THE conviction of the godman Gurmeet Singh on charges of rape and the violence unleashed by his supporters in Panchkula and other places has exposed the political nexus between the BJP and such dubious peddlers of spiritual salvation.
The Dera Sacha Sauda head had called upon his followers to vote for the BJP in the October 2014 assembly elections. The BJP was suitably grateful and lavished patronage on Gurmeet Singh and the Dera. 19 of the 47 BJP MLAs called on him to convey their gratitude for his support. Two ministers in the Khattar government provided money from their discretionary funds for the Dera’s activities. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had himself praised the Baba during the election campaign.
So it is this nexus with the godman which led to the shameful spectacle of the Khattar government allowing thousands of Dera followers to gather in Panchkula to intimidate the court and refusing to take firm action to prevent their assembly.
For this dereliction of duty, 38 persons died and there was widespread destruction of government and private property. The BJP does not ask Khattar to quit as chief minister as it is the party itself which solicited the Baba’s support.
However, the Gurmeet Singh connection is not an isolated instance. It is true that on earlier occasions, the Congress party had also sought his favours. But it is the BJP-RSS combine which has an organic link with these new-age gurus and babas. There are many godmen and their empires dotted around the country who have links with the BJP and the RSS.
Another notorious godman is, Asaram Bapu, who flourished with BJP support in Gujarat where he first set up his ashram and then spread his network across the country. He is an ardent supporter of the BJP and is now in jail since 2013 facing rape charges along with his son.
The other prominent “babas” and “gurus” who are flourishing under the BJP dispensation are Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravishankar. As far as the former is concerned, the yoga guru has become a big businessman. He has thanks to the BJP-ruled state governments and some Congress governments amassed thousands of acres of land for his ashrams, yoga institutes and Patanjali products in Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Assam. His Patanjali enterprises producing cosmetics and other goods had a turnover of Rs 10,561 crore in 2016-17. He is an ardent supporter of Narendra Modi and spews Hindutva values in his sermons.
The impunity with which these gurus and godmen act was seen in the way Ravishankar behaved on the issue of his Art of Living Foundation holding a World Culture Festival in March 2016. This festival on the banks of the Yamuna river irretrievably damaged the ecological system and biodiversity of the flood plains. Yet when the National Green Tribunal imposed a fine of Rs Five crore on the Foundation, Ravishankar defiantly challenged the decision and declared that it should be the Tribunal which should be fined. No doubt, Ravishankar knew he could count on the support of the government with Narendra Modi himself having graced the occasion.
In the south, Jaggi Vasudev has set up an ashram of the Isha Foundation in Coimbatore which has encroached on land belonging to the surrounding villages. A struggle was conducted to retrieve the land. But soon after, the prime minister visited the ashram to inaugurate a giant statue of Adiyogi Shiva. Another figure in this genre is Amrutanandamayi, who has established a vast empire and is fully backed by the RSS.
Under the patronage of the BJP governments and the RSS outfits, these godmen are profitably combining religiosity with commercial-business interests. The political backing they receive makes them act with impunity as if they are above the law.
Despite all its sordidness, the Gurmeet Singh-Dera Sacha Sauda episode had a silver lining – it exposed the insidious nexus between the BJP and the fake gurus and godmen.
(August 30, 2017)