SGPC sees red as parties cosy up to Dera head in poll-bound Haryana

As political leaders bow before Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, a convist in murder and rape case who is currently out on parole, ahead of polls in Haryana, the SGPC in the neighbouring Punjab has sought a ban on his activities., A report by Rajesh Moudgil

Undergoing 20-year imprisonment for murder and rape in Sunaria jail, Rohtak, in Haryana, the Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh is currently out on a 40-day parole since October 14 last, ahead of upcoming Adampur bye-election and panchayat polls. And even though the ruling BJP leadership in Haryana maintains that the timing of the parole granted to Dera head has no connection with politics or the upcoming polls, several of the saffron party leaders have already been seen seeking his blessings.

Headquartered at Haryana’s Sirsa district, the Dera Sacha Sauda has, for long, tacitly supported different political parties in Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan where it has a huge influence and has a large number of followers.

Prominent among those who have already sought his blessings is Haryana include the state assembly deputy speaker Ranbir Gangwa, the BJP MLA from Nalwa in Hisar, who was seen – in an online interaction of the Dera head with his followers – seeking his blessings and hailing various welfare activities undertaken by the Dera head.

Another BJP leader was Karnal mayor Renu Bala Gupta who too interacted with the Dera head and sought his blessings for the upcoming polls. Karnal is also the Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar’s constituency.

However, the BJP leadership vehemently defends Gangwa and other party leaders on the issue.

The state BJP president O P Dhankar told the media that it was a matter of faith and that it had nothing to do with polls or politics. He held that the Dera head had faced the law and was convicted. Likewise, the law provided equal rights to all to follow any religion and faith, he added.

Gangwa, who also interacted with the newspersons, held that his family had since long been a disciple of the Dera Sacha Sauda and it had also donated a part of ancestral land to the Dera. He went on to say that Dera has been known for social service in various fields and a large number of people had quit liquor and drugs following the teachings and instructions of the Dera.

The Haryana prisons minister, however, held that it was the legal right of any convict to be released from the prison on parole or furlough, after the completion of a requisite period of imprisonment inside jail.

Meanwhile, the Congress candidate for upcoming Adampur bye-election, Jai Prakash, also held that he was a real follower of the Dera. Stating that the Dera head had never participated in any electoral activity nor did he send out any message to his followers, Jai Prakash held that Dera head knew that I was a real follower and not like these fake ones, media reports say.

For record, till 2014, the political leaders used to make a beeline before the Dera head for his blessings in Haryana. However, the downfall of the Dera head began in 2017 when he was convicted for the first time by the special CBI court in Panchkula, on charges of rape of two of his women disciples.

The conviction of the Dera head triggered a violent clashes between hundreds of his followers and the armed forces who were already camping in Panchkula; this led to killing of over 30 people which further whipped up protests pan-Haryana. The army had to be deployed at several places in the state to control the law and order. The Dera head was taken out of the CBI court in Panchkula in a chopper to the Rohtak jail.

The Dera head had in the past been granted parole thrice in 2021 and twice in 2022 – for 21 days in February and for a month in June, though the timing of the his repeated releases did raise eyebrows; On February 7, this year he was granted furlough just days before the Punjab assembly polls and granted Z-plus security cover reportedly in the wake of a serious threat to his life from pro-Khalistan elements.

It may also be recalled that Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar had on that occasion, flatly rebuked any connection between the Dera head’s release and the polls and held that it was as per the provision for the law.

The Dera chief, first convicted in August 2017 by a special CBI court in Panchkula, is currently serving a 20-year jail term for raping two of his women disciples at the Dera headquarters in Sirsa. In 2019, Ram Rahim and three others were convicted for the 2002 murder of journalist Ram Chander Chhatrapati. Last year, he, along with four others, was convicted for hatching a conspiracy to kill the Dera’s former manager Ranjit Singh, who was shot dead, also in 2002.

SGPC for a ban on Dera head’s activities

Meanwhile, in the bordering state of Punjab, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) president Harjinder Singh Dhami has reacted sharply against the activities of the Dera head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh and asked the Centre and state government to immediately stop them.

It is pertinent to mention here that Dhami’s demands are subsequent to the demand of Dera followers to set up a Dera at Punjab’s Sunam town during a recent online congregation held by Dera head from his Dera in Baghpat, Uttar Pradesh.

With this came strong reactions not only from SGPC but also from Sikh clergy and preachers.

Stating that such a move could spoil the peaceful atmosphere of the state, Dhami said that convicted in rape and murder cases, the Dera head was also the main accused in sacrilege cases in Punjab.

Dhami further alleged that Dera head was a controversial person and that the announcement to open Dera in Punjab had hurt the sentiments of Sikhs. Dhami also went on to add that any activity of the Dera head would not be accepted in Punjab and urged the Centre and the state government to stop the online speeches of the Dera head while he was out on parole.

According to media reports, Sikh preacher Amritpal Singh has also said that no Dera would be allowed to come up in Punjab at any cost and that a person who had been involved in the sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib could not be allowed to run a Dera in Punjab.