On Monday, four Ananda Margis were convicted of killing then railway minister L N Mishra on January 2, 1975. Sabyasachi Bandopadhyay explains the ways of the Ananda Marg, a sect that was as controversial as it was popular in the late 60s and 70s.
What is the Ananda Marga?
On January 9, 1955, Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar, an accountant at the Jamalpur railway workshop, set up the “socio-spiritual organisation”, and took the name Shri Shri Anandamurtiji. By the late 1960s, the Marga and its philosophy had drawn many followers. It had also begun to have frequent run-ins with governments in West Bengal.
What was the government’s problem?
In 1959, the Marga propounded the Progressive Utilisation Theory (Prout) as an alternative to both capitalism and communism. That, combined with its rising popularity among the youth and its overtly religious ways, put it in direct confrontation with the CPM-led United Front government and later, the Left Front government headed by Jyoti Basu.
Besides ideological problems, the Leftist government accused the Marga of training its members in the use of arms, and cracked down on the ‘Tandava’ processions the sect took out on its Foundation Day and on Hindu festivals. Ananda Margis in red robes marched, carrying lathis, swords and skulls. Margis clashed frequently with Marxist cadres in West Bengal and Bihar. On March 5, 1967, five Margis were killed, allegedly by CPM cadres, at Ananda Nagar, the sect’s headquarters in Purulia. On April 30, 1982, 17 Margis were set ablaze at Bijon Setu in Dhakuria in south Kolkata. No one has been convicted of the murders.
Besides the L N Mishra murder, what other cases did the Marga face?
Anandamurti was arrested on December 29, 1971 for allegedly ordering the killing of one of his disciples, but was acquitted on August 2, 1978. That year, Margi Evan Pederick confessed to the Sydney Hilton bombing of February 13, 1978 that killed three. All but one of the Ananda Margis convicted of the bomb attack that killed Mishra were also accused in the attempt to murder the then Chief Justice of India, A N Ray, in Delhi on March 20, 1975.
What was the Purulia arms drop case?
On the night of December 17, 1995, an An-26 aircraft dropped a huge cache of arms and ammunition, including hundreds of AK-47 rifles and over a million rounds of ammunition, over a large area in Purulia, where the Marga is headquartered. The sect was alleged to be the intended recipient of the consignment; however, the main accused, Kim Davy of Denmark, alleged that the arms were brought by the Congress government at the Centre to topple the then Left Front government in Bengal.
Was the sect ever banned?
Only during the Emergency. The ban was lifted in 1977, with the end of the Emergency.
Is the sect still active?
Yes. It is present in over 180 countries, with about 20 lakh members in India and abroad. It has 7,000 units in India, 3,000 of which are in West Bengal. It runs schools and colleges, homes for destitute children, and hospitals.