Saturday, 8 pm. Loudspeakers blare announcements about the langar that will soon be served to the “sangat (followers)” and volunteers, including women and children, stir into action. The events of the previous evening — when Panchkula and parts of Sirsa erupted in violent protests over the conviction of Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh — haven’t disrupted the dera’s daily schedule, but there’s palpable tension in the air.
The Sunday Express entered the 1,000-acre dera around 8 pm on Saturday through Gate Number 5, after taking a 25-km detour through narrow village lanes. The road leading to the dera’s main gate, which is marked by its gigantic yellow arch, is blocked for traffic. Curfew has been imposed in Sirsa and four columns of Army have cordoned off the Dera’s headquarters. A large number of paramilitary forces and the state police have formed a second cordon around the dera headquarters.
Inside the dera, followers, many of them from far-flung places across Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan, sat in groups, discussing in low whispers the fate of their “Guruji”. On Saturday, the Army appealed to dera followers to vacate the premises and go back to their villages. A deadline of 8 am on Sunday has been set and many of the followers were seen moving out of the many gates of the dera.
The dera management, however, claimed there were more than 50,000 followers still inside. Though intelligence agencies suspect arms and ammunition could be stocked inside the dera, the management refutes it. On Saturday, the Haryana police searched at least 31 dera establishments and sealed a few.
“You can see for yourself – we don’t have any weapons. Those who indulged in violence yesterday were not dera followers. They were some miscreants who mingled with our people and created trouble. Inside the dera, everybody is calm. The langar is being served to the premis (dera followers),” says Tarsem Singh, a prominent sewadar at the dera. “The premis have no problems here. All basic facilities are being offered to them. There is no shortage of food and, if required, more ration can be arranged,” he says.
Jagjeet Singh, 23, a resident of Jakhal village in Fatehabad, says, “I have been a follower of the dera for the last 15 years. The atmosphere inside is very calm and comfortable.” Another follower, who doesn’t want to be named, says, “Every great saint was victimised by powerful men. It’s the same story that is being repeated here. This doesn’t make us stop following Guruji. We will keep coming to the dera.”
In 2007, when the charges in the same rape case had been framed against him, Ram Rahim had announced that if the need arose, his son Jasmeet Insan would be made his successor. However, inside the dera today, there is no discussion of a possible succession plan.
“As of now, we are making no such announcement (of a successor). The sangat (followers) is trying to make efforts for the release of our Guruji,” says another follower. Outside the dera, the district administration is not taking any chances. Sudhir Gilhotra, a duty magistrate posted at a checkpost a few kilometres from the dera, says, “The followers are leaving the dera and going back to their villages or towns. Several of them are travelling on foot, walking through fields.”
Deputy Superintendent of Police, Sirsa, Dalip Singh says, “As a precautionary measure, we are checking every vehicle coming out of the dera.”