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Why Modi visit to hugely influential dera Beas could be significant for Himachal polls

Radha Soami Satsang Beas dera is very active in Himachal. And though it claims to be apolitical, it has the potential to influence voters in multiple constituencies in the state.

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Chandigarh: Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to visit the Radha Soami Satsang Beas dera in Punjab on 5 November while on his way to Himachal Pradesh to address election rallies in that state. The dera is situated at a distance of 45 km from Amritsar.

Modi is expected to meet the dera chief, Gurinder Singh Dhillon, whom he had met in Delhi in February this year, ahead of the Punjab assembly elections. Soon after, Union Home Minister Amit Shah had visited the dera.

This will be the Prime Minister’s first visit to the dera, said Subhash Sharma, state general secretary, BJP Punjab. The visit gains political significance as it comes in the run up to the Himachal assembly polls, scheduled to be held on 12 November.

The dera Beas is one of six prominent deras in Punjab and enjoys a huge following not just in the state, but in several states of North India, including Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and also Rajasthan.

The followers — numbering in lakhs — include both Hindus and Sikhs, mostly Dalits, who take spiritual guidance from Dhillon while continuing to identify with their respective religions.

The followers include prominent personalities such as former Delhi Lt Governor Tejendra Khanna, who followed in his father’s footsteps and became a devout follower of the dera. His father K.L. Khanna used to be the secretary of the dera management at one time, said sources.

Former Punjab chief secretaries Ishwar Puri and Rajan Kashyap and 1984 batch IPS officer from Punjab and RAW head Samant Goel, are also followers, the sources added.

Within Punjab, the dera has a massive following in the state’s Majha region.

It is also quite active in Himachal Pradesh, where it runs a charitable hospital in Bhota (a town in the state’s Hamirpur district) and several satsang centres which are involved in community work.

In April this year, Himachal Chief Minister Jairam Thakur, had attended the dera’s satsang in Paror and met Dhillon.

While the dera has the potential to influence voters in multiple constituencies in the hill state, its management has consistently claimed to be entirely apolitical, owing no allegiance to any political or commercial organisation.


Also readWhy carrots & sticks aren’t stopping BJP leaders going rogue as Independents in Himachal polls


Politicians make a beeline for dera

The claim has, however, not stopped politicians from across parties from making a beeline for the dera, especially around election time.

In 2001, ahead of the assembly elections in Punjab the following year, former Congress president, Sonia Gandhi had visited the dera.

BJP veteran leader Lal Krishna Advani had visited the dera in 2014, while senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and former Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh visited the Dera in 2016, ahead of the 2017 assembly polls in Punjab.

Amarinder Singh visited the dera again in 2019, ahead of that year’s general elections.

Shiromani Akali Dal president and former deputy chief minister, Sukhbir Singh Badal, and his wife, former Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal, had visited the dera ahead of the 2017 assembly elections.

Former Punjab revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia’s (Sukhbir Singh’s brother-in-law) wife, Genieve Grewal, is a close relative of Dhillon.

Other leaders to have been to the dera and met its chief include Delhi chief minister and Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal, ahead of the 2017 Punjab elections, former Punjab CM Charanjit Singh Channi ahead of this year’s assembly polls, Union Minister Nitin Gadkari in 2019 and RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat in 2012, 2014 and 2018.

Influential and powerful

The dera Beas has 5,000 branches across India and also owns large tracts of land in several states. It has centres in 90 countries across the world.

The dera draws its legacy from the Radha Swami spiritual tradition, started by Baba Shiv Dayal Singh in the mind-19th century. His disciple Baba Jaimal Singh started the Beas dera in the late 19th century, which is why it is also known as Dera Baba Jaimal Singh.

The dera, which Modi is set to visit Sunday, is spread across 3,000 acres and is a mini township in itself, complete with a massive satsang complex, residential areas, a school and a hospital.

According to information on the dera website, the satsang complex can hold a gathering of up to five lakh people and the langar (community meal) hall can feed 50,000 people at a time. Apart from holding spiritual congregations and massive langars, the followers are involved in community and social work.

The railway station at the dera Beas, the cleaning of which is done by dera volunteers, was declared the cleanest railway station in India in 2017.

In 2016, then Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal had inaugurated the world’s largest single-roof-top solar facility at the dera.

Controversies

Although the dera encourages its followers to remain non-controversial, according to sources, it ran into a major controversy in 2012 when its followers had reportedly demolished a historic gurudwara near the dera. The matter was resolved after the dera apologised and offered to reconstruct the gurdwara.

In the first week of September this year, Nihang Sikhs (an order of Sikh warriors) clashed with the dera’s followers, leaving a dozen people injured. The Nihang Sikhs had let their cattle loose to graze on the dera’s land which led to the clash.

Dhillon took over as the head of the dera in 1991 from his uncle Baba Charan Singh. When he was announced as the successor, Dhillon was based in Spain and moved to India to take over the reins of the dera.

A cancer survivor, he has been embroiled in a high-profile case involving former Ranbaxy owners Shivinder Singh and Malvinder Singh. The latter had told the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court that Dhillon owed his companies crores of rupees

Baba Charan Singh was Shivinder and Malvinder’s maternal grandfather.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)


Also readBJP leaders of Haryana district seek blessings of Dera chief, ‘Pitaji’ Ram Rahim, out on parole


 

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