In our country, religious and spiritual personalities are great lovers of wealth and luxury. During one of the Kumbhs, I got an opportunity to visit Ujjain. I went into the camps of many religious leaders. I found that their camps were equipped with such facilities of luxurious living which even a well-off person may find difficult to arrange. A total of 4,000 air conditioners were installed in the camps of the sadhus at the Ujjain Kumbh. So much so that the state electricity board had to make special arrangements to supply power to these gadgets. An average AC, it may be mentioned here, consumes as much power as 15 incandescent bulbs of 100 watts each.
Our religious leaders also have another weakness. It is their ardent desire that chief ministers, ministers, top officers and distinguished residents of the city should attend their discourses. They also want that the chief minister or minister should climb on the dais, touch their feet and garland them. It is unfortunate that we have been unable to evolve any tradition or set of norms to govern the relationship between those holding high offices and religious leaders. Our Constitution clearly stipulates that those who hold constitutional offices are entitled to the highest respect. But such persons can often be seen bowing before the religious leaders and even touching their feet in public.
A couple of months back, President Pranab Mukherjee came on a three-day visit to Madhya Pradesh. He travelled to the ashram of a Shankaracharya near Jabalpur. The photographs of his meeting with the Shankaracharya were published in almost every newspaper. One photograph shows the Shankaracharya occupying his throne while the President is standing before him with folded hands and bowed head. Whenever the President enters any gathering or assembly, everyone present is expected to stand up as a mark of respect to him. Should not have the Shankaracharya stood up to greet the President? Did he not violate the rules of protocol? In our scheme of things, the President is country’s first citizen. No one, absolutely no one, can claim a position higher than him.
The civil aviation security rules provide that barring a few high constitutional functionaries, everyone is subjected to a security check before boarding an aircraft. According to a report published in The Indian Express, Asaram Bapu was exempted from this stipulation. He drove in his car straight up to the tarmac to board the aircraft. Under which rules was this privilege granted to him? Who was the officer who had issued the orders extending this extraordinary facility to Asaram? It is by making such concessions that we give the religious leaders the feeling that they are above ordinary mortals and are not subject to the laws of the land.
Newspaper reports that followed Asaram’s arrest for allegedly sexually assaulting a minor girl said that Asaram’s property is estimated to be valued at upwards of Rs 5,000 crore. There is hardly any big city that does not have an ashram of Asaram. These ashrams are spread over hundreds of acres of land and it is said that most of them have been built by encroaching upon government land.
The exclusive duty of one of the key aides of Asaram was to take calls from ministers, high officers and moneybags and arrange their telephonic conversation with him. Asaram was close to BJP leader Uma Bharati, Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh, Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot and state’s former chief minister Vasundhararaje Scindia, former Gujarat minister Amit Shah and controversial Gujarat police officer DG Vanzara. Till 2009, he enjoyed close relations with Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi too.
Besides Asaram, other religious leaders also maintain intimate relations with politicians. Various allegations have been made against them from time to time. Asaram is not the first religious leader charged with sexual exploitation. Many other godmen have faced similar charges.
Another common factor that distinguishes these godmen is that they maintain an army of goons in their ashrams. These musclemen are used to silence their opponents.
The rather disgusting truths about Asaram that are coming to fore have once again proved that the ashrams of these godmen are, in fact, centres of crime and criminals. In view of these disclosures, it is imperative that a keen eye be kept on these ashrams and the activities conducted therein. A special cell in the intelligence wing of the police should be created for this purpose.
One more issue needs serious consideration. Why shouldn’t the earnings of these godmen be taxed? These godmen are given government land at concessional rates and they use it to conduct a range of commercial activities. Some put up medicine manufacturing units and earn crores of rupees by selling their medicines to their so-called disciples. Be that as it may, it is clear that there is not a sin in this world which these charlatans in the garb of saints and religious leaders do not commit.
Published in the October 2013 issue of the Forward Press magazine
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