From the ‘pantheon’ to the rogues gallery– it’s been an ‘almighty’ fall for the fake godmen. Flip through a jail register, and one will find a baba behind bars. Search his background, and one will find an empire of wealth, and a trail of rape, murder and financial fraud. Probe his success story, and one will find the unshaken faith of his gullible followers. It is only in the land of gods that the fakes flourish, that is, till they are caught and exposed.
The latest fake to join the rogues’ gallery is Gurmeet Singh of Dera Sachha Sauda (true business) , an ashram headquartered in Sirsa, Haryana. His story runs like a fast-paced sleazy C grade film, full of sex and crime, and more saleable than the feature film he made about himself called ‘MSG : The Messenger of God.’ His Sirsa ashram is more lavish than a five star hotel, more gaudy than a king’s palace and more secretive than the Hitler’s bunker and contains replicas of the seven wonders of the world.
During his time as the Dera chief, he expanded the empire to acquire 700 acres of agricultural land, owns a hospital in Rajasthan, and a market complex, gas stations and roughly 250 ashrams at various places and is said to be worth Rs 300 crore by conservative estimates. He took the holy names of Ram and Rahim and preached universal brotherhood, offered free food to the hungry and education to the Dera members and their children, kept the faithful off drugs and provided employment to many within the Dera.
But the ‘Rockstar Baba’, with his long hair, powerful motorcycles and expensive cars did not practice what he preached. He loved good live and women and fooled the people in the name of God. He is serving 20 years in jail for raping two of the Dera members, is accused of sexually assaulting 50 more women followers of his Ashram and is said to be involved in two murder cases, while his partner in crime and his close confidante Haneypreet is absconding.
But he is not the only unholy man who has given God a bad name.
‘Sant’ Rampal and Asaram Bapu, both cooling their heels in jail, have the same trajectory and the art of influencing and attracting people as Gurmeet Singh.
The 62-year-old Rampal, founder of a Satlok Ashram, started his own sect that prohibits temple visits, idol worship, untouchability, adultery and ‘vulgar singing and dancing’, but was himself involved in a murder case.
For a man who calls himself the reincarnation of Sant Kabir, it was odd for Rampal to own a fleet of luxury cars, including BMWs and Mercedes and live in a sprawling 12 acre ashram with commandos armed with rifles, revolvers and pistols. Now he is facing sedition charges as well. He is said to own property in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi, and his dera is said to be worth Rs 100 crore .
Asaram was a spiritual preacher who mesmerised people with his daily ‘satsang’. He preached the existence of One Supreme Conscious in his Ahmedabad ashram visited by devotees for prayers, yoga and meditation. The peace in his life and in the ashram shattered when mutilated bodies of two boys studying in the ashram’s gurukul were recovered from the riverbed. After that the flood gates were open. Several murky deals have been unearthed. He and his son, Narayan Sai, were found to be known sexual offenders and are accused of rape and molestation in several cases.
The humble preacher owns 350 ashrams within the country and abroad, besides 17,000 Bal Sanskar Kendras. The Asaram Bapu trusts have an annual turnover of Rs 350 crore. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. The total assets add up to Rs 4,500 crore, which include benami property deals and financial transactions worth Rs 2,200 crore and cash loans totalling 1,635 crore given to more than 500 beneficiaries for exorbitant interest rates. A realistic picture would fix the worth of Asaram’s shady empire at more than Rs 10,000 crore.
They are in the list of 14 bogus godmen released by the Akhil Bharatiya Akhara Parishad (ABAP), the apex body of Hindu sadhus. Among them is a ‘godman’ who calls himself Ichchadhari Sant Swami Bhimanand Ji Maharaj Chitrakoot. He is in jail for allegedly running a sex racket from his Delhi ashram. The man has an interesting background. He came to Delhi from Chitrakoot, Uttar Pradesh in 1988 and worked as a security guard at a five-star hotel in Nehru Place. He later worked for a massage parlour at Lajpat Nagar, and was arrested for running a prostitution racket. After his release from jail, he became a baba and built assets worth crores of rupees. But old habits don’t die. He continued with his sex racket in his ashram. But he is said to have constructed a 200-bed hospital and a huge temple back home in Chitrakoot.
The more interesting case is that of Sachin Datta, a former beer bar owner and real estate baron. Known as Sacchdanand Giri, he was anointed a “Mahamandaleshwar”–‘ a title used by some Hindu monks of the Dashanami order– by the same body that has now declared him ‘fake.’ Then there is Nirmaljit Singh Narula alias Nirmal Baba who is in controversy over his bizarre ways of finding solutions to the peoples’ woes. Like Asaram, he used to come regularly on television, and has accumulated wealth to the tune of Rs 238 crore.
Swami Paramahamsa Nithyananda, a Tamil Nadu seer with a big following in several states and abroad, went to jail after a news channel telecast video footage purportedly showing him in a sex romp with an actress. Similar was the case of Sarathi Baba, who was exposed by a TV channel for alleging spending two days with a woman, who posed as his wife, at a Hyderabad hotel. The self-styled godman, who set up an empire worth Rs 300 crore in Odisha, has been arrested for his alleged involvement in a sex scandal as well as in cases related to cheating and forgery.
There is Paul Dhinakaran Baba, a 49-year-old Tamilian Christian preacher, who is said to be worth Rs 5,000 crore. One Swami Gnyanachaitanya of a Kerala ashram has been accused of sexually assaulting a foreign lady and who has spent 14 years in jail for committing three murders. And then thereis the godwoman, Radhe Maa. She, too, has bizarre ways and her sansangs are said to be sex romps. She is next in line. And the rouges’ gallery expands.
But what is it about India and its people that self-styled prophets have made spirituality a flourishing business?
It has something to do with poverty, caste inequalities and the weaknesses of the existing institutions like family, religion and society, which the so called godmen exploit to their advantage. But those who build empires on a network of crime and deceit must realise that such empires do not last long and have to fall and crumble one day. Goddamn it.
Yashwardhan Joshi is a Journalist of long standing and commentator on issues of Administration and Social Issues.