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‘Dera followers will punish us in elections’

According to sources, several MLAs, especially from Malwa region, feel the Dera head could have been spared for being nominated as an accused.

Written by Kanchan Vasdev | Chandigarh | July 8, 2020 11:37:56 am
DAY AFTER DERA CHIEF BOOKED FOR HOLY BOOK THEFT, fear in Cong MLAs in Malwa Several senior leaders have in the past visited him for support and many of them were seen watching his movies in cinemas when those were released.

A day after Punjab Police named Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim in a five-year-old FIR over the theft of Guru Granth Sahib from Burj Jawahar Singhwala village, ruling party MLAs in Punjab had a mixed reaction to the development.

According to sources, several MLAs, especially from Malwa region, feel the Dera head could have been spared for being nominated as an accused.

While those in Majha region have welcomed the SIT move to have nominated him, those in Malwa say they are concerned about “backlash” in the 2022 Assembly elections as a number of segments in Malwa have at least 5 per cent vote share of Dera followers.

A number of party leaders, on condition of anonymity, told The Indian Express that they would not want to annoy the Dera followers by nominating their Dera head in the FIR, that too at a point of time when he was already in jail and serving a sentence.

While party leaders have been demanding action in the cases of Bargari sacrilege and Behbal Kalan police firing, but the latest development regarding the Dera chief has left them concerned. “The followers would boycott the Congress party. Majha leaders are not affected much, but we will be,” said a Malwa-based MLA.

Before he was jailed, leaders cutting across party lines would be seen making a bee line before the Dera head for votes, with the Sirsa Dera giving a clear diktat to his followers to support a particular party.

Several senior leaders have in the past visited him for support and many of them were seen watching his movies in cinemas when those were released.

Another Malwa MLA said, “It is a major step. The Dera ‘premis’ are his blind followers. They will not see whether the case is genuine or not. They will punish us in elections.”

A few senior leaders of the party were not willing to be quoted to welcome the nomination. But privately they said it was a welcome step.

“If we will lose the Dera followers, we will get the support from a number of Sikhs who wanted the culprits in Bargari sacrilege punished. And also they hate the Dera chief. This is going to help us,” said a senior party leader.

Also, another factor the party leaders put forth is that in 2012 elections the Dera supported Akalis in Malwa and yet Congress got more seats than SAD. In 2017 election also, the Akalis got support from the Dera, but they were pushed to number three position.

A senior party leader said the nomination in the case would not mean much unless the police gets the Dera chief on production warrant from Haryana and then interrogate him about his meeting with former Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal before the release of the MSG movies.

“They should get the facts out in front of the people. The people should know how the deals were done for allowing release of his movies in Punjab,” he said.

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