Wary Deras veer away from politics
Saturday, 28 January 2012 00:34
Amitabh Shukla | Chandigarh
Historically miri (politics) and piri (religion) go together in
Punjab. But not this time round. Numerous Deras spread all across the
State and having varying degree of influence, have so far refrained
from directly issuing any diktat to their followers to vote for or
against any party.
Dera Sacha Sauda, headed by Gurmit Ram Rahim, is one of the largest
outfits and had openly backed the Congress in the 2007 polls and
helped the party in the Malwa region where despite an anti-incumbency
wave, it managed to win 37 of the 65 seats. Now this dera, along with
others, is in a dilemma whether to support a party, a candidate or
simply forget about supporting or opposing anyone.
"They (Deras) have adopted the middle path. They do not want to
antagonise any party or candidate. So far, the dera Sacha Sauda is not
favouring any party and is not likely to do so," a follower of the
But it has not stopped the candidates in the Malwa region from
visiting the headquarters of Sacha Sauda in Sirsa in neighbouring
Haryana. Over 200 candidates and political leaders, including the
who's who of Punjab politics, lined up and sought "blessings" of the
Dera chief. They did get "blessings" but no promise of votes of
The Dera claims the support of 40 lakh people, primarily Dalits, lower
and backward castes who seek social equality by associating with them.
But other Deras like the Radha Soami Satsang, Beas, too have a similar
following if not more. The Divya Jyoti Jagriti Sansthan of Baba
Ashutosh, Dera Sachkhand Ballan, Dera Baba Jaure, Nirankaris, among
others too claims a huge following.
Hundreds of Deras have mushroomed all over Punjab and almost every big
village has some religious persons commanding influence among the
people. Most of the Deras are patronised by one caste or the other and
its conflict with hardline Sikhism comes when they ape the Gurus or
use Sikh idioms to make themselves popular.
Most of the Deras have a huge following among various castes and
sub-castes of the Dalits and backward castes as they seek social
parity with the landholders who are primarily Jat Sikhs. The Dalits in
Doaba are prosperous but do not own land. Even in Majha, they are into
business and well off and seek social parity with the landholding Jats
and express pride in their caste.
Among Dalits, the Ravi Dasia or the Adi Dharmi community dominates in
Doaba. Dera Sachkhand Ballan and Dera Baba Jaure counts its supporters
mainly in the Dalit community of Ravidasia adi dharmis. The hardliners
came into conflict as the teachings of Bhakti saint Guru Ravidas and
Guru Granth Sahib go together in the deras, something which the Sikh
clergy is averse to.
Sant Ramanand of Dera Ballan was killed by the radicals in Vienna
(Austria). The fallout was in Punjab where there was a dalit anguish
and violence broke out.
Then there is Baba Piara Singh Bhaniarawala, whose followers are
dalits in Ropar. He has been attacked three times in the past; the
last one was five months back. It was the ire of Sikh hardliners for
deviating from Sikh preaching. He wrote Bhavsagar Granth attracting
the ire of the community. Sacha Sauda's Gurmit Ram Rahim too faced
opposition in 2007 when he allegedly dressed like Guru Gobind Singh,
the 10th Sikh Guru and violence broke out in the Malwa region of
Villagers say that often they go to more than one deras and some,
particularly the farmers, try every dera in their area before settling
for the one they find themselves closest to, bringing in competition
among them to retain followers. But none of the bigger deras, except
the Sacha Sauda, has openly sided with any political party. At best,
they support the candidate who is their follower.
Talk to anyone in the region and you know that almost everyone in
Punjab is attached to some dera or the other. There are deras
exclusively for dalits (both Sikhs and Hindus) and other castes. The
dalits, who comprise 30 per cent of Punjab population, invariably are
members of one or the other dera. Also the backward castes find
spiritual expression more through the deras.
"For most of the followers, deras mean spiritual abode and not a
political centre. If they find that the dera is indulging in politics
and is favouring this or that party, they change their affiliation all
together and many stop going to the deras," a senior BJP leader said.
He said, the followers are not "blind" and if the deras use politics,
it could boomerang on them and affect their following. BJP is one
party which has maintained cordial relations with all the deras in the
Due to the perception that issuing a diktat would affect their
following, Dera Sacha Sauda has so far not taken any stand not has any
other dera so far. But All prominent leaders of the State --- Captain
Amarinder Singh, Preneet Kaur, Gulchain Charak, Rajinder Kaur Bhattal
(Congress) Parkash Singh Badal and his son Sukhbir Singh Badal (SAD)
and Manpreet Badal (PPP) make it sure that they pay a courtesy call to
the dera chief, if they are campaigning near the headquarters of the
dera. Some of them make numerous visits, depending on the clout of the
dera on the people.
"In politics, no one wants to leave any effort. If they think that a
person commands even half a dozen votes, he becomes important. Deras
have so much of a following, that everyone wants to be in their good
books," summed up a senior Congress leader here when asked why do the
Congress leaders frequent the deras despite quoting "secularism" in
On the reluctance of Dera Sacha Sauda to support any party, a BJP
leader said that last time they supported the Congress and the Akalis
came to power. Congress could not do anything to help the Dera chief
in the CBI cases he was involved in. "So this time round, they are
guarded and will remain so. After all the credibility of the dera too
is at stake".
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