Ram Rahim rape verdict: Both BJP, Congress sought favours from Dera Sacha Sauda
The political class’ apparent silence on the conviction of Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in a rape case and the ensuing violence appeared to hint towards the religious sect’s political clout.
Both the BJP and the Congress have sought favours from the Dera chief from time to time in the run up to elections.
While political leaders have remained mum on the court verdict, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and party vice-president Rahul Gandhi have condemned violence by Dera followers and appealed for peace.
Based at Sirsa in Haryana, the followers of Dera Sacha Sauda are mainly Dalits but also include Sikhs, Muslims and Christians.
Though the Dera claims to be apolitical, it started a political affairs wing (PAW) in 2007 to advice its followers on 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 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.
As recent as on Thursday, Haryana education minister Ram Bilas Sharma defended the buildup of Dera followers in Panchkula , calling them “simple and peace-loving people.” On Friday, BJP leader Sakshi Maharaj questioned the CBI court’s decision and called the Dera chief a “noble soul.”
Ahead of this year’s assembly elections in Punjab, the Dera had officially announced its support to the SAD-BJP combine. However, the Congress swept the polls and regained power after 10 years. This was the second time since 2007 that a party supported by Dera had lost Punjab polls.
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.
The reason for extending support to the Congress was the alleged repression of the Dera and its followers by the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and other Sikh groups after Ram Rahim posed in a dress that made him look like the tenth Sikh guru, Guru Gobind Singh.
In the 2012 Punjab polls, the Dera did not support any party despite Captain Amarinder Singh seeking blessings from Ram Rahim. However, buzz in political circles later suggested that Dera had supported the Akali Dal candidates.
A relative of Dera chief, Harminder Singh Jassi, has been a Congress legislator from Punjab.