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Last Updated: May 20, 2007 - 10:48:48 AM
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Punjab's religious clash has political overtones
May 16, 2007 - 12:53:43 PM
The Sikh leadership has served an ultimatum on the Parkash Singh Badal government to take action by Friday against the Dera godman by arresting him and also to book his followers who brought the state on the brink of a communal clash.

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[RxPG] Chandigarh, May 16 - The religious clash between followers of Dera Sacha Sauda, a heretical sect and Sikhs in Punjab is not a matter of religion alone but has political overtones to it.

As dozens were left injured and public property damaged, especially in Bathinda town, in mindless violence Monday and Tuesday by Dera followers and reactions by the dominant Sikh community in Punjab, the political battle lines have been clearly drawn over the issue.

The Congress, which lost the recent assembly election to the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal, openly came out in support of the Dera.

The Dera - headquartered in adjoining Haryana's Sirsa town, 100 km from Bathinda, where its spiritual head Gurmit Ram Rahim, who is at the centre of the whole controversy for portraying himself on lines of the revered 10th Sikh guru Gobind Singh - had openly supported the Congress in the recently assembly poll.

A son-in-law of the Dera godman, Harminder Singh Jassi, contested from the Bathinda assembly seat on the Congress ticket and won. Needless to say, the maximum damage caused by the Dera followers was in Bathinda itself.

The ruling Akali Dal openly accuses the Dera of playing politics instead of confining itself to religious and spiritual purposes. The delayed reaction of the ruling Akali government in controlling the clash is being seen as an attempt by them to teach Dera followers a lesson for going against them in the elections.

The Akalis have a reason to say so. Akali Dal candidates, in the assembly elections, lost at least 20 seats in the cotton belt of Malwa region in south Punjab. Several of those who lost were Akali stalwarts. Malwa was earlier considered as an Akali Dal stronghold.

The Dera has a following of over one million 'premis', as its followers are called, in the Malwa belt alone. The diktat from the Dera to its followers to vote for Congress definitely hit the Akalis badly.

The Dera in Sirsa was originally set up in Baluchistan area - in 1948 by Sant Shah Mastana. The sect has prospered since then and has over 15 million followers all over the country. Majority of its followers are in Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan while its activity is now spread to nearly a dozen other states as well.

Though the ruling Akali Dal would still not like to antagonize the Dera godman and his followers even after the latest happenings, it has been in a bind with the Sikh clergy and Sikh organisations - that are the traditional stronghold of the Akalis - taking a strong stand on the portrayal of the godman as Guru Gobind Singh.

The Sikh clergy has called for a meeting of religious, moderate and hardliner Sikh bodies at Damdami Taksal - a radical Sikh religious organisation that was once aligned with separatist leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale - Thursday to decide the further course of action for Sikhs.

The latest violence revived painful memories of the Sikh-Nirankari sect clash in 1978 that left 13 people dead and sowed the seeds for terrorism in Punjab between 1982-95.

'The Sikh 'sangat' - knows fully well how to deal with such elements - who try to portray themselves as our revered gurus,' Joginder Singh Vedanti, 'jathedar' - of Akal Takht - the highest temporal seat of the Sikh religion based inside the Golden Temple complex - said Tuesday after an emergency meeting of top Sikh clergy.

The Sikh leadership has served an ultimatum on the Parkash Singh Badal government to take action by Friday against the Dera godman by arresting him and also to book his followers who brought the state on the brink of a communal clash.

Dera chief Gurmit Ram Rahim is facing a Central Bureau of Investigation - probe into allegations of a murder conspiracy and sexual exploitation of women. Sirsa-based journalist Ramchandra Chhatrapati was murdered in November 2002, allegedly by Dera followers, after he reported goings-on in the sprawling Dera complex, especially the sexual exploitation of women.

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