When the Sirsa-headquartered Dera Sacha Sauda declared its support to the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (SAD-BJP) combine with just four days to go for polling in Punjab, the Akalis thought it to be a game-changing move.
The move was fraught with danger given the decade-long history of friction and fracas between the Sikhs and dera followers and the Akal Takht’s directive against the dera. The gambit has only blown up in the faces of the Akali Dal.
The Akalis have suffered a rout due to a strong undercurrent of discontent sweeping the three regions – Malwa, Majha and Doaba. Accused of arrogance and high-handedness, the SAD-BJP tally dwindled sharply in a clear indication that the dera’s call to its followers did not evoke the expected response.
The state is dotted with hundreds of small or big deras, or sects, headed by self-styled godmen with huge followings, especially among the Dalits and poor sections. A few like Radha Soami, Dera Sacha Sauda, Dera Sachkhand Ballan, Dera Nurmahal and Damdami Taksal, which hold a considerable sway, are in great demand in poll seasons with bigwigs of most political parties wooing them fervently for quick electoral gains.
Both Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) national convener Arvind Kejriwal paid visits to Dera Radha Soami in Beas and Sachkhand Ballan in the run-up to the state elections. Others like Punjab Congress chief Amarinder Singh, deputy chief minister Sukhbir Badal and Punjab BJP president Vijay Sampla also did rounds of the deras. The Akalis even fielded Dera Ballan’s men to woo its followers, but both have lost.
No dera, except the Dera Sacha Sauda, had given a public call to its followers. The Sirsa dera has 35 lakh followers in Punjab – almost 70% of them in Malwa that alone accounts for 69 seats. The Akali Dal, however fared poorly in most of these seats in a clear indication that the dera’s call did not help them in the end.