Congress banks on Dera support in Punjab

April 21st, 2009 - 9:21 pm ICT by IANS  

Hoshiarpur (Punjab), April 21 (IANS) The Congress is banking on the controversial Dera Sacha Sauda sect votes in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections.
Former Punjab chief minister and senior Congress leader Amarinder Singh told media here Tuesday that the Congress wanted support from the sect’s followers.

“The Congress wants Dera Sacha Sauda’s votes and is hopeful that the Dera will support us,” said Amarinder Singh, who was here for campaigning.

The Congress leadership, however, is worried that the sect followers could be targeted by Punjab’s ruling Akali Dal if they openly supported the Congress.

“Most of their (sect’s) followers are from weaker sections. My only concern is that they should not be targeted like last time (in 2007) by the Akalis if they support us,” Amarinder Singh said.

The sect chief, Gurmit Ram Rahim Singh, had run into a controversy with Sikhs in 2007 after he attired himself like the 10th Sikh guru, Gobind Singh.

The Akalis had lost several seats in the Malwa belt of southwest Punjab comprising districts of Bathinda, Mansa, Patiala and Sangrur in the February 2007 assembly polls as the Dera supported Congress candidates.

The controversial sect, which has its headquarters near Sirsa town in neighbouring Haryana, has over two million followers in Punjab. The sect’s political arm has already started an exercise among its followers to know their views on whom to support in the elections.

The sect has, so far, not committed itself to either supporting the Congress or the Akalis but indications are that its support could go the Congress way given the cases filed against the Dera chief by the Punjab police in the Akali rule and the alleged harassment of sect followers in Punjab.

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