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October 2017 Edition of Power Politics is updated.  Happy Diwali to all our subscribers and Distributors       October 2017 Edition of Power Politics is updated.   Happy Diwali to all our subscribers and Distributors       
Issue:Sep' 2017


Beliefs, Babas and betrayals

Raman Mohan

Humans have an i n s u rmo u n t a b l e weakness. They have an innate need to believe in something or somebody for that ever elusive confidence that makes their lives so much easier. This weakness gave birth to religions. But when religions begin to discriminate or disappoint, the self-styled godmen step in to exploit the gullible and build alternatve institutions with the blood, money and sweat of their followers. Such men, women outfits thrive around the world.
In India, these setups are called deras or maths or ashrams. In medieval India, Hinduism had become a religion of the Brahmins and for the Brahmins. The knowledge of Sanskrit was their exclusive preserve. They had usurped the right to perform religious rites. They began to exclude certain sections of society from the realms of religion.

Great Social Reformers : Guru Nanak, Kabir, Ravidas and Surdas The caste system had divided the society into the virtuous and the well-off higher classes and the untouchables who also happened to be the poorest. Thus, the Brahmins were mostly catering to the privileged lot. The untouchables and the poor were pushed to the fringes. They had different residential areas to live in. They were assigned exclusive wells and ponds to draw water from. The divide was complete.
Under these circumstances a number of great social reformers, thinkers, saints and poets were born. They included, Guru Nanak, Kabir, Ravidas and Surdas to name a few. They mixed freely with people ousted from their religions by Brahmins for all practical purposes.
They sympathised and identified with these sections. As a result, all of them became darlings of the socalled second grade members of the then society. The movements they began continued to flourish for about 200 years.
During this period the successors of these reformers, too, began to carve out their own individual identities often on a caste basis. Several sects emerged with their own rituals, ceremonies and beliefs. The masses sidelined by the upper castes thronged to them for succour, identity and social acceptance and even help. These outfits and their heads emerged as guiding lamps for the followers who had been pushed out of the society by the arrogant upper caste system.
In time these sects and groups established their headquarters in different parts of the country where their devotees could congregate.
These were the first deras in India. They offered followers a place where they were not d i s c r imi n a t e d against each other. They could eat together, pray together, live together and seek the guidance of the heads that had by then acquired the status of gurus. The followers travelled to the deras together. This created a much-needed kinship between different downtrodden sections of the society. Followers of the same deras established smaller groups in their villages or group of villages to render help to each other in times of need.

The more followers a dera has, the greater its political clout. No wonder, Ram Rahim Gurmeet Singh of Dera Sacha Sauda with over 40 lakh followers created a state within a state where his was the only writ that ran. With so many followers his one diktat could swing the election in favour of a party of his choice in close to 90 assembly constituencies in Punjab and Haryana.

All this helped the gurus and their deras to strengthen their roots. Deras thus soon emerged as a counter to established religions and institutions. Because of the sheer numbers of the people who had been pushed to the fringes and who switched loyalties to them, the deras and their heads emerged as powerful leaders of the society.
However, the shackles of caste could still not be broken. As a result both the Brahminical arrogance and the dera following both grew over the decades. Even after independence, the caste prejudices continue to plague the society.
A section of the dalits and the backward classes has no doubt benefitted from the reservation system and flourished, but the majority remains on the fringes, especially in the rural society. Thus the deras have no dearth of willing men and women ready to be lured to their fold.
Punjab and Haryana proved to be breeding grounds for followers of deras and godmen after independence as the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee led by the Akalis continued to practise the same practices as the Brahmins. The non-Jats among Sikhs were made to feel unwelcome to the gurdwaras run by the Jat Sikhs and their leadership. Even the Sikh clergy played its part in isolating non-Jats.
This went against the very basic tenets of the Sikh religion which proclaimed all humans to have been born as one, meaning equal.
This was despite the fact that joint Punjab that included the present states of Haryana and Himachal Pradesh had one of the largest populations of dalits and backward classes in the country. These numbers have only gone up with the growth in population. An overwhelming majority of population in both the states comprises non-Jats. No wonder, the deras continue to grow in strength.

