The politically influential Dera Sacha Sauda has hedged its bets on the Punjab assembly polls Monday, asking followers to collectively vote for candidates they deem "good and clean".
The dera — a religious sect of largely weaker sections — wields considerable influence in at least 45 of the 69 constituencies of Malwa region.
All major political parties have vied for the support of the dera, which has its headquarters in Sirsa (Haryana).
The dera's political affairs wing chairman Ram Singh declined to confirm or deny whether they would support candidates of one or more political parties.
Traditionally, the dera headed by Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh does not make its support public and shares the decision with a 'select few'. But its leanings become public after the 'select few' spread the word.The dera had supported the Congress in the 2007 elections and the party is hoping to wrest power from the Akalis with its help this time.
Top Congress leaders, including Capt Amarinder Singh and Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, have met the dera head, as has People's Party of Punjab chief Manpreet Singh Badal.
Incidentally, the dera chief's son is married to the daughter of Bathinda MLA Harminder Singh Jassi who is the Congress candidate from Bathinda urban.
Some Akali candidates too have reportedly visited the dera despite an Akal Takht edict asking Sikhs to snap ties with the dera and its followers.
Punjab had seen violence between the dera followers and Sikhs in 2007 after the sect head allegedly dressed up like Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh guru.
In the run-up to polling day, the buzz was the dera would opt for a please-all formula, as it had during the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. In the parliamentary polls, the dera had supported the Akalis in Bathinda, Faridkot and Ferozepur, while backing the Congress in Patiala and Sangrur.
Though the dera has members from various castes and creeds, a majority belongs to Scheduled Castes and backward classes. The dera members allege discrimination by Sikhs, especially in apportioning positions in gurdwara management committees.