BABA Gurmeet Ram Rahim was a Bhindranwale in making. He, too, saw to it that nobody dared him. But he turned out to be a paper tiger. When CBI court judge Jagdeep Singh pronounced his verdict, the Baba wept open in the court and implored him not to give severe punishment. His followers, too, were reportedly surprised over the manner in which the Baba capsized.
But there is no doubt about the Baba’s vast following. It did not bother that he was being punished for raping two sadhvis, who were his followers at the Dera. It shows how ignorant and gullible can the followers be as they always looked towards him for leadership and guidance blindly? Bhindranwale, too, had become so powerful because of the vast following that the government turned a blind eye towards whatever he did.
Now that the verdict is out with the quantum of punishment pronounced on rape cases, there is a likelihood of more skeletons tumbling out of the Dera cupboards. The CBI court is already hearing murder charges against the Baba and it will be sooner than later that the court will give its verdict on them, too. There are other cases of castration of male followers in the Dera which are being pursued. All these clearly indicate the mindset of the Baba and the connivance of the authorities.
There are some similarities between Bhindrawale and Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim. If the former was the creation of the Congress Party, the latter has had the support of a plethora of parties in the state of Haryana, including the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). The Baba may not be a militant like Bhindranwale but his motivation was very clear as he used political benevolence to further his own interests. Otherwise, he could not have amassed huge wealth and built 132 many deras around the world, including in the UK and the US. The Akalis were gaining upper hand and slowly eroding the base of the Congress in Punjab after the Akali-Janata Party government came to power in 1977. That was when the Congress under Sanjay Gandhi and Zail Singh selected and supported Bhindranwale to take on the Akalis. He became so powerful that by the time Indira Gandhi realised that a Frankenstein had been created and it was time for him to go, nothing less than the Indian Army would do to flush him out of Akal Takht inside the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar.
Before using the tanks the Army sought the permission of Mrs Gandhi and woke her up at midnight. Mrs Gandhi ended up committing a costly mistake by sending in the Army into the sanctum sanctorum in June 1984. Bhindranwale was killed but the anger over Operation Bluestar cost Mrs Gandhi her life four months later. Similarly, Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim was encouraged by the leaders of the BJP because it suited the party’s vote bank politics. The Baba endorsed the BJP in both the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and the Haryana assembly elections in the same year. He also supported the saffron party in Punjab against Captain Amarinder Singh’s Congress but that was not good enough to make it win. There are rumours that the entire Manohar Lal Khatter’s cabinet, minus the chief minister, visited Baba’s Dera Sachcha Souda in Sirsa after the swearing-in ceremony to pay obeisance to him.
But it is not as if the other parties are not complicit. In 2009, the Dera chief extended his support to the Congress which was his return gift for the Z plus security cover the UPA provided to him in 2007. It was palpable how the Baba had become powerful that the state went weak in the knees when challenged by his private army. That the state of Haryana deliberately bungled in imposing Section 144 before the verdict, sending a cold invitation to murderers, asking them to take over.
Apparently, there were intelligence reports before the verdict and both the states of Punjab and Haryana, including the Chandigarh Administration, were warned of the trouble brewing as the Dera followers were gathering in Panchkula and preparing themselves for the show of strength if the verdict went against the Baba. Punjab, however, did safeguard its interests taking all necessary measures while Haryana, despite assuring that they were well prepared to meet any situation, failed to stop the followers from public destroying property and killing people. Only after the Punjab and Haryana High Court’s order did the Haryana government wake up and make preparations to stall any further damage.
When history repeats itself, it is basically mocking at our system of not learning any lessons. Who will account for the loss of 30 lives and damage to public property? But the BJP leadership has not done anything to touch chief minister Khattar because of the backing he has from the RSS. But then the problem in India is how to curb the god men and the stop the government from supporting them? Maybe, they provide the vote bank but they do an irreparable damage to the polity.
Democracy demands a direct contact between the voter and the party. The Babas come in the way and try to become a parallel authority. When the ballot box is stalled by another force, democracy gets weakened. Therefore the god men have no place in a system which runs with the consent of the people. They are only like mahants in temples. They more they are allowed to have say, the less would be free expressions. Religion is a private affair. There are no problems with the Asarams, Nithyanandas and Ram Rahims as long as they pursue and preach spiritual thoughts. The problem arises when they indulge in fraudulent and illegal activity, going to the extent of committing rapes and murders. What gives the whole thing an ugly shape is the support of the political parties for their own gains.
—The writer is a veteran Indian journalist, syndicated columnist, human rights activist and author.