India continues to be a strange place on earth where godmen have come and gone into oblivion yet new such souls continue to emerge on the scene and succeed in mesmerizing people to command a huge following.
Will Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, found guilty of rape of his two women followers by a special CBI court in Panchkula (Haryana), also become history like others having given birth to a cult as he has done? Whatever happens to him and his vast empire in the Haryana-Punjab region and beyond with the Dera’s 100-acre campus in Sirsa and lakhs of followers remains to be seen now when he finds himself behind the bars.
However, for the followers of the Baba, who took over in 1990 the Sirsa-based Dera Sachcha Sauda movement, founded in 1948, this is unbelievable. It would have never occurred to them even in their dreams that the person they considered as the messiah for all their ills would one day be sent to jail for a crime which godmen are not expected to commit.
As the Baba came in a cavalcade of 200 cars to appear in person in the court in Panchkula on August 25, as directed by the judge who was to deliver his verdict on that day, over 1.5 lakh followers of his Dera reached the small town, near Chandigarh, obviously with a view to putting pressure on the authorities concerned to ensure that no harm came to their god. Some even camped near the court complex. But nothing worked.
The conviction of the Baba was, however, intolerable for his followers, who went berserk and indulged in large-scale violence, leading to the death of at least 29 persons, including children, and destruction of private and public property worth crores of rupees. Many journalists were also mercilessly beaten up with their cars, TV channels’ OB vans and equipment destroyed in the process.
Interestingly, the Baba’s followers who indulged in this naked dance of death and destruction call themselves “Premis” (people who love one and all).
Before the situation went out of control, the BJP government in Haryana had claimed to have made elaborate arrangements to maintain law and order. The reality was, however, different. What happened could easily be imagined with such a vast number of the Baba’s followers being allowed to reach Panchkula and that, too, when the Punjab and Haryana High Court had issued a warning in this regard. An angry court then issued a directive to the state government to seize the property of the Dera and sell it off to give compensation to the sufferers.
Few people know that the Baba is married and has three daughters and a son. The self-proclaimed 50-year-old spiritual leader, called the “Guru of Bling”, has been behind a music video – Love Charger – well received in India and abroad. He is an excellent artist which he proved by co-writing dialogues and acting in two films made on him – Messenger of God (MSG) and Messenger of God-2.
He found himself in serious trouble in 2007 when he appeared in public dressed as Guru Gobind Singh. He had to issue an apology to save his life. But he was never questioned for making his 400 followers castrate themselves to propitiate their god. He has been accused of involvement in some murder cases too, including that of a journalist, but all this did not affect his vast following – he claims to have over a crore of devotees.
What proved to be his nemesis was an FIR registered against him in 2002 in which he was charged with raping two of his women followers.
Despite all this and many other questionable activities of the Baba, he has been prospering as a cult figure with the political class always trying to gain his sympathy for ensuring victory in a battle of the ballot.
It is, therefore, not surprising that the BJP member of Parliament Sakshi Maharaj has come out openly in support of the controversial Baba. Alleging that the Dera chief was being “harassed”, the BJP leader said, "One person has complained of rape against Ram Rahim. Crores others believe he is god. Who do you think is right?" He sees a "conspiracy to defame not only Ram Rahim and other saints, but also Indian culture."
The comment of Sakshi Maharaj should be viewed against the backdrop of the support the Dera chief declared in favour of the BJP during both the parliamentary elections and the Haryana Assembly polls in 2014, leading to the formation of the ML Khattar ministry. He was praised by none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his contribution to the Swachch Bharat Abhiyan with a tweet. He was also seen with Chief Minister Khattar during a cleanliness drive.
The present government in Haryana has been paying back to the Dera in various ways for his support during the elections. Last year in August, Haryana Sports Minister Anil Vij donated Rs 50 lakh to Dera Sachcha Sauda obviously for the role the Baba played in the BJP’s spectacular victory in the elections. Earlier, the controversial godman had been favouring the Congress.
His support to the Akali Dal-BJP alliance has been one of the major factors for its victories before it was defeated in the last elections by the Congress under the leadership of Captain Amarinder Singh. He blessed any party which he believed was set to form its government in Haryana and Punjab as well as at the Centre. His Z-category security that helped him in reaching the court in Panchkula in an exceptionally large convoy of cars was granted during the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre. But since 2014 he has been a great admirer of Prime Minister Modi.
Comparing Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh with Chandraswami, Dhirendra Brahmachari or Asaram Bapu (jailed on rape charge along with his son Nityanand), who wielded enormous political clout, will not be fair.
Nor is it logical to bracket him with Jagat Guru Rampalji Maharaj, who in 2014 refused to surrender to the police in his ashram in Barwala (Haryana). Ram Rahim belongs to a different category as he did not found the rich Dera he presides over. He captured this so-called social welfare organization through his captivating tactics in the early nineties and continues to be its unquestioned head. But it seems Dera Sachcha Sauda will no longer remain what it has been so far after the Punjab and Haryana High Court directive to sell its assets to pay for the loss caused to the public and the government by the violent Dera followers. What follows after the August 25 developments will, therefore, be interesting to watch.
(The writer, a Delhi-based political commentator, is a former Deputy Editor of The Tribune, Chandigarh.)(Published on 28th August 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 35)