Sep 17, 2017

The Guru Gaggle

The Guru Gaggle
Iftikhar Gilani
DNA
September 17, 2017

After Indira Gandhi lost power in the 1977 general elections, the new Janata Party government moved swiftly to act against her for excesses committed during the Emergency she had imposed in the country. An enterprising young maulvi approached her, with the promise that he would get her out of the political wilderness. The story goes that he asked her to make arrangements for him and his dozens of disciples to do a 40-day penance at the shrine of Sufi saint Sheikh Syed Abdul Qadir Jeelani in Iraq's capital Baghdad. The maulvi claimed he had been told in his dream that this was needed to restore her glory.

Indira asked a member of the Congress Working Committee to budget the expenditure. But the maulvi took the money, went to his hometown instead, constructed a house for himself and forgot about the task. A year later, when the Janata Party government crumbled under significant ideological and political divisions, and Indira was back in power, the maulvi came back to claim credit. He was received like a hero. He went on to occupy a prime Wakf property in the heart of Delhi. Though various structures, including a TV studio and a corporate office of a company owned by his sons, were accused of encroachment, no one in the government took any action. He was a regular feature in the parties of every Prime Minister till he died.

He has been one of the many such examples. Historically, rulers in India have turned to astrologers and soothsayers. Fears of omens, ghosts, ghouls and storms have clouded many of their actions. Even wars — though many of them not won — were often influenced by astrologers. India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, known for his scientific temper, had a grouse against President Rajendra Prasad for hosting sadhus and saints in the Rashtrapati Bhavan. But Nehru's own association with a mysterious tantric spiritualist, Shradha Mata, has been known to many.

Former bureaucrat RK Krishnan recalls that a certain Prime Minister was known to be guided by the astrological advice of a godman in practically all his actions. On one occasion, the date and the time of the induction of some new ministers were fixed and announced on Doordarshan, only to be changed at the last minute because the schedule, according to another set of astrologers, was so inauspicious that things begun that day would have ended up in fire and smoke!

Many godmen have taken advantage of politicians' insecurities to build their own empires. Indira's Yoga guru Dhirendra Brahmachari ran ashrams in Delhi and Jammu and Kashmir, and became politically influential in 1975–77 when she declared the Emergency and suspended civil liberties. Many claim he would even influence Cabinet reshuffles.

KL Shrimali lost his job as education minister after he demanded an audit report of Brahmachari's ashrams. He was also a source of discord between Indira and then Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Sheikh Abdullah in the late 1980s. The J&K government had filed several cases against the Shiva Gun Factory that Brahmachari had set up in Jammu. Not only was there a complaint of land grabbing by one Saraswati Devi, the CID had informed Abdullah that guns were being distributed to unscrupulous elements. Seven years after his death, the High Court asked the government to take over his ashram in 2001 at the Mantalai peak near Patnitop in Udhampur, which had a helipad, a private zoo and a number of facilities.

Brahmachari's fate changed after Indira's death, which also allowed the then struggling godman Chandraswami to emerge as a guide to politicians. He had been trying his luck since the 1970s, but Brahmachari's presence was not allowing him a giant entry. He later became famous for his closeness to former Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, and would wield influence with heads of state.

Former diplomat and politician Natwar Singh recalls that when he was Deputy High Commissioner in London in 1975, a senior Cabinet minister wanted him to arrange a meeting between Margaret Thatcher, who had then just become the Opposition leader, and Chandraswami. After much pestering, he agreed to arrange a party to invite both to his residence. There, Chandraswami scooped out a taweez (amulet) from his bag, and advised Thatcher to wear red when she came to see him. She obliged. He later told her that she would become the UK's Prime Minister in 3-4 years and remain in office for nine, 11 or even 13 years. All that proved true.

At the Commonwealth Summit held in Lusaka, Zambia, in 1979, where Thatcher arrived as Prime Minister, she noticed Singh at the airport and gently whispered to him to forget about the meeting he had arranged between her and Chandraswami four years ago. "We don't talk about these matters," she told Singh. But Chandraswami's fall was as abrupt. In 1996, he was jailed on charges of defrauding a London-based businessman. Last year, he had an obscure death.

Till 15 years ago, sadhu-like characters used to roam inside the Congress headquarters — 24, Akbar Road — in Delhi. One of them had a beautiful voice. He would sing aloud, praising the Gandhi family and their sacrifices. Another one had pasted photographs of the members of the Gandhi family all over his body. They would all claim that they were there to bless the leaders. But they started disappearing as the Congress lost power, and later with Sonia Gandhi's ascendance.

But even today, some ministers take charge after due diligence of their offices' coordinates, and history, mostly the length of the stay of previous occupants. They change the wall paint, drapery and upholstery, and rearrange furniture as directed by their spiritual gurus.

Spiritual gurus are believed to possess unique healing powers, and people come to seek answers to social and psychological problems. Politicians meet them for votes as the new generation of gurus is less of the wandering ascetic. They are now powerful, flamboyant, and rich. They have the resources to summon thousands of supporters on to streets.

