Even as poll campaign for the February 4 Punjab Assembly elections came to an end today, the Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmit Ram Rahim Singh’s support to the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-Bhartiya Party (SAD-BJP) combine has come as a big boost for the ruling alliance.

As it has more than 35 lakh supporters — mostly Dalits — in Punjab, the Dera holds a significant influence over 27 constituencies in a total of 67 constituencies in Malwa region.

Akali Dal hopes Dera’s support would boost their electoral prospects significantly as comprise more than 31 per cent of the state’spopulation.

The Sirsa (Haryana) based, Gurmit Ram Rahim Singh’s followers are known to vote in favor of a particular party en bloc as directed by Dera. In 2014 Haryana Assembly elections, Dera had supported the BJP and helped the party in get majority in the state for the first time.

“After a meeting with the the sadh-sangat (followers), we have decided to support the SAD-BJP,” Ram Singh, chairman of the political affairs committee of the Sirsa (Haryana)-headquartered sect, said.

Dera’s support to SAD-BJP is a bad news for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) whose poll-prospects largely depend on its performance in the Malwa region which is otherwise a Akali stronghold. As Dalits and weaker sections of society formed the AAP’s main votebank, Dera’s support means the Arvind Kejriwal-led outfit stands to lose significant number of its voters.

Endearing itself to the Dera Sacha Sauda, the SAD — which has always claimed to stand for the cause of the Sikh Panth — played a political gamble in 2015 by orchestrating an Akal Takht stamped pardon for Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in the 2007 blasphemy case.

But after facing backlash from the hardliners, the Akal Takht was forced to revoke its decision to pardon the Dera Saccha Sauda chief. Even now, Sikh radicals have criticised the Dera’s support to the SAD.

Radical Sikh organisation Dal Khalsa predicted that after handshaking with the Dera, the Akali Dal will meet its waterloo in the upcoming polls.

General secretary of the outfit, Kanwar Pal Singh said God-fearing and devout Sikhs will teach Akalis a lesson for hobnobbing with the anti-Sikh elements.Fearing backlash from hardliners, SAD is therefore downplaying Dera's support to SAD and chief minister Parkash Singh Badal on Thursday denied if a sect's support could boost a party's poll prospects.