By Chander Suta Dogra
On August 18, three months before self-styled godman Rampal was arrested from his Haryana ashram, a joint team of policemen from Patna and Hisar showed up at the doors of his Satlok ashram in Barwala. The Patna STF, using electronic surveillance, had homed in on a wanted Maoist who had sought refuge in the ashram.
Shown a photograph of CPI (Maoist) member Mahaveer Saklani alias Prithvi, the owner of a kiosk outside the ashram identified “Bhagatji, who often recharges his phone here.” Prithvi was arrested, produced in a local court where transit remand was obtained, and taken to Patna.
Around that time, the STF also had information on another Maoist hiding in a Sirsa dera. “But after we arrested Prithvi, the trail went cold,” a source in the STF said.
At the time of his arrest, Prithvi, who hails from East Champaran in Bihar, claimed he was a disciple of Rampal. But no investigation was conducted into his activities at the ashram.
Now, a fortnight after the arrest of Rampal, police have begun to look into his suspected links with Maoists. IG (Hisar range) Anil Rao told The Indian Express that he has written to intelligence chiefs of several states in this regard. On the basis of his disclosure statement, the police have, in addition to other charges, also booked him under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
Reached for comments, Bihar IGP (Operations) Sushil M Khopde said: “We arrested Mahaveer Saklani in August from Haryana in connection with old cases against him in north Bihar districts including Saklani’s home district East Champaran. We completed our routine interrogation and he has since been in judicial custody.”
On Saklani’s possible links to a dera, Khopde said the interrogation by STF did not look at this aspect since “it was much later Bihar Police heard about it, though not officially from Haryana Police and Punjab Police”. “If we get any formal request, a request can be made for Saklani’s police remand and he can be interrogated on possible dera links,” Khopde said.
The Haryana government has been reluctant to probe the activities of deras and religious institutions. Appearing before the Punjab and Haryana High Court on November 28, advocate general Baldev Mahajan argued that inquiring into the affairs of religious institutions was not advisable as there were institutions of several persuasions in the state.
Dera Sacha Sauda counsel S K Garg had said that expanding the ambit of the probe against Rampal to the Dera Sacha Sauda in Sirsa was not only beyond the jurisdiction of the court, but would go beyond the scope of the contempt of court petition being heard against the Barwala sect leader. Incidentally, the Dera Sacha Sauda supported the BJP in the Haryana assembly elections that swept the party to power.
But the court called for a search of the Dera Sacha Sauda premises in Sirsa, saying “monitor the activities of the dera on a periodic basis… to avoid future bloody confrontation and safeguard the interest of public at large and the state”. It also issued notices to the governments of Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh Union Territory.
The Haryana government also drew flak from amicus curiae and senior advocate Anupam Gupta who told the bench about “a conscious and wilful collusion between the state apparatus and Rampal to provide him a camouflage for not appearing in court”.
After the court issued a contempt notice on September 29 to Dr O P Hooda — a private practitioner, he had issued a medical certificate to support Rampal’s plea for exemption from personal appearance in court — the Hisar deputy commissioner stepped in and nominated a team of doctors to assess Rampal’s condition.
Advocate general Mahajan told the court that this was the deputy commissioner’s own initiative to verify the “veracity of the information passed on by one of Rampal’s disciples that he was ill”.
On November 8, two days before he was due to be produced in court, three government doctors concurred with the opinion of Rampal’s own physician, Dr Anant Ram, that he be advised bed-rest for 72 hours. The medical report was submitted by the government to explain its inability to produce him in court on November 10.
But the court rejected the medical opinion. After Rampal was arrested on November 20, a fresh medical examination was conducted in Panchkula and he was declared fit and healthy. — With Santosh Singh in Patna
Ashrams run by ‘godmen’ centres of terror: BJP
The BJP has sought a ban on ashrams run by “godmen” like Rampal, saying they have become centres of “terror” in the name of faith.
An editorial in the latest issue of party mouthpiece Kamal Sandesh said: “These ashrams which have become centres of terror in the name of faith should be deeply investigated.” “People like Rampal are not born in a day. They spread their network of superstition gradually in the society… There should be a ban on these types of ashrams,” it said.
Questioning as to who should be called a saint or a baba, the journal, edited by BJP vice-president and Rajya Sabha member Prabhat Jha, did not name any “godman” except Rampal. The BJP’s strong criticism of such ashrams assumes significance because of their wide presence in several states and alleged proximity of some of these “godmen” with the saffron party. One ashram, Dera Sacha Sauda which is based in Sirsa and commands large following, had announced its support to BJP for the Assembly elections. The dera’s head is facing several criminal cases. (PTI)