New Delhi, May 25 (IANS) The situation in Punjab 'is not quite normal' and the government hopes peace will return soon, Home Minister P. Chidambaram said Monday as mobs were on the rampage in the state to protest the death of a Sikh sect leader in a clash in a gurdwara in Austrian capital Vienna.
'The situation in Punjab is not quite normal. The state government has imposed a curfew in the affected areas but I see from television that the curfew is not being enforced,' Chidambaram told reporters on the first day of his second stint in office as home minister.
'The state government has imposed a curfew. It is for the state government to enforce this curfew. I don't want to be pre-judgmental but I hope the situation will soon return to normal,' he added.
The home minister said 11 companies (approximately 1,100 personnel) of paramilitary forces had already been dispatched to Punjab and another 14 were on standby to be deployed if the need arose.
'We have also offered the state government a helicopter if it is required,' Chidambaram added.
The home minister prefaced his remarks by saying: 'What is happening in Punjab is a reaction to what happened in Vienna, Austria. We had no control over what happened in Vienna, Austria.'
Several parts of Punjab continued to be on the boil Monday with trains burnt and key highways blocked as violence by followers of the Dera Sachh Khand, opposing the attack on sect leaders in Vienna, spread and brought the state to a standstill.
Armed with sticks, swords, bricks and stones, sect followers came out in large numbers in Punjab's Doaba belt and tension spread in Jalandhar, Phagwara, Hoshiarpur and Nawanshahr towns.
Curfew was imposed by the district authorities in Hoshiarpur town, 150 km from Chandigarh, following violence by members of the sect - who are from the Dalit Sikh community and followers of Guru Ravidass - as news came in of a top leader dying of his injuries following a clash in a Vienna gurdwara Sunday.
Protests also spread to neighbouring Haryana where sect followers blocked with trees the Chandigarh-Delhi National Highway No. 1 near Kingfisher resort, and squatted on the road.
Angry crowds continued to hold several areas in Jalandhar district to ransom despite curfew being imposed in the entire district Sunday night.
Train bogies were torched at the Jalandhar Cantonment station, a key highway blocked and vehicles and shops set afire. No police personnel were present on the spot when the protesters torched railway property. Trains were also attacked in Phagwara town, 20 km from Jalandhar.
Sect leader Sant Rama Nand, 57, the second-in-command, died in a hospital in Vienna, following an armed attack involving rival Sikh groups at a gurdwara the previous day. The attack also left at least 15 people injured.
The condition of the sect head Sant Niranjan Dass, 68, who was the second guest guru speaking at the Vienna gurdwara, was stable after undergoing emergency surgery, doctors there said.