Sunday, September 24, 2023

As govt prepares to sanitise dera, old followers talk of the ‘curse’


Patran/Sirsa, Sep 07: Paramilitary forces and Punjab cops standing guard before huge posters of Gurmeet Ram Rahim’s latest movie ‘Jattu Engineer’. The vibe around the naam charcha ghar at Patran in Patiala is unsettling. It is one of the many naam charcha ghars located on national and state highways. It helped in brand promotion. “The location attracted more people to the ‘Sach canteens’ selling MSG products, publicised the dera and Gurmeet Ram Rahim’s flashy films. The followers who cooked and served were not paid but food was sold at a profit. But now all is over. It is a curse from Shah Mastana. He had said if the dera is misused, then satguru da danda chalega (the guru will himself wield the stick),” says MS Joshi who had fought civil suits of the dera for 25 years after joining the sect under Gurmeet’s predecessor Shah Satnam.



At the headquarters of the dera at Sirsa, old-timers who took to the faith under Shah Satnam, also term it as a curse of the past masters. “We left going to the new dera long back. Shah Satnam had warned against three things — property, congregations and politics. But Gurmeet did all three. He made huge properties, held huge congregations as a show of strength and used it to break deals with political parties,” said a former follower living in Sirsa, requesting anonymity.

Beyond the MSG Chowk that demarcates the city from the dera, localities of “premis” (dera followers) such as Preet Nagar, Shah Satnam Ji Nagar and Kalyan Nagar have been sanitised of weapons. But they are still under curfew till the government sanitises opulent new dera.

Many homes here have nameplates with the surname — Insan — that the dera head had coined to create a cult following by breaking caste and religion barriers. Yet most still live in fear, not of the curfew but the dera. “On the day, he was convicted for rape, an angry mob broke window panes of those who had distanced themselves from the dera,” said a woman Prem, who like many others is waiting to get a good price of her house to move out.

But the close confidants of Gurmeet Ram Rahim who had fallen out with him are now speaking freely. “Gurmeet was scared of living in the gufa (cave) where Shah Satnam lived. He would not be able to sleep there alone. Soon after taking over in 1990, he started collecting money and land and built a luxurious new dera and moved into it in January 1996. Maybe, his conscience pricked him,” says Gurdas Singh, son of Khatta Singh, the man who became a CBI witness in the rape case against the dera chief but later turned hostile.

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