The conviction of Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim in a rape case by a CBI court on Friday must be seen as a positive step towards the evolution of a "scientific and rational" social order in India.
Those who have not seen him from close would tend to believe that Gurmeet Ram Rahim is a maverick in the garb of a spiritual leader who exploits people’s gullibility. But that will definitely be a wrong description.
He is certainly an extraordinary man who thrives on people’s fear of the known as unknown. In the process, he has spawned a huge economy around his ashram and activities that involve lakhs of people wholeheartedly devoted to him. In essence, he fills the gap where the state has practically abdicated its responsibility.
During my visit to his opulent ashram at Sirsa on a winter evening two years back, I found him the most amazing person I have ever met. He was quite candid in his conversation, talking about how he did stunts in his movie himself, and about his penchant for composing and singing rap songs himself.
"Why should I not do it if any actor could do it?" he asked me quite nonchalantly. When asked about criminal charges against him including of rape, he would keep mum but such a query used to make his supporters within the ashram angry. Such questions are better not posed before Gurmeet Ram Rahim who carefully cultivated his image as that of a saviour for the teeming oppressed and the poor living in Haryana and Punjab.
But that’s just one side of his story. Few know that Gurmeet Ram Rahim is immensely popular among doctors. A score of the country’s top ophthalmologists, including those belonging to the prestigious RP Centre of the AIIMS, are his disciples. They experience "divine bliss" in the presence of Gurmeet Ram Rahim, who is known as "pitaji" among his devotees.
Take the case of Aditya who used to work as a liaison man for the Baba. He is known to be a very good ophthalmologist, having graduated from the AIIMS. Aditya could speak for hours on end in praise of the Baba and would not hesitate to point out that though his past was unsavoury he corrected himself after associating with "Pitaji". There are several others like Aditya who can swear their lives in the name of Gurmeet Ram Rahim.
And the reasons for Baba’s burgeoning following are not far to seek. He presides over a veritable empire in Sirsa and other places in Haryana and Punjab where he runs charitable hospitals. With the collapse of the health system all across the country, his disciples in millions find it quite reassuring to avail best medical facilities in Gurmeet Ram Rahim’s ashrams. His myth not only perpetuates but gets multiplied in exponential proportion.
But what really legitimises his ways is the endorsement from politics. Since the Dera Sacha Sauda could boast of millions of followers who are ready to do anything at the Baba’s bidding, politicians flock to his ashram before elections. Just before Haryana assembly elections, there were reports of BJP president Amit Shah approaching Gurmeet Ram Rahim to secure support for the party. And the Baba did not disappoint him as he openly endorsed the BJP. The BJP’s significant gains in co-opting the marginalised sections of society in Haryana were attributed to the Dera Sacha Sauda’s open endorsement of the BJP. There is little doubt that Gurmeet Ram Rahim has always been much sought after man before every election. Political leaders either secretly or openly make deals with him in order to get votes.
In the religious domain, Gurmeet Ram Rahim is, without doubt, the worst manifestation of Indian spirituality. He wears outrageous outfits and comes across as a not-so-pleasing character to the sophisticated urban elites. Yet his sermons and his uncouth rendition of raps attract devotees. The apparent reason is that he appeals to an audience, particularly social underdogs, who are left out of upper-caste dominated Hinduism and Jat-dominated Sikhism. That is the precise reason that though his spiritualism does not conform to the elites’ perception of it, his wayward ways find resonance among the poor and unwashed masses of Haryana and Punjab villages.
It would, therefore, be naïve — even wrong — to see Gurmeet Ram Rahim in black and white. His appeal, emergence and subsequent conviction fall into a grey area which needs an intense scrutiny. However, the best part of the court’s decision on Friday is that it will give a fillip to a progressive understanding of the society and instill a "scientific temper". This will reaffirm people’s faith in saying "even gods have feet of clay”. Godmen like Gurmeet Ram Rahim are not exceptions.
Updated Date: Aug 25, 2017 19:55 PM