Chandigarh: Just ahead of the Punjab polls, self-styled jailed godman and Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, who is undergoing a 20-year sentence for raping his two disciples, was granted furlough for 21 days on Monday by the BJP-led Haryana government to meet his family members in Gurugram.
He is lodged in Haryana’s Sunaria jail since 2017 after being convicted in rape and murder cases. He has a large number of followers in Punjab, which is going to the polls on February 20.
Earlier, he was released from the jail thrice for various reasons, including his plea to meet the ailing mother.
Justifying the decision, Haryana Jail Minister Ranjit Chautala told reporters, “Ram Rahim was granted parole as per the jail manual. The state government has nothing to do with granting parole or furlough to a jail inmate.”
“It is the legal right of a convict, who becomes eligible to seek parole or furlough after he has completed three years of conviction,” he added.
He is likely to be taken to Gurugram under heavy security.
Reacting to his furlough, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), the body responsible for the management of gurdwaras, asked the Haryana government to refrain from releasing a criminal responsible for several killings from the jail.
Earlier, Ram Rahim was granted parole on his wife Harjit Kaur’s plea that his mother Naseeb Kaur, 85, suffering from a heart disease was seriously ill.
Ram Rahim (52) is currently lodged at the high-security Sunaria jail in Rohtak, 250 kms from state capital Chandigarh.
In June 2019, Ram Rahim Singh had withdrawn his parole plea after the state BJP government was cornered by opposition parties for favouring the self-styled godman, who sought parole for 42 days to tend to his agricultural fields at his sect’s headquarters in Sirsa town.
Also, the high court had rejected his parole plea for attending the wedding ceremony of his foster daughter.
Ram Rahim was sentenced to 20 years in jail in August 2017 for raping two women.
A special CBI court in Panchkula this January 2019 also sentenced Ram Rahim and three others to life imprisonment for the murder of journalist Ram Chander Chhatrapati over 16 years ago.
His conviction on August 25, 2017, had led to violence in Panchkula and Sirsa, leaving 41 people dead and over 260 injured.
Ram Rahim was patronised by political leaders and parties in Punjab and Haryana for nearly two decades due to his ability to influence the votes of his followers.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and the subsequent Haryana Assembly polls, Dera Sacha Sauda, with the Punjab’s prominent sect at Salabatpura in Bathinda, had issued a public appeal for people to vote for the BJP.
In the 2017 Punjab Assembly polls, the sect, which claims to have 60 million followers pan-India of which 4 million are in Punjab alone, supported the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP alliance, but the party lost to the Congress. However, the sect had supported Congress in the previous Punjab Assembly polls in 2012 and 2007.
With 84 campuses named ‘satsang ghars’ across Punjab, the Dera Sacha Sauda sect says it is not a religion but a humanitarian organisation.
Followers of Dera Sacha Sauda, if they follow the edict, hold the key to 35-40 seats in Malwa, the largest political region of Punjab with 69 seats out of the state’s 117.