Known as a spiritual guru, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh wears many hats. His Twitter account describes him as a “saint, philanthropist, versatile singer, sportsperson, film, art and music director, writer, lyricist, autobiographer and director of photography”. Head of s since 1990, Singh’s eccentric outfits, music and most recently his films, which have grossed over Rs 100 crore, have sparked controversies. Following an attack on his cavalcade in 2008, Singh, who claims he can “cure” drug addiction with “guru mantras”, was given Z-plus security cover by the Centre. Though he denies supporting any political party, his organisation backed BJP in Haryana, Delhi and Bihar Assembly elections.
VANDITA MISHRA: In January this year, actor Kiku Sharda was arrested for imitating you. You have Z-plus security, then who are you afraid of, and why are people afraid of you?
People brought the video to us. It had Kiku wearing an attire similar to mine and imitating me. People objected to it and that is why an FIR was registered. In the video, he was seen distributing liquor and garlanding girls. We have successfully rehabilitated six crore drug users. Had his performance shown that we were helping people quit drugs and adopting prostitutes as our daughters, getting them married, we wouldn’t have had any objection. But his (Sharda’s) performance made derogatory references to my character, and that is what offended people. Otherwise, people are free to imitate me in films.
VANDITA MISHRA: You have Z-plus security and a big cavalcade accompanies you. Even chief ministers and other ministers do not have such high levels of security. Why is it so?
We are not afraid of anyone but God. We help people quit drugs and that is our passion. So we are often targeted by the drug mafia.
Once while conducting a satsang (spiritual discourse) in Uttar Pradesh, we received threats. In 1996, a drug cartel threatened to kill me if I didn’t quit what I was doing. I was returning from court and they (drug mafia) attacked me with 3 kg of RDX. Fortunately, I was in the other car and no one was hurt in the incident. That is when the security was attached.
VANDITA MISHRA: Punjab elections are due next year. You supported the BJP in Haryana and in Bihar and Delhi as well. Who will you support in Punjab?
I want to make it clear that we never ask people to vote for any particular party. In 2003, the idea of a political wing (of Dera Sacha Sauda) was floated. Members of political parties would often come to me and seek my guidance. In 2007, I asked them to sign an affidavit stating that they would help curb female foeticide. The affidavit also said that they would spread out on the ground and help in rehabilitating drug addicts. I told them, you have to act and deliver. I told my supporters to vote for those who sign this affidavit. In Haryana, the BJP signed it publicly. This happened in Delhi as well. In the future, we will add local problems to the affidavit. I have not taken a decision to support any political party yet.
VANDITA MISHRA: How do you see the political developments in Punjab? Earlier, it was the SAD-BJP and the Congress, but this time it is a triangular contest, with the AAP in the fray.
People have told us that three parties are fighting in this election. I said I have no knowledge of it.
VANDITA MISHRA: The AAP is a new player in Punjab politics. Can a party whose chief is from Haryana challenge established outfits in Punjab?
Anyone can challenge anyone, it is a fundamental right. In politics there are both opportunists and those who work for the people. I really can’t say what the results will be, I haven’t spoken to people regarding this.
MANEESH CHHIBBER: Most saints and babas wear saffron or white clothes, but you wear colourful outfits. Does it have an impact on your following?
Many of my followers have asked me this question. In Vadodara, a man accused me of belittling saints by wearing modern clothes. I asked him whether he had read the Vedas. I have researched the Vedas, and that is how I realised that if you have a pure heart, you will be heard, whether you wear jeans or not. There is no mention of clothes in the Vedas. Your thoughts should be pure and God will be merciful.
SOMYA LAKHANI: How did you decide to get into films? Were you always interested in cinema?
I have never seen any Hindi or Punjabi films. When I started singing, I began with classical music, but the youth in the audience would leave the show. I didn’t lose hope and worked on getting my followers back. That is how I got into rap and hip-hop music. But I still noticed that there were no youngsters in the front rows. After speaking to a few 15-year-olds, I realised that they were all watching movies. That is when I decided to make good, clean films.
VANDITA MISHRA: Baba Ramdev had once thought of starting his own party and wanted to field candidates in the elections as well, to ensure that the right kind of people enter politics. Do you have any political ambitions?
No. I was never interested in politics. I work day and night for the welfare of society in my own way. I won’t ever form a party.
VANDITA MISHRA: You want to be referred to as ‘insaan (human)’, but your followers treat you like God.
When they (the followers) come to see me, they call me “pitaji (father)”. The Vedas and the Gurbani say that a true saint is one who treats all children of god like his own. If someone refers to me as God, I tell them I am their chowkidar (guard). I work like a guard to ensure that they do not inculcate any bad habits.
MANEESH CHHIBBER: A few years ago, there were some allegations levelled against you. Some cases were also registered and a CBI inquiry is still underway. Would you like to talk about those charges?
I have always said that I have 100 per cent faith in the judiciary. The case is underway. We help people quit drugs, and ironically I was blamed for that. We have three restrictions: don’t eat eggs or meat, do not use any intoxicants and be a person of good character.
This (the allegations) surfaced in 1996. A picture of my face would be superimposed on a nude body… We started receiving these posters and we were told that this is how you will be defamed.
