Charged with murder, rape, Dera chief’s support sought for pollsMay 4th, 2009 - 12:47 pm ICT by IANS
By Jaideep Sarin
Sirsa (Haryana), May 4 (IANS) Despite being charged with serious crimes like murder and rape, controversial Dera Sacha Sauda sect chief, Gurmit Ram Rahim Singh, is much sought after by political leaders and candidates in Punjab..
The fortified sect headquarters on the outskirts of this town, 300 km from Chandigarh, continues to be a place of activity not only for followers of the sect but for politicians of various hues as well, given his influence in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan.
The sect chief is facing two charges of murder conspiracy and one charge of rape of a ’sadhvi’ (woman follower) in a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court in Ambala city in Haryana. The CBI has already submitted the chargesheet against him.
Ironically, the sect chief, despite the serious charges against him, enjoys Z-category security from the Haryana police and moves around in a fleet of bulletproof Toyota Lexus even for his court appearances.
Though former chief minister Amarinder Singh has denied visiting the sect headquarters in recent days, rumours are afloat that he paid a visit to Ram Rahim Singh.
“No, I have not been there. This is incorrect. I have been seeking the Dera votes; so what is wrong? They have been supporting the Congress,” Amarinder Singh told IANS.
In the past, Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and his son Sukhbir Badal used to seek blessings of the sect chief but have not done so this time.
The sect has a following of over two million (20 lakh) followers in Punjab, mostly in areas of south Punjab bordering Haryana, and the voters among them could swing fortunes for political parties and leaders in these places. The sect’s followers across the country number nearly 20 million (two crore).
The support extended by the sect in Bathinda, Sangrur and other districts of Punjab in the February 2007 assembly elections in Punjab helped the Congress party lead over the Akali Dal in their (Akalis’) traditional stronghold. This antagonised the Akalis against the sect.
Amarinder Singh’s son and the Congress candidate for the Bathinda seat, Raninder Singh, and the Congress candidate for the Sirsa seat, Ashok Tanwar, have met with the sect chief in recent days.
Sect sources say that among others who have sought his ‘blessings’ are former Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje (BJP), Kurukshetra Congress candidate and billionaire industrialist Naveen Jindal, Haryana Janhit Congress chief Kuldeep Bishnoi, Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) leaders Abhey Singh Chautala and Sita Ram, Haryana Tourism Minister Kiran Chaudhary and Congress MP from Hisar Jai Prakash.
From Punjab, Lok Bhalai Party leader and former union minister Balwant Singh Ramoowalia, Akali Dal candidates Sher Singh Ghubia and Gurcharan Singh Galib are also among those to have visited the sect chief, the sources added.
The Akal Takht, the highest temporal seat of Sikh religion, had issued an edict in 2007 calling for a boycott of the sect and its chief by the entire Sikh community. This followed a controversy in April 2007 in which the sect chief attired himself on the lines of the 10th Sikh guru, Gobind Singh, leading to an angry reaction from the Sikh community and violence in Punjab, Haryana and other states.
Radical Sikh organisations like the Damdami Taksal, Khalsa Action Committee and Dal Khalsa have been demanding action against godmen who were luring people from the lower strata of society.
Dera officials here say that in future, any politician visiting the sect chief will not be given private audience and will have to meet him during public hours when thousands of his followers are present.
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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