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Weakened Dera Sacha Sauda not a factor in Haryana assembly poll

It was once a powerful sect with the ability to sway the political choices of millions of followers in two states and patronage extended by influential political parties. But now, the Dera Sacha Sauda is a pale shadow of its former self, hobbled by the lack of a charismatic leader following the conviction and imprisonment of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh on charges of murder and rape.

The Dera, a sect that counted many Dalits, farmers and migrant labourers among its followers, has hemorrhaged followers after Singh’s 2017 conviction. The current leadership of the sect is yet to decide on who to support and experts say it has lost the ability to command the unwavering loyalty of followers.

Ahead of the October 21 assembly election in Haryana, few political leaders want the endorsement of the controversial sect, in sharp contrast to past elections when the Dera would prominently endorse a particular party or outfit.

“The rudderless sect may not be able to make its presence felt in the political arena,” said Kushal Pal, who also heads the political science department of Karnal-based Dyal Singh College.

Dera followers, known as Premis, say visitors to the sect headquarters in Sirsa have drastically reduced despite the sect’s management holding meetings and congregations across Haryana and Punjab during the 2019 general elections. “There are some meetings going on inside the Dera. However no decision has been taken on whom to lend support,” said Kastur Soni, a member.

Gaurav Kumar, a resident of Suchan Kotli village in Sirsa district, said the Dera used to follow an elaborate system to announce political endorsements. “Once the political affairs wing finalises its decision, they convey a message to block-level followers who give the message to other followers. So far we have not received any message,” he added.

After Singh’s conviction in August 2017, about 200 criminal cases were registered against the sect followers and 1,000 of them were arrested. This crippled the Dera and state intelligence officers say there has been no major political activity by the sect this election season.

To be sure, the Dera’s endorsement did not always translate to a victory. In 2007, the Dera backed Congress in the Punjab assembly polls but the party lost, and in 2017, it supported the Shiromani Akali Dal that got a drubbing. But in the 2009 Haryana assembly polls, the 2012 Punjab state elections and the 2014 Haryana state polls, the Dera backed the winning party.

There is no clarity on the exact number of followers, or any measure of how much it influenced people’s choices. But experts say that in the 2014 Haryana election, the sect’s political heft was felt, but add that it was highly unlikely that the Dera will have any such impact this time around. “Like Punjab, Haryana also has experienced the impact of the Dera factor. It is highly unlikely that the dera will have a major role in the assembly polls in Haryana,” said Ashutosh Kumar of the political science department at Panjab University, Chandigarh.

Political parties say they have no interest in seeking the endorsement of the tainted sect.

First Published:
Oct 08, 2019 23:04 IST

Source: HindustanTimes