Things happened in 2007 as well… But really nothing of this sort happens at the ashram. Daughters of judges, inspectors still do seva at the ashram. The drug mafia had given us a warning: stop de-addiction or bear the consequences. So this is all their doing.
VARINDER BHATIA: What is your view on the drug menace in Punjab?
Around 40 to 60 lakh people have received the guru mantra from us. These people then went on to convince them (the drug addicts) to come to the ashram. Some 5,000-7,000 youths of Punjab are quitting drugs every month.
The drug mafia has warned us against doing a satsang there (in Punjab), so we have decided not to go there, but they (the addicts) can always come to our ashram.
VARINDER BHATIA: Have you ever tried to discuss the situation with the Punjab government?
When we started our satsangs (in Punjab), 1,13,000 addicts quit drugs in Bathinda, 40,000 in Kothe Jeeva, and as we travelled across the state, large number of addicts began giving up drugs.
But then there was the controversy over Shri Guru Gobind Singh Maharaj… (In May 2007, Singh was accused of hurting the religious sentiments of the Sikhs by wearing an attire, in an advertisement, which resembled that of the tenth Sikh Guru, Gobind Singh).
I have been wearing such clothes since 1991. The drug mafia thought that if they let me stay in Punjab, drug use would end in the state, and so this controversy was raised.
I don’t know what people think, but from my perspective, it was the drug mafia’s doing. In fact, people from the state would come and tell me that I am teaching them ‘adab (respect)’.
VANDITA MISHRA: It is believed that most of your supporters are from the lower castes: non-Jats and Dalit Sikhs. Is that one of the reasons that the Jat Sikhs are in conflict with you?
No, the ratio (of upper caste and lower caste followers) is equal everywhere. In fact, in Punjab, we have more Jat Sikh followers, because I was born in the same community. I am a Rajput, a descendant of Maharana Pratap.
We do not pay attention to caste. We are all one. At our ashram too, there are no distinctions, one follower says Allah and another says Ram Ram. Everyone sits and eats together.
SOMYA LAKHANI: How do you help addicts quit drugs?
A person who wants to quit drugs has to first listen to our motivational speeches. Then there is the mantra that we ask them to utter repeatedly. The mantras in the Vedas, Gurbani, even sayings in the Quran, are so powerful, that anybody can give up their bad habits after reciting them.
MANEESH CHHIBBER: Will you support the AAP if Arvind Kejriwal approached you?
We bless everyone, but not by promising them votes. Many politicians come to us but I always tell them to keep politics out of the ashram.
VARINDER BHATIA: Your first film, MSG: The Messenger, made over Rs 100 crore. What did you do with the money?
The revenue generated from our first movie was spent on thalassemia research. We are also opening a skin bank, for treating victims of acid attacks. Several procedures, such as bypass surgeries, are free at our hospital. We have the best doctors and specialists there.
VANDITA MISHRA: Does your popularity indicate a failure of the political leadership?
I can’t talk about political problems, but people come to us because we give them simple solutions for their problems. There is no magic… Once someone, who was in the third stage of cancer, came to us. We gave him a guru mantra. There are several such examples.
VARINDER BHATIA: Do you have a position on the situation in Kashmir?
There is a system that if someone touches our locker, there is an alarm. Why can’t we have a similar system on the border? If someone touches our country’s ‘tijori (locker)’, we do not even get to know. We are only alerted when they come here and start firing. Why is that so? We need to stop them in advance. Make the borders so secure that even a bird is unable to get past it. I do not think there is need for war.
The other important point is, when we have so many terrorists coming from one country, why can’t it be declared a terrorist nation? When their ration-paani (supplies) stops, their own citizens will stand up and put an end to it. This is what I feel. It is up to the politicians to decide the rest.
VANDITA MISHRA: When political parties come to you for advice on governance, what do you tell them?
Yes, some political leaders come to us for advice. I can’t take names. One leader asked us whether we should adopt swadeshi products. I told him that if 80 per cent of the goods in the market are manufactured by us, then the model can be adopted. But if only 5 per cent of the products are ours, then it cannot happen.
Also, if the quality of our products is good then it (swadeshi) will work, or else how can we stop children from buying imported items? So, we discuss such issues with politicians, nothing major.
MANEESH CHHIBBER: Have you ever met Prime Minister Narendra Modi? If not, then what would you tell him if you did?
No I haven’t met him. If I meet him, I won’t make any personal requests. I will speak to him about social issues, de-addiction etc.
VANDITA MISHRA: You have a big empire, not only in Punjab and Haryana, but in other states as well. How does this run? Where does all the money come from?
I was born in a farmer’s family and by the age of seven, I was driving a tractor, ploughing fields etc. I was interested in agriculture and soon became an agricultural scientist.
There is no empire as such. We kept taking land and producing large harvests. There are no offerings made at the ashram, be it direct or indirect.
VANDITA MISHRA: What is your view on the Jat agitation in Haryana?
I believe that there should be no quota of any kind to get into medical school. Imagine this situation: a student who gets 94 per cent marks cannot become a doctor, but another who scores 33 per cent becomes one! What will happen to the patient? That is all I know, the rest is up to the government. There should be quota, but only on the basis of economic status, not on the basis of caste or religion.