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Mainstream, VOL LV No 42 New Delhi October 7, 2017

Haryana: The Gurmeet Ram Rahim Phenomenon

Monday 9 October 2017

by Ranbir Singh

Haryana is once again in the news for the wrong reasons. The challenge to the authority of the State and judiciary by the self-styled Sant Gurmeet Ram Rahim Insa of Dera Sucha Sauda, Sirsa (Haryana) has created an explosive situation which has resulted in as many as 38 deaths and large-scale destruction of property. It took more than a week of pressure by the huge force of the Haryana Police, para-military forces and Army to control the situation created by Ram Rahim’s supporters after he was found guilty by the CBI Court of Jagdeep Singh. The State Government virtually failed to control the situation and the High Court of Punjab and Haryana had to intervene to tackle the same. It is a great solace that he has been sentenced to rigorous imprisonment of 10 years each in two cases of rape that he committed in 2002. These sentences shall be running consecutively. Thus, he will be in jail for 20 years. Besides, a fine of Rs 30 lakhs has been imposed on him so that compensation could be paid to the victims. It is a case of justice delayed but not justice denied.

It goes without saying that the print and electronic media gave wide coverage to the happenings in the State. They have provided detailed information on the recoveries of arms and ammunition that the police have made during the search operations. However, the factors and forces that enabled Gurmeet Ram Rahim Insan to emerge as a force to be reckoned with have not been adequately explained by them.

An attempt is being made in this brief write-up to give some hypothesis for understanding the same.

Gurmeet Ram Rahim Insan’s rise as a religious leader of substance has to be understood, in the first instance, by the stranglehold of the tradition of respecting the so-called real or bogus Saints, Mahatmas and Gurus on credulous masses who begin to follow them without bothering to check their credentials.

Secondly, it may be attributed to the powerful appeal of what W.H. Morris Jones, the famous English political scientist, calls ‘saintly idiom’. This idiom, which implies projection by a person as an ascetic or a holy man, has been successfully used not only by genuine saints like Mahatma Gandhi and Jayaprakash Narayan but also by crooks like Gurmeet Ram Rahim Insan.

Thirdly, the blame for the popularity of the likes of him has to be shared squarely by the print and electronic media who provide space or slots to such persons for monetary gains or commercial interest.

Fourthly, this malady will have to be demystified as the logical result of the stranglehold of superstition over the people of India. TV serials and pseudo-historians have also played an important role in strengthening it. It has facilitated the task of the self-styled godmen to create mass following for themselves.

Fifthly, the appeal of divine powers to provide instant relief from all sorts of problems claimed by this impostor of Dera Sacha Sauda also enabled him to build a broad support-base of devotees for himself.

Sixthly, the hypnotising power of his demagogy, the claim of social service and role in Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi also enabled this self-styled Sat Guru to emerge as a religious leader with considerable following.

Seventhly, the success of his stunts has also to be attributed to his organisational skill. He not only made successful propaganda regarding his divine powers through the print and electronic media but also used a widespread network of agents to mobilise his followers from among the credulous people by promising short-cuts to salvation, instant relief from diseases, liberation from poverty, prospect of employment and relief from stress and strain.

Eighthly, his success in projecting himself as the ‘Messenger of God’ through his role as a Super Hero in the films, produced and directed by him, also made his followers to believe his real image as a real image.

Ninthly, the large-scale support for this god- man may also be attributed to the quest of a substantial number of persons to escape the drudgery of the daily routine of hard and monotonous work. They also found his Dera a source of free or cheap entertainment.

Tenthly, an important source of strength of such camouflaged devils is the considerable political support they enjoy and their mastery over a captive vote-bank. This is evident from the political clout that he has been able to enjoy during the Indian National Lok Dal, Congress and BJP governments in Haryana.

Eleventhly, it has to be perceived as a part of the national phenomenon of persistence of the culture of obscurantism that has continued to prevail despite the powerful impact of modernisation on Indian society. As a matter of fact, it has been further strengthened by the use of modern information and communication technology.

Lastly, it is the logical result of the failure of the Indian state to perform its constitutional obligation of promoting scientific temper and rational outlook even after more than six decades of its incorporation in the fundamental duties enshrined in the Indian Constitutional Amendment Act (1976) on the one hand and the success of the reactionary forces of revivalism to further enhance the culture of dogmatic temper and irrational outlook on the other.

Be that as it may, the farce of the Gurmeet Ram Rahim phenomenon has to be perceived as the logical result of the paradox of economic growth and social regression due to lopsided development in which human development has remained a low priority.

Finally, but most importantly, it must be perceived as a part of the large-scale perennial problem of the emergence, proliferation and growth of countless self-styled saints masquerading under different names not only in Haryana but in all parts of India; it will be dangerous to ignore their nefarious activities for short-term political gains. It is high time that the Indian state takes cognisance of them and initiates requisite action against their highly undesirable activities.

Prof Ranbir Singh (Retd.) is a former Dean, Social Sciences and Academic Affairs, Kurukshetra University, Kurukshetra (Haryana).

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