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Paroles and Satsangs: Will BJP's Favouritism Of Ram Rahim Get Political Mileage?

The unholy Baba had even the most powerful lining up before him, to be favoured by his supporters and gain votes

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It was not surprising when news surfaced that several district-level Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders in Haryana had joined an online or virtual Satsang organised by the infamous Dera Sacha Sauda and addressed by its chief, the rapist-convict Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh and sought his ‘blessings’.

The unholy Baba, masquerading as a Godman holding ‘special’ spiritual powers, had even the most powerful lining up before him—if not for his ‘healing’ touch, but to come good in the eyes of his supporters and in this way, gain their vote.

Snapshot
  • Several Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders in Haryana had joined an online or virtual Satsang organised by the infamous Dera Sacha Sauda and addressed by its chief, the rapist-convict Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh

  • In October 2014, few weeks prior to the assembly elections in Haryana, Prime Minister Narendra Modi — while addressing a BJP rally in Sirsa, had showered praise on the already controversial Singh.

  • He was charge-sheeted by the Central Bureau of Investigation(CBI) for allegedly raping two sadhvis.

  • He was also facing trials in the cases for alleged involvement in the murders of the Dera manager, Ranjit Singh, and the Sirsa-based journalist, Ram Chander Chhatrapati, brave whistleblower-editor and publisher of a local newspaper.

  • More than three years ago, Indians were advised by the Union Home Minister to “understand chronology.” This has to be recognised even in the context of parole granted currently to the Baba.

  • Crucial assembly elections are due on 12 November in Himachal Pradesh, a state where in the areas contiguous to Punjab, Dera Sacha Sauda and the Baba personally, are believed to have a fair extent of influence.

In October 2014, few weeks prior to the assembly elections in Haryana, Prime Minister Narendra Modi — while addressing a BJP rally in Sirsa, had showered praise on the already controversial Singh. He declared amid cheering, he was doing pranam (paying obeisance) to the chief of the sect, conspicuous for its not very insignificant following in the state.
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Ram Rahim’s Interaction with PM Modi

Not that it was unknown in political circles, but Modi took care to mention that in the mid-1990s when he co-ordinated BJP's activities in Haryana, after being deputed to do so by the central leadership, he had interacted with the Baba. But his previous reported interactions were not with the intention of securing benefits for his party.

In a quid pro quo gesture, Singh lauded the Swachh Bharat Mission that was launched by the prime minister earlier that month. Disturbingly, when Modi made an appearance alongside the Baba, more than seven years had elapsed since he was charge-sheeted by the Central Bureau of Investigation(CBI) for allegedly raping two sadhvis.

He was also facing trials in the cases for alleged involvement in the murders of the Dera manager, Ranjit Singh, and the Sirsa-based journalist, Ram Chander Chhatrapati, brave whistleblower-editor and publisher of a local newspaper. Modi, questionably, endorsed the Baba’s ‘special’ powers despite him being out on bail and facing trial for rape and murder in the CBI’s court in Panchkula.

BJP’s Chronology Politics Finds an Echo in Baba Rahim

Less than two years after this meeting and after the elections installed a BJP government in the state for the first time, Jagdeep Singh, judge of the special CBI court pronounced a damning verdict: “The convict did not even spare his own pious disciples and acted like a wild beast. He does not deserve any mercy.”

The ‘no’ clemency for the Baba included a fine of Rs 30.2 lakh and twenty years of hard labour. Yet, the BJP did not direct its leaders and the rabble that follows the party to maintain distance from the Baba even after his conviction on heinous charges. As a result, the feting and fawning at online and offline Satsangs continues unremittingly.

If this does not establish the political ‘connections’ of the frequently-out-on-parole Baba, and his vital role in the BJP’s electoral politics, there is more to follow.

More than three years ago, Indians were advised by the Union Home Minister to “understand chronology.” This has to be recognised even in the context of parole granted currently to the Baba.
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Does Ram Rahim Stand a Chance in the Polls?

Crucial assembly elections are due on 12 November in Himachal Pradesh, a state where in the areas contiguous to Punjab, Dera Sacha Sauda and the Baba personally, are believed to have a fair extent of influence.

On 3 November, a crucial assembly by-election is to be held for the Adampur seat in Haryana. The election is being billed as significant for the BJP because it has fielded Bhavya Bishnoi, the son of two-time MP and four-time MLA Kuldeep Bishnoi. He is also the grandson of Haryana’s three-time former Chief Minister Bhajan Lal and had unsuccessfully contested from Hisar in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls on the Congress ticket.

