After an eight-year long standoff, a sudden pardon to Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh by the Akal Takht — the highest temporal seat of Sikhs — and a reciprocal gesture by the dera of withdrawing all cases against Sikhs is being viewed as a ‘pact’ ahead of the 2017 Assembly elections in Punjab.
Many called the move a well-crafted strategy by Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal to woo nearly 70 lakh followers of the dera across the state, especially after the dera-factor helped BJP in Haryana in the Assembly polls. The ‘pact’ allows the dera to carry on with its religious activities without being branded as an “outlaw” and also supports its film-business with the release of dera chief starrer movie MSG-2 in Punjab.
Interestingly, as soon as the Akal Takht declared the dera chief was pardoned, distributors made a beeline to screen his movie in cinemas across Punjab. Earlier, cinemas were unwilling to screen MSG-2 fearing law and order trouble. The state had imposed a complete ban on his first movie, MSG, released early this year.
In 2007, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh was accused by several Sikh organisations dressing like the tenth Sikh Guru Gobind Singh. While he had apologised to the Akal Takht then, his apology was rejected. A case was also registered against him. A district court had last year dismissed the case.
Reacting after the truce, dera spokesperson Dr Aditya Insaan, said: “We got a report from the ground that the issue was causing tension among our followers and Sikhs. We did not want this.”
He, however, denied that the dera had entered into any pact for political reasons.
“This is not an era of fatwas. Our guru issues a charter to the voters and if a certain candidate or a party measures up to it, only then they are asked to vote. In Haryana, our followers voted for BJP as the manifesto matched with our charter,” he said. He also denied that any meeting took place between dera followers and Sukhbir Badal.
The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leaders said that pardon was granted to the dera chief to send out a message of religious tolerance. With both the SAD and the dera burying the hatchet, trouble seems to be brewing with several radical groups calling for a Punjab bandh on September 30 to protest against the development.