Rise and fall of Asaram Bapu: Godman made millions and acquired political connections, then fell afoul of the law

From the high pedestal of a preacher having crores of followers, many of whom were politicians and powerful businessmen, self-styled godman Asaram's fall from grace was complete on Wednesday, after he was convicted of raping a minor girl.

Asaram's conviction came in a five-year-old rape case, but immediately after charges were filed against him, other accusations, including crimes such as land grabbing and practising black magic in his ashrams were also raised. Furthermore, he is accused of amassing wealth of around Rs 10,000 crore, excluding vast tracts of land he owns.

Going by official figures alone, a report in news agency PTI said Asaram has created an empire of Rs 10,000 crore within four decades, starting from a humble hut on the banks of the Sabarmati river in the early 1970s to having over 400 ashrams across the country and the world today.

File image of Asaram Bapu. PTI

File image of Asaram Bapu. PTI

Humble origins

Asaram was born in 1941 as as Asumal Sirumalani in Berani village of Sindh province in Pakistan. After the Partition in 1947, Asumal came to Ahmedabad with his parents, but studied only till Class IV, and was forced to drop out of school following the death of his father Thaumal.

After doing some odd jobs during his early youth, Asumal embarked on a "spiritual quest" towards the Himalayas, where he met his Guru, Lilashah Bapu, a documentary on his website claimed. It was this guru who gave him the name 'Asaram' in 1964 and "commanded him to carve his own path and guide people", the documentary said.

In the 70s, Asaram came to Ahmedabad and started doing penance on the banks of the Sabarmati river near Motera. In 1972, he set up a 'Moksha Kutir' centre on the banks of the river. Over the years, his popularity as 'Sant Asaramji Bapu' started soaring, and 'Moksha Kutir' became a full-fledged ashram. Within a span of four decades, he added around 400 ashrams in India and abroad.

Criminal cases begin piling up

Asaram first ran into troubled waters in 2008, when two cousins — Dipesh and Abhishek Vaghela — who used to stay at the Gurukul at Asaram's ashram in Motera, were found dead under mysterious circumstances on the riverbed near the ashram. The state CID in 2009 booked seven of his followers. Parents of the two cousins had alleged that they were killed in Asaram's ashram since they practiced black magic.

Toon by Manjul

Toon by Manjul

A report on Deccan Herald said that the parents went on a hunger strike to demand a CBI probe. However, a CID investigation gave Asaram a clean chit, while a report submitted by the DK Trivedi Commission, set up by the state government to probe the deaths, is yet to be tabled before the Assembly.

However, his real fall started in 2013, after he was arrested for a minor's rape in Rajasthan. After that, two more Surat-based sisters came out and spoke about their alleged sexual exploitation at the hands of Asaram and his son Narayan Sai.

Soon after this, a 16-year-old claimed that on the pretext of "curing her abnormality", the godman sexually assaulted her at his ashram in Jodhpur. The girl's parents claimed the incident took place in August 2013.

The girl, who reportedly visited one of Asaram's ashrams, said in her complaint that she was asked to perform oral sex and was touched inappropriately as well. The police booked Asaram under multiple non-bailable sections of the Indian Penal Code, as well as sections of the Juvenile Justice Act and Section 8 of the POCSO Act. Asaram was charged with sexual assault, raping and illegally confining a minor, according to 1,300-page chargesheet filed by the Rajasthan Police.

To avoid arrest, Asaram remained inside one of his ashrams in Indore. Clashes broke out between his disciples and the policemen, but he was eventually arrested by the Jodhpur police on 1 September, 2013.

Since then, the godman has been lodged at the Jodhpur jail and his bail pleas have been rejected six times.

In addition to this, there are two more cases against Asaram in Jodhpur. According to Hindustan Times, Asaram, his personal caretaker Shiva, and three more followers were charged by the Jodhpur Police in November 2014 for allegedly threatening to kill the station house officer (SHO) of Udaimandir police station on WhatsApp.

The politics of Asaram

The self-styled godman must credit much of his growth to his political connections. In Gujarat, successive governments of both Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) aided his rise and helped him along.

As reported by The Indian Express, the Congress governments in 1981 and 1992 allotted Asaram's ashrams 14,515 sq.metre of land, while the BJP governments in 1997 and 1999 helped Asaram to acquire 25,000 sq.metre land to expand his ashram's activities even more.

The changing nature of Asaram's ties with the saffron party in Gujarat. In recent years, with Asaram falling out with the party, it has taken over land from the ashram in Ahmedabad and Sabarkantha. In 1997, it also tried to regularise the ashram’s regarding possession of controversial land.

In 2009, after Asaram had fallen out with the government, revenue minister Anandiben Patel told the Assembly that the Ahmedabad ashram had encroached on 67,059 sq.metre of land, while the government took it over on 8 January, 2010. The government also took over 70 acres of agricultural land bought by Asaram’'s family in three villages of Sabarkantha.

And it's not just in Gujarat where Asaram benefited because of his clout with the politicians. He has also been given the status of a chief state guest by chief ministers including Ashok Gehlot of Rajasthan (Congress), Vasundhara Raje, also of Rajasthan, Shivraj Singh Chouhan of Madhya Pradesh, Prem Kumar Dhumal of Himachal Pradesh, Raman Singh of Chhattisgarh and Parkash Singh Badal of Punjab (all BJP and allies).

A report on India Today mentioned the names of political heavyweights like former prime ministers Atal Bihari Vajpayee and HD Deve Gowda, former president KR Narayanan, veteran leaders like LK Advani, George Fernandes and Farooq Abdullah, and the likes of Uma Bharti, Kamal Nath, Kapil Sibal, Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, among others all having shared the dais and paying obeisance to Asaram.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Apr 25, 2018 18:45 PM

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