The government received more than 4,000 recommendations for a 2017 Padma award to Dera Sacha Sauda sect chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, five of them from the spiritual leader himself.
The Union home ministry was flooded with applications nominating the 50-year-old burly, bearded “godman” who has scripted and starred in own films and commands a near-devotional following that runs into millions.
This happened before he was sentenced early this week to 20 years in jail for raping two sadhvis, or woman devotees, in cases that date back to 2002.
The overwhelming number of applications appears to be an orchestrated effort to recommend his name for the 2017 Padma awards. There was not a single recommendation for him for the awards given in 2015 and 2016.
The nominations are open as anyone can propose a name for the national civilian awards given by the government — Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri.
The awards are given for excelling in art, literature and education, sports, medicine, social work, science and engineering, public affairs, civil service, trade and industry.The names are announced on the eve of Republic Day.
The recommendations are vetted by a committee constituted by the Prime Minister every year.
According to the list of recommendations for 2017, available on the home ministry’s website, there were as many as 18,768 applications.
The highest — 4,208 — were for the flamboyant Dera chief who calls himself Saint Dr Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Ji Insan. Almost all of them were from Haryana’s Sirsa, where his sect has its 800-acre headquarters.
In three of his own recommendations, Singh gave his Sirsa address. For the other two, he wrote Hisar in Haryana and Ganganagar in Rajasthan.
The disgraced leader of the quasi-religious sect was born in Sri Ganganagar district of northern Rajasthan.
Most of those who nominated him gave only their first names such as Abha, Aditya, Akbar, Alfez, Baljinder, Milky, Gajal, Komal, Jony, Jesse and Ishwar.
A man named Amit, based in Sirsa, recommended his name 31 times. Another person, calling himself Sunil, sent 27 applications nominating the Dera chief.