With greater army, paramilitary and police presence, there was no major incident of violence in the worst affected areas of Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Phagwara, Hoshiarpur and Patiala. But a mob attacked the deputy commissioner of police’s vehicle in Muktsar district.

“Curfew has been imposed in some parts of Malout in Muktsar district,” Deputy Commissioner (Muktsar) Varun Roozam said.

Addressing media in Chandigarh after an all-party meeting, Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal claimed the situation was “normal” in most areas Tuesday.

He confirmed that at least three people were killed and dozens injured in the violence since Sunday. The state government has offered full compensation for the public losses in the unrest.

Dera Sachh Khand sect leader Surinder Dass appealed to followers not to resort in violence.

“We want peace to prevail. No one should indulge in violence. Our sect leader, Sant Niranjan Dass, is recovering fine in Austria,” Surinder Dass said here.

Two top leaders of the Dera Sachh Khand sect, who are followers of Guru Ravidass and belong to the Dalit Sikh community, were attacked with knives and firearms in the Vienna shrine Sunday.

While sect head Niranjan Dass was recovering in a hospital, his second in command, Sant Rama Nand Dass, died from gunshot wounds.

Sporadic incidents of violence were reported Tuesday in Jagadhri, Yamunanagar and Mullana towns in neighbouring Haryana. Protesters damaged public and private property but were dispersed by the police.

“Traffic on major highways is plying normally. The police is taking action at other places where there were protests,” said V.N. Rai, Haryana’s additional director general of police (law and order).

District authorities in central Punjab Tuesday relaxed curfew imposed in towns Monday after widespread violence by followers of the Dera Sachh Khand.

Punjab Deputy Chief Minister and Home Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal said: “In Jalandhar, the curfew is still in place while in Ludhiana it has been lifted in most of the areas. In Phagwara and Hoshiarpur, we have given a four-hour relaxation and gradually we will lift it completely as things are becoming quite normal.”

About the alleged delay in the police action against the miscreants, Badal junior said: “We had only four companies of PAP (Punjab Armed Police) when violence broke out Sunday and they were immediately sent to the affected areas. We did not have enough manpower so we approached government of India. However, the central forces took five-six hours to reach the affected areas and after that the situation was completely under our control.”

Traffic movement on the strategic National Highway 1, state highways and other roads was allowed by the police. However, fearing more violence, not many motorists ventured out except for those stranded at various places.

Railway authorities cancelled at least 40 trains on the New Delhi-Amritsar and New Delhi-Jammu sections following violence and damage to railway property by the protesters.

Thousands of railway passengers, especially those headed to and from the Hindu shrine of Vaishno Devi in adjoining Jammu and Kashmir, remained stranded at various railway stations.

Over 25,000 stranded passengers battled scorching heat at the Jammu railway station following disruption of train services. Officials said train services would be resumed shortly.

Passengers from Pakistan, who came on the Samjhauta Express peace train between India and Pakistan, were stranded at Attari railway station near the international border, 30 km from Amritsar.

Punjab witnessed one of the worst phases of violence in decades Monday as followers of the sect and other miscreants defied curfew and took to streets at several places, burning train bogies, buses, trucks and scores of private vehicles.

Public and private property was damaged in Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Hoshiarpur, Patiala, Phagwara, Bathinda, Ferozepur, Amritsar and a few other places.

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