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When Godmen Like Gurmeet Singh Strike Deals With Politicians, India Becomes Collateral Damage

With 'messengers' like Gurmeet Singh, India would be better off being a land of atheists.

26/08/2017 10:28 AM IST | Updated 01/09/2017 7:45 AM IST
Hindustan Times via Getty Images
File photo of Head of Dera Sacha Sauda sect Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh.

(Updates story with statement from the Sikh Press Association and headline change to clearly reflect that the comparison between the two figures is restricted only to political connections.)

Since Friday morning, I have been thinking about Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale.

At the outset, it needs to be emphasized that while Bhindranwale was a religious leader of the militant variety, who shot into prominence in the early 80s in troubled Punjab, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh is a convicted rapist and the comparison between the two does not extend beyond exploring the unholy culture of the politician-godmen nexus in India.

Bhindranwale was cultivated by the Congress under Sanjay Gandhi and Zail Singh and goaded to take on the Akalis. Veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar in his autobiography 'Beyond the Lines' describes how eventually, Bhindranwale went out of hand and turned into a Frankenstein. And one so powerful that by the time Indira Gandhi realised that he had to go, nothing less than the Indian Army would do to flush him out of Akal Takht inside the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar.

In the end, she ended up committing a costly mistake by sending in the Army into the revered Sikh shrine in June 1984. Bhindranwale was killed but the anger over Operation Bluestar cost Indira Gandhi her life four months later.

Though obviously not a militant like Bhindranwale, his motivation also seems to be use political benevolence to further his own interests.

Is Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh the Bhindranwale of the 21st century? Though obviously not a militant like Bhindranwale, his motivation also seems to be use political benevolence to further his own interests. A man encouraged by leaders of the BJP because it suited the party's votebank politics. A man so powerful that the state went weak in the knees when challenged by his private army.

That the state of Haryana deliberately bungled in imposing Section 144 before the verdict, sending a cold invitation to murderers, asking them to take over.

Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
PANCHKULA, INDIA - AUGUST 25: Burning vehicles are seen after Dera followers fire up the vehicles in Panchkula sector 4 after the Dera chief verdict at CBI court on August 25, 2017 in Panchkula, India.

A man so powerful that the state went weak in the knees when challenged by his private army.

Bhindranwale was named as a suspect in the conspiracy to kill Nirankari Baba in 1980 and later was arrested in the case relating to the murder of journalist Lala Jagat Narain. He was subsequently released on bail after protests broke out, with the then Union Home minister Zail Singh declaring in Parliament, no less, that there was no evidence against Bhindranwale. That elevated him into a hero.

Zail Singh had reason to be beholden to Bhindranwale. He had campaigned for the Congress in three constituencies in the 1980 elections. The following year, the Congress asked Bhindranwale to campaign even in the elections to the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak committee.

Gurmeet Singh has been convicted in the case of rape of two Sadhvis. There is another case pending against him for the murder of journalist Ram Chander Chhatrapati who peeled the mask off his rapist face. But you have Zail Singh-inspired Haryana chief minister ML Khattar talking about the `shraddha' (devotion) of his premis and BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj berating the court for going by the version of the victims rather than the beliefs of his five crore devotees.

When history repeats itself, it is basically mocking you for not learning any lessons.

Golden Temple and Panchkula are what happen when the political class sleeps with persons of dubious character. They happen because they see in the likes of Bhindranwale and Gurmeet Singh a route to checkmate political rivals. They happen because the politicians allow criminals to pimp the system.

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PANCHKULA, INDIA - AUGUST 25: Dera Followers Celebrating when they got fake news about releasing of Dera chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh insan from CBI court while later he was declared accused on August 25, 2017 in Panchkula, India.

Who is to account for the loss of 30 lives and damage to public property on Friday? Getting rid of Khattar would be the easiest thing to do but his scalp would serve little. Khattar is a mere manifestation of the extra-marital affair politicians cutting across party lines, have with the likes of Gurmeet Singh. They court him because the self-styled Godman promises to give them the Viagra of the EVM with the 50 million votes of his followers he has at his command.

Like the Congress tried to use Bhindranwale to neutralise the Akali-Janata government that came to power in Punjab in 1977, Gurmeet Singh was used by the BJP against the Congress. He endorsed the BJP in both the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and the Haryana assembly elections in the same year. He also supported the saffron party in Punjab against Amarinder Singh's Congress but that was not good enough to make it win.

But it is not as if the other parties are not complicit. In 2009, the Dera chief extended his support to the Congress which was his return gift for the Z plus security cover the UPA provided to him in 2007. All through 2002, Chhatrapati was publishing stories about the charges of rape on Gurmeet Singh. Political activist Yogendra Yadav recalls how on 20 October 2002, at a public function, Chhatrapati described in detail the threats he was receiving. Four days later, he was shot. Yadav says even though Chhatrapati was fighting for his life in hospital for nearly three weeks, the Haryana police under OP Chautala did not take a dying declaration.

In short, the rapist had hung a price tag on all politicians, bought off the shelf.

Incidentally, Gurmeet Singh was born on 15 August 1967. When he turned 50 this year, Haryana Education minister Ram Bilas Sharma visited the Dera chief and gifted him Rs 51 lakh from his ministry's discretionary quota "to promote sports''. Footage of Sharma prostrating before Singh is doing the rounds on social media.

In short, the rapist had hung a price tag on all politicians, bought off the shelf.

Religion is a private affair and my beliefs are my business. The problem comes when a fraud of a spiritual guru who is a rapist on the side, showcases his proximity to the political powers by sharing the stage with them at public functions. Using his charity work as front that targets the socially deprived in the caste matrix, the message that goes down the line is that the godman is a touch-me-not, political-proofed by the company he keeps.

Khattar did not dare to take on Gurmeet Singh because he was burdened under the weight of the political support he had received in 2014. In the `I scratch your back and you scratch mine' cosy arrangement, Khattar could not take a chance with Gurmeet's overgrown nails digging deep. Public property and innocent lives are a smaller price to pay to retain convenient friendship.

Gurmeet Singh — and I refuse to lend him the holy names of Ram and Rahim — is not the only unholy man who has given trust and belief a bad name. Asaram is cooling his heels behind bars in a sexual assault case as is Rampal who is in prison for murder and sedition. After Rampal's arrest, the police found weapons, bullet-proof jackets and cartridges in lockers at his ashram in Hisar. Nithyananda in Karnataka also faced similar charges of sexual assault. All of them had politicians on speed dial.

So the next time, a politician shares the stage with a Godman, be very suspicious. Because the cheesy jugalbandi will claim you and me as collateral damage. In their attempt to provide political oxygen to each other, India will be shortchanged.

Gurmeet Singh's movie was titled 'Messenger of God'. With messengers like him, India would be better off being a land of atheists.

Here's a statement from the Sikh Press Association, reacting to the comment above.

"Comparisons of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and Ram Rahim can be summarised by the fact that Sant Jarnail Singh was named the Greatest Sikh of the 21st century by the Akal Takht, whilst the same supreme governing body of the worldwide Sikh community excommunicated Ram Rahim.

Statements which claim Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was 'cultivated by Congress' and 'goaded to take on Akalis' ignore the long lineage of political reform and social activism that he represented as head of Damdami Taksal, which truly fuelled the movement he led.

Sant Jarnail Singh was not a "Frankenstein" created by the Indian state. He was a Sikh revolutionary that politicians attempted to use for their own gains, only to abruptly realise this 'holy-man' was one not for sale."

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