India, a country for 'Godmen': Politics, not divinity, their source of power
God and religion are big things in India and indeed around the world. Maybe a little more in the world's largest democracy than most other places. And unlike theocratic countries, 'gods' and 'godmen,' of not just one, but different religions and sects hold sway here than foreign.
While this might be considered an example of the secular nature of the country, it also leads to the increase in the number of what could be considered 'holy' or 'unholy' men and women, depending on one's opinion and beliefs.
And more the number of such men or women, more following they have, more the power they hold over political leaders of the day, given that devotees also happen to be voters at election time.
It's this die-hard support of their followers and control over them that ultimately leads to the preferential treatment such modern day gods enjoy from governments giving them special powers is entire country's concerns.
This influence, and not their closeness to god or of being gods themselves, is the source of the ability to wield their 'unholy' and at times illegal power, over other mere mortals and citizens of India, allowing them leeway when it comes to government actions and sanctions that few others will ever enjoy.
Ram Rahim, the prime and latest example
Incidents and happenings related to Dera Sacha Sauda chief, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, the self-proclaimed 'godman' with a huge following in North Indian states of Haryana, Punjab and Delhi, are just the latest example of this.
Ram Rahim, was convicted in a rape case by a Special CBI court and this has led to chaos, especially in Panchkula district of Haryana, the state where his Dera headquarters is located. With over 36 people killed and around 269 injured after his followers ran riot following the verdict.
And the fact that Bharatiya Janata Party government of the state, led by its Chief Minister, Manohar Lal Khattar, who was openly supported by the 'spiritual' leader in the assembly elections, has been ineffective in controlling this, despite clear prior knowledge that such violence was possible, is an understatement at best.
Statements from not only Khattar but also those of another leader of the party, BJP Member of Parliament, Sakshi Maharaj, go a long way to show the reason behind the lack of proper handling, due to an anaemic manner of preparation, to tackle the critical and violent situations that rose after the conviction.
Khattar tried to take the blame away from the Dera followers, as a statement from his office read, "The Chief Minister said some anti-social elements got mixed up with the followers of Dera Sacha Sauda after the delivery of the verdict by the CBI court in the case involving the Dera chief, resorted to violence and disrupted the peace."
Meanwhile, the BJP MP, trying to defend the violence and attempting to absolve Ram Rahim of his crime said, "One person alleging sexual exploitation but crores stand with him today, why those crores of people are not being heard?" He even went on to blame the courts for their part, "If even bigger incidents take place, court will also be responsible not just Dera people, he said.
Little wonder then, that Punjab and Haryana High court in its observation told Haryana government, "You allowed the city to burn for political gains. It seems the government has surrendered to agitators."
How these 'Godmen' and 'Gurus' wield power
Though many would want to hope and attempt to explain the case of Ram Rahim as an exception, sadly even the staunchest followers of such men and supporters of politicians will not be able to prove that the current case is the norm and not the exception.
While getting away with crimes, or at least allegations of committing them, might be the most important way of using their importance for those in power, several allegations of them building empires by using quid pro quo relationship have also surfaced. This has led to even those who claim to be beyond materialistic things of the world to own them.
These come from the reality of many of them, at least the very famous ones who can be seen on television sets, are also very successful businessmen, with many having a 'rags to riches' story to boast of.
Example of these, though not all of them having grave legal allegations against them, include the Yoga guru, Ramdev, whose Fast-moving consumer goods company (FMCG), Patanjali, has quickly become one of the largest in the country, or Ram Rahim who himself through his companies sells products from cosmetics to food products and has also made and starred in movies. These are just two examples in a long list of such names.
With commercial activities often blanketed by the well publicised social welfare programs which they run through educational institutions, hospitals, among others. Many allegations have also been made against many such leaders using their well-amassed wealth and helping politicians in helping purify their illicit incomes through their business and welfare measures.
Such a nexus rarely coming to light given that those parts of it are the authorities in charge of agencies who are to expose such links. And while doing all this, such 'godmen' are not very shy about openly showing their links with leaders of the political class, often sharing the stage at public events from which both sides benefit.
So while Khattar has shared the stage with Ram Rahim, to promote Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Swachh Bharat program, even Modi thanked the Dera Sacha Sauda leader, as he tweeted on October 28, 2014, "Appreciable effort by Baba Ram Rahim ji & his team. Will motivate people across India to join Swachh Bharat Mission!"
'Holy' men and their 'Unholy' ways
Sadly, the latest guru to go to jail is one of many with whom the courts of the land, no matter what the intentions of those in power, caught up. And most of them on criminal charges starting from, murder, rape, molestation, abduction, criminal intimidation, violation of Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, and many other such crimes.
Even the collection of names of the 'holy' men of India belonging to different parts of the country, who have been sent to jail is full of those who have had or still enjoy do lakhs of followers with total commitment from their devotees.
It includes many such as, Asaram Bapu, the late Chandraswami, Sant Rampal, Swami Sadachar, Shiv Murat Dwivedi, Swami Premananda, Swami Amrita Chaitanya, Jayendra Saraswathi among others.
Though such examples where those claiming to be close or gods themselves, might show that justice is done in most cases, the reality of how difficult it is to get conviction with witnesses threatened, slow movement from investigative agencies under political pressure, or just plain murder of those willing to take stand or report against them, as seen in Asaram and Ram Rahim's case, show a different reality.
And the non-ending belief that the followers of such men seem to have in their gurus just goes on to make the task of those who would want to voice the crimes against them, which might also lead to the break in the political backing that they get, even more difficult.
It is such a reality of India's spiritual sphere that has gone far in not only making the life of victims more painful but also gives these modern day gods a standing unlike those of old, who though no doubt were treated with as much reverence and contempt in their times as any of the gods of today, yet surely did not enjoy similar say and power over the administration during their lives and times.