On 26 August 2017, HuffPost India published a piece by T S Sudhir titled, "Is Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh The Bhindranwale of The 21st Century?" (The headline was later changed and a statement from the Sikh Press Association added, but the article was shared a week prior and remained otherwise unedited.)
The highly provocative title and inflammatory opening paragraphs either demonstrate the author's warped understanding of Sikh ideology or they are an attempt to malign and misrepresent one of the most revered Sikh leaders of the 21st century.
The author's attempt to depict Sant Jarnail Singh within the framework of the "unholy culture of the politician-godmen nexus in India" is bewildering.
The author cites his basis for comparing the two as a means of "exploring the unholy culture of the politician-godmen nexus in India." The attempt to depict Sant Jarnail Singh within this framework is bewildering.
Whilst the author correctly states it was journalist Kuldip Nayar who first alleged that Sant Jarnail Singh was cultivated by the Congress to usurp the Akali Dal, he fails to mention that the allegation remains completely unfounded 40 years on. Despite this, it has been continually bandied about by a whole array of misinformed writers and commentators that effectively churn out the erroneous rhetoric of the Indian establishment and its media outlets.
To clarify, in 1977 Sant Jarnail Singh became the leader of the Damdami Taksaal (a Sikh educational institute founded during the time of Guru Gobind Singh). He was not associated with the Akali Dal until 1982 when he launched the Dharam Yudh Morcha (Civil Rights Movement) against the arrest of his companions, at which point the Akali Dal asked him to merge his endeavours with other political demands laid out in the Anandpur Sahib Resolution.
The author's comparison shows a complete disregard of Sikh political history and ignores the words and actions of Sant Jarnail Singh himself, who made it unequivocally clear that he was anything but associated with the Congress. In fact, he was outspoken in his condemnation of Indian governance and specifically the policies of Congress, viewed as suppressive of Punjab and Sikhs. He was highly critical of self-appointed "godmen" who exploited the poor and illiterate masses across India for personal fame and glory.
Sant Jarnail Singh... was outspoken in his condemnation of Indian governance and specifically the policies of Congress. He was highly critical of self-appointed "godmen"...
Sant Jarnail Singh was a staunch activist for change in Punjab and the wider region, with Sikh sovereignty high on his agenda. The Khalistan movement that followed his martyrdom is testament to the foundations he had built through connecting with Punjabis of all backgrounds, across the state. If one reads or listens to his speeches, which are readily available online, it is evidently clear that he advocated for the people of Punjab to rise, become initiated Sikhs, read Sikh scripture, and realise the sovereignty bestowed upon them by Guru Nanak. He would often talk about the need for Sikhs to re-enter Anandpur, a reference to the deviation in 1947, so that they could realise the political objectives of the Khalsa Panth. Sant Jarnail Singh's endeavours centred on rejecting the authority of the Indian state—in stark contrast to TS Sudhir's allegations about his affiliation to the Congress.
Another false representation made by the author is the statement that "nothing less than the Indian Army would do to flush him out of Akal Takht," in reference to Indira Gandhi's decision to attack a largely civilian populace at Darbar Sahib in Amritsar in 1984. Firstly, Sant Jarnail Singh was not arrested, rather he courted arrest for his alleged role in the murder of Lala Jagat Narain, founder of the Hind Samachar Group, but was soon released without charge – something TS Sudhir fails to make clear. Secondly, he was almost always in clear sight when delivering speeches at Darbar Sahib, or at his previous base of Mehta Chowk. It is important to remember that no arrest warrant was issued in the months leading up to the attack in June 1984.
If the author truly wanted to explore the politician-godman nexus in India, a comparison of Ram Rahim and someone like Sathya Sai Baba would've offered a more relevant analysis.
Furthermore, the author gives no context to the army attack. There is no mention of the civil rights movement—the Sikh opposition to Indira Gandhi's electoral fraud after which she implemented a state of Emergency—or the continued suppression of Sikh activism against which Sant Jarnail Singh spoke.
The accusation against Sant Jarnail Singh of using political benevolence to further his own interests is historically inaccurate. At no point in his recorded speeches, or from his actions, can one conclude he had an ulterior motive. On the contrary, he spoke out against those who used their elevated position within the Sikh community to seek political advancements from the establishment.
If the author truly wanted to explore the politician-godman nexus in India, a comparison of Ram Rahim and someone like Sathya Sai Baba would've offered a more relevant analysis. Sathya Sai Baba was an individual accused in multiple sexual assault cases and of involvement in the murder by police of four of his followers in his own bedroom in 1993. Despite this, a series of Indian prime ministers, presidents, ministers as well as judges and elite Indians worshipped him. Much like Gurmeet Ram Rahim, he was constantly protected from any form of prosecution by the Indian establishment because it would've jeopardised the votes of millions of followers that he had amassed. The exact same observation can be made of Gurmeet Ram Rahim and his public allegiance to the BJP.
Whilst there is merit in the author suggesting that the Indian establishment must be held accountable for drawing electoral benefits from the popularity of cult figureheads such as Ram Rahim (as well as Sathya Sai Baba), the unproven collusion between Congress and Sant Jarnail Singh which the author desperately tries to project is completely unfounded, simply because it never actually existed. It was and remains state-sponsored propaganda to undermine the illustrious work of Sant Jarnail Singh and the legitimacy of the Khalistan movement that followed.
It is a real shame the author chooses to defame Sant Jarnail Singh, who proved with his life he was not what he stood accused of.
The author is of the belief that religion is a private affair. Whilst this is fine as his own opinion, this notion highlights his obvious lack of understanding of Sikh ideology and polity. He fails to comprehend that in the House of Guru Nanak there is no dichotomy between the spiritual and temporal realms of human existence. After all, this is why the concept of Miri-Piri (temporal and spiritual union) was institutionalised by the 6th Nanak, Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji, when he erected the Akal Takht. Sant Jarnail Singh best epitomised the integrated vision of the Sikh Gurus that inspired men and women to acquire a sense of purpose and make sacrifices for the cause of truth, justice and righteousness.
He gave his life for the advancement of Guru Nanak's mission and the political objectives of the Sikh Panth. It was his moral stature and character, and not any wealth or façade of being a "godman," which made him a leader accepted by the Sikh masses.
In conclusion, it is a real shame the author chooses to defame Sant Jarnail Singh, who proved with his life he was not what he stood accused of. It is a pity because at the core of TS Sudhir's piece are some real issues which highlight the failures of the Indian state. Individuals like Ram Rahim, Asaram, Narayan Sai, Rampal, Swami Nithyananda and other self-appointed "godmen" like Sathya Sai Baba before them, harnessed control and power through vote bank politics. They are the latest in a long line of Indian cult leaders who have received political pardon from the establishment and this core message was lost amongst the attempts to compare the incomparable.