Joginder Singh Vedanti Former Akal Takht Jathedar Joginder Singh Vedanti says people tend to join deras because it is the easiest thing to do. It is not necessary to study the scriptures and the vaani of the gurus. All you have to do is entrust the baba with your worries believing he would take care of everything. Unfortunately people do not realise this is not Sikhism. There is no place for miracles, cures, rituals and godmen in our religion, he says. (Source: He is right. The simplicity of the dears is a big attraction for the illiterate. There are no rules and codes to be followed. No discrimination among followers on a caste or creed basis. All devotees sit and eat together sharing the same space. The only requirements are a total belief in the baba and treat his word and whims as law.
As against Sikhism, there is no ban imposed by deras on cutting your hair. It is entirely a matter of personal choice there. But Sikh devotees need to sport long hair. This simplicity and lack of formalities makes for an easy entry to the deras. The dera heads are gurus to their followers. This is what brings the deras in conflict with the Sikhs. The Sikhs do not believe in a human guru. Post Guru Gobind Singh, Guru Granth Sahib is the Guru. But most deras in Punjab and Haryana do not have gurdwaras with Guru Granth Sahib in residence. They also do not adhere to the Rehat Maryada. It is estimated, unofficially, of course, that there are around 9000 deras in Punjab and Haryana. There is big money involved. About 80 per cent of the population in Punjab and Haryana follow one dera or another and thus these deras corner a huge portion of the religious donations made by the followers. This gives these setups their money power. The human numbers give them the muscle power. Both put together give the deras their political clout.
Dr J. S. Ahluwalia, a noted Sikh scholar, has been quoted in as saying that this has become a racket now. Many of the persons who bagged contracts from the SGPC for kar seva collected huge sums of money, bought expensive cars and set up their own deras. Many of the deras are now being run by these very same kar seva babas who have assumed cult status as godmen of sorts, he is quoted as saying.
But this is not to say that all deras are dubious and all babas are fraudsters. There are many deras that have been doing great social work without coming into conflict with the Sikh institutions or other Hindu religious institutions. Radha Swami Satsang ,Beas and Sant Kirpal Ruhani Mission are two examples.
But even these two institutions have huge property and wealth which, their devotees maintain, are utilised for social work. There have been no instances of such deras using their clout in the political arena.
But a vast majority of them are openly indulging in politics. Illiteracy, money power, caste prejudices and armies of blind followers make for a heady mix that drives the babas towards politics because that is what gives them immunity from law, a cover for their nefarious activities and easier and more means of making money. The more followers a dera has, the greater its political clout. No wonder, Ram Rahim Gurmeet Singh of Dera Sacha Sauda with over 40 lakh followers created a state within a state where his was the only writ that ran. With so many followers his one diktat could swing the election in favour of a party of his choice in close to 90 assembly constituencies in Punjab and Haryana.
No surprise then that despite outwardly opposing the dera and its head, all political parties and their leaders, including the Badals, the BJP and Congress leaders have always tried to keep the Baba in good humour. The Baba always supported different parties at different times and managed to derive favours from all of them without so much as conveying to them what he wanted. When money and dirty politics get together crime is never far behind.
This has been proved time and again. The most recent examples being that of Bapu Asaram and Ram Rahim Gurmeet Singh of Sacha Sauda. Both the self professed godmen are behind bars. This gives enough reason to logical minds to realise the true worth of the babas and deras. But, unfortunately, no lessons seem to have been learnt in the past. No lesson seems to have been learnt now.

How money & politics killed 'Sacha Sauda' spirit

Ram Rahim Singh Dera Sacha Sauda literally means the place where truth prevails. For close to four decades, the place lived up to its name. But, then under it turned out that under its recently jailed head Ram Rahim Singh, the dera had been living up to its name in a rather distorted, warped and twisted way. Truth never prevailed here in his reign. Rather truth was traded like a commodity in a mandi.

Truth was not the only commodity traded within the precincts of the vast sandy expanses of the dera. Everything and everyone was a commodity and nothing more than that for the fun loving, queerly dressed ageing selfprofessed baba. The young girls brought to the dera by gullible illiterate parents for spiritual guidance were abused at their place of stay innocuously named as Sadhvi Hostel. The baba had a tunnel linking his living quarters with this hostel.
As if the millions that came by way of donations from the dalit, backward and the poorest of the society were not enough, the baba established a flourishing trading business which succeeded instantly as lakhs of baba's supporters became customers overnight.

