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Poll premis: Dera Sacha Sauda starts testing its clout

April 08, 2019 07:18 AM

COURTESY TOI APRIL 8

Poll premis: Dera Sacha Sauda starts testing its clout
Neel.Kamal@timesgroup.com

Bathinda:

Election fever has started and Dera Sacha Sauda, which had maintained a low profile after its chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in jail in two rape cases in August 2017, has finally become active politically.


With its top leadership either in jail or on the run, the dera political wing chief Ram Singh is leading a campaign to decide “with consensus” on the political party the group's followers will support in the Lok Sabha elections. “We are taking views from all our followers about the party they want to support in the Lok Sabha elections. These discussions will be held in three phases and a final decision will be taken after taking views from all,” Ram Singh told TOI.

The dera followers, numbering between 2,000 and 3,000, gathered at naam charcha ghar (congregation house) at Bathinda on Sunday.


Dera followers raise hands in unison at the Bathinda congregation on Sunday

‘Dera men united, can tilt poll results’

Also known as premis, they had assembled for the first time in such a huge number after Gurmeet’s conviction. The meeting coincided with the 71st foundation day of the Dera Sacha Sauda.

“Leaders of various political parties are in talks with us but we have not given any assurance to anyone till now. We have madeitclear that alldera followers areunited andhavethecapability to tilt election results,”

Ram Singh added.

Realising that the dera could leverage its influence politically and use the polls to keep its scattering flock united, the group is now focusing on unity. Urging them to disregard rumours, Ram Singh told the premis not to fear anyone and stay united. “The united dera can make things happen,” he told them.

In Punjab, deras have an appreciable influence over their followers and usually issue formal or informal edicts asking them to support a particular political party during elections. The Dera Sacha Sauda had supported the Congress in 2007 assembly elections, but the party lost power to the SAD even though it had fared well in Malwa. In 2014’s Lok Sabha elections and Haryana assembly poll, the Dera had supported the BJP. In the 2017 Punjab assembly poll, the Dera supported Shiromani Akali Dal, but the party lost power.

The Dera Sacha Sauda is struggling hard to regain its clout, especially in Punjab where the Shiromani Akali Dal is still facing backlash and anger of voters over its alleged link to Akal Takht’s exoneration in September 2015 of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, who had been excommunicated for wearing attire like that of Guru Gobind Singh in 2007. The wave of anger and resentment against the decision led the Akal Takht to withdraw the pardon in less than a month.

To make matters complicated, names of dera followers have been linked to sacrilege cases, which mostly occurred during the 10-year SAD-BJP regime and nearly two dozen have been arrested

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