- Nazia Nazar
Apparent silence of the political class on the conviction of Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in a rape case is reflective of degeneration of society, and the religious sect’s political clout. According to Indian media, both the BJP and the Congress have had sought favors from the Dera chief from time to time in the run up to elections. While political leaders remained mum on the court verdict, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and party vice-president Rahul Gandhi did not say a word of condemnation on the heinous crime of the so-called religious leader but only condemned violence by Dera followers and appealed for peace. The reasons are not far to seek. In the 2007 assembly elections in Punjab, the Dera had asked its followers to vote for the Congress.
This was a departure from the past as the Dera till then was traditionally anti-Congress and had supported individual candidates based on merit. In the 2012 Punjab polls, the Dera did not support any party; however, buzz in political circles later suggested that Dera had supported the Akali Dal candidates. It is important to mention that a relative of Dera chief, Harminder Singh Jassi, has been a Congress legislator from Punjab. India has been considered as the land of wisdom of the great saints and Sufis, philosophers and scholars. Their teachings were directed towards spreading a feeling of brotherhood and respect for each other, and essentially stated that a human being is incomplete, if lacking in humaneness. These great men guided society onto the right path, whenever social ills and wrongs threatened to distort culture, and gave the message of love.
A characteristic of Indian civilization was that more than the kings and warriors who ruled this land, it was the saints and the Sufis, who ruled the minds and hearts of India’s people. They wielded greater authority and respect than the kings and emperors ever could with their swords and guns. There were indeed extremists’ strands in India before partition, but after independence the degeneration has crept in. Today socio-religious atmosphere in India is feeble where politicians exploit with so-called religious leaders like Gurmeet Ram Rahim singh. Hanyana has exposed that India has no writ of the state and thugs rule the roost in Indian union. To understand why a religious sect leader wields so much power, one should look at the number of politicians among major political parties who have welcomed the special CBI court’s decision to convict Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh for raping two of his followers.
At last count, one could find none. There have been many tweets and sound bites cutting across the political divide condemning violence, arson and loss of lives. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi have expressed shock and pain at the turn of events and appealed for peace and calm. The thuggish “godman”, who resided in a fortress, raised a private militia and faced charges of murder, rape and castration, had just been convicted of a crime. Wouldn’t it make sense for politicians to welcome the verdict? At least, the opposition leaders could have condemned him to cause deep discomfort to the BJP, which has been severely reprimanded by the Punjab and Haryana High Court for its grave dereliction of duty. Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh claims to have 50 million global followers. Almost all parties from Akali Dal, National Lok Dal to Congress and BJP, sought his support in elections due to his massive and loyal fan base.
The problem is that India under Narendra Modi is spending recklessly on defence to the neglect of the needs of the teeming millions. Since most of these spiritual gurus provide basic public services that a low-capacity State fails to provide, the weakness of State institutions creates a void where these quasi-religious sects provide a variety of social services. In fact, Ram Rahim Singh was an RSS ploy inducted into Punjab and Haryana with the main objective of dividing the Sikh and Muslim communities and creating confusion and cleavages. Dera Sacha Sauda was always rejected by mainstream Sikh organizations and leaders. The rioting and killings by Dera followers paralyzed Haryana and Indian Punjab and exposed the fact that writ of law does not even exist in settled area of India, what to talk of areas hit by freedom movements like Kashmir, North East and Naxalites.
Though the Dera claims to be apolitical, it started a political affairs wing (PAW) in 2007 to advice its followers whom to vote for. The Dera’s call to its followers – which it claims run into crores – to support a particular party changes the poll outcome in many seats of Haryana and Punjab, as they vote as a block.
For several years, the Dera chief had dabbled in vote-bank politics and helped different parties in a strategic manner. But his steady drift towards the BJP started in 2014 with the sect backing the saffron party in that year’s Lok Sabha and Haryana assembly elections. The sect even supported the BJP during the 2015 Delhi assembly polls. While campaigning in the Haryana assembly polls, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had praised the Dera chief in a public rally at Sirsa on October 11, 2014. He followed it up with a tweet on October 30, 2014 lauding the Dera chief for his efforts in the Clean India campaign.