Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh may be languishing in the Sunaria Jail in Rohtak, but his presence is unmissable in the minds of political leaders and party workers in Punjab.
Ever since his conviction in a case of rape of two of his followers, Ram Rahim Singh has been discussed only in whispers in political circles as politicos had chosen to distance themselves from him. However, ahead of a public rally of the Congress on October 7 in Lumbi, the pocket borough of former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, the party chose to rake up the issue of an alleged meeting between Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) president Sukhbir Badal and the disgraced godman.
Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee president and MP Sunil Jakhar alleged that the SAD leader met Ram Rahim Singh in September 2015, ahead of the release of MSG-2 The Messenger, written by and starring the Dera chief.
While the reasons for the meeting, or if the meeting ever took place, have never been confirmed by the Badal junior, Punjab was agog with rumours that the meeting happened, and that the old case against the Dera chief—of him imitating Guru Gobind Singh, hurting Sikh sentiments—was the reason for the meeting. Soon after the alleged meeting, the Dera chief was pardoned by one of the head priests of Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee. This incensed the Sikh community who turned against the SAD and Badals.
Ahead of assembly elections in January 2017, the Akalis alleged that Capt Amarinder Singh had sought the support of the Dera chief. However, with Amarinder Singh creating political waves in the state, it was difficult for them to corroborate this allegation.
The PPCC chief, by dragging the name of the Dera chief in a political discourse, has given credence to the relevance of the Dera as a votebank, which the SAD may try to exploit in the upcoming general elections. "I dare Badal to deny he met him. I have proof," said Jakhar, in a bid to stop the Panthic party from reaching out to the Dera.
The Dera chief is serving a 20-year sentence for rape. He had got minor relief by way of being granted bail in a case of castration of a large number of his male followers in his campus near Sirsa. The bail, though being cheered by some of his followers, does not alter his 20-year jail term.
He is not allowed to meet people other than his family members and lawyers.
The people who were managing the Dera withdrew from public once it became apparent that Ram Rahim Singh would go to jail for his crimes. Initially, the Dera chief's adopted daughter, Honeypreet Insan, took over the charge and later, his 70-year-old mother Naseeb Kaur assumed charge even as the police were scouring the Dera for incriminating material, his source of wealth and other activities. Naseeb Kaur suggested that her grandson take charge of the Dera.