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How Ram Rahim took the ladder of Punjab politics to rise in religio-business

In 1994, Ram Rahim bought 50 acres of land at Salabatpura in Punjab’s Bathinda purportedly from the money collected by disciples. This centre now has more than 100 acres.
Chandigarh : Jailed for 20 years on Tuesday in a rape case, Dera Sacha Sauda (DSS) head Gurmeet Ram Rahim’s fall is as dramatic as was his rise, particularly in Punjab, the hub of his sect’s activities. Up to 1994 — besides the Sirsa headquarters in Haryana — in Punjab the dera had only one naam charcha ghar (preaching centre) of five acres at Malout in Muktsar district in 1994. That too had been set up in the time of Shah Satnam — Gurmeet’s predecessor and the second dera chief after its founder Shah Mastana — who had died in 1990 soon after handing over the ‘gaddi’ (seat).
By 2007, the DSS empire had grown to 98 centres spread over 800 acres. That was also the year that Gurmeet Ram Rahim got into crosshairs with the Sikh community after he allegedly committed blasphemy by dressing up as the tenth Sikh master, Guru Gobind Singh, at the dera’s state headquarters at Salabatpura near Bathinda. That led to clashes, and the baba never came to Punjab for any activity since. The case has, though, been cancelled by the Punjab police during the previous regime of the SAD-BJP combine.
Gurmeet had shown his talents early on, as he started expansion plans within a couple of years of taking over at the age of 23. In 1994, he bought 50 acres of land at Salabatpura purportedly from the money collected by disciples. This centre now has more than 100 acres.
“Baba disliked Malout’s geographical location as it is close to the border with Rajasthan, part of the region on the tri-junction of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan. He decided to shift the dera base to Salabatpura in Rampura Phul region of Bathinda as the area was more easily accessible to followers even from Moga, Barnala, Faridkot and Mansa districts,” said a political leader who was once close to the dera. This forms the Malwa region of Punjab, largest of the three cultural divisions of the state.
He gathered followers during a time when Punjab had barely come out of militancy, and several dominated classes and Dalits were searching for social space. Soon, naam charcha ghars came up in Mansa, Barnala and Sangrur. The number was up to 20 by 2002 in Malwa alone. He still had a large following Haryana.

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