Chandigarh: The Punjab Police Monday named incarcerated Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim as an accused in a case related to the sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib in 2015.
Ram Rahim, who heads the powerful Sirsa-based dera, is currently lodged in a jail in Haryana’s Rohtak, serving a 20-year sentence in two rape cases, after he was convicted in August 2017.
Last year, he was also sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of a journalist.
“We have named the dera chief as an accused in the challan (chargesheet) submitted in the trial court Monday. The challan is against seven accused who had already been arrested in the case. Now, the dera chief will be probed and a supplementary challan filed in the case,” Ranbir Singh Khatra, DIG, Jalandhar Range, told ThePrint.
Khatra is heading the special investigation team (SIT) constituted by the Punjab government to probe the Guru Granth Sahib sacrilege cases of 2015.
The case against Ram Rahim
The 2015 series of incidents of sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib, considered to be a living guru by the Sikhs, had sparked statewide protests. Two Sikh youths were killed in police firing during one such protest at Behbal Kalan village. The sacrilege and the deaths in police firing had snowballed into a major political issue, and it is said the then ruling dispensation of Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP alliance led by Parkash Singh Badal lost power because it mishandled the case.
The first case was registered by the police on 1 June 2015 after a bir (copy) of the Guru Granth Sahib was stolen from a village gurdwara in Faridkot. It is in this case that the dera chief has now been named as an accused.
In 2018, the SIT arrested nearly two dozen dera followers in the case. One of the prime accused, Mohinder Pal Bittu, who was lodged in the Nabha high security jail during investigation, was killed by two jail inmates last year.
The seven accused in the case against whom the challan was submitted in the court Monday were arrested Saturday. “Three other accused are absconding, and another, the dera chief, is in Sunaria jail, Rohtak,” said Khatra.
During the SAD-BJP regime in November 2015, investigation into the sacrilege cases had been handed over to the CBI. However, the Congress government, led by Captain Amarinder Singh, revoked the orders and handed over the probe back to the SIT. The CBI, which filed a closure report in the cases, challenged the Punjab government’s decision to take the probe back but lost the case in the Supreme Court in February this year.
‘Political impact’ in 2022 polls?
Naming the dera chief as accused is expected to have a “significant political impact” in the assembly elections due in the state in early 2022.
A large number of dera followers live in Punjab, and they have been at loggerheads with the Sikh community for more than a decade now. In 2007, Ram Rahim had allegedly donned the attire of Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth and last guru of the Sikhs, infuriating the community. The dera followers and Sikhs have clashed with each other on several occasions since.
The dera, however, is considered to be politically powerful for both Punjab and Haryana, with leaders of almost every political party having been seen in the past making a beeline for Ram Rahim’s blessings. The unquestioning faith of the lakhs of dera followers in both states made him a political asset for many.
“With Ram Rahim already in jail, and the dera losing its erstwhile political significance, the move to probe the former will be seen as the ruling Congress trying to appease the Sikh community, otherwise considered to be the Akalis’ core vote bank,” said Prof Kanwalpreet Kaur, a Punjab politics expert, who teaches in the political science department at DAV College, Chandigarh.
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