Sects hold sway as fight gets down to the wire

Sects hold sway as fight gets down to the wire
With just a couple of days left for polling in Punjab, politicians from all parties are queuing up at the doors of various sects and deras — which wield considerable influence over voters in the state. In the build-up to a likely scenario of a split mandate, dera votes can play a crucial role. Some of the sects espouse an egalitarian philosophy, yet many have their dedicated political wings that take a call on supporting a party or a particular candidate.

In an estimated 40 constituencies out of 117 in Punjab, sects have their dominance. The Congress took an early lead last month when the party vice president Rahul Gandhi took a chartered flight to visit Dera Radha Soami Satsang in Beas near Amritsar. Along with Capt Amarinder, he spent a night at the sect’s dera. A couple of days ago, Rahul had also spent a night at Dera Sachkhand Ballan near Jalandhar. The sect has a huge following among the Dalits.

AAP convener Arvind Kejriwal and the Badals too have visited deras in the run-up to the elections. Politicians feel dera supporters vote collectively. Their votes have impacted the outcome of the elections in the past, as in 2012 when the SAD-BJP alliance gained in close to 20 seats because of sect votes.

In a three-cornered contest, where the AAP has managed a sizeable groundswell, the challenge for the Congress is to turn vote share into seats. The party got the maximum votes in the last elections, close to 42%, which was an improvement since the previous election. Yet the Congress got only 46 seats and lost the election to the SAD-BJP alliance.

The Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda is headed by Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh and has a colossal following. Its chief has asked followers to ‘remain united’. The sect head has often come out with words of praise for Narendra Modi.

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