THE conviction of Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh for rape charges and the subsequent violence in Punjab and Haryana have left many BJP leaders in Haryana red-faced. An estimated 19 of the 47 BJP MLAs including Haryana BJP chief Subhash Barala had gone to pay obeisance to the Dera chief after the poll win in 2014 when the party was voted to power in the state for the first time on its own.
Among those who visited the Dera chief were Krishan Lal Panwar, Krishan Bedi, Nayab Saini and Manish Grover, who are now ministers in the state government while Kanwar Pal Gujjar is Assembly Speaker. The Indian Express contacted many of them to ask if the government could have averted today’s violence.
Said BJP MLA Bakshish Singh, one of those who had visited the Dera after his poll victory: “Leave it now. I have said whatever I wanted to say. We appeal to the people to maintain peace. We also say that the verdict of the court should be honoured.”
Assembly Speaker Gujjar said: “We are not the only ones who go to these Deras. Other political leaders also go. As politicians, we go to meet many people; how do we know that anyone of them would later be proved guilty of wrongdoing? Like Guru ji said that he would honour the law, others should also respect it. There are options of approaching higher courts. Violence is not the answer to anything. The dera followers should maintain peace.”
Haryana Transport Minister Krishan Lal Panwar said: “The courts do their work but the faith towards Gurus remains for forever. Everybody has faith in the Gurus. We appeal to the Dera followers to maintain peace.”
When asked whether the rape verdict changed his views on the Dera, Haryana Labour Minister Nayab Singh Saini said, “The Dera is involved in various social activities including blood donation and sanitation. Now the court has given its verdict and everyone should respect it.”
Another BJP MLA Subhash Sudha, who had visited the Dera recently, said, “The decision of the court should be respected by all. When Baba ji was in the Dera, all people used to go to the Dera, that’s how I visited it.” The Khattar government had announced tax exemption for six months on a movie featuring the Dera chief.
Haryana Health and Sports Minister Anil Vij donated Rs 50 lakh from his discretionary fund to the Dera Sacha Sauda for promoting rural games in 2016. Earlier this month, Haryana Education Minister Ram Bilas Sharma met the Dera chief and announced Rs 51 lakh from his discretionary fund for the Sports Village being developed by the Dera.
Not only this, ahead of the court verdict, Sharma said yesterday that Section 144 doesn’t apply to the “faith”. The followers are the state’s guests, he said, and “it was the duty of the government to arrange food and water for them”. Sharma also said that Dera followers never take law into their hands.
Not just the BJP, senior leaders of Congress and the Indian National Lok Dal, too, have visited the Dera seeking its support. But in 2014, the Dera openly announced its support to BJP. Said Ghanshyam Arora, another BJP MLA: “It is really unfortunate what happened today. I did go to Dera in the past but never met Gurmeet Ram Rahim. His workers once took me inside to show the Dera complex and I stayed there for 30 minutes only”.
Balwant Singh, another BJP MLA said, “What do I say on this? It is the government’s success in getting him here to the court . I did go to the Dera once after elections. But everybody has to pay for whatever he/she does.” Said Manish Grover, another BJP MLA: “We go to every Dera. It is not that we went only at Dera Sacha Sauda”. BJP MLA Shyam Singh said: “Yes, I did go to the Dera after elections but he has been held guilty today. At that time, he was not held guilty in any case. We respect the court’s decision”.