Dera dynamics: Know the sects, and where and why they matter

HT gives a lowdown on key deras with influence in Punjab.

punjab Updated: Jan 18, 2017 21:03 IST
Gurpreet Singh Nibber
Gurpreet Singh Nibber
Hindustan Times


Led by Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, the dera is the most colourful of the sects. It has a strong connect with Dalits, middle-class Hindus and Jat Sikhs of Malwaa. The dera chief who has acted in self produced movies is facing charges of murder and rape. It supported Congress in 2002, now supports the BJP. Its political affairs wing takes decision to support candidates. The Akalis recently made efforts to mend bridges with the dera head after the Sikh clergy accepted his apology over dressing as Guru Gobind Singh; but that was undone after protests.


Headed by Sant Niranjan Dass, it preaches philosophy of Ravi Dass, and has strong connect with Ravidassia Dalit population, particularly in Doaba. A former dera head was killed in an attack on the sect’s centre in Vienna in May 2009, by a Sikh radical organisation. Two of the dera’s key men joined SAD recently and are in poll fray.


Sect head Ashutosh ‘Maharaj’ was declared dead three years ago, but his followers don’t accept it, and his body is kept in a freezer. The dera, which draws support from the BJP’s parent RSS, connects with the downtrodden sections of Hindus, Jat Sikhs and migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. It has 36 branches in Punjab and a presence across the globe, but influence mostly in Jalandhar and Ludhiana regions. The high court is hearing matter of last rites of sect head Ashutosh.


Led by Baba Gurinder Singh Dhillon, the dera has arguably the largest follower base in India, cutting cross religion and caste. It has a particularly large presence in Punjab, Haryana, Himachal and UP, besides overseas. Its satsang centres, painted dull red with bougainvillea hedges, are ubiquitous. It is avowedly apolitical and media shy, but top politicians across parties have lately been visiting its Beas headquarters to catch the followers’ attention as it has a pan-Punjab following.


Led by the rabble-rousing Sikh preacher Ranjit Singh Dhadrianwale, who has been openly criticising the Akal Takht, SGPC and Akali Dal’s ways of functioning. He is a hit among NRI Sikhs and the rural population for his frank remarks on religious practices, but is a target of radicals for wearing flashy robes and singing ‘katchi bani’. An attack on the baba’s convoy in May last year, allegedly by Damdami Taksal followers, led to the death of a close confidant. He was one of the rallying figures of Sikh protests over the series of sacrilege incidents in late 2015.


Headed by Harnam Singh Dhumma, it’s a Sikh seminary that was the centre of radical activities during militancy in Punjab. Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was its head during Op Bluestar. The taksal, which built a memorial to Op Bluestar in Golden Temple complex, now firmly supports SAD. Taksal followers were in the crosshairs of a murder bid on preacher Ranjit Singh Dhadrianwale. It has considerable sway on the Sikh mind, especially in rural Punjab.


Headed by Udai Singh, the dera split after the death of its head Jagjit Singh in December 2012. Though the guru’s wife Chand Kaur named her younger nephew Udai Singh as the head, the followers of elder brother, Dalip Singh, have a dera at Sirsa, Haryana. Chand Kaur was murdered in April last year. Dalip is supporting the SAD-BJP government but Udai Singh is keeping mum. It has influence in scattered pockets of Punjab.


Headed by Savinder Kaur, widow of Hardev Singh who died in an accident in May last. As the dera has a bloody past of clashes with Sikh outfits over preaching style, Akalis stay away from it but politicians of all hues frequent it. It never openly supports, but is inclined towards Congress. Its influence is limited to pockets of Punjab.


A radical preacher, Baljit Singh Daduwal has been in conforntation with the SGPC and SAD over control of a gurdwara. He was made ‘head priest’ of Takht Damdama Sahib in Sikh radical-sponsored ‘Sarbat Khalsa’ in 2015. He has given a call to oppose SAD contestants. He calls himself a reformist preacher, has been supporting SAD (Amritsar). He and his contemporary radicals this time are supporting the AAP. He has a limited following in the Malwa belt.


Headed by Sukhdev Singh, it enjoys the devotion of 40 villages around Bhucho (Bathinda). Punjab Congress president Capt Amarinder Singh is a frequent visitor, as his ancestors had a close association with dera founder Harnam Das. It’s never openly aligned with a particular party.


Headed by Harbhajan Singh, its followers are spread across Moga, Ludhiana and Faridkot. It has gurdwaras across the world. Part of the Sikh Sant Samaj, dera is inclined towards SAD. Nanaksar gurdwaras are known for not accepting donations, nor is langar cooked on the premises.

First Published: Jan 18, 2017 15:46 IST