The Dera Sacha Sauda headed by Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh has been in news for numerous reasons apart from MSG — not just for scandals, but also for political reasons. It created a stir in 2004 when it came out in open support of the BJP ahead of the Punjab Assembly polls. That support proved to be crucial as it rode to power in the state. Prior to this, the Dera had refrained from making political ambitions public. In 2007, it threw its weight behind the Congress party but despite the open support, the Congress failed to form the government in the state.
Hence, it is not surprising to see Haryana Health and Sports Minister Anil Vij donated Rs 50 lakh from his discretionary fund to the Dera for ‘promoting rural games’. The announcement drew flak from the Opposition, with Congress media cell chief Randeep Surjewala saying: “I haven’t seen all angles of this story. All political parties support money being donated to encourage sports. Anil Vij has to consider his decision about attachment to people. He is in a responsible, political and constitutional position. He has to clarify. If he doesn’t, then people of Haryana will have to act.”
The donation was announced by Vij in the presence of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh at Dera Sacha Sauda in Sirsa district after he witnessed a sporting event.
Making the announcement, he said: “It is a very good thing. Along with religion, education and games are being promoted at the academy here. I would like to donate Rs 50 lakh from my discretionary fund.”
Notably, all the games played inside the academy are created by Gurmeet Ram Rahim himself and are not played at national or international level.
It may be noted that Punjab goes to the polls in 2017, and Dera Sacha Sauda has a considerable influence in the state. And once again it can tilt the way for the BJP.
As a matter of fact soon after the SAD formed the government in Punjab in 2007 despite the Dera’s opposition, a controversy over Gurmeet Ram Rahim’s dress had ensued and Punjab saw ugly spats between Sikhs and Dera followers.
In the 2009 parliamentary elections, the Dera announced that the issue of female foeticide was one of the most important criteria to judge candidates. Harsimrat Kaur Badal had just entered politics after launching the Nanhi Chhaan campaign and contested against Congress’ Raninder Singh.
During the 2012 Punjab Assembly elections, then Punjab Congress president Capt Amrinder Singh had tried to woo Dera followers at an election rally in Bathinda. However, Gurmeet Ram Rahim’s close relative and Congress leader Harminder Singh Jassi, who was present at the rally, lost from Bathinda to the SAD candidate.
In February 2015, his organisation openly supported the BJP in Delhi elections, saying that he has over 20 lakh followers in Delhi. He supported the BJP in the Bihar Assembly election in 2015, and nearly 3,000 Dera followers campaigned for THE BJP in the state.
Gurmeet Rahim is no stranger to controversies. He has been in the eye of the storm on various counts. In May 2007, Singh was accused of hurting the religious sentiments of Sikhs by wearing, in an advertisement, an attire resembling the tenth and final living Sikh Guru Gobind Singh. His followers also organised a demonstration against their alleged persecution at the hands of some religious organisations.
A criminal case was filed against him for hurting religious sentiments but was dismissed by a Sirsa court in 2009.