People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 44

November 03, 2013


Hindutva Brigade and Asaram’s Sins


Nilotpal Basu


IN these troubled times, when the helpless aam admi is exposed to a degree of  fire and brimstone from the likes of Narendra Modi, attention on the criminal travails of Asaram Bapu in the mainstream media was welcome. Not that the media did full justice to multiple dimensions of the so-called Godman’s ‘unholiness’; particularly the contributing factors which catapulted him to a ‘celebrity status’ went missing. Instead, they concentrated on the immediate grave charges of personal misdemeanor.  This was to underline that as if Asaram did what he did, because of his personal traits and moral aberrations. But a contextualisation of the Asaram narrative unravels a completely different story.


That Asaram and his gory acts have come to symptomatise the soft underbelly of what has gone bad in the Indian society cannot be disputed by many.  But when it comes to probing the factors which went into the making of this ‘Godman’, doubtlessly there will be a fierce contestation. 


That Asaram was arrested by the Jodhpur police on the very grave charges of assaulting a minor girl of sixteen under the provisions of Protection of Children against Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act is well known.  Similarly, it is also a common knowledge that the action by the police became necessary with the filing of the complaint by the minor girl before the police and subsequently reinforced by her statement before a magistrate.  The girl charged the 72 year old ‘Godman’ of ‘indecent behaviour’ and rape in his ashram in Jodhpur on the plea of ‘rescuing her from evil spirits’.  The girl was studying in one of the schools run by Asaram’s Foundation in Madhya Pradesh.  Her parents – devotees of Asaram had accompanied her.  The father – self admittedly – a blind devout subsequently remarked that `had I not been a personal witness to this lechery, I would never have believed this about Asaram’. 


But, spotlight on Asaram’s most heinous crimes in the aftermath of this development in Jodhpur and his subsequent arrest, makes it all the more incumbent on the collective conscience of our people and the society at large to ask ourselves – why was Asaram allowed to be emboldened to a level where he could take the law of the land for granted? 






Asaram’s story is fascinating. Even many who have accomplished ‘rag to riches’ status would find this ‘Godman’s ascent paling their own. Asumal Harpalani alias Asaram had humble beginnings. His father ran a small coal and wood trading business. An early school dropout, he used to sell tea and worked as a cycle mechanic before he started a small ashram on the banks of Sabarmati in Ahmedabad in 1970. Subsequently, he had ten acres of land donated which allowed him to set up a proper ashram.  But his phenomenal rise began in the late 1980s when he set up ashrams in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.  Particularly his following swelled when he started organising Satsangs in tribal areas of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Some of his biggest ashrams are located in these tribal pockets.  At present, Asaram is said to be controlling an empire worth Rs 5000 crore and over two crore devotees across the world. 


The major theatres of his activity do bring out an unmistakable political connection. These are areas where the BJP and the Hindutva forces have extremely strong presence. And, that is not accidental. The content of his campaign was not only rank conservative and revivalist; but it had very strong overtones of the Hindu religious Right.


A pet theme of Asaram was unabashedly undermining natural human relations and biological behaviour.  He ran a tirade against Valentines Day and condemned public expression of love and romance among young boys and girls.  Not only did he stop there. He urged governments to declare February 14 as the `matri pitri poojan divas’ (parents’ worship day). That this was not the freak aberration of a revivalist ‘Godman’, but was receiving official patronage from state governments pledging allegiance to the Indian Constitution became clear when Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh sent circulars, as desired by him to schools all over the state, to this effect. 


Asaram’s worldview particularly highlighted by his obnoxious attitude towards women came under flak in the background of the horrendous gang rape of the young Delhi paramedic student.  He suggested that the victim of the grotesque crime, which provoked an unprecedented all-round protest not just in the capital but across the country, was also responsible for the gory incident. Outrageous as it may sound, he suggested that she should have pleaded with the perpetrators and addressed them as brothers.  So in effect, it was her failure that had facilitated the crime!  But even such criminally bizarre ways did not bring any word of condemnation from the Hindutva brigade.


The attack on reason and encouragement to blind faith was his credo.  And, the fortunes of BJP and Asaram seemed to be progressing in tandem.  Live coverage of his lectures in so-called religious channels further raised his stock. 




But now the law of the land is coming to terms with Asaram’s crimes.  The extraordinary wealth that he had amassed has been facilitated by encroaching upon land, producing spurious drugs and, of course, exploitation of women devotees.  According to media reports, Asaram faces land grab charges in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and elsewhere in the country. Gujarat state government itself had admitted in the state assembly that one of his Ashrams had encroached upon 67,099 acres of land in Ahmedabad itself. 


But, strangely, there was no attempt at any point in time before the present Jodhpur development where Asaram had to face any serious challenge by the state authorities; so much so, that he moved around with a large bevy of close supporters and musclemen who physically dealt with any sign of criticism and dissent.  The Supreme Court bench of Justices Singhvi and Gopala Gowda castigated the government for lavishing such extensive security on Asaram even after he had been taken into custody. 


