News Analysis: Indian government's failure to provide adequate healthcare, education fuels spiritual guru's rise

Source: Xinhua| 2017-08-28 13:57:27|Editor: Zhou Xin
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NEW DELHI, Aug. 28 (Xinhua) -- India's northern states of Punjab and Haryana have been put on high alert ahead of the sentencing of self-proclaimed spiritual guru Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, who was on Friday convicted guilty of raping two women followers.

A multi-layer security ring has been thrown around Haryana's city of Rohtak, where Singh is lodged in a jail, and in the state's Sirsa town, the headquarters of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect, with the Indian Army and para-military forces deployed alongside the local police personnel.

"Para-military forces are in charge of jail security and shoot-at-sight orders have been issued," Inspetcor General of Rohtak Police Navdeep Singh Virk told the media Monday morning.

Soon after Singh was convicted by a court of India's premier probe agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), his supporters in the city of Panchkula Friday erupted in violence and clashed with police that left at least 38 people dead and over 300 injured.

"This time, we are fully prepared to deal with any kind of law and order situation. The CBI judge, who will pronounce the quantum of sentence, will be flown to Rohtak jail and his court will sit inside the jail only," Virk said.

Massive security arrangements have been put in place this time, in the wake of the High Court of Punjab and Haryana Saturday coming down heavily on the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government and Haryana's Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar for failure to stop violence.

The High Court held the chief minister responsible for the violence "for his political gains" and did not even spare Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying that he was the country's prime minister and not the BJP's only.

But who actually is this spiritual guru and how he managed to command a follower base of over 60 million around the world?

The 50-year-old self-styled godman is chief of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect that describes itself as "a non-profit social welfare and spiritual organization." Based out of northern India, the sect runs 46 centers across India and the world.

Known as "Rockstar Baba," Singh is often spotted in shiny, colorful clothes and has performed in half a dozen music videos. He has also earned the nickname "Guru of Bling" because of his preference for ornate jewellery. Of late, he has started acting in films.

Over the years, Singh has presented himself as a social reformer by organizing cleanliness drives and blood donation camps. In 2010, the sect organized a mass marriage where more than 1,000 followers "volunteered" to marry sex workers.

"For years, chief ministers of both Punjab and Haryana, along with several other politicians of all parties, have vied for Singh's support for his huge follower base, just for vote bank politics. Singh also exploited them rightly," said Basab Gupta, a political analyst in Delhi.

"But this time, the long arm of the law has finally caught him for raping two of his women followers some 15 years ago. And the politicians, belonging to both ruling BJP and opposition Congress, now have no other options but to toe the judiciary's line," he added.

Experts also attribute the rise of the spiritual guru to the failure of the government of India, particularly in Punjab and Haryana, to make available to masses affordable healthcare and education even after 70 years of independence.

"Dignity, social support, medical help, and food security. These are precisely the things that the modern Indian state - at least in its Haryana/Punjab version - refuses to offer to the people," said M. Rajivlochan, Professor of Contemporary History, Panjab University.

"There are over 3,000 deras here, each providing the same services to the people - health guidance, de-addiction support, with a lot of dignity and all of it laced with a quirky spiritualism," Rajivlochan wrote in the Indian Express newspaper.

Singh faces a minimum of seven years in jail for the rape. And whatever be the judgment, the political parties will have to accept it, notwithstanding the fact that they might have to lose a large chunk of their vote base - Singh's followers - in future elections, analysts say.