Ahead of Lok Sabha elections scheduled for May 19 in Punjab, the Dera Sacha Sauda, whose chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim is serving jail term in rape and murder cases, has started "uniting" its followers and has appealed that "those who left during crisis", were "most welcome again".
Thousands of followers, who call themselves 'premis' and address dera chief as 'pitaji', gathered at the dera's Naam Charcha Ghar (prayer hall) at village Gahaur of Ludhiana Sunday where members of the political wing addressed them. They were told to "stay united" and "not let outsiders break their unity". They were also told that "social works" being undertaken by followers must continue.
Although the dera leadership claimed that gathering of followers was called to brief them about foundation day celebrations, sources said that primary motive was to check the attendance and numbers in which they turn up. This was the first major congregation of dera followers held in Ludhiana after Gurmeet Ram Rahim's conviction in rape and murder cases.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Sandeep Insaan, member of dera's state committee, said that followers were told to maintain unity among themselves and not let outsiders break them. "Government and other outside forces are trying to break the unity of Sacha Sauda followers but we are very much united. We have told followers to continue social work like marriages of poor girls, donations to poor, langars etc like we were doing since the beginning. If our dera chief is not here doesn't mean we will stop our social work," Sandeep said.
He said the dera was yet to take on call on which party to support in the Lok Sabha polls in Punjab. "The political wing will decide that soon"
He claimed that there has been no affect on number of followers after dera chief's conviction. "Our followers know that pitaji has been through tough times. None of our followers left us. Some were scared but they are back now. Today thousands of them attended the meeting and now Naam Charcha will be held regularly every Sunday," he said.
Shinderpal Singh, one of the members of 45-member political committee of the dera, said that followers wanted clarity on Naam Charcha meetings as they were discontinued for some time in between but now they have been told that it will be held every Sunday across Punjab at dera's prayer centres. "We will be announcing a decision soon on support to a party for Lok Sabha polls. Followers also want clarity on that. Our prayer meetings were discontinued for sometime but now they will be held every Sunday at all dera prayer centres. Today also more than 50,000 followers attended. We have at least 40 lakh followers in Punjab. They still very much believe in powers and goodness of our chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh," he said.