The Akal Takht pardon to the Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Raheem Singh is likely to have its political implications with the Punjab Assembly elections closing in. The Takht had on Thursday announced its decision to exonerate the head of Sirsa-based Dera for his alleged act of blasphemy by dressing up like Guru Gobind Singh in mid-2007.
Punjab goes to polls in early 2017. Last year, the Dera had decided to support the BJP, both in the Lok Sabha and Haryana Assembly elections. The Dera sided with BJP in this year's Delhi Assembly polls too, but the party could muster just three out of 70 seats, with the Aam Aadmi Party sweeping the polls. The 2017 Punjab elections — being billed as a high-stakes battle for the Akali Dal-BJP combine, Congress and Aam Aadmi Party — will see the ruling alliance aim for a hat-trick. Though the pardon has been granted by the Akal Takht, experts say no one is unaware of the influence wielded by the Shiromani Akali Dal in its affairs.
Meanwhile, the Sikh radical groups claim that the dera chief didn't even apologise and his half-page letter was a mere clarification for his "blasphemous act". Dal Khalsa spokesman Kanwar Pal Singh says that the decision was unacceptable as never before has anyone been pardoned without a personal appearance. Whether the development politically benefits the ruling party or not will be known later, but many in the state feel it should have a calming effect on the hostile relations between the Sikh groups and Dera followers. With the Punjab cinemas owners not showing the Dera head's latest movie "MSG-2" in their halls, the dera followers parked themselves on the highways and train tracks disrupting vehicular traffic and trains over the past few days. Incidentally, it was only after deputy chief minister, Sukhbir Badal, assured the protesters that the movie would soon be shown in the cinema halls that the protest came to an end.