Political activism: Dera Ballan’s general secretary of 10 yrs removed
Dera Sachkhand Ballan, the most influential Ravidassia dera, in a major administrative change has shown the door to its general secretary of 10 years and appointed a retired bureaucrat in his place, a move seen as a fallout of the visit by two chief ministers recently to the apolitical dera in Jalandhar.
The dera removed Advocate Satpal Virdi, who was the general secretary of the trust – Shri Guru Ravidass Janam Sthan Public Charitable Trust Banaras (Uttar Pradesh), Chairman Sant Niranjan Dass (Gaddinashin), Dera Sant Sarwan Dass Sachkhand Ballan – for a decade. It replaced him with Joginder Pal, a retired Indian Revenue Services (IRS) officer and former Commissioner of Income Tax. The dera also appointed Dharmapal Phillaur as its joint secretary.
Although the reason for this big change has not been officially stated, according to sources, it appears to be an aftereffect of the visit by Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to Dera Sachkhand Ballan on March 25. When the two CMs visited the dera, the general secretary apparently had talked tough on representation of Dalits in the government, much to the chagrin of the big two AAP leaders. And this was not well-received by some dera officials and consequently, it was decided to do away with Virdi.
On March 25, Mann, along with Kejriwal, had laid the foundation stone of the Guru Ravidass Bani Adhiyan (Research) Centre at Ballan village in Jalandhar district and handed over a cheque for Rs 25 crore to Sant Niranjan Dass – the head of Dera Ballan, the largest dera (religious place) of the Ravidassia community – as the first instalment for construction of this research centre.
According to the information, Virdi had raised the issue of upliftment of “the Dalit Samaj” before the AAP duo. He also pointed out that no important post was given to the people of “Dalit Samaj” in several government sectors. After the meeting got over, Virdi was asked to meet Punjab government authorities concerned to discuss the matter.
Sources said that Virdi even met the Punjab CM to discuss the issues related to the Dalit community and he also suggested to the CM that people working for the upliftment of the Dalits must be given ticket for the Jalandhar Lok Sabha by-election. “But his meeting was seen from a political angle by the dera officials, who want to remain apolitical, because of which Virdi was removed from the post,” a senior dera official said, adding that the dera is a totally non-political, religious and social institution working for the upliftment of the poor and spreading the message of Guru Ravidass.
Later, some BJP leaders had also made a visit to the dera wherein it is learnt that Virdi made some suggestions for the construction of Guru Ravidass temple in Delhi’s Tughlakabad area where the temple was demolished some years ago by the Delhi Development Authority on the orders of the Supreme Court. However, some senior BJP leaders were not happy with Virdi’s suggestions.
The dera does not want to involve itself in any argument with the political parties, said officials.
Dera Ballan had removed Virdi from the post of general secretary on April 10, but it was announced officially on the occasion of Sangrand (the first day of each month according to the Indian Solar Calendar) on April 14 at a meeting of all the members and office-bearers of the trust.
When contacted, Virdi said that he was the general secretary of the trust for 10 years which is a long period. “I am a member of several committees of the dera and will continue to offer my services to dera all my life. It is just that I have been relieved of one post. I am the servant of dera and will remain always one. I have no political ambitions. I just want to do social work for the people of our samaj,” Virdi said, adding that in dera several political leaders of different parties come because it is a place of faith for millions of people and “we welcome all of them without any political motive in our mind”.
Dera Ballan manager Pritam Kumar confirmed that a new general secretary was appointed recently by removing the earlier one.
The dera, which has lakhs of followers in the state with concentration in Doaba region, has never openly supported any political party. But no party can afford to ignore it, especially in the time of elections. All political parties try to woo the Ravidassia community, the followers of Guru Ravidass.
Senior leaders of the Congress, Shiromani Akali Dal and BJP have always made a beeline for this dera before every election. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi had paid a visit to Banaras, Guru Ravidass’ birthplace, on the Guru’s birth anniversary a few years ago. The Guru Ravidass Memorial and Temple in Banaras was also set up by Dera Ballan.
After the killing of Sant Ramanand, who was Dera Ballan’s second in command, and the attack on Sant Niranjan Dass in Vienna in May 2009, the dera had severed its decades-old ties with Sikhism and announced a separate religion called “Ravidassia religion” in early 2010 in Banaras on Guru Ravidass Jayanti. They started replacing Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh religious book) with their own new Granth “Amritbani” carrying 200 hymns of Guru Ravidass in Ravidassia temples and gurdwaras, which led to several clashes between Sikhs and Ravidassias. Since the 2009 Vienna incident, Dera Sach Khand Ballan has become not only religiously assertive but also politically significant, amid the growing influence of the Ravidassia community over the politics of Punjab, which accounts for about 32% Dalit population – the highest in the country in percentage terms.