The dera factor: Parties vie to woo sects in Punjab, Haryana - The Tribune India

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The dera factor

Parties vie to woo sects in Punjab, Haryana

The dera factor

Photo for representational purpose only. - File photo



RELIGIOUS sects or deras have become synonymous with vote banks in Punjab and Haryana over the past two decades or so. With both states set to vote in the Lok Sabha polls, politicians of all hues are making a customary beeline for these deras in a bid to improve the electoral prospects of their parties. Multi-cornered contests in Punjab and Haryana have made many candidates desperate to seek every influential dera’s support to turn the tables on their rivals. They have been doing it somewhat discreetly in recent years, ever since the Supreme Court ruled in January 2017 that any appeal for votes on the ground of ‘religion, race, caste, community or language’ amounted to a ‘corrupt practice’ under the Representation of People’s Act. Incidentally, that was also the year in which Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, head of the Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda, was convicted of rape and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

The Sirsa dera head used to issue a diktat to his followers to vote for a particular candidate or party. He did it most famously during the 2007 Punjab Assembly elections, when his sect threw its weight behind the Congress. Consequently, the grand old party made significant gains in Malwa, even though the Shiromani Akali Dal managed to win the elections and regain power. Such public announcements have become a thing of the past after Ram Rahim reportedly scrapped the political wing of the dera. Nevertheless, politicians still regard Dera Sacha Sauda as a force to reckon with.

Other major sects, such as Radha Soami Satsang Beas, Nurmahal Dera and Dera Sachkhand Ballan, are also being wooed, notwithstanding their claims of being apolitical. With the clout of deras cutting across religious and caste lines, even a subtle hint from their gurus is enough to convey to the followers what’s to be done on polling day. And that’s where the opportunity lies for various political parties, especially in closely fought battles. 

#Lok Sabha


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