All roads lead to Deras

Chandīgarh: Elections come and all roads in Punjab seem to lead to the Deras – (religious sects) – with candidates of all hues, regardless of affiliation, seeking blessings for their political sleeves.

Incidentally, there are hundreds of Deras in the state who are widely accepted due to deep-rooted social inequalities in the “Land of Gurus and Pirs (Saints)”.

While there are a few Deras who have shunned politics, there are other Sikh-dominated Deras and those who are hugely successful among Dalits and other communities who have noticeable political leanings.

One of the most numerous, the Dera Sachkhand Ballan (district of Jalandhar), which preaches the philosophy of Guru Ravi Dass, has a strong connection with the Ravidassia Dalit population (32%), particularly in the Doaba region.

The Divya Jyoti Jagriti Sansthan, (Nurmahal, Jalandhar district) connects with the oppressed sections of Hindus and migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in the Jalandhar and Ludhiana regions. Its leader, Ashutosh Maharaj, was pronounced dead in 2014, but his supporters do not accept his disappearance and have kept his body in a freezer.

The Radha Soami Satsang, Beas, which has arguably the largest base in the country across religions and castes, has kept its distance from political parties; yet top politicians from all parties crowd for Beas in deference to supporters’ wishes. Its leader Baba Gurinder Singh Dhillon met Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi and blessed him.

The preacher of Dera Parmeshwar Dwar (dist Patiala), Baba Ranjit Singh Dhadrianwale, has openly criticized the ways in which Akal Takht, SGPC and Akali Dal operate. Although he was a hit with sections of the NRI’s Sikhs and rural populace for his outspoken remarks on religious practices, he was said to be a target for radicals.

The Damdami Taksal, a Sikh seminary, was the center of radical activities during the days of terrorism in Punjab and it had Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale at its head. He built a memorial to Operation Bluestar in the Golden Temple complex and supports the Shirmoani Akali Dal.

Although the Namdharis have traditionally been supporters of the Congress since the struggle for freedom, the bitter succession war between two brothers at the head of the Dera Bhaini Sahib (in Ludhiana) and Jeevan Nagar, Sirsa (Haryana), has seen them change of loyalty to the ruling party in their respective states over the past few years.

The Dera of the Nirankaris, which has a bloody history of clashes with Sikh outfits over its style of preaching, is said to be prone to Congress.

The Dadu Sahib Dera also had a conflict with the Akalis and is opposed to the Shiromani Akali Dal candidates. He is said to support the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

Dera Rummiwala also has a large following in Malwa and former Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh is a frequent visitor.

Supporters of Thaath Nanaksar Kaleran Dera, who are spread across Moga, Ludhiana and Faridkot districts, are said to support Akali’s leadership.

The Dera Sacha Sauda (Sirsa, Haryana) which had huge following in the Malwa region and often openly supported different parties, has been inactive since 2017 when its leader Gurmeet Ram Rahim was convicted and imprisoned by the CBI for rape and murder.

Political scientist Dr Ronki Ram, Shaheed Bhagat Singh professor, who has worked on the political sociology of Deras, says there is no standard methodology for probing Deras’ political inclination and its impact on the performance of the government. SAD, Congress, AAP or Farmer outfits in this assembly ballot.

“However, it can be assumed that the Congress could get support from Ravidass Deras for Charanjit Singh Channi who is the first Dalit Chief Minister of the state; the BJP may generate some sympathy among Dera Sacha Sauda supporters; Radha Soamis’ Dera, however, has always steered clear of the monotony of politics. However, since the majority of its supporters come from the lower castes, there is a possibility of a slight tilt towards Congress,” he said and added that the SAD, nonetheless, will gain support from the Sikh-dominated Deras.

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Posted: Thursday 03 February 2022, 00:29 IST

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