Explained: Dera Sachkhand Ballan importance in Punjab & National politics, and its effect on Dalit vote bank
As Punjab Assembly elections are around the corner, the political parties and leaders will make every effort to woo voters of all communities.Author : Avneet Kaur
With an eye on Dalit votes, the newly appointed Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi along with his deputy Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa today visited Jalandhar to pay obeisance in Dera Sachkhand Ballan.
Notably, Dera Ballan along with other deras play a significant role in state and national politics. National leaders of various political parties keep visiting Dera Ballan to take the blessing of head Sant Niranjan Dass.
After being elevated as Punjab Congress Chief even Navjot Sidhu visited Dera Ballan and met its head Sant Niranjan Dass. Sidhu then also addressed a gathering at the dera and said that the blessings of saints were important to create a “new Punjab”.
Importance of Dera Sachkhand Ballan
As Punjab Assembly elections are around the corner, the political parties and leaders will make every effort to woo voters of all communities. There are a large number of deras in Punjab, which has followers from across the state, outside state and among NRIs.
One such popular dera in Punjab is Dera Sachkhand Ballan in Jalandhar. Based on the teachings of Ravidass, Dera Sachkhand is a powerful Ravidassias religious temple that has been prospering since the 1980s.
The dera was established in the twenty-first century and it is the Mecca of the Ravidassia Dalits, who are the predominant in the Doaba region.
The dera's political weight stems from the sheer force of numbers. Because Dalits make up 32% of Punjab's population- the largest percentage in any state, practically all political parties make it a point to meet with dera heads before the elections to secure their support.
Over a third of Punjab's population (12 percent) identify as Ravidassias- followers of Ravidass, a 15th-century Bhakti poet-saint who is primarily treasured as a Dalit icon.
The majority of Dalit or Scheduled Castes (SC) people live in the Doaba region, which has an SC population of roughly 45 percent.
The region sends 23 legislators to the 117-member state assembly. Dera has direct influence over at least 19 seats and the Ravidassia community's vote share ranges from 20% to 50%.
Dera Ballan had a non-Ravidassia Dalit following as well, however, this has declined since it became a separate religion. Dera supporters are split between the Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).
Meanwhile, according to academician Ronki Ram, only a few deras ask their followers to vote for a specific political party. Most dera heads claim that it is not their business to influence their followers to vote for one party or the other. However, deras can’t be ignored in politics.
Even though dera heads claim not influencing their followers’ votes, their disciples do discuss which political party best serves their needs. In addition, dera devotees are incredibly united. As a result, they reach a point of agreement. This is why politicians constantly visit deras and show a keen interest in facilitating them.
New CM and its effect on Dalit vote bank
Earlier, BJP had promised a Dalit Chief Minister in the upcoming 2022 Punjab Assembly elections, erecting a great challenge for ruling Congress. However, Congress in its latest masterstroke replaced Capt Amarinder Singh with a new Dalit Sikh CM, Charanjit Singh Channi. Today, Channi visited Dera Ballan.
Last time, when Channi visited Ballan along with PPCC president Navjot Singh Sidhu, he had sought 101 acres of land for the dera. If he fulfills his promise of land for dera, this will have a significant effect on the Dalit vote bank in upcoming Punjab elections.
On the other hand, to appease Hindu and Jatt Sikh voters in the state, Congress has made Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa and OP Soni Deputy CMs.