Faith and sin
Last Updated on Nov 22 2014

Faith and sin

The singer says Raghaveshwara Bharati asked her to “sacrifice her body” to prove her devotion to him. (Source: Express photo by Kashif Masood) Since August when news of allegedly murky activities involving the Ramachandrapura Mutt, a Brahmin...
‘Give me one chance, you won’t regret it’
Last Updated on Nov 22 2014

‘Give me one chance, you won’t regret it’

Modi addresses a rally in Kishtwar on Saturday. (Source: Express photo) Steering clear of the ongoing debate within the BJP over the future of Article 370, which grants special status to J&K, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday asked...
Industrialists angry with Congress made Modi win: Rahul Gandhi
Last Updated on Nov 22 2014

Industrialists angry with Congress made Modi win: Rahul Gandhi

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi at a rally in Palamu district of Jharkhand on Saturday. (Source: Express photo ) Addressing a rally in Jharkhand’s Palamu district on Saturday, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi said that the NDA government...
At border, walking the line
Last Updated on Nov 22 2014

At border, walking the line

The Parade these days is extra special, say the BSF men. They want to underline the Nov 2 attack has not cowed them. (Source: Express photo by Rana Simranjit Singh) Winter is already being felt in what is one of the coldest regions in India’s...
Big Picture: The Man-God
Last Updated on Nov 22 2014

Big Picture: The Man-God

Rampal saw himself as an incarnation of Kabir and Guru Nanak, someone who had taken birth ‘to bring about a spiritual revolution in the world’. HE PREACHED, HE CLASHED On the morning of Tuesday, November 18, as more than 6,000 security...
Stampede mars Mulayam Singh’s birthday
Last Updated on Nov 22 2014

Stampede mars Mulayam Singh’s birthday

Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav’s 75th birthday on Saturday ended on an unfortunate note when a woman died during a stampede that broke out in Uttar Pradesh’s Badaun district where blankets were being distributed as part of Mr...
J&K polls: BJP will get only handful of votes in Valley, says Omar Abdullah
Last Updated on Nov 22 2014

J&K polls: BJP will get only handful of votes in Valley, says...

“I will be very surprised to see if people vote for BJP in Valley. They will get a handful of votes,” Said Omar. Jammu &  Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah on Saturday exuded confidence that his party, National Conference, will...
CM Fadnavis gears up for cabinet expansion; Shiv Sena may join government
Last Updated on Nov 22 2014

CM Fadnavis gears up for cabinet expansion; Shiv Sena may join...

The efforts to get Shiv Sena to join gains momentum. CM says talks with Sena will reach a decisive stage soon.(Source: IE Archive) Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis is all set to carry out the cabinet expansion ahead of the crucial...
Assam Accord ‘outdated’, requires amendments, says Subramaniam Swamy
Last Updated on Nov 22 2014

Assam Accord ‘outdated’, requires amendments, says...

Senior BJP leader and MP Subramaniam Swami addressing a press conference in Guwahati on Saturday. (Source: PTI) The Assam Accord of 1985 had become outdated and required major amendments including insertion of a clause empowering India take...
Maratha reservation: Maharashtra government to conduct fresh survey
Last Updated on Nov 22 2014

Maratha reservation: Maharashtra government to conduct fresh...

BJP MLA Vinod Tawde arrives at Vidhan Bhavan for the three-day special session of Maharashtra Assembly in Mumbai on Wednesday. (Source: PTI) Ahead of the controversial legal battle on Maratha reservation, the Maharasthra state government has...

