Frankly, I’ve been surprised no end by the ruthless ferocity with which the Indian state has been carpet-bombing the centres of the Dera Sacha Sauda in the aftermath of its leader’s conviction and its followers’ violence: surprised, because this is the same state apparatus that took 15 years to investigate the rape charges against him, that lined up outside the Dera gates for a holy “darshan”, that begged him for its votes, that squandered public resources to pamper him.
Surely there must be a deeper explanation for this epiphanic volte-face? There is, and we need look no further than Oscar Wilde to identify it. Wilde was a pitiless observer and trenchant critic of societal hypocrisy and one of his aphorisms supplies the answer: We dislike people for having faults we do not have, but we hate them for having the same faults which we have. Never was a truer word said.
We do not like to see a reflection of our own vices and weaknesses, and the Dera Sacha Sauda has done precisely that: held up a mirror to our rotten society and polity, exposed to full public glare the superstition, cronyism, exploitation and crass mendacity which define our social and political structures. And of course this makes us very angry, as Wilde had said it would.
Consider this: There is little difference between the empires of our godmen and of our politicians. Both aspire to just one objective—naked power. Both exploit the latent insecurities of people. Both use caste and religion to cement their support base and divide those of their rivals. Both lack any pretensions to democracy and are run by individual dynasts, family or coterie. Both acquire humongous quantities of money from sources that are opaque, dubious and undisclosed.
Both are exempted from paying taxes. Both have cadres who have full licence to indulge in violence and hooliganism when the occasion or supreme leader demands. Both are patriarchal and misogynist. Both are above the law. Godmen and politicians are like are like peas in a pod, conjoined twins in a parabiotic relationship, traditionally living off each other and prospering together. All political parties have, deplorably, been bed partners of various babas at all times. The Congress had its Chandraswami, the Samajwadi Party had the infamous Ramvriksh Yadav who in June 2016 created mayhem in Mathura, resulting in the death of 29 people, including two policemen.
This misplaced reverence is a societal aberration; it is fashionable to think that these babas are revered only by the less privileged classes, but this is not true. The upper crust have their own designer babas who too can get away with anything. Just about every politician in Punjab, Rajasthan and Haryana have paid obeisance to Baba Ram Rahim himself. That is why the state did not do anything substantive to prevent the ugly situation developing in Panchkula, if we are to believe the residents of this quiet suburbia. So what went wrong? It was the failure of Baba Ram Rahim to follow the prescribed code of conduct.
In secretive and closed organisations (like Deras and political parties) contentious and problematic issues are resolved in-house and not exposed to the public gaze. There is a well-established protocol for handling awkward, and perhaps illegal, predicaments. Cases are not registered, investigations are prolonged, loyal officers are deployed in critical posts, witnesses are won over or intimidated, court orders are challenged ad-infinitum, judges are recused, judgments are reserved, enquiry reports are buried deeper than the Mariana Trench. If all else fails and conviction becomes inevitable then there is the parole or the VIP ward in jail and the show goes on notwithstanding the occasional hiccup.
The mistake that Sacha Sauda made was in not observing this mantra and thereby endangering the entire carefully contrived web of deceit and its many powerful denizens. By taking to the streets, the baba broke the holy code of omerta. He would have done better by following the Asaram model—although in jail now for four years he is yet to be convicted, and appears to be having a fine time behind bars. The case against him has got nowhere; witnesses are vanishing into the ether with great regularity, and there is a more than even chance that by the time he comes up for trial there will be little worthwhile evidence left against him. Most important, however, is the fact that his empire remains intact and his coparceners do not feel threatened.
Baba Ram Rahim departed from this time-tested script and is now paying the price. The sheer ferocity of the state’s vengeance is in direct proportion to its collusion with the Dera earlier. The effort now is to obliterate from public memory all reminders of their earlier partnership, the long queues of politicians and Babus waiting for darshan and favours, the tax exemptions for his glitzy silver screen monstrosities, the Z-category security at the expense of the state, the `50 lakh rupees cheques from ministers paid as premium for electoral insurance.
These reminders of a now embarrassing past must be made to disappear, along with the baba himself. There is a diabolical genius at work here: Earlier the ruling party got votes by supporting the Dera; now it hopes to get votes by dismantling it and burying Ram Rahim along with all evidence of their parabiotic partnership. Shakespeare was wrong, after all—it is not just the good that is often interred with a man’s bones, the bad is too. But Oscar Wilde was right.
served in the IAS for 35 years and retired as Additional Chief Secretary of Himachal Pradesh