Dera chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim’s 3 releases this year coincide with elections
Dera Sacha Sauda (DSS) chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim, convicted in two separate cases of murder, and a charge of rape, was released from Sunaria prison in Rohtak on a 40-day parole on October 14.
Dera Sacha Sauda (DSS) chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim, convicted in two separate cases of murder, and a charge of rape, was released from Sunaria prison in Rohtak on a 40-day parole on October 14. This is the third time in the past year that Rahim has been released from prison, twice on parole and once on furlough (a parole is for a specific exigency; and a furlough, a general break from imprisonment, according to the Supreme Court). And like the past two times, this time too, there are elections involved in regions where Rahim still has some influence.
Rahim, the controversial DSS chief, who remains popular in Punjab, Haryana, and parts of Himachal Pradesh, is serving jail time on three separate charges: for the murder of a sect follower Ranjit Singh in May 2002; the murder of journalist Ram Chandra Chattrapati in October 2002; and the rape of two women followers of his sect in 2002. A special CBI court in August 2017 held him guilty and sentenced him to prison for 20 years. Violence in the wake of this conviction erupted in Haryana, leaving at least 41 people dead.
Since his conviction, Rahim has been released on parole or furlough six times. Parole and furlough are both forms of conditional release, authorised by officials of the state government.
In the past year, Rahim has been granted this relief three times. The first was when he was given furlough between February 7 and 27, even as Punjab saw a high-stakes assembly election on February 20.
Then, on June 17, the man was granted parole for 30 days, two days before crucial elections to 46 municipalities in Haryana on June 19. On October 14, the Dera chief was granted parole for 40 days, with an assembly by-poll in Adampur in Haryana scheduled on November 3, and assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh on November 12.
The influential Dera Sacha Sauda openly backed the Congress in the 2007 Punjab elections. By 2014, it began leaning towards the BJP, backing the party in Lok Sabha elections, as well as the Haryana assembly polls. The sect has a sizeable presence of followers across Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, particularly in the districts of Sirsa-where it is based, Hisar, Fatehabad, Kurukshetra, Kaithal and Panchkula, the Malwa region of Punjab and pockets of Himachal Pradesh.
Professor Rajendra Sharma, who teaches political science at MDU Rohtak, said that Rahim being out when there are elections cannot be brushed aside as mere coincidence. “This is a clear instance of quid pro quo. He wants his freedom back and they want support from his cadre.”
The latest instance of parole prompted consternation from some political quarters, with Congress leader Udit Raj saying that Rahim was given this relief with the express motive of helping the BJP in the Adampur by-election.
INLD MLA Abhay Chautala asked why Rahim is given parole frequently, when other convicts are denied similar relief.
Also Read: SGPC objects to Gurmeet Ram Rahim’s parole
Haryana prison minister Chaudhary Ranjeet Singh said authorities go by the jail manual. “The duty of the jail department is to take care of the inmates. The parole or furlough of an inmate is decided by the competent authority (deputy and divisional commissioner) as per the law. His (Rahim’s) parole becomes an issue because this is a high profile case. There are many inmates convicted for heinous crimes who get parole without attracting any media attention,” Singh said.
DSS spokesperson Jitender Khurana dismissed as “unfortunate and uncalled for” any attempt to link “parole granted to Guru ji and polls in the region.” “Sant Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Insan has been given parole as per the law and is not even remotely linked with politics,” he added.
Rahim arrived at a DSS ashram at Barnawa in Baghpat, where he will spend the duration of his parole. He has since held daily online sessions of ‘satsang’, on some occasions sporting a Himachali cap. On October 15, Rahim told his followers, “Zimmevar aapko jaise kahenge, uske according aap logo ne chalna hai (You should do as responsible people tell you).”
Three Haryana BJP leaders – Karnal mayor Renu Bala Gupta, deputy mayor Naveen Kumar and senior deputy mayor Rajesh Aggi – recently attended the online satsang session.
“He (Rahim) has been granted parole as per the law. He has been convicted for the heinous crimes he committed and is serving the sentence. But the positive side is that the DSS is known for social activities, including cleanliness drives in many cities across the country. I understand the BJP leaders from Karnal attended the satsang online. They were attending it as devotees,” Haryana BJP chief spokesperson Sanjay Sharma said.
“As the Dera head was touching the issue of cleanliness, the Karnal leaders said they would like to rope in Dera followers in the cleanliness drive in Karnal district. We should appreciate the positive sides such as his and his followers’ willingness to involve themselves in social activities,” he added.
While Gupta could not be contacted for a comment on the matter, Aggi said: “There are thousands of followers of the Dera head in my ward who had invited me to attend the satsang in Barnawa. I remained there for only a few minutes and returned.”
Kumar said he made a routine visit following an invitation from the followers. “We cannot say no to the people of my ward and it was just a short visit,” he said. Several other leaders, including BJP’s district president Yogender Rana, also visited Barnawa to attend the satsang, he added.
(With inputs from Sunil Rahar in Rohtak)
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