Parole unlikely for Dera chief Ram Rahim Singh

Granting the rape-convicted godman parole would be costly for the BJP

Gurmeet-Ram-Rahim-Singh (FILE) Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh greets followers as he arrives for a press conference ahead of the release of his new movie MSG, The Warrior Lion Heart, in New Delhi | AP

Whether Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh is granted parole now or later, the act will likely put both Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar and the BJP in a tight spot.

Granting him parole, at a glance, gives the impression of the godman advising his supporters to vote for the saffron party. There is, however, no guarantee that Gurmeet advising his supporters now would transfer into votes four months later. On the contrary, it will give the opposition a handle on a platter come Vidhan Sabha elections in October. And Khattar needs to hold on to his government and the BJP its majority in the Vidhan Sabha to prove that its win in 2014 — the first ever without an ally— was no fluke riding on the Modi wave.

The godman and his followers, who congregated at the sprawling and once-prosperous Dera Sacha Sauda headquarters in Sirsa, have always been considered a fertile vote bank by leaders of all political hues in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan. Leaders visited DSS to seek vote, support, and even note (currency) in older, less controversial days. After they ran into trouble when Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh stoked anger among the Sikhs for attempting to dress like Guru Gobind Singh at the turn of the century, political leaders are said to have met him in Mumbai, where he was working on a film in his MSG franchise.

In fact, a political party's win in Dera’s areas of influence is always specifically noted and studied by all the parties, as is any favour that the government does for Dera. It is on a very small and localised scale, not different from how the role of crony capitalists lobbying for policies is analysed.

Any untoward event involving the Dera or Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, if he is granted parole now, will also boomerang on the government because of the tense and fragile law and order situation now prevailing in Sira. This is on account of the killing of Mohinder Pal Bittu, a Dera devotee, in Punjab's Nabha jail on Sunday. Dera followers believe that Bittu was innocent and framed.

So, while the Haryana Jails Minister K.L. Panwar told a news agency that the prisoner was entitled to apply for parole, it is unlikely that the Dera chief will be granted even a short stay out of jail, for the time being.

In fact, the godman's plea for parole to attend his foster daughter's wedding in early May had been rejected by the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, chief of the DSS and now jailed in Rohtak's Sunaria jail, had over a month ago applied for a 42-day parole, apparently to cultivate his land.

The jail authorities have taken up his application with the Sirsa District Administration, which has reportedly found that while the Dera does own over 250 acres, there is no land in the Dera Chief's name. The administration, sources said, have also inquired to check if he actually manually performed any agricultural work around this season, in the past.

The sealed report of the Sirsa District Commissioner's report will be sent to the Rohtak Divisional Commissioner, who is the statutory authority to take a call on parole sought by convicts sentenced for murder, dacoity, rape and murder, dowry death and offences under the drugs act.

The Haryana Good Conduct Prisoners (Temporary Release) Act provides for prisoners to receive parole if the state government is satisfied that their release is necessary. The reason for this can be, among other things, for agricultural operations like sowing, ploughing and harvesting, on land that the prisoner owns or on undivided land in their possession that belongs to their father.

The Dera chief was jailed after he was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment by a CBI court in Panchkula in August 2017, on grounds of raping two of his disciplines. More recently, the Dera chief received a life sentence in the murder of Sirsa based journalist R.C. Chatrapati, who was on the verge of exposing the godman, when he was killed.