You love him or hate him but you can’t ignore him in the hinterlands of Haryana and Punjab. We are talking about none other than MSG the acronym associated with the Godman who matters in Haryana and Punjab, Baba Ram Rahim. The man loves to be in news and Mr Anil Vij has very good reason to choose him on a purpose to donate largesse of 50 lakhs and that too on the eve of National Sports Day which incidentally falls on 29th August.
Why a senior minister in Haryana would do something of this sort? Well! To begin with, Baba Ram Rahim and Anil Vij are strange bedfellows when it comes to generating controversies. Baba Ram Rahim has many avatars as he is not your regular Baba; he is much more than that. He is a preacher, spiritual leader, and also an actor.
Incidentally, Gurmeet Ram Rahim was born on 15 August 1967 to a Sikh couple in a place called Modia village in Ganganagar, Rajasthan. He was conferred sainthood way back in September 1990 when Shah Satnam held a Satsang and made him a successor of his spiritual organisation. He is a family man with four children and his son is married to the former Congress MLA from Bhatinda Harminder Singh Jassi.
His reign runs large in the Malwa region of Punjab and he openly supported BJP in the 2014 Haryana assembly elections and also during 2015 Delhi assembly elections. Even in a distant Bihar, he sent his 3000 followers to support and campaign for BJP during 2015 election which of course didn’t help much to party’s destiny.
He has been the head of the India-based socio-spiritual organisation (DSS) since 23 September 1990. Dera Sacha Sauda oversees several social programmes, such as cleanliness campaigns, blood donation drives, tree planting, disaster relief, and support for transgender people, tribal communities, orphans, and rehabilitation of sex workers.
How powerful is Baba Ram Rahim could be understood by the fact that he has more than five crore followers of which 50 lakhs come from these two states of Punjab and Haryana and another 10 lakhs from Delhi and that’s where his power lies and politically Baba becomes very very relevant. The Dera holds significant influence in at least 40 of the 117 assembly constituencies in Punjab and its followers are spread out in almost all the other constituencies. Baba is reviled by his detractors and venerated by his blind supporters in equal measures.
Dera has a lot of influence in Patiala, Sangrur, Faridkot and Fatehgarh Sahib and his writ runs large in these areas. Punjab has the highest percentage of Dalits in the country as they comprise more than 31 percent of the population and are an important vote bank.
The Dera Sacha Sauda has made headlines recently with its motorbike-riding 47-year-old chief featuring in a film ‘MSG: Messenger of God’ that was controversially cleared for release by a tribunal, prompting members of India’s censor board to resign in protest that their red flag to a film was ignored.
BJP was wise to realise the importance of Baba and his organisation Dera Sacha Sauda and was trying desperately to woo him. A close journalistic source revealed that there was a closed door meeting between BJP heavyweight Arun Jaitley and Baba Ram Rahim at his official residence in Delhi which decided the modalities and terms of support. BJP also wanted to prop up Baba as a counter to the Akali Dal who consider Baba as a sworn enemy and an outcast.
Sikhs have accused the Dera chief of blasphemy as he had allegedly imitated Guru Gobind Singh for which the Punjab and Haryana High Court recently issued a notice to him. The extent of BJP’s support for Baba could be seen in the incident relating to the release of his film MSG when the censor board was unceremoniously packed off. A famous comedian was immediately arrested when he mimicked the self-styled Godman which showed Gurmeet Ram Rahim’s influence with the Modi government.
The Akali Dal, of late has lost its support among the Dalit community because of some gory incidents involving their leaders and party members.Baba Ram Rahim’s area of influence in Punjab and Haryana is predominantly among Dalits and BJP successfully reaped the dividends during Haryana assembly elections in 2014 when Dera Sacha Sauda openly supported a political party for the first time. They are looking to replicate their Haryana performance in Punjab and only time will tell as this alliance with Baba turns out as per their electoral calculations or not?
While campaigning for his film MSG in Kerala, Ram Rahim said that BJP had nothing to do with the censor board clearance of his film and he supports BJP only because they have promised to support Dera on the various social issues raised by him. In fact, he sent the offer to Aam Aadmi party as well but no one came from that party. Akali Dal seems to be deeply disappointed by the emerging alliance of the saffron party with the Dera whom they have declared blasphemous in the past.
So far Akalis haven’t expressed their annoyance in public but recently Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) chief Manjit Singh GK said that the Akali Dal has nothing to do with Dera’s support to BJP and also hinted that it may have been done in order to keep various criminal cases against Baba and his Dera Sacha Sauda organisation. One senior Akali Dal leader who didn’t want to be named said to newsmen that the decision of Dera supporting their ally BJP may put BJP-Akali Dal alliance in a spot.
The Dera chief hurt Sikhs religious feeling when he dressed up as Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Guru of Sikhs and the most venerated among the large community. He was granted pardon by the Akal Takht Jathedar in September 2015, after receiving an apology in writing from Baba but owing to mass protests in the Sikh community against this pardon, was subsequently withdrawn. Dera didn’t support Akalis in the 2012 assembly elections but the word was sent to their candidates to seek Baba’s support in their respective constituencies. As a result, Akali Dal received support from Dera Sacha Sauda followers in a big way which proved vital in the winning margin of the candidates.
Dr Daljeet Singh Cheema the General Secretary of Akali Dal had cleverly made a statement during 2012 elections that it was up to the political wing of Dera Sacha Sauda to decide as which party to support, however, he was duty bound to seek support from every section of the society. It is widely known that no election in Punjab is complete without the sect, which is headquartered near Sirsa town in neighbouring Haryana.
With such political backdrop, it is not difficult to understand why the much maligned Haryana minister chose this Godman to promote an unheard sport like “Roomal Choo”and donated a sum of 50 lakhs which seems to be peanut considering the size of Baba’s Dera Sacha Sauda. It is assumed that the actual amount involved must be quite large and adequate to Baba’s huge size of influence. Only time will tell as how beneficial this unholy alliance will prove to BJP in terms of 2017 Punjab assembly election results.
Blog By ChandraKant
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.