Nearly four weeks after the violence in parts of Haryana and Punjab following the sentencing of a spurious messenger of god called Gurmeet Singh, alias Baba Ram Rahim of Dera Sacha Sauda at Sirsa, to 20 years in jail for raping two of his sadhvis, it is time to reflect soberly rather than be hysteric or judgmental in our reaction. Questions were raised as to why Gurmeet’s disciples were permitted to assemble in Panchkula despite prohibitory orders. But if people moved in small groups peacefully and there was no specific and prior intelligence about their arsenal and violent intent, how could they be forcibly dispersed? And, how could Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar anticipate that he was appealing for peace to monsters and not devotees?
Crowds’ behaviour is often unpredictable. It hardly takes time for a group of peaceful protesters to turn into a violent mob; agitations by Jats and Patels over reservation, and Karnataka farmers’ stir over distribution of Cauvery water are only a few examples. It was only an act of god and not the wisdom of Mantralaya that guided the march of Marathas in Mumbai to pass off peacefully. The crowd of one lakh Dera supporters could have been controlled, but for that, the state needed three lakh policemen to overwhelm them physically, and which couldn’t be made available then. The other option was to kill his supporters indiscriminately, which is what happened eventually. Unlike Mulayam Singh, who got 41 kar sevaks killed in 1990, Khattar waited patiently hoping that believers would return to their homes once Gurmeet was put behind the bars. But that was not to be. Khattar was also accused of allowing the state to burn for electoral interests. It is doubtful if he would have besotted Gurmeet after knowing that he was a criminal of such despicable proportions.
We heard immatures calling for Khattar’s resignation and the Director General of Police’s sacking for mishandling the situation. A good leader does not change his generals when the battle is raging. No one likes to fail and everyone tries his best to live up to the challenges. There is no guarantee that the new man will bring a magic wand to restore order instantly. Removing officers at the drop of a hat is an administrative malaise, but has become a practice with all chief ministers. They need to learn from PM Modi on how to stand by his men in times of crisis.
Strangely, no one has a word of sympathy for those killed (36) and injured (290) in the police firing. We have no appetite to even know whether the firing was justified or indiscriminate. Surely, all Dera victims were not assassins. We seek compensation for destroyed properties, but not for lost lives and their families. It is ironical how Gurmeet and the government have both abandoned the dead and dying.
Gurmeet’s sordid saga reflects very poorly on our society and institutions. He created multiple personalities around him to bare our systemic hollowness. The Congress, BJP, Akali Dal etc courted him because he decisively impacted results in 56 constituencies in Haryana and Punjab. To cricketers, cine stars and businessmen, he was a great host. People from lower minimum groups flocked to him because they benefited from his schools, hospitals and financial support systems. For those who were victims of drug and alcohol addiction, caste and social discrimination and domestic violence, he presented himself as a saint and saviour.
The administrators, enforcement officials, policemen and taxmen were either in awe of the man because of his political clout or sold out to his deceptive benevolence. How else can you explain his acquisition of unlicenced weapons and contraband drugs, vehicles without registration numbers and a dream world of vulgar opulence, his sexual exploitation of young girls, illegal sale of dead bodies to private medical institutions, unauthorised organ transplantation and stem cell research in his hospital, and his attempt to escape with the help of police guards? The cabal of journalists, social activists and rationalists were simply imbecile as they failed to expose his organised crime for years. His disciples were equally guilty because they preferred to distrust the state and suffer in silence. In the end, we all left it to a judge, the CBI and two women to nail his monstrosity.
It will, however, be a folly to denigrate the entire culture of bhakti because of Gurmeet. India has centuries-old tradition of people surrendering to rishis and gurus who fill the void in their lives that neither knowledge nor economic prosperity can. Most holy men have been selfless, virtuous and spiritually evolved. Hence, the Dera incident is unlikely to make any dent on the institution of gurus, but may help it become more self-critical and genuinely-caring.
Former special secretary, Research and Analysis Wing