Days before he was convicted on August 25 of raping two of his followers in 1999, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh had launched a month-long birthday celebration, and was greeted by politicians, who openly donated pots of money to his so-called spiritual organisation Dera Sacha Sauda in Haryana's Sirsa. The Manohar Lal Khattar government has been under fire after 38 people were killed and hundreds others injured, mostly in Haryana's Panchkula, where the Dera chief was convicted, in large-scale violence, arson and police firing after his followers rampaged also across Punjab, Rajasthan, Delhi and NCR to protest the order two weeks ago.

Hall of shame: 14 fake babas

The Akhil Bharatiya Akhara Parishad, the apex body of sadhus, recently released a list of 14 "fake babas" and demanded a crackdown on "rootless cult leaders" by bringing in legislation. The list includes the names of Asaram Bapu (Asumal Sirumalani), Sukhbinder Kaur (Radhe Maa), Sachchidanand Giri (Sachin Datta), Gurmeet Singh of Dera Sacha Sauda, Om Baba (Vivekanand Jha), Nirmal Baba (Nirmaljeet Singh), Ichchadhari Bhimanand (Shivmurti Dwivedi), Swami Asimanand, Om Namah Shivay Baba, Narayan Sai, Rampal, Acharya Kushmuni, Brahaspati Giri and Malkhan Singh. Parishad president Swami Narendra Giri said, "We appeal to the common people to beware of such charlatans who belong to no tradition and by their questionable acts, bring disrepute to sadhus and sanyasis."

Dhirendra Brahmachari

Indira Gandhi's Yoga guru Dhirendra Brahmachari ran ashrams in Delhi and J&K, and became politically influential after the Emergency. KL Shrimali lost his job as education minister after he demanded an audit report of Brahmachari's ashrams. Brahmachari, a native of Bihar, was also a source of discord between Indira and then J&K CM Sheikh Abdullah in the late 1980s. The J&K government had filed several cases against Brahmachari's gun factory. His fate declined after Indira's death in 1984.

Chandraswami

Brahmachari's death allowed Chandraswami to emerge as a guide to politicians. He became famous for his closeness to former PM Narasimha Rao, and would wield influence with heads of state. Natwar Singh recalls that when he was Deputy High Commissioner in London in 1975, a Cabinet minister wanted him to arrange a meeting between Margaret Thatcher and Chandraswami. After much pestering, he agreed to arrange a party to invite both to his residence. But Chandraswami's fall was as abrupt. In 1996, he was jailed on charges of defrauding a London-based businessman. Last year, he had an obscure death.

Sant Rampal


When the police arrested him after a two-week stand-off in Haryana's Hisar in 2014, violence spread and six people were killed. Rampal worked as a junior engineer with Haryana's irrigation department. In 1996, he resigned and set up Satlok Ashram, three years later. Soon, he had a number of followers and he opened ashrams all over Haryana. He owns a fleet of luxury cars, and lives in an ashram in Barwala, Haryana, spread over a sprawling 12 acres.

Nirmal Baba


Nirmaljeet Singh Narula alias Nirmal Baba did not succeed as a businessman in Jharkhand. He drew publicity with his durbars and gatherings telecast by TV channels. At these events, he gave bizarre solutions to people's problems. He faced allegations of fraudulent activities.

In February 2014 he was slapped with a Rs 3.5-cr service tax evasion charge. The Allahabad High Court had directed the I&B Ministry in May to look into allegations that his TV programmes were spreading superstition, and take action against erring channels if the charges are found to be true.

Radhe Maa

Self-styled 'godwoman' Sukhwinder Kaur alias Radhe Maa likes the colour red, and carries a mini trishul. In 2015, the Mumbai police declared her an absconder in an alleged case of dowry harassment, and issued a lookout notice against her. Dolly Bindra, an actress, also filed a criminal case against her. The Punjab and Haryana High Court on September 5 issued a notice against the Kapurthala SSP for failing to act on a complaint against her. Phagwara-based Surinder Mittal had lodged a complaint against her, seeking action for allegedly hurting religious sentiments.

Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh

Days before he was convicted on August 25 of raping two of his followers in 1999, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh had launched a month-long birthday celebration, and was greeted by politicians, who openly donated pots of money to his so-called spiritual organisation Dera Sacha Sauda in Haryana's Sirsa. The Manohar Lal Khattar government has been under fire after 38 people were killed and hundreds others injured, mostly in Haryana's Panchkula, where the Dera chief was convicted, in large-scale violence, arson and police firing after his followers rampaged across Punjab and Rajasthan.

Asaram Bapu

He is one of the most controversial self-styled godmen in India. He was accused of sexually abusing a 16-year-old girl at his Jodhpur ashram even as her mother was waiting outside. He has been in prison on rape charges since 2013. He is also facing allegations of murder and land grab. Asaram and his son were also investigated in the mysterious deaths of two boys whose decomposed bodies were found from the banks of the Sabarmati river near his ashram in 2008. The Asaram Bapu trusts have a turnover of Rs 350 crore. He owns 350 ashrams in the country and abroad. He also owns 17,000 Bal Sanskar Kendras.

http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-the-guru-gaggle-2546175
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