Does his role really suggest any solo performance? The sordid saga of the killing of two young Gujarati children Abhishek and Dipesh Vaghela in his Motera ashram is a telling commentary on how he was being officially patronised. 


The two boys were killed in the ashram in acts of alleged human sacrifice. After  the disappearance of the boys in  July 2008, Shantilal Vaghela and Praful Vaghela, the fathers of the two boys on visiting the ashram were suggested by Asaram’s  associates to ‘go around a pipul tree eleven times and ask for their children’.  They were further suggested  to ‘soak the clothes of the children and hang them upside down. Then take seven pebbles and keep transferring them from boiling to cold water and back’.  They were told that the ‘Godman’ had a vision that two children were stranded on a highway; all these purportedly, to mislead and gain time to dispose evidence. 


Even after being informed of all these aspects by the parents, the Gujarat police refused to register the FIR. During their visits to the police station at Motera they saw ashram associates hobnobbing with the police.  On July 5, 2008, after the discovery of the mutilated remains of the two kids, the armed ashram inmates threatened the parents. The hapless parents had to face repeated threats by BJP-VHP goons headed by Govind Prajapati, MLA from Palanpur. The chief minister, the ‘crusader against terror’ rejected the demand for a CBI inquiry. It was only in November 2009 that in the wake of public outcry over this patent injustice, that the FIR was eventually registered. Due to a clear complicity of police and absence of fair investigation, the High Court ordered quashing charges of culpable homicide.


The complicity of the state government becomes further evident with Gujarat High Court’s reproach to retired justice D K Trivedi enquiry commission appointed by the Gujarat government to go into the brutal killings of those young boys, thus – “a picture emerges where the commission has, on its knees with folded hands craved the convenience of the petitioner (Asaram and his son) to record their evidence before it and this has continued for a period of more than one and half years”. The HC was reacting to Asaram’s petition challenging the summons to him and his son by the commission. That the commission has been sitting on its report for five years is, however, another story.


So, that is for Narendra Modi’s sagacity and sense of justice!  The fact that the laws of the land will catch up with Asaram’s crimes was becoming increasingly evident.  Smart that he is, this made Modi to distance himself.  But some of his colleagues in the Hindutva brigade had no such compunctions. In the wake of the revelations in Jodhpur, VHP veteran Ashok Singhal was brazen. He claimed that Asaram was ‘framed’ in order to defame showing ‘seers in a poor light’.  He thundered – “How can anybody level such heinous allegations against an 80-year-old seer?”  Holding press conferences across central and north India, Hindutva organisations like VHP, Bajrang Dal, Hindu Kranti Dal, Hindu Jagriti Manch and Hindu Dharma Raksha Samiti echoed the same.  Attributing the developments to a conspiracy of Christian missionaries to finish off Hindu culture was their refrain.


Other BJP leaders also were quite emphatic.  Uma Bharati tweeted, “Saint Asaram Bapu is innocent. He is being punished for opposing Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. False cases have been launched against him in Congress ruled states. Saints are with Bapu”.  Kailash Vijayvargia, industries minister of Madhya Pradesh was another important leader who staunchly defended Asaram.  Therefore, one does not require a knowledge of rocket science to find out how even after the filing of the FIR and the extremely damaging revelations in the media, how Asaram was moving freely with his large entourage and also avoiding to cooperate with the investigation and camping in different places in the BJP ruled states. 


Now that revelations are there, the Hindutva brigade, particularly the BJP leaders have gone mute. At best, their spokesman has a response in stating ‘law will take its own course’; missing is the shrillness on so many other issues to raise a divisive and jingoistic fervour.  It is not difficult to make a guess!


Asaram’s ranks swelled in late 1980s and early 1990s converging with the momentum of the Ram Janamabhoomi movement reinforcing the Hindutva presence in the political process. There was also a clear strategic emphasis on revivalism with a general reactionary anti-westernization.  This was a period which saw increased actions of moral policing by the saffron crowd.  The policies of liberalisation dovetailing with aggressive globalisation in the early 1990s, the new drive towards consumerism and emphasising self-centered individualism provided a conducive backdrop for the revivalist antics of the Hindutva brigade, in general. These also paved the way for Asaram’s meteoric rise.


Now that the chickens are coming home to roost, who will accept these lame excuses for Asaram’s outrageous crimes?  A section of the sadhus who had been part of the Hindutva campaign for Ram Janamabhoomi temple are so defensive that they go to the absurd length of claiming that Asaram should not have been recognised as a seer in the first place.  This is a textbook playing out of the adage ‘run with the hare, hunt with the hound’.  And, when such duplicity gets caught – ‘give the dog a bad name and hang him ’.  But this is not good enough, the Hindutva brigade owes an explanation to the people for all what Asaram has come to represent.