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Ram Rahim ‘Insan’: A dera chief packaged as messenger of God

Hailing him as a reincarnation, his website narrates how Triveni Das, a village soothsayer or ‘prophet’ as the site says, told his parents that “they must not take HIM (Gurmeet) to any reverential place for prayers. For, HE is a manifestation of Supreme Creator Himself.”

punjab Updated: Aug 29, 2017 13:18 IST
Manraj Grewal Sharma
Manraj Grewal Sharma
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
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Dr Ashutosh Kumar, a political scientist at Panjab University, who has studied the deras in Punjab, says this larger-than-life image resonates with people who want a medium that will help them attain salvation.(Illustration: Lal Singh/HT)

From positioning himself as a messenger of God (MSG) to bestowing the surname ‘Insan’ on his followers, and playing on the word ‘sach’ (truth), the dera chief, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, can give an ad guru lessons in branding.

“It (insan) gave a new identity and dignity to many, especially the Dalits, that no religion gave them, and he was the sole proprietor of this identity.”

It was Shah Satnam Singh, the former head of Dera Sacha Sauda, who unwittingly gave him his first lesson in branding when he renamed him as Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, omitting the Jat Sikh surname ‘Sidhu’ from his name to give him a more secular identity.

A quick learner, he’s burnished his identity over time, using internet to bestow upon himself miraculous powers.

Hailing him as a reincarnation, his website narrates how Triveni Das, a village soothsayer or ‘prophet’ as the site says, told his parents that “they must not take HIM (Gurmeet) to any reverential place for prayers. For, HE is a manifestation of Supreme Creator Himself.”

Dr Ashutosh Kumar, a political scientist at Panjab University, who has studied the deras in Punjab, says this larger-than-life image resonates with people who want a medium that will help them attain salvation. “Ordinary people want to connect with godliness in person.” The dera chief used his films to fashion himself as the messenger of God (MSG). Back in his 50-odd deras around the world, he was “Pita ji” (father) who could do no wrong. The mass hysteria that accompanied the verdict against him showed how his followers actually believed it.

“The Jat politicians don’t want to share power, so they deal with the deras for votes.”

Ten years ago, he gave his followers a new surname ‘Insan’ or human being. It was neutral and caste-free in a region where caste still determines a person’s pecking order in society. “It gave a new identity and dignity to many, especially the Dalits, that no religion gave them, and he was the sole proprietor of this identity,” says Dr Parmod Kumar of the Institute for Development and Communication. In a ritual reminiscent of the ‘amrit’ ceremony of the Sikhs, his followers are given this title after taking a rather long-winded 47-point pledge, called ‘Nectar of Humanitarianism’, in which they vow to stay off liquor and meat among other ‘vices’.

The dera is magnet for a large number of Dalits, and a darling of politicians keen to grab their votes. Dr Ashutosh Kumar attributes it to the lack of parity in politics of the region. “Political power in the region is concentrated in the hands of the landed community. Even temples and gurdwaras have failed to create a sense of equality. The deras fill up this vacuum.”

The dera was a big hit in Sirsa, the district with the second highest concentration of Dalits in Haryana — there are 26.6% Dalits here as compared to the state average of 19%. It also has a sizeable following in the Malwa region of Punjab, which has a large number of Dalits. “The Jat politicians don’t want to share power, so they deal with the deras for votes,” says Ashutosh. The dera chief, he says, was most open about his political affiliations, which he changed with every election. “Finally, this may have also proved to be his undoing,” says Dr Kumar.

Sweet luck to Gurapple

The dera chief has a penchant for giving new-fangled names to his followers. So Priyanka Taneja became Honeypreet Insan when he adopted her in 2009. His daughter Charanpreet may have a rather prosaic name but her sons have been named Sweetluck Singh and Subah-e-Dil, presumably by MSG. He rechristened a sadhvi as Gurapple, while two sisters were renamed Nazam and Tasleem.

First Published: Aug 29, 2017 09:49 IST