Meet Baba Bling: Gurmeet Ram Rahim, from flashy life to life in prison
His huge following, political clout, brush with controversies and filmi avatar lend him a larger-than-life image.
Sporting a rockstar-like look with flashy outfits, encircled by Kalashnikov-wielding guards as part of his Z-plus security cover and having a range of philanthropic pursuits to his credit, controversial but charismatic chief of Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh (50), is not the archetypal saint or Baba. The sect head, who awaits the verdict in a rape case and faces trial in two murder cases, carries an enigmatic persona.
EARLY LIFE, ANOINTMENT
The self-styled godman comes from a Jat Sikh family of Gurusar Modiya village in Sriganganagar district of Rajasthan. Born in August 1967, Ram Rahim was initiated into the sect at a tender age of seven by his predecessor Shah Satnam Singh Maharaj.
He was anointed the sect head when he was barely 23. Having married early, the dera head is said to have sacrificed his personal life for public service, and thus not much is known about it. The story regarding his initiation and gradual ascendancy from a follower to the master has been chronicled by the Dera.
It says sect’s first mater Shah Mastana, in his last spiritual discourse in 1960, had indicated that seven years later he would reincarnate as the third master of the sect.
Initially the followers could not grasp his remarks. However, a parallel was drawn after the sangat (followers) found that Ram Rahim was born in 1967. The dera account describes Ram Rahim as a ‘child prodigy’. It says he excelled in everything and even learnt driving when he was eight. Devout followers swear that though Ram Rahim’s studied up to high school, his spiritual powers ensured that he excelled in multiple tasks.
“One can see him acting in movies, throwing a javelin or playing football, crooning a religious number. An individual needs immense energy and talent to carry out so many tasks,’’ says a dera manager. His foray into the world of cinema as the ‘Messenger of God’ was also an attempt to give him a larger-than-life image.
Ram Rahim’s first brush with controversy was in 2002 when an anonymous letter, purportedly written by a sadhvi, alleged sexual exploitation of woman followers in the dera. The matter was probed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the verdict in the case will be pronounced by the CBI court in Panchkula on Friday (August 25). The central agency is also investigating into a couple of more cases involving Ram Rahim. These include the alleged murder of a dera disciple, Ranjit Singh, who had reportedly spoken against the dera head, a murder case pertaining to the killing of a Sirsa-based journalist, Ram Chander Chhatarpati whose ‘Poora Sach’ vernacular was vociferous about dera’s “unlawful activities”.
Dera followers and administrators in the past have defended the cases, saying their de-addiction campaigns did not go down well with many leading to such conspiracies. They also blame politics and politicians for their troubles.
Since the dera has a huge following, Ram Rahim enjoys tremendous political clout. Politicians of all shades call on the dera head to seek his “blessings” during the elections and the dera also obliges them whole-heartedly. In fact, its move to have a political affairs wing indicates the dera’s growing political aspirations of the sect. In the 2014 assembly elections in Haryana, the dera came out in the support of the BJP, a factor which tilted the scales in favour of the saffron party and helped it form the government on its own for the first time.
Even the previous the Congress government enjoyed the dera’s support and it reciprocated by providing a Z-plus security cover to the dera head.
FAME AND SHAME
The dera has its share of accolades and brickbats. While the socio-spiritual organisation has earned applause for humanitarian work such as blood donation, eye donation, rehabilitation of prostitutes, relief operations during calamities, it has its share of controversies, including the criminal cases against Ram Rahim and the conflict with Sikh Panthic bodies in 2007 in the wake of his alleged act of imitating the 10th Sikh Guru Gobind Singh at a public function in Salabatpura, Bathinda.
The incident set off widespread violent clashes between radical Sikhs and dera followers in Punjab and Haryana. As the radicals demanded his head, the dera chief had a narrow escape in February 2008 when his cavalcade was attacked in Karnal. Later, a Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF) operative and six others were arrested and sentenced to imprisonment in the case.
The after-effects of the controversy resonated for many years as Sikhs and premis (dera followers) clashed time and again, creating niggling law and order situation.
Meanwhile, the massive build-up of dera supporters in Panchkula, where the CBI court will pronounce its verdict in the rape case on Friday, has created a hazardous situation. The heavy presence of security forces has escalated the stress levels. It remains to be seen how and whether the dera head uses his persona to placate his seemingly twitchy followers and prevent a law and order crisis.
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