Despite intelligence alerts, the authorities recklessly allowed the Dera followers to assemble in tens of thousands in Panchkula well ahead of the judgement last Friday, August 25. A gathering of lakhs of supporters of any supposed godman at a time like this is a sign of trouble. Even the common man would have anticipated a violent eruption soon after the verdict. But surprisingly, the state government had not learnt any useful lessons from the Jat agitation of 2016 where it faced a similar riots.
Maintaining law and order is the responsibility of the state government. But who is accountable when the state shirks its responsibility while the lives of its citizens are put under grave risk? Except for suspending a cop for "clerical error"; hardly anyone has been held accountable for the reprehensible dereliction of duty. Even the courts criticised the state administration for allowing law and order to get out of hand. It accused the government of letting "a city like Panchkula burn for political motives." It was only after the courts slammed the authorities that the state government woke from its slumber.
So why did the government wait for the situation to get escalated? Why did the government choose to ignore the alerts, allowing the unprecedented congregation of so-called devotees carrying weapons while the cops looked the other way? It is a clear case of political procrastination and deliberate inaction on the part of the authorities to facilitate the entry of the Dera followers in the city.
Another troublesome concern is that the self-styled Goldman has not yet lost the blind trust from his army of followers. Such is the faith of his disciples that they are willing to sacrifice their health, wealth and lives for their guru. Many of these followers who sought to intimidate the state are from a well-educated, wealthy and socially prominent background. In times when social and political institutions failed to address the issues of social inequality prevailing among Dalits and other backward classes, the establishment of these Deras came to their rescue to extend support to marginalised communities. Naturally, the power of devotion is beyond rational human behaviour.
Despite the court's conviction, the followers maintained that the Dera Chief is a victim of a conspiracy. As the number of his followers has grown, so has his political network, which empowered his followers to challenge the secular power of the state. The Congress has sought his assistance in fighting assembly elections, as have the BJP and the Akali Dal. It is not a mystery that the self-proclaimed Godman and his devotees are considered to be a precious vote-bank which could influence election results in the states of Haryana, Punjab as well as Rajasthan. From granting tax exemptions to his film to donating to the Dera, the state government and BJP leaders have often played the patron to the Dera.
As famously quoted by Karl Marx, "Religion is the opium of the masses." Political parties have very well learnt the British principle of "divide and rule" and have been successful in feeding the opium of religion to the masses. India has a long history of vote bank politics where the Congress is known to have nurtured the Muslim community, while the BJP has used Hindutva as its counter tool. As long as there is a nexus between politics and religion, these so called religious leaders will continue to remain influential.
Unfortunately, the vulnerable citizens become a prey in the tussle between politics and religious fanaticism. Doesn't our country's constitution read secular? When will our politicians learn that if we keep dividing our society, we will ultimately divide our nation.
(Kalikesh Narayan Singh Deo is a second-time sitting Member of Parliament from Bolangir in Odisha and a prominent leader of the Biju Janata Dal.)
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