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Court cases behind Sirsa dera’s leap of faith in political parties

Dera Sacha Sauda supported the Congress in 2002 and 2007 elections and the SAD-BJP in last two state polls; it backed BJP in Haryana, where its followers are building up for a show of strength.

punjab Updated: Aug 24, 2017 09:37 IST
Sukhdeep Kaur
Sukhdeep Kaur
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Dera sacha sauda,dera sacha sauda news,Ram rahim
The Dera Sacha Sauda headquarters in Sirsa. The Haryana government has already clamped prohibitory orders in all its districts as a precautionary measure.(HT Photo)

From a man who earned the ire of Sikh hardliners in 2007 for replicating the attire of 10th Sikh Guru Gobind Singh to a “Rockstar Baba”, Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh has made many a leap of faith.

Flaunting a bejewelled costume, he had promoted his third movie, “MSG: The Warrior Lion Heart” in September last year through a concert in Sirsa that was attended by four lakh people and had young girls and women dancing to his songs.

His sprawling dera in Haryana has colleges, hospital, cloth store, cinema hall and even a MSG resort. But the political writ of the dera runs mainly in Punjab where he has many more followers, mainly in its politically important and volatile Malwa belt. Incidentally, the dera’s lobbying in Punjab elections started in 2002, the same year that the rape case was registered against Ram Rahim on a complaint by a woman follower.

With its ideology and growing political clout and affluence directly clashing with Sikhs, the dera’s vote was silent till 2002 elections when it is believed to have supported the Congress return to power. However, in 2007, the dera had openly flexed its political muscle by supporting the Congress which won 37 seats out of 65 in Malwa against 19 of the Akalis and five by ally BJP.

But even Malwa’s clear verdict failed to return the Congress to power as it suffered a near rout in Doaba and Majha. The return of the SAD-BJP combine to power was followed by clashes between Sikh hardliners and dera followers (called Premis) in May 2007 over Guru Gobind Singh’s robe controversy, prompting the highest temporal seat Akal Takht to pass an edict against it.

Two years later, during the Lok Sabha elections of 2009, the dera kept a low profile, but is learnt to have supported then CM Parkash Singh Badal’s daughter-in-law Harsimrat Badal to win her debut election from the high-profile Bathinda seat against incumbent CM Captain Amarinder Singh’s son Raninder.

THE IMAGE MAKEOVER

Since then, the Akalis softened their stand towards the dera, allowing it to open branches in Punjab. Days ahead of the 2012 state polls, the police, on January 27, filed a cancellation report in the case of hurting religious sentiments against the dera head in a Bathinda court. The court dismissed the case in August 2014. The dera’s vote too swung the SAD-BJP’s way in 2012 polls and its tally in Malwa jumped by 14 seats. By December 2014, the dera chief had undergone an image makeover too and turned a movie star, doing his own stunts in his first movie “Messenger of God”. Since then, he has dished out one movie a year, each a hit at the box office as “Premis” flocked cinema halls.

THE ‘BACKLASH’

But the Akalis faced the backlash of “dera politics” in September 2015, when the Akal Takht pardoned Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh for the 2007 “blasphemy” act. The situation spiralled out of control as anger of Sikh hardliners erupted over incidents of sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib around the same time, forcing the Akal Takht to revoke the pardon. Amid the melee, the dera openly announced its support for the BJP in Haryana elections held in October 2014 and Delhi elections of 2015.

In the 2017 Punjab elections, as the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) gained equity among Sikh hardliners, the dera once again announced its support for the SAD-BJP combine. The prop did not help the combine retain power in Punjab, but it achieved what was intended. It cut the dera vote of the AAP and Sikh vote of the Akalis in Malwa — the ground zero of AAP upsurge — leaving the Congress as the net gainer.

Though it’s the BJP-ruled Haryana where a build-up of dera followers is taking place ahead of the Panchkula court verdict in the rape case on Friday, Punjab — where the Congress, the party that the dera has forsaken politically — is taking no chances and will allow dera followers no concessions.

First Published: Aug 24, 2017 09:37 IST