Sirsa: A black SUV, shades, a companion and an intent to stay away from media glare — that’s how former Congress leader Ranjit Singh, who is contesting as an Independent in the Haryana elections, went to Dera Sacha Sauda Friday morning.
The Dera is a socio-religious sect headed by rape-murder convict Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, who is currently lodged in a Rohtak jail.
“He (Singh) was here early in the morning,” said a police officer posted near the Dera. “The local politicians continue to visit, they just don’t show it off anymore.”
This is a far cry from 2014 when every politician flocked to the Dera to seek the blessings of its patron. The unquestioning faith of nearly 60 lakh Dera followers in Haryana made Ram Rahim a political asset for many.
From Prime Minister Narendra Modi praising the Dera chief to Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, who was seen holding a broom with him — Ram Rahim was wooed by politicians of various hues before his conviction.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah also met Ram Rahim ahead of the last Haryana and Maharashtra assembly elections. That was the first time when the Dera decided to openly support a political party, the BJP. This paid rich dividends for the BJP as it swept Haryana in both the Lok Sabha and the assembly elections.
But now rust settles on the Dera’s appeal after Ram Rahim’s conviction in 2017 for rape, and murder in 2019. The political wing of the Dera that liaised with politicians has also been discontinued after these convictions, said sources.
Prakash Singh, editor of Dera’s own magazine Sach Kahoon, however, denied this. “People may have changed, but the wing continues to function,” he told ThePrint.
Local politicians still flock to Dera
Independent candidate Gopal Kanda, who is suspected of abetment in two suicide cases, and BJP’s Pradeep Ratusaria were spotted by the same policeman visiting the Dera. Ratusaria has even openly sought the Dera’s support. Both Kanda and Ratusaria are contesting from Sirsa.
“The locals know the Dera’s value and (hence) continue to visit the place,” the policeman told ThePrint.
Congress’ Randeep Singh Surjewala, whose constituency Kaithal has a substantial population of Dera followers, and former Haryana Congress chief Ashok Tanwar have also visited the Dera.
“Surjewala visited recently,” said Dr Parveen, 29, who has been with the Dera since 2006. “But we are not politically inclined. Anyone who has faith, can visit the Dera,” he added.
According to Prakash Singh, Tanwar was one of the politicians, who had even attended Ram Rahim’s birthday celebrations on 15 February this year.
ThePrint tried to reach out to both Surjewala and Tanwar to confirm this, but they remained unavailable.
“Most politicians now think that if I appeal directly, those outside the Dera will turn against me,” said Singh. “But we only educate our followers to vote, not who to vote for. The humanitarian message of the Dera has been lost in all these.”
For 51-year-old Dera follower Rajesh Insaan, this election is markedly different.
“Earlier politicians would come here, sign a form that if elected they will work for social welfare,” he said. “This year, with guruji in jail, nothing is clear, we haven’t seen anyone around.”
Dera is deserted, but the faith of people still intact
An eerie silence envelops the dusty approach road, barely minutes away from the Dera headquarters. This was the same path that was thronged by thousands of Dera supporters when their chief was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2017.
Many in the Dera maintain that Ram Rahim’s arrest has not shaken their faith.
Sarojit Kaur, 34, said the number of people attending the weekly satsang has increased. “Our inner faith hasn’t been shaken,” she said. “On Sunday, it looks like everyone is here.”
Though the Dera wears a deserted look, its activities have not been halted. It still undertakes welfare activities under 134 schemes per year. The ‘MSG’ factories have also resumed their operations after Ram Rahim’s arrest. MSG is another name of the Dera chief.