RANJIT SINGH Dhadrianwale, the Sikh preacher who survived an assassination bid last week, was already a well known preacher before the protests over the Guru Granth Sahib desecration incidents last year, but it was during the protests against those incidents that he came into his own as an anti-Akali Dal preacher.
When he stood beside Deputy chief minister Sukhbir Badal on May 18 and announced he had placed his faith in the same Akali Dal government with regard to the investigation into the attack against him, many were surprised. But the twist in the tale is the shadow war between him and the Damdami Taksal chief Harnam Singh Dhuma, perceived as close to the government. Tellingly, Dhadrianwale said he did not want personal security, and instead sought arms licenses for the men around him.
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Dhadrianwale has a large following in Punjab and in other countries where there is a Punjab diaspora . Based in Shekupura village in Patiala, his dera attracts politicians cutting across party lines. Some of the notable names that have visited the dera include Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal, local MLA Perneet Kaur and recently, Sukhbir Singh Badal
The preacher actively protested the alleged desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib last year. But with his characteristic streak of independence, he stayed away from the “Sarbat Khalsa” called by Panthic organisations in November in the wake of the desecration incidents, nor did he take part in any panthic organisation meet after that. He, however, attended the bhog ceremony for those who were killed in police firing in Behbal Kalan.
Even during the protests, Dhadrianwale backed those who sought to reduce the protest hours in view of the hardships faced by commuters. He was called a gaddar (traitor) on social media for this.
“I remember Santji as a teenager, not more than 16 years of age, when he first came to our village for a religious programme organised by the then SAD leader Harry Mann (now with Congress),” said Gurjeet Singh, sarpanch of Shekupura village. “The residents liked his kirtan so much that the panchayat gave land for a Gurdwara to Babaji (Dhandrianwale).”
Dhadrianwale has not been a regular visitor to his native village Dharidan in Sangrur district, although a dera is located here as well. “He has not been a regular for the past two to three years,” said Major Singh, a resident. “But his family has over 13 acres of farm which is given on contract farming.”
Over the years, Dhadrianwale had also attacked large section of the Sant Samaj for “orthodox practices” and for encouraging the culture of godmen in Punjab. He also slammed them for their alleged passive role when the state protested the desecration incidents, and has requested his followers not to call him “Sant” or “Baba”. He wants to be known instead as ‘brother’.