He may claim to be a Godman, but in real life Gurmeet Ram Rahim
Singh has hardly kept himself from material interests. Like many other self-styled Godmen in India, the Dera Sacha Sauda chief’s business interest straddles across sectors – from education and health care services to FMCG and movie production. And, with 60 million followers across the globe among whom he enjoys a larger-than-life status, Singh is the face of all entities and products. While Singh personally holds a stake in the FMCG business, to the rest he is linked through cross-holdings and related-party transactions.
In 2012, Singh was battling an existential crisis. The Dera Sacha Sauda sect, which holds a massive following in Punjab, had supported the Congress in the state elections. But the move had backfired, with the Congress losing, and even Harminder Singh Jassi, an influential leader and the father-in-law of Singh’s daughter, losing the election. This was seen by many as a downfall in the sect’s political influence.
The Dera boss decided to reincarnate himself through devotional pop music. What followed were albums featuring Singh as a flamboyant rockstar. These were such a sensation that global music giant Universal tied up with him for a commercial launch. The 2014 album ‘Highway Love Charger’ garnered more than 320,000 views on YouTube and Universal sold more than three million copies.
In 2014, Singh’s movie and music production company Hakikat Entertainment Private Limited was incorporated. According to corporate documents, the entity, registered at Delhi’s Rohini, counts one Gulabu Mal as its director since incorporation. Mal, who holds a 2.8 per cent stake in Hakikat, also serves as the vice-chairman of Shah Satnamji Research & Development Foundation, the trust that carries out educational and health care activities for Dera Sacha Sauda.
The largest individual shareholder (with an 18 per cent stake) is ARZ Unique Enterprises Limited, an entity in the travel and hospitality business. Four of its directors hold stakes and are on the boards of Singh’s other companies. Documents show that Rakesh Kumar Insan, also a member of the governing body of Satnamji Trust, is the promoter of ARZ. This company had filed a writ petition in the Delhi High Court in 2014 asking for a prohibition on alcohol served at five-star hotels. Dera Sacha Sauda lists liquor prohibition as one of the main principles on its website.
In February 2015, Hakikat released MSG: The Messenger of God, the first movie under its banner that also marked Singh’s debut. It was a solo show, with Singh functioning as an actor, lyricist, script writer, cinematographer and editor. This was followed by a sequel in the September of that year.
While the box-office success of these two films remains debatable, the fortunes of Hakikat have little to write home about. It registered a loss of Rs 1 crore on a revenue of Rs 30 crore in 2015-16, the latest year for which data are available. But Singh, registered as a permanent employee of the company (actor, film director, and singer) took home a remuneration of Rs 6.43 crore, or 21 per cent of the total revenue. Singh’s adopted daughter, Honeypreet Insaan, was paid Rs 60 lakh.
Following in the footsteps of Baba Ramdev, who is competing with global majors in the Indian FMCG market, Singh forayed into the sector in February 2016. To be sold under the MSG brand, there were products like rice, pickles, honey, bottled water and noodles. The groundwork had begun a year earlier, in March 2015, with the setting up of MSG All Trading International Private Limited, in which Singh held a 42 per cent stake. Gulabu Mal had a 21 per cent stake and served as a director on the board. The company earned a revenue of Rs 21 crore in barely a year and made a profit of Rs 21 lakh. That sent ambitions soaring and the company issued fresh shares and approached lenders for loans for buying machines.
Besides these, Singh’s trust also operates five hospitals and a number of educational institutions, including 10 schools, one engineering college and a management institute.