His tendency to be at the centre of controversies makes Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, the head of the Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda, a compelling character.
The 47-year-old sect chief first grabbed eyeballs in 2007, when his purported imitation of Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Sikh guru, upset the Sikhs and created a law and order problem in Punjab and Haryana. So intense was the angst against him that Sikh radicals such as Takht Damdama Sahib jathedar Balwant Singh Nandgarh had sought his head for this blasphemous act.
A plethora of criminal cases being probed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) – the murders of dera follower Ranjit Singh and journalist Ram Chander Chhatarpati, the rape case of two sadhvis, and the most recent being the alleged castration of dera followers - means that Ram Rahim is never out of the news.
Over the years, the dera chief has strategically helped political parties of various hues and colours during elections. Politicians from across the spectrum often visit him to bow before him and seek his “blessings” before the polls.
His recent call to his followers – which he terms as the decision of the sangat -- to support the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) during the assembly elections in Haryana is said to have tilted the scales in favour of the saffron party, which for the first time was able to get majority in the assembly.
But this is not for the first time that he actively dabbled in vote-bank politics. The dera chief had also helped the Congress in the 2007 Punjab assembly polls, facilitating a dent in the Akali bastion in Malwa and consequently antagonising the Akalis and Panthic organisations. His son is married to the daughter of Punjab Congress leader Harminder Singh Jassi, who won in 2007 from the Talwandi Sabo seat.
The previous Congress government in Haryana, too, had benefited electorally from the dera head’s generosity.
In fact, the Congress regime in the state was the first to provide him with Z-plus security cover on the grounds of grave threat to his life in 2007, soon after the costume controversy. The BJP government has retained the security cover for him. Ram Rahim is the only individual, besides Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar and governor Kaptan Singh Solanki, to have Z-plus security in the state.
Suspicion integral part of dera activities
Chandigarh: Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh’s tremendous sway in Haryana and Punjab is well known, but the Dera Sacha Sauda chief’s efforts to spread out to the south have drawn disapproving remarks from the Kerala government.
His trips to God’s own country are being viewed with suspicion by the Kerala government, which wrote to the Centre that his frequent visits and long stays were more for real-estate activities.
The state government even refused to provide Z-plus security cover for the dera head’s “private visits (for sight-seeing and real-estate business)”, saying that security would be given to Ram Rahim only on payment basis for such visits.
The dera chief and his followers have been a frequenting Kerala for the past couple of years, visiting Wayanad, Kottayam, Thiruvananthapuram and Idukki on the pretext of rendering spiritual discourses.
Army also wary of dera
The army had sounded a note of caution regarding the dera activities. In a December 2010 communication, the military intelligence informed the 10 Infantry division headquarters that sister intelligence agencies had reported that some ex-servicemen were engaging themselves in imparting weapons training to dera activists at their Sirsa headquarters.
“Reportedly, a few serving personnel have been participating in activities such as blood donation camps organised by the dera. You are requested to sensitise the personnel to abstain from getting directly or indirectly involved with the organisation in any manner and disseminate the information up to unit/sub-unit level for all and strict compliance,’’ the communication said.