New Delhi: Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh whose conviction in a rape case has triggered mayhem in Punjab, Haryana and Delhi, caused the death of at least 32 people and injuries to hundreds of people, has been a darling of political parties, including the ruling BJP government of Haryana.
At least three senior state ministers in the BJP government in Haryana — Ram Bilas Sharma, Anil Vij and Grover — have together gifted Dera Sacha Sauda leader Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Rs 1.12 crore.
The state education minister, Ram Bilas Sharma, who publicly defended Ram Rahim’s followers that have brought three states to a standstill, had made a public spectacle by gifting Rahim a cheque of Rs 51 lakh recently.
Talking to the press on Friday, Sharma called DSS followers “simple, peace loving people,” who may have gathered in Panchkula in huge numbers “but till now have not touched a single plant”. The minister, who defended the sect on the day when it caused large-scale violence, was a guest at DSS headquarters in Sirsa on August 15 to celebrate the sect chief’s birthday.
At the birthday, Ram Bilas Sharma not only came in person to wish the self-styled godman a long life, but also presented to him a donation of Rs 51 lakh, from his ministry’s discretionary quota ‘to promote sports’.
But this was not a one-off incident. BJP ministers seem to have a habit of visiting DSS headquarters and donating large amounts to the sect from the state’s discretionary funds.
In August 2016, the health and sports minister Anil Vij also announced a huge donation to the Dera Sacha Sauda at its headquarters in Sirsa, Haryana.
"It is a very good thing. Along with religion, education and games are there. That means they are trying to prepare a complete human being," Vij told reporters at the headquarters. He added, "He [Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh] is encouraging the games. Since the schools are also encouraging games here, I would like to donate Rs 50 lakh from my discretionary fund," he added.
Vij, when questioned about this move not only defended his decision and said he had the authority to spend money as he wanted, also said that he would’ve gifted Ram Rahim more money had there not been a ceiling on his discretionary fund expenditure.
"I could not give more than Rs 50 lakh out of discretionary fund. Had it been possible, I would have given more," he had told media.
Just a few days after Vij’s huge gift to Rahim, another Haryana state minister, Manish Grover, who has independent charge for Ministry of Co-operation, Printing & Stationery and Urban Local Bodies, donated Rs 11 lakh to the Dera from his ‘discretionary funds’ as well. Grover also proudly stated that he had the blessings of Ram Rahim.
"I have full blessings of Guru Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram Rahim and he will take the youth forward... On this occasion being the representative of Haryana government, I am giving Rs 11 lakh to Dera Sacha Sauda from my discretionary fund," Grover told reporters last August.
But the present BJP government in Haryana is not the only one to cozy up to DSS in the hope of spreading their influence in the state through the lakhs of DSS followers. In the past, several Congress leaders, including the present Chief Minister of Punjab – Amrinder Singh, and the former Chief Minister of Haryana Bhupinder Singh Hooda, had also embraced Ram Rahim Singh before elections.
DSS followers have left a trail of destruction in Haryana, Punjab and Delhi. At least 32 people have been killed and over 250 have been injured in the violence that started from outside the CBI court in Panchkula, where the sect chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim was convicted of rape on Friday.
It was only after the intervention of the Punjab and Haryana High Court that the state was forced to intervene and rein in DSS followers.
As this piece is being written, arson continues to rip apart Haryana and Punjab, and the national capital. Mobile services have been suspended, 150 companies of paramilitary forces have been deployed and 22 trains through Punjab and Haryana have been cancelled.