Delineating how Deras’ influence extends to political parties and polls

Anju Agnihotri Chaba
Dr Ajay Sharma with his latest offering.

Deras in Punjab wields a considerable influence over its followers, so much that it can even influence their voting rights. Renowned Hindi novelist Dr Ajay Sharma's latest work 'Mahamtriyu ka Black Hole', which has come out in this poll season, delves into this abundance of the 'deras' and 'matths' (religious sects) in the country.

"In a state like Punjab there are around 400 to 500 big and small deras exist having lakhs of followers. These followers are big vote bank of these deras in the election because they vote on the behest of deras head. As not only uneducated lot but quite a professionals and highly educated people are also among their followers," said Dr. Sharma.

Written in a first-person account, the author tells the inside story of the dera/ashram where he comes to become a 'religious teacher'. But during his stay at the Ashram, he encounters the "realities inside it which is not known to the outside world".

"Not even a bird can open his wings without the permission of Guru Ji (religious head) in this dera. Some times it seems that 'Ashram' is a government itself as big people and big ministers come here and bent before him (head). And when elections comes the entire look of the Ashram gets changed," a line in the novel reads.

And then, on the day of convocation, when the head of the country was invited as the chief guest, he tells these realities to the whole world.

He tells the audience that "how these deras are engulfing the psyche and existence of inpiduals in the garb of pseudo spiritualism".

The title itself assumes significance as the novel highlights just like how light cannot enter into the black hole, some of the heads of 'deras and mathas' also entrap their devotees into their black holes and permanently sabotage the live of their followers cannot take any decision of their own including their 'right to vote'.

"The politics of religion is a common phenomena in these deras which are being patronised by politicians openly so that they can take the advantage of them during election time," the novel reads.

"A single signal of such dera head is more than sufficient for the followers, who blindly go by his wishes, that whom to vote in elections and even creating law and order problem by indulging illegal activities," Dr. Sharma said adding that the novel is also a satire on entire system including media, which also "remained silent till the time such deras do not get exposed".

The novelist said that right to vote is a sacred right of every inpidual in a democratic country, but under the influence of these deras people (followers) vote for their 'Dharam Gurus" (religious masters) without judging his own ability.

"Why our leaders are making beeline outside these deras during the elections? Our politicians want that our people remained under the influence of such deras, which are allowed to flourish leap and bounds under political patronisation," he said.

In the end of the novel, the narrator spits in the mouth of dera head in the name of 'duru Dakshina' (offering to a teacher).

"Such novels are eye opener for everyone including our masses who should go by their wisdom", said Dr. Harmohinder Singh Bedi, Chancellor of Central University Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh who reviewed the novel.

This is the 11th novel of Dr. Sharma whose three works including 'Basra Ki Galian, 'Chehra Aur Parchhai', and 'Nau Dishayen' are the part of syllabus in MA classes in Punjabi University Patiala, Guru Nanak Dev university Amritsar and Lovely Professional University. Around 24 MPhils and 2 PhDs have been done based on his work. Dr. Sharma had also written two serials about the 'farming issue', with 26 episodes each, which were telecast on DD Kisan.