In open defiance of the Akal Takht’s 2007 edict that Sikhs must boycott Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, Malwa region’s Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leaders on Wednesday announced to facilitate ‘satsang’ (religious congregation) by the controversial sect head in Punjab. The SAD’s move comes in the backdrop of the Sirsa- based dera extending its support to SAD-BJP candidates for the February 4 assembly elections.
The dera head last held a congregation in Punjab in May 2007 at Salabtpura village in Bathinda, where he courted controversy by wearing attire allegedly similar to that of Guru Gobind Singh. Then, the Takht issued a ‘hukamnama’ (edict) against the dera head and accused him of blasphemy, besides calling upon Sikhs for his social boycott. The issue led to violence in different parts of state between Sikhs and dera followers.
Wednesday’s dramatic turnaround took place when the SAD’s candidates from nine constituencies of Bathinda and Mansa districts attended a meeting organised by the dera’s religious wing at a banquet hall in Bathinda. Jeet Mohinder Singh Sidhu, the SAD MLA and candidate from Talwandi Sabo, announced before the jam-packed gathering of the dera’s devotees: “In association with dera followers, the SAD candidates will soon organise ‘satsangs’ of ‘guru ji’ (Gurmeet Ram Rahim) in Punjab’s villages.” The hall reverberated with thunderous applause.
Members of the dera’s religious wing asked the followers (who are also called ‘premi’) to raise their hands as testimony of support, and the gathering did so, promising to vote in favour of SAD-BJP candidates.
Watch the video here:
- Jan-Mar 2007: In polls, the dera backs incumbent Cong, which wins big in Malwa, but SAD-BJP alliance gets majority to form govt
- May 2007: Dera head dresses allegedly like the tenth Sikh master, Guru Gobind Singh, at Salabatpura congregation in Bathinda; row leads to violence; Akal Takht issues edict for Sikhs to boycott dera
- Jan-Mar 2012: Dera gives tacit support to candidates across parties, Akalis and BJP win record consecutive term
- Sept-Oct 2015: Akal Takht accepts apology by dera chief over guru imitation row; pardon revoked after hardliners protest
The contentious step of the SAD amounts to going against the writ of the Akal Takht, the supreme temporal seat of Sikhism. This is clear indication of the nervousness prevailing within the party in its once-bastion Malwa region. The move is also likely to evoke strong reactions particularly among Sikh hardliners.
In September 2015, the Takht had pardoned Gurmeet Ram Rahim for the May 2007 ‘blasphemy’. That decision had come in for widespread criticism from the Sikh hardliners, who had alleged that it was “politically motivated” by the SAD to secure the support of the dera for the 2017 assembly polls. Under pressure, the Takht had to reverse its pardon decision. Hence, the 2007 edict remains in force.
At Wednesday’s meeting, senior SAD leaders, including Rampura Phul candidate Sikander Singh Maluka and Maur candidate Janmeja Singh Sekhon, showered praises on the dera chief’s welfare activities.
“What is wrong if the dera head holds satsang in Punjab?” Jeet Mohinder Sidhu said. “As the Radha Soami and Nirankaris are holding their congregations, the dera sacha sauda chief has all the right to organise such satsangs,” he told HT.
In his address to the gathering, Maluka said the support from dera would bolster the SAD’s prospects in the state and “save Punjab from going into the hands of radical forces”. “We will extend all support to dera followers and the SAD would always be thankful to the dera for its open support to Akali Dal candidates,” Maluka said.
To a question later, Maluka said, “Akali Dal has never criticised the dera head. The dera support is just like a coalition between two parties. Political parties and leaders are like beggars and can only ask people for votes. Many times, even two dissimilar parties can get together for elections.”
Janmeja Sekhon appealed to dera followers to “eradicate drugs from Punjab”.
Among others SAD candidates present at the meet were Sarup Chand Singla (Bathinda Urban), Harpreet Singh (Bhucho Mandi), Amit Rattan (Bathinda Rural), Nishan Singh (Budhlada), Jagdeep Singh Nakai (Mansa), and Dilraj Singh Bhunder (Sardulgarh).