Who is Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh and what is the Dera Sacha Sauda?
Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, chief of Dera Sacha Sauda, is a self-styled spiritual guru who took over as the head of the sect in 1990.
‘Saint Dr. MSG’: That’s the name Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, the spiritual head of Dera Sacha Sauda sect, uses for his Facebook profile.
Singh, a self-styled spiritual guru, took over as the head of Dera in 1990 and has presented himself as a social reformer over the years by organising cleanliness drives and blood donation camps.
His website lists him as an expert in a variety of fields, from singing trance and rock to making scientific inventions.
Singh was born in Rajasthan’s Modia on August 15, 1967 and has no siblings.
Singh (50) claims to have released about half a dozen albums since 2001 but the Dera chief is known for writing, co-directing, composing music and singing for his film MSG: Messenger of God. The movie features him as a swashbuckling hero in bejewelled costume riding motorbikes and sending bad guys flying.
Apart from the usual ‘naam charcha’ or discourse, Singh has reportedly held about a hundred concerts called ‘Ru-ba-Ru Nights’.
The dera head says his strategy is to package a spiritual message in a modern wrapper.
He outraged many members the Sikh community in April 2007 when he attired himself on the lines of 10th Sikh guru, Gobind Singh, during a sect ceremony. His action led to large scale violence in Punjab, Haryana, Jammu and other places.
In 2017, Singh publicly announced his support to the BJP-Akali Dal alliance ahead of the Punjab assembly polls and he has previously called his followers to support the BJP in the Haryana assembly elections. His call is said to have tilted the favour in BJP’s favour.
But the Dera chief had also helped the Congress in 2007 Punjab assembly polls. His son is married to the daughter of Punjab Congress leader Harminder Singh Jassi.
In another controversy over MSG, former chairperson of Censor Board Leela Samson had resigned after MSG was cleared by the Film Certificate Tribunal Appellate in January 2015. The Dera chief has been accused of rape, castration of followers, arms training and is a suspect in a murder case.
Despite the controversies around him, the sect leader continues to enjoy popularity among his growing number of followers. He moves around in a fleet of bulletproof Lexus’ and other luxury vehicles. He has survived assassination attempts in the past and he was on the hit-list of Sikh terrorists.
Dera Sacha Sauda
Dera Sacha Sauda, which translates to a ‘place of truth’, was started in 1948 by an ascetic named Mastana Baluchistani. The sect reportedly boasts of over 4 crore followers and around 50 ashrams across the country.
Shah Mastana was succeeded by Shah Satnam Singh and Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh succeeded him after a controversy. The sect is known for its social work, like coming forward to help victims of the tsunami and the Gujarat earthquake.
Most of the followers are people from lower castes and the lower strata of society. The sect has found a lot of acceptability amongst women and families as it preaches against drugs and alcoholism.
It is headquartered in a sprawling campus on the outskirts of Sirsa town in Haryana, 300 km from Chandigarh.
On its official website, Dera claims the sect has been acknowledged by the Guinness Book of World Records for the organising the largest blood donation camp in December 2003, in which more than 15000 donors participated.
The sect’s other Guinness awards include most number of people tossing coins, largest finger painting, most number of diabetes screenings and most tree saplings planted.