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Saturday, Nov 22 2014
The singer says Raghaveshwara Bharati asked her to “sacrifice her body” to prove her devotion to him. (Source: Express photo by Kashif Masood) Since August when news of allegedly murky activities involving the Ramachandrapura Mutt, a Brahmin religious centre in Shimoga, Karnataka, emerged, the story of its seer and a singer has unravelled like a potboiler. The saga began on August 27 this year when a former lead singer in Ramakatha programmes organised by the Ramachandrapura Mutt was arrested by the police along with her husband for allegedly demanding Rs 3 crore from chief pontiff Raghaveshwara Bharati to “suppress” her charges of sexual exploitation against him. A disciple of Bharati filed the complaint, accusing the couple of blackmail. Accordingly, the couple were jailed for 21 days. On August 28, the singer’s daughter filed a police complaint saying Bharati had sexually assaulted her mother in Jodhpur, Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, and 36 other places between October 2011 and June 2014. In a statement to the police, the 47-year-old singer herself said Bharati, 38, had told her that she needed to “sacrifice her body” to prove her devotion to him and god. She claimed she was given a substance that made her lose control of herself, and that she was forced into silence. “The seer used to do all things in the name of Shri Ram. He used to depict himself as god. We too treated him like god,” the singer said. In an interview to a Kannada TV channel days after her release on bail, the singer said that it was only on June 30 this year that she managed to report her situation to her husband, who was an administrator at the mutt. The couple also alleged receiving a threat call from an “underworld operative” called Yogish. After the Karnataka high court on October 9 refused to quash the sexual assault case as sought by the seer, the CID questioned Bharati over five days. Born Hareesha Sharma,  Bharati is the 36th seer of the Ramachandrapura Mutt, in a lineage that is believed to have begun with the Shankaracharya. The mutt is the main religious centre of Havayika Brahmins, a small but influential community in Karnataka, and has followers among 17 other communities in the state, besides devotees from Goa and Kerala. Before Bharati became its head in 1999, the mutt had a low profile. During the BJP’s rule in Karnataka in 2008-13 though, it rose to prominence on account of its close association with  the RSS. In 2008, citing prevalence of drugs and sex in the beach town of Gokarna, the BJP government also gave the mutt control of the Gokarna Mahabaleshwara Temple. The move had created a political furore since a public temple was handed over to a private entity. Then, in 2010, when a sex tape allegedly featuring Bharati surfaced, police gave him a clean chit, saying the video, shot at “a guest house in Kerala”,  had a Bharati lookalike. Ten persons are facing prosecution for the “fake video”. Bharati headed a World Cow Convention in 2007 and, in 2009-10, took a 108-day trip around the country to “create awareness” on protection of cows. Disciples of the seer insist he is sworn to celibacy. The singer, on the other hand, is a gold medal-winning music graduate from Mysore’s Lalithakala Academy. A singer on All India Radio, she joined the Ramkatha troupe at the Ramachandrapura Mutt around 2010. According to the singer, one of her uncles was on the committee that picked Bharati as seer of the mutt in 1999. Another link was that her husband was the secretary of the 2007 World Cow Convention organised by the seer. Three years later, when Bharati launched Ramkathas and invited people to participate, the singer was among those who volunteered, travelling with him around the country. It was at the site of the Ramkathas that the seer allegedly assaulted her. Questions have been raised regarding the singer’s husband since they filed the case. Some say he had run up huge losses in his garments export business, and hence resorted to “blackmail”. But he claims he had donated Rs 10-15 lakh to the mutt in the past decade, implying he was not bankrupt. The couple’s 26-year-old daughter, also a follower of the mutt, has also been subjected to character attacks on Facebook. On November 2, two persons were arrested for the abusive comments. Another angle was added to the case when, on September 2, three days after the case of sexual assault was lodged, the younger brother of the singer’s husband was found dead at home in Puttur with a gunshot wound in his chest. The brother was said to have killed himself following telephone calls allegedly putting pressure on him to convince his family to withdraw the case against the seer. Probing an abetment of suicide case, the police questioned the RSS’s Kalladka Prabhakar Bhat, who was found to have spoken to  the brother a couple of times on the day of his death. Bhat was a dominant RSS figure in coastal Karnataka when the BJP was in power. During a debate in the state Assembly on July 30, 2012, on attacks on women by Hindu groups in Mangalore, Congress MLA Vasanth Bangera had called him “the chief commander of Mangalore who is above the collector, the superintendent of police or anybody”. After the CID questioning, an unfazed Bhat denounced the “unfounded” charges against Bharati and said “no one can split Hindu society”. On November 17, the seer was granted anticipatory bail by the sessions court in both the sexual assault and abetment of suicide cases. In another relief for him, the Karnataka High Court ordered a stay on conducting medical tests on him. Since the singer has handed over a dozen clothes to the CID as evidence, saying she was wearing them when assaulted, the tests could have provided proof against the seer. Forensic tests on some clothing items have detected traces of semen, sources said. While the CID has sought the stay to be lifted, the seer has questioned the “legal validity of powers granted to the police” to conduct scientific tests on him.