The bypoll itself was necessitated because Kuldeep Bishnoi, who held the seat, quit the Congress to move to the saffron fold, had to perforce resign his seat. The Baba has a significant presence in Hisar district where the constituency is located and the BJP hopes some of this would be influenced into voting for its candidate.
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Prison Break for Godman but Political Prisoners Still Caged

Furthermore, starting late October, the electorate in Haryana will also vote for the panchayat bodies. Ram Rahim was released on a forty-day parole on 15 October and by the time his current innings as a free man will conclude, the process for the panchayat polls would have concluded.

Significantly, this is the third time this year that Singh is out of jail, twice on parole and once on furlough. For the uninitiated, in legalese, parole is granted by prison authorities for a specific exigency while furlough is a general break from the prison.

The Baba was first granted the liberty to move freely outside the Sunaria Jail in Rohtak in February for three weeks and thereafter, for a month in June. In 2021, he was released on parole thrice.

Juxtapose this with the refusal of bail to several very old and ailing political activists who have been hauled up in jail on charges that are universally believed to be trumped up and heaped on them because of holding a divergent view from the current political regime.
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If this blatant partisanship was insufficient, it is worth keeping in mind that while parole is “usually subject to behaviour” and “is not a matter of right" furlough is considered a matter of right “to be granted periodically irrespective of any reason and merely to enable the prisoner to retain family and social ties.”

As the shared video of the latest online Satsangh and several previous footage of Singh with his ‘followers‘ demonstrate, he shares a ‘familial’ ties with him, with him being called Pita Ji and he referring to them as his children.

The previous occasions in 2022 when the Baba was granted parole it coincided, certainly not by chance, with elections. In February, assembly polls were held in Punjab and in June, crucial elections were held in 46 municipalities of Haryana.

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Will the BJP Have Baba’s Back?

Certainly, the BJP leverages its position as the driver of a ‘double engine’ government while the Baba indicates to his followers – including within the BJP’s leadership – to extract a preferential decision.

At the moment, the BJP has all the keys under its control but there are past instances of the Baba backing the Congress too, like for instance during the elections in Punjab in 2007. After the public meeting when Singh appeared alongside Modi, he had called upon his followers to vote for the BJP in the October 2014 assembly elections.

After winning a majority in the state for the first time, nearly half of the 47 winning MLAs reportedly called on him to convey their gratitude for his support. Such display of servility was unprecedented in the annals of the nexus between political leaders and Godmen (and their female counterparts) and spiritual gurus.

Innumerable instances can be recorded when individual political leaders have sought the blessings for themselves personally, or for their party prior to the hustings. There have also been countless instances of political leaders been drawn towards people who they considered were blessed with divine insights and magical powers, or had a simple way of explaining complex spiritual puzzles they may be examining.

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BJP’s Fascination With Self-Styled Godmen 

While prior to 2014 Modi was not known to have been drawn towards Godmen like the Baba, he was attracted to Pandurang Shastri Athavale who went onto become one of independent India’s first spiritual gurus and also came to be known as Dadaji and founded the Swadhyay Movement and the Swadhyay Parivar.

Modi disclosed to me that through the teachings of the Gita, Athavale, tried to bring about a change of heart in the people: “I used to go to listen to his lectures whenever he came to our village. I still remember his style of speaking — the way he used to speak — I had a receptive mind at that age.”

The prime minister remained faithful to his childhood guru but after his death in October 2003, especially after the organization got embroiled in controversies, he maintained a distance. This has certainly not been done in regard to the Dera and its contentious chief for electoral reasons.

In a country like India where faith is not limited to the personal space and spills into the political domain too, it is difficult to distinguish between ‘acceptable’ religion and obscurantist belief. It would take a long time and considerable effort, if it is at all possible, to compile a list of Godmen or Gurus who have an influence either on the political domain or on political (or electoral) choices of people.
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Faith Plays Political Interlude in a Country Like India

The line however has to be drawn by political parties and their leadership. A start can be made from staying away, if not publicly being critical, from those persons who have been accused of criminal acts, and certainly never crossing paths with those convicted.

As a ruling party, the BJP has failed to set an example. But then, it sees itself more as an election juggernaut intent on winning every round using whatever tactics it can deploy.

Any change that the BJP under Modi has worked for, it is strengthening the power of the State and policies that has furthered its politics. Bolstering scientific temper and the questioning spirit of the people has certainly not been the objective of the government and the prime minister.

(The writer is a NCR-based author and journalist. His latest book is The Demolition and the Verdict: Ayodhya and the Project to Reconfigure India. He has also written The RSS: Icons of the Indian Right and Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times. He tweets at @NilanjanUdwin)

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