In the 2014 assembly polls, Dera Sacha Sauda was considered to have played a pivotal role in helping the BJP wrest power from the Congress, which had been in power in Haryana for a decade
Mystics and gurus have formed a significant chunk of yesteryear ‘influencers’. From charlatans in robes and matted hair, they have evolved into ostentatious ‘babas’, holding acres of real estate, swanky ashrams that could put a five-star hotel to shame, and a tangible business model in the form of merchandise or a hospital, a dispensary or even a school.
These godmen enjoy a sizeable clout – often vulnerable people seeking answers to life’s riddles, miracle seekers, poor wanting to acquire immeasurable wealth, women longing to beget sons, and the ostracized wanting to belong.
Irrespective of the reason, people seem prone to mystics. And politicians particularly find that profitable. Although there is no quantum of how successfully a baba has converted his clients into a vote bank, politicians are known to persist in an attempt to consolidate the crowd.
However, these godmen have only a few years at the top and are dispensed with mostly because of the genie-out-of-the-bottle syndrome.
Haryana, which is scheduled to go to polls on October 21, is particularly notorious for disproportionately mixing politics with godmen. The names of Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh and Rampal, both of whom are currently behind bars, come to mind.
While Gurmeet Ram Rahim was convicted of rape (2017) and murder (2019), Rampal was convicted of murder last year. The day a special court was due to announce the verdict in Gurmeet Ram Rahim’s case, tens of thousands gathered outside the court in solidarity. The court’s order to arrest the godman prompted violent protests, and even riots, in various pockets of Kurukshetra in Haryana – a testimony of the clout that the 'baba' enjoyed. Rampal’s indictment had invoked a similar response from his supporters, leaving at least 200 people injured.
In the 2014 assembly polls, Dera Sacha Sauda was considered to have played a pivotal role in helping the BJP wrest power from the Congress, which had been in power in Haryana for a decade. A report by The Hindu has pointed out that the Dera swayed the voters in BJP’s favour in at least a dozen seats just a day before the polls.
With the BJP barely crossing the majority mark with 47 seats in the 90-member assembly, it could be fair to consider Dera Sacha Sauda a deciding factor.
Dera Sacha Sauda came to prominence in the 1990’s with Gurmeet Ram Rahim at the helm of affairs. It is estimated that at one point of time, it had more than six crore followers, who could influence the election in Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan.
Emerging from the grave?
Political experts believe that with the indictment of Gurmeet Ram Rahim and Rampal has dwindled their popularity, denting their political potency. In addition, the BJP seems comfortably placed in the state, courtesy extension of the Modi wave and a fractured Opposition. This would imply less chances of a close contest, which renders godmen indifferent to the outcome of the election.
However, with the election campaign heating up, the social media teams of these godmen have suddenly become more active.
An insider told The New Indian Express, "The teams of these godmen are keeping an eye on the social media posts of politicians, including the PM and CM. They then tag the post of the political personality which is trending the most. They comment and retweet these posts and also put up videos on the social work done by the godman who they claim has been framed."
He added that young professionals have been hired by these deras with big pay packages to run the social media platforms.
Besides, Gurmeet Ram Rahim had sought parole in August, months ahead of the election, but his plea was rejected by the Punjab and Haryana High Court. None of the political parties – BJP, Congress, INLD and JJP – in Haryana have spoken a word for or against the Dera.
But, a report by The Economic Times suggests that both Gurmeet Ram Rahim and Rampal are mulling over officiating their support to particular political parties.
Joginder Singh, one of the 15 members in the Political Affairs Committee of Dera Sacha Sauda, told the newspaper that they are seeking the opinion of premis (devotees) through sangats (meetings) over which political party to extend support to.
Similarly, Rampal had officially extended support to the Congress in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections as well as in the 2018 Madhya Pradesh Assembly elections. A media in-charge from his Satlok Ashrams told the newspaper that they are discussing their options and are likely to make an announcement on October 15.
Not all controversial
Besides the aforementioned, Radha Soami Satsang Beas and Nirankari Mission religious groups too have significant presence in Haryana. However, these groups have kept themselves away from active politics.Sant Nirankari has a large number of followers in Ambala and adjoining areas. In addition, there have also been several other godmen with local influence.Get access to India's fastest growing financial subscriptions service Moneycontrol Pro for as little as Rs 599 for first year. Use the code "GETPRO". Moneycontrol Pro offers you all the information you need for wealth creation including actionable investment ideas, independent research and insights & analysis For more information, check out the Moneycontrol website or mobile app.