Editor's note: This article was originally published on 18 September,2015. However, it is being republished in the view of the special CBI court verdict, which is expected on 25 August.
It was a foggy cold winter on December 31, 2014 when I drove to Sirsa from Delhi to interview Dera Sachcha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh. A movie produced by him and featuring him as lead star, singer, stuntman was about to be released. It also marked a clear deviation from usual perception of a religious guru or preacher.
India, of course, is no stranger to such deviations as there are various god men and god mothers known for their odd variants of spiritualism. But Gurmeet Ram Rahim evokes curiosity for different reasons - his influence on politics and social life of Punjab and Haryana. He was targeted by Sikh hardliners for wearing attire that resembles the clothes of last Sikh Guru Gobind Singh. In Punjab elections, he successfully flexed his muscles and was much sought after man by the Congress and the BJP.
But in Haryana elections, the BJP literally bent over backwards to win over “Guru ji” as Gurmeet Ram Rahim is fondly called by his disciples. BJP president Amit Shah sent his emissaries to negotiate with him and earn his support for party candidates. The Dera Sachcha Sauda (DSS) extended full support and largely tilted the balance in favour of the BJP. In this context, he emerged as a bit of a power broker.
Before leaving from Delhi, I got in touch with Dr Aditya, an eye specialist who deals with glaucoma. He also looks after Gurmeet Ram Rahim’s public relations. As I reached the sprawling DSS enclave spread over hundreds of acres, Dr Aditya greeted me outside a convention centre. He informed me that the interview could be held only late in the evening. It meant that I could leave Sirsa for Delhi only next morning as the visibility in the night was almost negligible.
Soon, I was taken to a hall where Gurmeet Ram Rahim was delivering his regular discourse. Enclosures for hoi pilloi were at a distance from the stage where Gurmeet Ram Rahim appeared while a section of suave gentry were given a closer space. I was told that most of the people are professionals, some of them highly qualified doctors from prestigious All India Institute of medical science (AIIMS). Dr Aditya tells that the Sirsa estate of the DSS houses one of the best equipped eye hospital and second biggest eye bank after AIIMS. Given that senior AIIMS doctors belonged to the Guru’s fan-club, Dr Aditya’s claims rung true.
I was soon ushered into a room where Gurmeet Ram Rahim was sitting on an exalted pedestal in his usually grotesque dress.
I asked him if he is trained actor or singer. He denied but confidently said , “I do not find acting or singing difficult. Why can’t I do it as others can do it?”.
"But how can you sing unless you are trained?" I persisted.
“In fact I started rapping and singing fast songs to lure youth away from the fast music that induced drugs to youth,” he gave a rather strange explanation.
In his view, he is targeted by his opponents (say the Akalis) not because of his dressing style but due to his war against the drug warlords in Punjab and Haryana.
Who does he find politically closer to him? I asked. And unambiguous reply was “the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi”.
He sounded like a politically correct and reasonably tolerant person. But that was not true of his devotees, particularly women, who raised objection over questions related to certain unsavoury controversies surrounding him.
Those who know Gurmeet Ram Rahim in Sirsa are hardly impressed by his façade of social service and fight against drug mafias. Yet his influence in the social life is overwhelming. Apparently much of it came from the institutions like hospitals and schools he has built all around the state. The large tracts of land owned by the DSS enables it to have control over the political economy of the region where a large section of dalits and OBCs in Haryana and Punjab get attracted to a new religious order that accommodates those living on the margins.
Gurmeet Ram Rahim’s sartorial style, his antics, his expensive cars, motorcycles and his idiosyncrasies in movies and music can hardly be called impressive. Yet he has an impressive following of underdogs and a section of elites as well. After nearly an hour long interaction with Gurmeet Ram Rahim, I stayed back at his guest house which has all the facilities of a five star hotel. I returned Delhi next morning i.e January 2015.
For the next nine months, I never gave Gurumeet Ram Rahim another thought -- until the release of his second movie – MSG. I saw him attired in the same grotesque dress, whizzing past in expensive cars with police cars in tow and moving around TV studios in Noida. It seems like there is little difference in his life and the movie. It's one and the same.
Updated Date: Aug 25, 2017 12:41 PM