Ministers, political leaders, bureaucrats, and government officials have been making a beeline to seek the “blessings” of convicted rapist and murderer Gurmeet Ram Rahim in his Haryana ashram since his release on parole amid elections in neighbouring Himachal Pradesh.
Latest to join the followers of his Dera Sacha Sauda cult was Himachal Pradesh minister Bikram Thakur, kicking off a major controversy in the poll-bound state. Thakur, an MLA from Jaswan-Paragpur constituency in Kangra district, has been facing the heat ever since a video showing him seeking Ram Rahim’s blessings at an online satsang.
Before him, the AAP minister from Punjab, Fauja Singh Sarari also attended his santsang. A host of other BJP leaders from Haryana like Karnal mayor Renu Bala Gupta, senior deputy mayor Rajesh Aghi and deputy mayor Naveen Kumar have also interacted with the self-styled godman.
“I am an MLA of this area and minister of this state. After listening to your thoughts and the messages, I have come over here,” Bikram Thakur, who holds the portfolio of transport, tells Ram Rahim in the video while joining the event from his constituency.
“People of Himachal Pradesh love you a lot. I wish they could meet you and get your blessings,” the BJP leader tells him.
In response, Ram Rahim, who is accused of raping several women followers, and murdering several people including a journalist, said: “You are a responsible person. I give you my blessings.”
As Opposition Congress cornered BJP over the minister’s comments, he released a video statement, distancing himself from the Dera chief. He said that he attended the event at the invitation of his party supporters.
Delhi Commission for Women chairperson Swati Maliwal also shared the video on Twitter, slamming him for going against the interests of women for votes.
“A rapist and murderer has got the parole to do ‘pravachans’? How will this minister face the women of his state? How much would you fall for the votes?” she wrote.
Ram Rahim, who is also known for his flamboyant attire and large-than-life image, has lakhs of followers in Haryana, Punjab and other neighbouring states.
He was released on 40-day parole on October 14 by the BJP government, prompting allegations from the Opposition leaders and critics about the timing of his release.
Notably, Himachal Pradesh is going to vote on November 12 while a bypoll is scheduled to take place in the Adampur Assembly constituency on November 3. Elections will also be held in Gujarat by the end of this year or early 2023.
Released on parole for his “good behaviour” in jail in Haryana, Ram Rahim has been in the eye of the controversy over his Diwali videos and online preaching sessions.
After his conviction in August 2017, at least 36 people lost lives in widespread violence that gripped Panchkula and some other cities, rendering the police helpless in face of his armed followers.
As per witness accounts in the court, Ram Rahim frequently raped his women disciples in his infamous gufa (cave) and would tell them that by becoming sadhvis they had given their minds and bodies to him and he could use their bodies the way he pleased.
He would also tell them that they were impure due to their past sins and that his sexual overtures were to make them pure and grant them forgiveness.
Recently, a lawyer based in Chandigarh filed a petition in the Punjab and Haryana High Court seeking the cancellation of parole for Ram Rahim. The petition says that Ram Rahim is a ‘darling’ of politicians and the present state government has permitted him to promote criminalisation in society.