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Asaram Bapu: whom all feared and many followed - Deccan Herald
Asaram Bapu: whom all feared and many followed
Sunil Raghu, DH News Service,
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Police escort spiritual leader Asaram Bapu (C) outside an airport after his arrest in Jodhpur, in India's desert state of Rajasthan September 1, 2013. REUTERS
Atal Behari Vajpayee, Narendra Modi, L K Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Raman Singh, Vasundhara Raje Scindia, Baba Ramdev…have all spoken in praise of and sought the 'blessings’ of Asumal Sirumalani, or Asaram Bapu, at some point of time or the other.

Politicians across party lines, chief ministers, ministers, bureaucrats, policemen, professionals and common folk all once ate out of the hands of this 76-year-old 'spiritual guru’ who preached chastity, worship of one’s parents and the existence of one supreme being. A man whose net worth is estimated at Rs 10,000 crore, with over 300 'ashrams’ the world over, many spread over hundreds of acres.

"Apart from being 'guru’, Asaram carried out two major business activities -- expanding the land bank of his organisation, and providing loans to businessmen at high interest,” said a former associate of Asaram.

Asaram is believed to have had a 'Raees’ (the Shahrukh Khan starrer movie in which the actor plays a bootlegger) start to his 'spiritual’ journey, dealing in illegal liqour trade in the 'dry’ state of Gujarat. Later, he is said to have realised that this was not his calling and moved to north India, where he received his spiritual initiation. Years later, he moved back to Gujarat and began by preaching to small gatherings in the Sindhi-dominated areas of Ahmedabad. He spread his wings quickly, with a large number of followers, and set up a permanent base at Motera, then on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. After that, there was no looking back.

In time, he accumulated such clout that it used to be said in Ahmedabad that some senior police officials were ready to pull the trigger on anyone at his behest. He, like many other 'gurus’, too, curiously, built up a private army of women to protect him.

"There were always murmurs of Asaram, his son Narayan Sai and daughter Bharti being involved in exploiting many of the women followers, but for a long time the charges could not be proved. But the deaths of young boys staying in his ashram between 2008 and 2013 had a domino effect. Others began to come out against Asaram,” a close watcher of the 'godman’ said. "However, no one has still been arrested or punished for the deaths of so many young children. In fact, in many cases, the parents of these dead children have themselves given a clean chit to Asaram!”

Eventually, though, Asaram was arrested on September 1, 2013, after a former devotee who had stayed in his 'ashram’ as a teenager accused him of sexual assaulting her over a nine-year period between 1997 and 2006. Her sister lodged a similar complaint against Asaram’s son Narayan Sai.

But this case, and several others, have gotten murkier following a series of deaths of key witnesses, some of them once close to Asaram. "Asaram instilled fear in people’s hearts, that is how he got so many followers and kept detractors at bay. Although he is behind bars, he still has a sizeable following within and outside the government. No wonder when the Supreme Court reprimanded the Gujarat government for the slow pace of the trial, the Gujarat chief minister put the ball right back in the judiciary’s court,” another of Asaram’s former close associates, who now wants to see him brought to justice, said.

But conversations with both Asaram’s supporters and detractors reveals that there are strong groups both within his 'ashram’ and outside that are working to keep the man behind bars for as long as possible. "Ram Rahim’s conviction took 15 years. Asaram’s case is just four years old, and is far more complex as it involves the jurisdictions of multiple states. We can only hope the case will be expedited,” the former associate said.