Chandigarh: Coming as a shot in the arm to the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP - facing strong anti-incumbency in Punjab - the powerful Dera Sacha Sauda has decided to officially support it in the Assembly polls.
This support has the strength, to get the 35 lakh followers that the Dera claims in Punjab, to help the poll fortunes of the party that it backs.
In the 2012 Assembly polls though, SAD won more seats than the Congress in spite of the Dera Sacha Sauda’s support to the Congress party.
Of the three regions of Punjab - Doaba, Majha and Malwa - Dera Sacha Sauda exercises greater influence over Malwa, which is closer to the Dera Headquarters in Sirsa, Haryana.
Malwa accounts for 69 of the total 117 seats and is the agriculture dominated Southern part of Punjab. All chief ministers, but one, of the state ever since the reorganization of 1966 have been from Malwa.
In 2007, Congress won 37, SAD 19 and BJP 5 Assembly seats. In 2012, Congress managed to hold onto 32 with Dera support, even as SAD surged to 33 and BJP was at 2.
The Akali Dal had increased their tally in Malwa to 33 in 2012 from 19 in 2007 because of a strong sentiment against the Dera Sacha Sauda.
In 2007, the Dera Chief, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, had dressed up in clothes that many perceived to be similar to that worn by the tenth Sikh Guru Gobind Singh at a congregation in Salabatpura in Punjab. This had angered the Sikh community.
The Sirsa headquartered Dera on Wednesday held meetings at various “Naam-Charcha” - gathering places for dera followers across Punjab, where lakhs of dera followers and political wing workers of the Dera held meetings with SAD-BJP candidates.
Promises and assurances were extracted from the candidates that they would take the strictest possible action to bring an end to the drug menace in Punjab and would also organise camps to get Punjab’s youth out of the menace’s grip if they get voted to the state Assembly.
Akali candidates assured the Dera workers and followers that they would make sure that they work against drugs in Punjab.
The Dera Chief is careful to separate the political side of the Dera from himself. He says decisions to support any particular party or alliance are taken by the political wing and he does not interfere with that.
For the SAD-BJP, this support from the Dera can help swing a considerable number of votes their way. Facing strong anti- incumbency in a triangular contest, where the Aam Aadmi Party has made inroads into the traditional Akali support area of Malwa that represents almost 69 constituencies, the SAD-BJP was looking for every bit of advantage that it could get.
The Dera’s official support will likely strengthen the Akalis in the upcoming polls.