When social scientist M. Rajivlochan, who teaches history at Panjab University, visited the deras of Punjab to research this unique phenomenon, he was stunned to find the dera bosses mimicking the style of Mughal courts. Whilst it is common knowledge that Dera Sacha Sauda boss Sant Gurmeet Ram Rahim fashioned himself to resemble the Sikh’s tenth guru Govind Singh, his cultivated likeness with the Mughal court is less noted.
For Rajivlochan the latter phenomenon, not just limited to Ram Rahim, has to do with the dera gurus asserting their “secular power” before followers. “Like dacoits imitate the ranks followed in the police and the military, the deras are organised under the sole authority of a kinglike figure and his coterie,” he says. “The king he apes is much like Shah Jehan—or as the Mughal might exist in the popular imagination.”