Saturday, Nov 22 2014
Modi addresses a rally in Kishtwar on Saturday. (Source: Express photo) Steering clear of the ongoing debate within the BJP over the future of Article 370, which grants special status to J&K, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday asked voters to give complete majority to the BJP for a corruption-free regime. “If you give me one opportunity, you will never regret it. I want to give you this assurance… We need freedom from corruption,” he said. He also attacked the two dynasties — the Abdullahs and Muftis for perpetuating misrule through repeated “fixed matches”. “Will only two families rule in J&K? Can’t other families produce leaders? You are repenting for the last 50 years… If you don’t punish the two families ruling here, they (the families) will come back with renewed resurgence. They have an understanding among themselves. One loots the state for five years and then is thrown out of power and then the other start looting the state. They have a five-year contract to loot the state,” Modi said. Addressing a rally at Kishtwar in support of the six BJP candidates in the Chenab valley region, Modi used his speech to send out yet another message to the Kashmiris, assuring them that he would fulfil the “dream” of former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee based on “democracy, humanity and Kashmiriyat”. Asserting that the BJP was against any attempt to link religion to politics, Modi said his government was committed to development of the state.  “We will not allow them to get misled or destroyed and shall not allow this country to be destroyed. The path of self destruction of the youth of Jammu and Kashmir is not acceptable to us. That is why I have come here to make a request to you. Do not connect politics with religion. BJP does not believe in discrimination but in the mantra of ‘sab ka saath sab ka vikas’,” he added. He also accused the Omar Abdullah-led state government of being unaware of the extent of damage caused by the recent floods. Coming down heavily on the state governments over corruption in the last 10 years, Modi asserted that funds sent by the Centre were not utilised properly due to this. “If there is a hole in the bucket then the water will not stay. I wonder where the money that comes from the Centre goes,” he said, adding, “If the pilferage from misappropriation of Central funds is stopped, there will be no dearth of funds for the state for development.”
Saturday, Nov 22 2014
Costa impressively controlled with his chest and struck a right-footed volley past Ben Foster. (Source: AP) Chelsea kept up their title charge in the Premier League by easily beating 10-man West Bromwich Albion 2-0 on Saturday, with Diego Costa scoring his 11th goal of the season. Costa downed a cross from Oscar to volley in the opening goal in the 11th minute at Stamford Bridge and Eden Hazard doubled the lead in the 25th after a corner from Cesc Fabregas. Any hopes of a West Brom comeback were ended when Claudio Yacob was given a straight red card for a challenge on Costa in the 29th. It was Chelsea’s sixth straight league win at Stamford Bridge, and the result saw the Blues start a top-flight campaign unbeaten in 12 games for the first time. It was one-way traffic from the outset and Mourinho’s side would have taken the lead inside five minutes was it not for Foster impressively preventing John Terry from turning home a low Hazard cross. The league leaders would not have to wait long to make the breakthrough, though. Neat team play saw Oscar float the ball to unmarked Costa, who impressively controlled with his chest and struck a right-footed volley past Ben Foster. The second goal came after Oscar played an short corner to Hazard, with the Belgian jinking free before unleashing a fizzing strike that snuck past Foster via a slight deflection off Craig Gardner. Toure wins it for City Yaya Toure responded to Manuel Pellegrini’s rallying call as he fired champions Manchester City to a 2-1 Premier League win over Swansea. The City midfielder, below par for much of the season but continually backed by City manager Pellegrini, powered forward to strike the winner just after the hour at the Etihad Stadium. City had needed to respond after Wilfried Bony struck for the visitors with a in the ninth minute. Stevan Jovetic grabbed the equaliser 10 minutes later before Toure settled the match in the 62nd.
Saturday, Nov 22 2014
