A ‘baba’ with a penchant for luxury – and controversy

Sirsa (Haryana), May 17 (IANS) He lives in a cave, drives around in a fleet of luxury cars and has a posse of bodyguards around him all the time. He wears colourful and sometimes funny clothes depending on what image he likes to project – of a king, an ascetic or simply the guru of the controversial Dera Sacha Sauda.

Baba Gurmit Ram Rahim, of the heretical Dera Sacha Sauda sect, may be preaching peace, love and harmony to his millions of followers, but his very name has sparked unrest across towns and cities of Punjab.

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The latest controversy around the guru of the radical sect is regarding his wearing the traditional attire of the 10th guru of the Sikhs – Guru Gobind Singh – and giving nectar to his disciples – similar to what the guru did April 13, 1699, when he founded the Khalsa Panth. It has the Sikh community up in arms.

“I have not done anything wrong. I wear dresses that are designed and given to me by my followers. I have worn similar dresses before but no one raised the issue. This seems to be deliberately instigated and could be politically motivated,” he told reporters at his heavily-fortified sprawling 700-acre dera on outskirts of this town, 300 km from Chandigarh.

He has not shown any inclination for apologising over the attire issue – as demanded by the Sikh community along with his arrest

His ‘dera’ (sect) has over 15 million followers – mostly in Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and some other states. The followers belong to all religions.

Irrespective of the unrest he has sparked outside, he has been continuing with his daily rounds of teaching from his ‘gufa’ (cave) inside the sprawling campus of his sect in Sirsa, Haryana. He is surrounded by armed security drawn from Punjab and Haryana police and private guards all the time.

Controversy has never been far from this sect chief, now 40 (born Aug 15, 1967).

His role and that of his dera is under the scanner of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) after a local journalist, Ram Chandra Chhatrapati, was shot dead allegedly by dera followers for exposing the “sexual exploitation” of women inside the dera complex in November 2002.

The CBI has never been able to get anywhere close to the godman, leave alone question him.

When two of his close associates were called for questioning to Chandigarh by the CBI four months ago, nearly 100,000 dera followers descended on Chandigarh and lay siege to the city roads. The chaos in the city – joint capital of Punjab and Haryana – lasted over six hours.

The godman, and his sect courted controversy by openly coming out in support of the Congress in the February assembly elections in Punjab. His son-in-law, Harminder Singh Jassi, contested on a Congress ticket from the Bathinda assembly seat and won.

This political move by the spiritual sect upset the ruling Akali Dal in Punjab. Senior Akali leaders, including Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, have gone on record to say that the dera’s support to the Congress cost the Akalis over 20 seats.