Dera Sacha Sauda: The key to power in Punjab
Campaigning for the Punjab assembly elections came to an end on Saturday evening and major political parties -- the Shiromani Akali Dal, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress -- are keeping their fingers crossed.
But what has had the parties biting their nails is their eagerness to know which side the controversial Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh-led Dera Sacha Sauda sect would take.
Reportedly, the sect with 35 lakh devotees in Punjab influences the course of state elections.
Senior leaders of all political parties in the fray have met Dera chief during the course of their campaign.
The latest to knock on Dera's doors is former state chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh, who called on Ram Rahim on Friday to explain why the sect's devotees should vote for the Congress. His wife Parneet Kaur, minister of state of external affairs, had met the Dera chief earlier.
Sources, however, said that Captain Amarinder Singh could not get any clear cut assurance of support from the Dera chief.
Click on NEXT to read further...
Image: Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh
:Dera Sacha Sauda: The key to power in Punjab
The Dera had extended full support to the Congress in the last assembly polls in 2007 and the party is hoping to wrest power in the state from the Akalis with their help this time around too.
The Dera chief had courted controversy a few years ago after he hurt Sikh sentiments that led to bloody clashes between the Sikh hardliners and Dera supporters.
Incidentally, the father of the Dera chief's daughter-in-law Harminder Singh Jassi is contesting as a Congress candidate from Bathinda urban assembly seat.
According to reports, as per rules, the decision on which party to support is not made public and only read out to chosen followers who in turn spread the word of Ram Rahim.
The directive to followers on which party to vote can be a game-changer.
That's because, the Dera's main area of influence is the Malwa region that houses 13 key districts from where the state's political elite comes. As many as 67 of the total 117 assembly seats are in this region.
Of the more than 35 lakh Dera devotees, 70 per cent are in Malwa, the rest are spread over Doaba and Majha.