Gurmeet Singh's secret tunnel connects to sadhvis' hostel The free food served at the majlis (congregation) gave way to paid canteens strewn all over national and state highways throughout Punjab and Haryana. Lands were forcibly occupied or bought at throwaway prices through coercion. But that was not the path the dera founder Shah Mastana ji had intended this institution to take. Not much is known about his early life, but, he was born with a spiritual bent of mind. As he grew up he took it upon himself to tour the Bagar area (Sirsa and its neighbouring desert areas of Punjab and Rajasthan) to bring peace to peoples' lives. He established his headquarters several years later on

the outskirts of Sirsa town. He laid the foundation of the dera on April 29, 1948 after peace was restored in the region following partition. The pangs of partition had created an environment conducive for the dera to grow rapidly.
Shah Satnam ji succeeded Shah Mastana in 1960. He soon became very popular in the area and it was during his reign that the dera really became a large institution with followers spread all over Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and some pockets of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra also. The dera website claims he was instrumental in raising the number of dera followers by 11 lakh. Shah Satnam ji "reincarnated himself into the human body of present Guru ji Saint Dr Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Ji Insan and passed the divine light to Him", the website has recorded.
The baba was born to Maghar Singh a wealthy landlord and Jat Sikh in a remote hamlet of western Rajasthan on August 15, 1967. Maghar Singh was a devotee of Satnam. The dera officials claim his parents were blessed with this child with the blessings of Satnam. The child named by his parents as Gurmeet accompanied his father to the dera very often.
After a few years, Gurmeet began to live in the dera and performed odd jobs like sowing the fields and driving the tractors. He had a friend from his native village called Gurjant Singh. Gurjant avenged the

Gurmeet built himself an underground residence with a cave theme where he led a life of absolute luxury. He had hundreds of luxury SUVs to travel and hundreds of women in his virtual harem. In the meantime the number of followers of the dera grew to around 40 lakh. The baba used the numerical strength to his advantage by using it as a political tool.

murder of his uncle and was jailed. He was radicalised in jail and became a terrorist. His exploits as an extremist soon made him notorious. He was later shot dead by the Punjab police in an encounter in Mohali.
It is alleged that Gurjant used to seek shelter in the dera with Gurmeet. It came as surprise to the followers when out of the blue Shah Satnam announced that Gurmeet, then only 23, would succeed him. It was alleged at that time that Shah Satnam was forced to anoint Gurmeet at gun point, though no proof of the coercion exists.
The new baba soon began to commercialise every activity of the dera. Markets financed by the baba and patronised by the followers sprang up around the dera. Land surrounding the dear was quickly purchased often by coercing the farmers by directing followers to damage standing crops in the neighbouring fields while coming for the majlis at the dera.
The number of women sadhvis residing in the dera began to grow. Gurmeet built himself an underground residence with a cave theme where he led a life of absolute luxury. He had hundreds of luxury SUVs to travel and hundreds of women in his virtual harem.
In the meantime, the number of followers of the dera grew to around 40 lakh. The baba used the numerical strength to his advantage by using it as a political tool. He proved to be an astute political mind and backed the party which was likely to win and extracting his pound of flesh.
Politicians of every party thronged to him to seek his blessings (read votes). He used his political muscle to break every law of the land. He became so fearless that he openly indulged in illegal activities with impunity.
Soon word of his nefarious activities began to filter out of the dera. This led to some bad press. The baba was quick to silence these voices and also of those who posed threat to him and his existence. A journalist was shot dead so was one of his former aides. Cases were registered against him. Then word of his sexual exploitation also leaked out. Two sadhvis levelled allegations of rape against him which led to his conviction.
The baba remained defiant to the end. Even from inside the courtroom where he was sentenced to 10 years of jail in each case of rape, he had his minions instigate his followers to indulge in violence. His sentencing claimed 40 odd lives. Yet, not many believe that it is end of the road for the dera.
Sooner or later, one of the dera's top men or women will ultimately take over. But for the moment, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Insan seems stuck in a blind alley in Rohtak's new Sunaria Jail.