OPINION
Why Sukhbir Badal, Sunil Jakhar must go to Dera Sirsa followers and seek their votes? Or they should be arrested.
- S Pal
Why Sukhbir Badal, Sunil Jakhar must go to Dera Sirsa followers and seek their votes? Or they should be arrested.



#Punjab Congress president Sunil Jakhar has said his party will not seek votes of Dera Sirsa.
 

#Shiromani Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal has said his party will not be seeking the support of Dera Sirsa.
 
 
IF WE HAD BEEN living in different times, somewhat better times, we would have been shocked at these statements. Now, these seem to be not just acceptable, but even appropriate. These seem normal. To many, these even seem politically correct.

No one has been arrested for uttering these. Sunil Jakhar is facing no imminent threat of being hauled up before a court of law, and Sukhbir Badal has, in fact, felt better after saying what he did.

But what's the problem with declaring that the political party will not seek the support of a dera that was clearly headed by a man who has been proven to be scum? Gurmit Ram Rahim is a convicted rapist, killer and a threat to humanity, and is in jail where he deservingly belongs. So what's the problem in saying that a political party married to higher ideals will not seek the support of his dera?

Surely, people will not like it if leaders of a political party go and court the leadership of a dera and seek votes if that leadership is tainted with criminal charges and involvement in abominable criminal acts. Messers Jakhar and Badal are right in their understanding that they must make clear their distance from such people.

But listen to what the Sunil Jakhars and Sukhbir Badals of the political world are NOT saying. They are not saying that going to deras and cults and sects and sundry forms of people bunched under the leadership of a baba or a sadhu or a guru to seek votes is wrong. No, they are not saying it. They are saying they will not go to seek votes from Sirsa dera.

In fact, they are saying that it will be wrong to go and seek votes from such a dera THIS TIME. They are not saying it was wrong all along, because both sides have actively courted the Sirsa dera and its head Gurmit Ram Rahim in the past.

How does the system of seeking votes through the leadership of any dera actually work? The dera head becomes a repository of the interests of his or her followers. It also becomes the repository of the collective value of votes that its followers have. Now, those followers, who are not capable of exercising the political power of their individual votes want to see their leader extracting the maximum benefit from the political leadership by trading their collective votes in lieu of certain favours and promises.

So a political leader goes to a dera. The dera demands a piece of land, clearances for a project, favours for some selected people, and in lieu promises support. The message is conveyed to the followers surreptitiously. 
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The dera leadership is into wholesale trading of votes for favours and assurances.
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A political leader would have to work too hard to reach out to millions of followers of the dera, address their grievances, lay out his agenda and seek their votes. That's retail business. Instead, he goes for bulk buying. The dera leadership is into wholesale trading of votes for favours and assurances.

This makes deras the attractive trading space for electoral favours in democracy. It matters little if the dera leadership is known as usurpur of public lands. It hardly bothers the politician if the dera spreads unscientific ideas and voodoo science. It matters little even if the dera leaders are named in murder cases or have been accused by multiple women of harassment and even rape.

The politician has no sense of shame, not even a pretense of hesitation. He continues to do business with the dera. It is only when the leader is finally convicted that the neta finds it prudent to say that it will now not seek the votes from the dera.

That's a sick politics. It was a sick politics when the leader was going to the dera to seek votes. It is even worse now that he says he will not go to seek votes.

In fact, now is the time to go back to the dera. Do not go to the dera leadership that has been found involved in henuious crimes. But go to the followers. Our politics needs to understand why millions of people chose to trade their voting power through the conduit of a rank criminal? Our politician must debate why so many continue to follow a man thrown into jail for score plus years for raping and harassing multiple women and has been involved in murder and worse?

Why and how did so many from the Dalit section in Punjab landed up at Dera Sirsa? Why did our religious leadership and political elite fail entire communities?

You have to go to the dera and its followers and grapple with these questions. The politician is not just saying he will not seek votes from the leadership of the dera. He is diluting the identity of the followers of the dera as citizens. The followers of the dera are citizens with full constitutional rights, including the right of a vote. Any political leadership that says it will not even court the votes of a major chunk of population is indulging in virtual hate speech. How will the law kick in if a leader were to say he will not seek votes of Sikhs? Or Hindus? Or Muslims?
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Why and how did so many from the Dalit section in Punjab landed up at Dera Sirsa? Why did our religious leadership and political elite fail entire communities?
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Some of the recent statements are alienating a weaker section of the society that was trying to deal with its marginalisation by engaging with politics through the collectivising of its voting power, a deal it was making through its dera head. Jakhar and Badal are telling that same marginalised section that you have become political deadweight and we shall not come to get you. 

This will only result in solidifying the gap between power levers and marginalised sections. 

In Punjab, the Sikh community needs to introspect why these wide sections of Dalits were not impressed by such an egalitarian religion as Sikhism, and instead opted to become followers of not just this dera, but also of many others?

Wherever Guru Nanak went, people became his followers, for such was the force of his message of oneness, of Sarbat Da Bhala, of knowledge, of light, of decency, of everything that's good and pure in the hearts of the humans, a message that was in resonance with the purpose of life itself. Now, you see millions of migrants coming from poor, backward villages of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, eking out their living here, but they aren't rushing to become Sikhs. 

That's because they do not encounter a community opening its arms to embrace and protect the weak. You can write scholarly works about the grand values of casteless society and the tradition of langar that mandates equality, but then, the poor have eyes, and common sense. They see what's happening on the ground, and it's not particularly attractive. So they are not rushing to become Sikhs.

There's a reason that dalits in big numbers followed the dera: they did not find the followers of an ostensibly egalitarian religion welcoming them with open arms. A number of Sikhs labelled as belonging to lowered castes follow these deras, a clear message to the Sikh community elite that they have not lived up to the ideals of the Guru.
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Also, remember that they have not said they will not go to any dera to seek votes. They are open to wholesale bulk-buying of votes in other market places. They are just avoiding a particular commission agent.
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It's time for the Sikhs, for Hindus, for all, for political parties, for the likes of Jakhar and Sukhbir Badal to open that dialogue. This is the time to seek their votes. But by talking to them, not by striking deals with dera leadership to buy their votes in bulk.
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As things stand, a Congressman only has to record the video of an Akali Dal-affiliated sarpanch going to the house of a dera follower in his village to seek votes for the Akali Dal candidate, and put it on social media. A chorus of voices will burnish through the facebook and whatsapp platforms: Akalis seeking dera votes. Ditto for Congress.
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Any politics that pursues, incentivises or endorses the politics of alienating entire sections of citizenry is a politics of hate.
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We are building an atmosphere of hate for a section of our populace. We did this earlier with Nirankaris. We used the highest seats of temporal power to issue edicts asking even the unborn children of Sikhs not to have any relationship with the unborn children of followers of the Nirankari sect. That edict stands even today, and it was issued in the name of our Guru.

Do you think the Guru would have said so? That the unborn must have hatred for the unborn?

Any politics that pursues, incentivises or endorses the politics of alienating entire sections of citizenry is a politics of hate. And politicians need to be arrested for spreading hate.
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It's a pity that Sunil Kumar Jakhar has not been arrested so far, and Sukhbir Singh Badal is still roaming free.

Also, remember that they have not said they will not go to any dera to seek votes. They are open to wholesale bulk-buying of votes in other market places. They are just avoiding a particular commission agent.

Otherwise it's business as usual.

It's only you whose picture of offering a glass of water to a Dera Sirsa follower can get you ostracised or even killed because of the hatred that our elected politicians are spreading. All because they are being so "nice" and "decent" that they won't even go to seek votes of a dera.

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