Punjab Polls: Dera Hopping Begins As Political Parties Eye Votes of Crucial Religious Sects


With barely a few months left for the Punjab elections, political parties have started knocking at the doors of religious sects, or deras, who command influence over a huge chunk of the electorate.

Support – tacit or otherwise – of these deras is considered key to victory in a large number of constituencies in the State.

Official estimates suggest there are over 15,000 small and big deras across Punjab and given their influence among their followers are frequented by leaders from almost all political parties despite the controversial track record of some of these deras.

A significant number of followers of these deras come from the politically significant Dalit community which enjoys a 32 per cent share in the State’s population.

Not surprising then, Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi has been hopping from one dera to another ever since he has taken over reins from Capt Amarinder Singh.

The CM is not alone. On Sunday, the Dera Sacha Sauda organised a programme in 15 districts in the State. Not wanting to miss out on the opportunity to reach out, the SAD candidate from Mansa, Prem Arora, and Congress ex-MLA Ajit Inder Singh Mofar not only visited the event but even distributed blankets among the followers.

And no exceptions were Cabinet Minister Vijay Inder Singla in Sangrur, Congress MLA Davinder Ghubaya in Fazilka, MLA Parminder Singh Pinky in Ferozepur and ex-CM Capt Amarinder Singh’s OSD Sunny Brar in Faridkot attended the dera event in the region.

The Dera Sacha Sauda has an estimated five crore followers across the globe. Recent studies reveal that of this, more than 50 lakh followers are in Punjab and Haryana. It has considerable influence in the Malwa region of the State.

“This dera holds a significant influence in at least 40 Assembly seats of the 117 constituencies,’’ said a former cabinet minister of the Congress.

Though the dera culture has been growing in Punjab it is not new. The biggest dera in Punjab has been the Radha Soami Satsang, which has followers all across the Doaba and Majha regions apart from centres in more than 90 countries. Though the deras claim that none of them supports any political party directly, they do draw political leaders to their doorsteps.

Before the 2017 Assembly polls, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had chartered a flight to Beas and spent a night with former Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh.

Interestingly, with election time political parties are beginning to woo supporters of the Dera Sacha Sauda which has been embroiled in several controversies in the past including charges of rape and murder levelled by one of his followers. A case of blasphemy was also registered against the head of the dera, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, for hurting Sikh sentiments and portraying himself as the Guru of the Sikh religion.

The followers of the dera are primarily those belonging to socially and economically marginal backgrounds. Meanwhile, in the Doaba region, another sect Sachkhand Ballan has a large following among the Ravidassia community. Others include Dera Nurmahal, Dera Nirankari and Dera Namdhari.

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