Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s condemnation of the massive violence that erupted after Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh’s conviction in a rape case appears pro-forma and jaded. Noting short of the sacking of Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar would instill any confidence in the Prime Minister’s leadership. Modi’s old buddy he may be but now he has become his biggest liability.
In a series of tweets, Modi said, “The instances of violence today are deeply distressing. I strongly condemn the violence & urge everyone to maintain peace.” “The law & order situation is being closely monitored. I reviewed the situation with the NSA & Home Secretary.” “Urged officials to work round the clock to restore normalcy and provide all possible assistance that is required.” Strong condemnation, situation being monitored, restoration of normalcy, etc., sound apathetic; they give the impression that the person saying such things is scarcely bothered; it is business as usual. The truth, however, is that things have gone too far.
Consider this: no sooner than Gurmeet Ram Rahim is pronounced guilty on Friday than his followers indulge in rioting and arson in not only Haryana but also in Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, and parts of Uttar Pradesh. In the next few hours, 30 people lose live, while 250 get injured. The self-styled spiritual guru’s devotees pelted stones at security forces, set afire several vehicles, damage public and private property, including several OB vans belonging to TV channels, and attacked locals at Panchkula where their leader was convicted. The civil authorities fail to control the situation; Army had to be called in.
The mayhem occurred despite various quarters, including the media and the judiciary, expressing fears of violence. The High Court had rapped the state administration on the knuckles just a day before the violence. Khattar’s position becomes even more precarious given the fact that he himself holds the charge of the home department.
In his three years in office, Khattar has faced three major crises, and in each of them has emerged as besmirched and diminished. In November 2014, the arrest of another self-proclaimed guru, Rampal, on court orders got mired in bloodshed and controversy. The tackling of the Jat reservation stir in February 2016, which cost 30 lives and hundreds of crores of property, also exposed the incompetence and clumsiness of the state government. Now again the state authorities have proved to be clueless.
The clumsiness and cluelessness emanate essentially from the misplaced priorities of the Khattar regime. As is true with other governments under the Bharatiya Janata Party, not excluding at the Centre, the powers that be in Haryana are focused on stupid doctrinaire matters like beef ban, Ayurveda, Yoga, and name changing.
Secondly, when the solitary goal of the two most important men in the country and the ruling party, Modi and BJP president Amit Shah, is to win elections—now termed Mission 2019—such old-fashioned concepts like morality and propriety become useless baggage that is better abandoned. To be fair to the Big Two, they have not invented this form of politics; they are just following in the well-trodden path, trodden by also parties. Their tryst with blind realpolitik, however, appears disconcerting because they claimed to be different and promised to usher in achhe din.
Neither BJP leaders nor politicians from other parties had any compunction in keeping distance from Singh despite allegations of rape and other violent offences such as murder and castrated against him. For instance, a few months ago, in May, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh’s name was recommended by the Yoga Federation of India for the prestigious Dronacharya Award. There are photographs and reports of Khattar, his ministers, and other BJP leaders getting pally with controversial godman.
Against this backdrop, it is not surprising that an attempt was made to shield him from the law. PTI has quoted former CBI joint director Mulinja Narayanan, who headed the probe, as saying, “It was a game of wits. Sometimes we won and sometimes we lost but, at the end, today’s verdict showed that no one can escape the law of the land.”
In September 2002, when the Punjab and Haryana High Court handed the case to the CBI, Narayanan was posted as Deputy Inspector General of Police (Special Crimes). “The case was registered on December 12, 2002, and suddenly I found a senior CBI official entering my room and directing me that the case needs to be closed and no action should be taken,” the retired officer said. Evidently, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh couldn’t influence the investigation. But his influence among a very large number of devotees ensured that politicians of all hues tried to keep him in good humor.
What is infuriating is that neither Khattar nor his cronies have shown any remorse or even signs of midcourse correction. One of the BJP leaders defending him had the cheek to say that the godman was prosecuted and got convicted during BJP rule in the state! As if the saffron party announced verdict against him. Then there was a party spokesman, Raman Malik, who was downright insolence and was talking as if his party had accomplished some great feat.
Perhaps the insolence comes from the Haryana Chief Minister who, in turn, seems to be confident that his personal ties with the Prime Minister gives him the liberty to squander the mandate the people of the state gave to the BJP. It is time Modi sacked Khattar without delay.