Politicians & godmen

Political patrons

Print edition : October 04, 2013

New Delhi, November 2004: BJP president L.K. Advani with Asaram Bapu (right). Varun Gandhi is at left. Photo: Ramesh Sharma

Congress leader Digvijay Singh. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt

Bhopal, 2004: Chief Minister Uma Bharati shares the dais with Asaram Bapu at a seminar. Photo: A.M. Faruqui

The Asaram controversy has caused acute embarrassment to both the Congress and the BJP as leaders of both the parties have been close to the godman.

“Arre re… Asaram to nirasaram ho gaye” (Asaram has become such a disappointment) was the embarrassed reaction of Bharatiya Janata Party president Rajnath Singh when Frontline asked him for his reaction to the sordid episode involving the godman. It was the same with other leaders of both the Congress and the BJP, who are shy of discussing the baba in public now.

Politicians patronising godmen of questionable repute, especially when elections are round the corner, is nothing new in India. Godmen of various hues have been known to wield tremendous political clout irrespective of the party in power. Names like Chandraswami and Mahesh Yogi, who held sway over political leaders for years, immediately come to mind. In the Asaram case, both the BJP and the Congress have been put in an embarrassing situation because prominent leaders of both parties are known to have been his followers and have been photographed paying obeisance to him.

BJP Chief Ministers Shivraj Singh Chauhan, Raman Singh and Prem Kumar Dhumal, Punjab’s Akali Dal Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal and BJP leaders like Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, Nitin Gadkari, L.K. Advani and former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee are all known to have bowed before Asaram at sometime or the other. Similarly, Congress leaders like Digvijay Singh, Kamal Nath and Motilal Vora have been his followers. Digvijay Singh was quick to dump him when the controversy broke, but it is now learnt that Asaram was donated a huge plot of land in Indore in 1998 when Digvijay Singh was Chief Minister, at Re1 an acre when the market price was Rs5 crore an acre. This donation is now under the scanner of the Madhya Pradesh government.

So, it came as no surprise when leaders of both parties entered into a slug fest even as details about Asaram started becoming public. Digvijay Singh took a swipe at the BJP on his twitter page when he asked its leaders why they were quiet about Asaram’s deeds. Why was Sushma swaraj, who was so vocal otherwise on issues pertaining to women, silent on the matter, he tweeted. Stung to the quick, BJP leaders responded equally aggressively.

They questioned the Congress for the delay in the filing of the first information report in Delhi, where there is a Congress government, and subsequently when it was transferred to Jodhpur, where again there is a Congress government. It was the Congress party that should be answering questions on the 10-day delay for taking action, they argued.

“I am surprised that no one is targeting the Congress, which dragged its feet on the case. Why ask the BJP about him? Just because some of our leaders were his followers it does not mean we would support anyone against whom there are complaints of such a nature,” said BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman.

The embarrassment for the BJP arose because Uma Bharati jumped to Asaram’s defence when the FIR was filed on August 20. She said that Asaram was a saint and the case against him seemed politically motivated. Uma Bharati, however, was immediately pulled up by her party. For record’s sake, the BJP maintained that in a complaint of such nature, irrespective of the person involved, “the law should take its course”.

Rajnath Singh was on the defensive when he was reminded that many BJP leaders, including Vajpayee and Advani, had been seen paying their respects to Asaram. “It is common to pay respects to saints and seers in the Hindu religion. But who could have imagined this? Let’s not discuss this topic as it is too shameful and disgusting,” he said. He maintained that there was no question of defending Asaram or anyone else if the nature of the complaint was such. “Let all the investigations be done as per the law,” he said.

Meanwhile, Congress leaders, who initially supported a soft approach towards Asaram in view of the coming elections in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, were, however told by the party high command to back off. A senior party leader said the delay was because the party wanted to be cautious about not hurting the sentiments of his followers. “After all, he is not an ordinary man, he has lakhs of followers, so we could not have rushed into action without enough precautions. We had to be doubly sure,” he said. He admitted that leaders like Digvijay Singh, Motilal Vora , Ashok Gehlot and Kamal Nath were known to be his followers, but they could not speak out because of the nature of the complaint. “No doubt there has been a delay in taking action, but we wanted to invite minimum trouble and so had to take precautions, and that took time,” the leader said. According to him, the case should be treated like any other criminal case and the media should not give it a political colour.

However, Congress leaders did just that when they pointed out that the BJP government in Gujarat allowed Asaram to escape action in a case of murder of two young boys at his Motera ashram in 2008. The case involved the disappearance and subsequent recovery of the bodies of the two brothers from the ashram. The Gujarat government ordered an inquiry and forgot all about it. There were allegations then that black magic and tantrik rituals caused the boys’ death. Now Congress leaders have demanded that the Gujarat government make the findings of the inquiry public.

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