[ This piece was published, with a few minor changes, in the New Indian Express on 20.09.2017 ]
Frankly, I’ve been surprised no end by the ruthless ferocity with which the Indian state has been carpet bombing the centres of the Dera Saccha Sauda in the aftermath of its leader’s conviction and its followers’ violence. Surprised, because this is the same state apparatus that took fifteen years to investigate the rape charges against him, that lined up outside the Dera gates for a holy “darshan”, that begged him for its votes, that squandered public resources to pamper him. Surely there must be a deeper explanation for this epiphanic volte face ?
There is, and we need look no further than Oscar Wilde to identify it. Wilde was a pitiless observer and trenchant critic of societal hypocrisy and one of his aphorisms supplies the answer: We dislike people for having faults we do not have, but we hate them for having the same faults which we have. Never was a truer word said.
We do not like to see a reflection of our own vices and weaknesses, and the Dera Saccha Sauda has done precisely that: held up a mirror to our rotten society and polity, exposed to full public glare the superstition, cronyism, exploitation and crass mendacity which define our social and political structures. And of course this makes us very angry, as Wilde had said it would.
Consider this : there is little difference between the empires of our God-men and of our politicians. Both aspire to just one objective- naked power. Both exploit the latent insecurities of people. Both use caste and religion to cement their support base and divide those of their rivals. Both lack any pretensions to democracy and are run by individual dynasts, family or coterie. Both acquire humongous quantities of money from sources that are opaque, dubious and undisclosed. Both are exempted from paying taxes. Both have cadres which have full licence to indulge in violence and hooliganism when the occasion or supreme leader so demands. Both are patriarchal and misogynist. Both are above the law.
God-men and politicians are like peas in a pod, conjoined twins in a parabiotic relationship, traditionally living off each other and prospering together. This is true of not just the BJP only: ALL political parties have, deplorably, been bed partners of various Babas at ALL times. The Congress had its Chandraswamy, the Samajwadi party had the infamous Ramvriksha Yadav who in June 2016 created mayhem in Jawahar Park in Mathura, resulting in the death of 29 people, including two policemen. This misplaced reverence is a societal aberration; it is fashionable to think that these Babas are revered only by the less privileged classes, but this is not true. The upper crust have their own designer Babas who too can get away with anything- witness how the Art Of Living and its poster Baba Sri Sri Ravi Shankar was allowed to rampage through the Yamuna flood plains last year: the only time when Mr. Modi and Mr. Kejriwal have ever agreed on anything ! Baba Ram Rahim himself has been paid obeisance by just about every politician in Punjab, Rajasthan and Haryana. The BJP is only the latest suitor. That is why neither Mr. Khattar nor Mr. Rajnath Singh did anything substantive to prevent the ugly situation developing in Panchkula, till the shit hit the fan there-literally, if we are to believe the residents of this quiet suburbia. So what went wrong ?
The failure of Baba Ram Rahim to follow the prescribed code of conduct. In secretive and closed organisations ( like Deras and political parties) contentious and problematic issues are resolved in-house and not exposed to public gaze. There is a well established protocol for handling awkward, and perhaps illegal, predicaments. Cases are not registered, investigations are prolonged, loyal officers are deployed in critical posts, witnesses are won over or intimidated, court orders are challenged ad-infinitum, judges are recused, judgements are reserved, enquiry reports are buried deeper than the Mariana Trench. If all else fails and conviction becomes inevitable then there is the parole ( a-la Sanjay Dutt and Mr. Chautala) or the VIP ward in jail( a-la Sasikala and Sahara Shri), and the show goes on notwithstanding the occasional hiccup.
The mistake that Saccha Sauda made was in not observing this SOP and thereby endangering the entire carefully contrived web of deceit and its many powerful denizens. By taking to the streets the Baba broke the holy code of Omerta. He would have done better by following the Asa Ram model- although in jail now for four years he is yet to be convicted, he appears to be having a fine time behind bars, the case against him has got nowhere, witnesses are vanishing into the ether with great regularity, and there is a more than even chance that by the time he comes up for trial there will be little worthwhile evidence left against him. Most important, however, is the fact that his empire remains intact and his co-parceners do not feel threatened.
Baba Ram Rahim departed from this time-tested script and is now paying the price. The sheer ferocity of the state’s vengeance- raids, arrests, seizures, lock-downs, confiscations- is in direct proportion to its collusion with the Dera earlier. The effort now is to obliterate from public memory all reminders of their earlier partnership- Mr. Modi’s deep obeisance to the “mitti” or soil of the Dera before the last elections in Haryana, Mr. Khattar’s smirking photo with the now arch-villain, the long queues of politicians and Babus waiting for darshan and favours, the tax exemptions for his glitzy silver screen monstrosities, the Z category security at state expense, the 50 lakh rupees cheques by Ministers paid as premium for electoral insurance. These reminders of a now embarrassing past must be made to disappear, along with the Baba himself. There is a diabolical genius at work here: earlier the ruling party got votes by supporting the Dera; now it hopes to get votes by dismantelling it and burying Ram Rahim along with all evidence of their parabiotic partnership. Shakespeare was wrong, after all- it is not just the good that is often interred with a man’s bones, the bad is too.
But Oscar Wilde was right.