State created vacuum of real spiritual leaders, helped flourish self-styled gurus like Gurmeet Ram Rahim

 

Look around everywhere. The number of gurus in India is increasing each year. Many of these gurus are later found to have indulged in cheating, dacoity, rape, violence and/or even murder.

The disclosures behind self-styled gurus like Dhirendra Swami, Chandraswami, Rampal, Assemanand, Asaram Bapu, Sadachari, Nirmal Baba and now Gurmeet Ram Raheem Singh have become part of the folklore. And this does not include smaller would-be gurus like Radhe Maa, Premanand, Bhimanand and Nithyananda.

Each of these gurus had a fan following. Some of them were ardent believers looking for someone who could grant them salvation. Some were seekers of solutions that the government had failed to provide. For instance, there is an amazing centre run by the Nirankaris in a suburb of Mumbai. It offers blood tests at Rs 4 and X-rays at Rs 25. And it has a devoted base of around 10 lakhs in Mumbai alone.

 State created vacuum of real spiritual leaders, helped flourish self-styled gurus like Gurmeet Ram Rahim

File image of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh. Getty images

Reasonable-priced medicare without overcrowding was something that the government ought to have provided. But by abdicating its responsibilities, the state allowed entrepreneur groups (like these) to move in offering services and winning loyalties. Then there are believers who look at guru-darshans (meet the guru sessions) more like cocktail get-togethers where you rub shoulders with the mighty and get more business, and are thankful to the guru for playing a matchmaker. The guru gets his cut, of course, as dakshina (offering).

Observe a bit more closely, and you will notice that almost all the gurus work in the twilight areas of Hinduism. A majority of their followers comes from the sect loosely described as Hindus. Of course, the followers may include Christians, Muslims and an assortment of people from other faiths as well. But the mass base comprises Hindus. And it appears as if Hindus have abetted the emergence of most of the entrepreneur-gurus.

Does this mean that Hindus are stupid to follow such charlatans? Does it – by implication – mean that other religious groups do not have as many gullible or stupid followers as the Hindu community appears to harbour? Has there been a general degradation in the gene-pool of Hindus that they are foolish enough to believe in — and contribute to the wealth of — these entrepreneur-gurus?

The answer is obviously no. But it begs the question “Why?”. Prod the surface a bit more, and you will realise that this is the direct consequence of the government actually nationalising — through the back door — the biggest religious trusts in the country. The government has used the legal provisions of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment (HR&CE) Act of 1951 to take over the biggest temples in Tamil Nadu. Then the malaise was allowed to spread to other states as well. NT Rama Rao brought in a similar act for Andhra Pradesh and ‘nationalised’ the Tirumala Trusts that run the Tirupati clutch of temples, and also run (what used to be the finest) schools and colleges in that region. One by one, each state government found excuses to label the religious keepers of temple trustees as being guilty of mismanagement.

Each state government then went on to create a clone of the HR&CE Act and took over the major religious trusts in that state. Each of these trusts now has a government-appointed administrator. Each of these trusts is now allowed to spend only on those schemes that are approved by the administrator. That is how the trusts which manage Vaishno Devi, Siddhi Vinayak, Shirdi and Tirupati have come under government control. That is how even most of the mutts (centres) were brought under government control (Udupi and the Chidambaram trusts were notable exceptions).

And thus began the story of the emasculation of the spiritual leaders of the Hindus. The head of the Kanchi Mutt was told that he was a spiritual leader. But the use of his trust's funds would be determined by the administrator. His influence thus stood diminished. Funds for propagating his views were restricted. As his voice was allowed to peter out and get feeble, the government allowed entrepreneur-gurus to increase their decibel levels and gain the mindshare of the Hindu populace which could not benefit from the wisdom of the actual seers of their own religion.

The emasculation of the spiritual leaders took three stages. First, they were denied (through curbs on admissible expenditure) to become national voices. But, more importantly, the entrepreneur-gurus were provided two other big benefits without which they could not have become as large as they did. These benefits included large tracts of land. Without that land, they could not have had the place to assemble their audiences. They could not impress the common folk. With land came buildings, and facilities that the buildings offered by way of jobs, services (such as medicare, dispute resolution and financial help) and shelter.

Second, the entrepreneur-gurus were granted the benefit of tax-exemptions. Like political parties, their funds could not be taxed. And while the mainstream temple trusts donations were accounted for each day, the money collected by these entrepreneurs were not audited, supervised, or even tabulated. They became sinkholes of cash collection, which could then be used to display naked power, win over affection, and command allegiance — through forced sex, castrations or murders. If they needed politicians initially, now the politicians needed them — for their vote banks, for fixing deals and for an assortment of jobs that could not be done by the government-appointed machinery.

True, mainstream temple trusts also had tax exemptions, but the moneys were accounted for and their use was decided by the administrators. And when it came to land, anecdotal evidence suggests that more free land was given away to entrepreneur-gurus than to mainstream temple trusts.

But why were religious leaders of other faiths not 'emasculated' in the same manner? The answer is simple. The government would have done this as well. But all minority religions are guaranteed constitutional protection. Their trusts could not be ‘nationalised’ the way Hindu trusts could be. Thank God for that!

As a result, Hinduism was shorn of its moorings — its fountainhead of religious sagacity and thought. The community was increasingly swayed by the talks and actions of entrepreneur-gurus. This led to further lumpenisation of the majority community and further protection of the assets of the entrepreneur-gurus. Watch how the assets of Gurmeet have not been taken over by the government even in the face of strong irrefutable evidence that the entire administration abetted in rapes, murders and even storing illegal arms.

This raises the inevitable question: Is it the business of the government to manage religion? Aren’t governments supposed to stay away from religion? Well, that is the question that the Supreme Court tried to answer in 2014 (more of that later). And it's sad to see that the RSS, which seeks to promote Hinduism and Hindu values, has not used this judgement to liberate Indian temple trusts from the government.

Updated Date: Sep 06, 2017 20:10:32 IST