Haryana violence: Govts will continue backing Dera-like organisations unless citizens take a stand
Those sort of calculations would explain the failure of the Haryana government to prevent the arming, assembly, and violence by votaries of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh.
The calculation was probably quite simple. By the time of the next General Elections, the people would have forgotten any violence perpetrated by Dera Sacha Sauda adherents however, the sect would still be able to mobilise the votes of lakhs of devotees.
Other calculations would also have plugged. Media outrage would not last for more than a few days. The Centre would not dismiss the state government. There was no Opposition worth the name to channel any public anger.
Those sort of calculations would explain the failure of the Haryana government to prevent the arming, assembly, and violence by votaries of the Baba (Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh 'Insan') who heads the Dera Sacha Sauda. At least 29 people have been killed as a result.
The chief minister kept talking of devotion and devotees, not of the deaths of people, the arson, or the mayhem. His government had allowed Dera mobilisation despite warnings by courts and the media. His ministers then blamed the media, which was also attacked by Ram Rahim's followers, for going to the mob.
The sad fact is that such calculations may not have been off the mark. Public memory is notoriously short and issues in the media tend to remain in focus only for a limited period of time.
Given the intensity of the public anger on Friday, some heads will probably roll over the next few days. How highly placed those heads will be, depends on how long the intensity of public anger is sustained. However high those heads might be, the ruling party will not lose power in Haryana.
If such cynical calculations are to succeed, a comfortable stay will be ensured in whichever jail the head of the Dera will be kept, despite the fact that he has now been convicted of rape and is said to have been responsible for other heinous crimes. His comfortable stay will be a critical factor if the government expects those lakhs of votes the Dera can mobilise.
Such cynical calculations and deal-making for en masse vote mobilisation are plainly wrong. Such deals compromise the impartiality of governments formed on the basis of their support, and allow such dubious figures to function like warlords, running criminal operations and networks without fear of government departments like the police.
However, that's not all. The horrible irony is that politicians who are meant to show leadership and vision seem to depend on such dubious persons to mobilise large scale support for them, even though such godmen and other similar figures probably do not actually make much difference.
Although the Dera and other such mass movements (the Dera is registered as an NGO) make high-stakes political deals, the irony is that they can only help the electoral prospects of a party or leader that has a substantial measure of support anyway.
Although the man convicted on Friday had given crucial support to the Congress in the 2007 Punjab elections, his efforts to repeat that in 2012 apparently failed. By 2014, when there was already a Modi wave, the Dera switched support to the BJP for the Lok Sabha elections and then for the Haryana Assembly elections the same year. Again, the Baba failed to make much difference to the BJP's efforts to win Assembly elections in Delhi or in Bihar.
By the people
The bottom line is that such cynical calculations will continue unless ordinary individual citizens – the nobodies with no axe to grind in murky deal-making – take a stand and insist on accountability. When push comes to shove, democracy is only a word. It remains on paper unless the government is held accountable.
Thursday's brilliant and erudite judgment of Justice DY Chandrachud on the right to privacy recounted a famous anecdote from the history of the US. A woman stopped Benjamin Franklin, a founding father of the US on the street to ask what kind of government he had given them. His reply was crisp: 'A republic - if you can keep it'.
Let us cherish and uphold what our founding fathers designed for us – a system of impartiality and accountability that ensures justice and rights for the weak and powerless.
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