Indian gov’t failure to provide basic services to blame for rise of spiritual guru

NEW DELHI, Aug. 28 — India’s northern states of Punjab and
Haryana have been put on high alert ahead of the sentencing of
self-proclaimed spiritual guru Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, who was on Friday
convicted guilty of raping two women followers.

A multi-layer security ring has been thrown around Haryana’s city of
Rohtak, where Singh is lodged in a jail, and in the state’s Sirsa town, the
headquarters of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect, with the Indian Army and
para-military forces deployed alongside the local police personnel.
“Para-military forces are in charge of jail security and shoot-at-sight
orders have been issued,” Inspetcor General of Rohtak Police Navdeep Singh
Virk told the media Monday morning. Soon after Singh was convicted by a
court of India’s premier probe agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation
(CBI), his supporters in the city of Panchkula Friday erupted in violence
and clashed with police that left at least 38 people dead and over 300
injured. “This time, we are fully prepared to deal with any kind of law
and order situation. The CBI judge, who will pronounce the quantum of
sentence, will be flown to Rohtak jail and his court will sit inside the
jail only,” Virk said.

Massive security arrangements have been put in place this time, in the wake
of the High Court of Punjab and Haryana Saturday coming down heavily on the
ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government and Haryana’s Chief Minister
Manohar Lal Khattar for failure to stop violence. The High Court held the
chief minister responsible for the violence “for his political gains” and
did not even spare Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying that he was
the country’s prime minister and not the BJP’s only. But who actually is
this spiritual guru and how he managed to command a follower base of over
60 million around the world? The 50-year-old self-styled godman is chief
of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect that describes itself as “a non-profit social
welfare and spiritual organization.” Based out of northern India, the sect
runs 46 centers across India and the world.

Known as “Rockstar Baba,” Singh is often spotted in shiny, colorful clothes
and has performed in half a dozen music videos. He has also earned the
nickname “Guru of Bling” because of his preference for ornate jewellery. Of
late, he has started acting in films. Over the years, Singh has presented
himself as a social reformer by organizing cleanliness drives and blood
donation camps. In 2010, the sect organized a mass marriage where more than
1,000 followers “volunteered” to marry sex workers. “For years, chief
ministers of both Punjab and Haryana, along with several other politicians
of all parties, have vied for Singh’s support for his huge follower base,
just for vote bank politics. Singh also exploited them rightly,” said Basab
Gupta, a political analyst in Delhi. “But this time, the long arm of the
law has finally caught him for raping two of his women followers some 15
years ago. And the politicians, belonging to both ruling BJP and opposition
Congress, now have no other options but to toe the judiciary’s line,” he

Experts also attribute the rise of the spiritual guru to the failure of the
government of India, particularly in Punjab and Haryana, to make available
to masses affordable healthcare and education even after 70 years of
independence. “Dignity, social support, medical help, and food security.
These are precisely the things that the modern Indian state – at least in
its Haryana/Punjab version – refuses to offer to the people,” said M.
Rajivlochan, Professor of Contemporary History, Panjab University. “There
are over 3,000 deras here, each providing the same services to the people –
health guidance, de-addiction support, with a lot of dignity and all of it
laced with a quirky spiritualism,” Rajivlochan wrote in the Indian Express
newspaper. Singh faces a minimum of seven years in jail for the rape. And
whatever be the judgment, the political parties will have to accept it,
notwithstanding the fact that they might have to lose a large chunk of
their vote base – Singh’s followers – in future elections, analysts say. – XINHUA