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi at a rally in Palamu district of Jharkhand on Saturday. (Source: Express photo ) Addressing a rally in Jharkhand’s Palamu district on Saturday, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi said that the NDA government won the Lok Sabha polls because industrialists angry with the UPA government donated money to them. He warned that various progressive laws passed by the previous government would be diluted by the current one. Rahul, who was campaigning for party candidate Bidesh Singh, said the UPA government had given a number of rights to the people. He cited the Land  Acquisition Act, the Rights to Information and Food and the MNREGA to back his claim. “When they saw this, the industrialists were angry. They gave thousands of crores to make sure Narendra Modi became Prime Minister. Rahul spoke in detail of the land acquisition law passed by the UPA government and pointed out that the landowner could get up to four times the market rate if his or her land was acquired. “Now, one by one, all such rights will be taken away by this new government,” he warned. Rahul told the audience that his party would fight for the people’s rights. “Your fight for jal, jangal (water, forests) is our fight, the Congress party’s fight,” he said. The Congress V-P called the Union government a one-man show. “He (Modi) says, give me all your rights and I will take care of your country… Ministers and MPs have no power. Modi and five-six bureaucrats have all the power in the country,” he said. Attacking the PM’s cleanliness campaign, he said, “He (Modi) said achhe din aa gaye, then he gave you a broom and asked you to sweep.”
Saturday, Nov 22 2014
The Parade these days is extra special, say the BSF men. They want to underline the Nov 2 attack has not cowed them. (Source: Express photo by Rana Simranjit Singh) Winter is already being felt in what is one of the coldest regions in India’s plains. It is still dark outside as BSF Assistant Commandant Jaswinder Singh Kang steps out of his quarters at Khasa BSF camp at 6 am and gets into a gypsy. The Wagah Joint Check Post is nearly 20 km away and it takes him almost 20 minutes to get there. The Retreat Parade at the Wagah border, which Kang commands, is still 10 hours away. But every day, come summer or winter, the preparations begin just after dawn. Since the November 2 attack on the Pakistani side of the border that targeted visitors returning after watching the Retreat Parade, Kang and his men have a point to prove. The first such attack, that left 60 dead, was meant to send Delhi as much a message as Islamabad, and the BSF men want to underline that they are not cowed. “We pick our best jawans for the ceremony. While every jawan is best, there are always best among the best,” Kang says, running a finger down a list of names. Three teams of BSF personnel, each with 13 members, perform the ceremony by turns. At sunset daily, as the flags of India and Pakistan at the border are lowered by either side, the BSF personnel and Pakistan Rangers conduct the parade as crowds cheer. What draws the applause are the aggressive gestures, including stomping, with feet struck to the ground from above shoulder level, and the glowering looks that men from either side exchange. At the same time, it is a synchronised drill, with the BSF and Pakistan Rangers mirroring each other’s gestures. By 7 am, a morning whistle has brought BSF jawans out of their quarters 15-20 metres from the checkpost onto a ground nearby. For the next half an hour, they warm up with running and exercises, before the rehearsal for the parade starts. During the 40 minutes of practice, Kang says, the focus is on gestures, particularly the stomping. The idea is not to be aggressive though, says the 46-year-old BSF Assistant Commandant. “It is to make the ceremony impressive.” BSF Constable Anupam Yadav, who has been a part of the Retreat for over three years now, is a bundle of nerves. Practising his stomping, the 34-year-old says, “There is always the risk of the headgear getting dislodged as one raises the foot to difficult angles and then brings it down to hit the ground. We have to be extra careful. Any mistake means embarrassment before a huge crowd and a reprimand from seniors.” In the striking ceremonial uniform of bright red, blue and yellow, the headgear is especially unique. BSF DIG R P S Jaswal says the uniform has been the same for years. Yadav is one of the names Kang picks for the evening drill today. Yadav is relieved when he realises he will be on alongside Yogender Singh, 42. Singh, a BSF Head Constable, has been doing the Retreat for five years now and will be carrying the Tricolour back after it has been lowered. Singh is a calming influence on his team. “It feels so great to be a part of the drill,” he says. There is no interaction or exchange of pleasantries between the Indian and Pakistani sides, though, at some moments, BSF personnel and Pakistan Rangers are separated by as little as a foot. Says BSF DIG M F Farooqui, “The only interaction is if there is a flag meeting on some issue, which is held after obtaining permission from higher authorities.” After the morning practice, the men head back to their quarters for breakfast. The menu today is palak parantha, bananas and tea. The food is cooked in a kitchen at the site, just 30 metres from the Indian border gate. At 9 am, the BSF personnel are back at the Joint Check Post for their other duty of keeping an eye on the travellers crossing over by foot from Pakistan, and guarding the post. Around 1 pm, they head for lunch, which is mostly dal, chapaatis, rice, a sabzi and curd. After eating, they take a short break. They have to report back to work by 3 pm, an hour before the visitors start arriving at the pavilion for the parade. Singh now does a final run-through with his men of their duties. While the Retreat Parade team conducts the ceremony to the sound of blaring patriotic songs, the others will have to manage the crowds and shepherd VIPs to a special enclosure. BSF Constable G K Kaushik, 33, says people often approach them to get clicked with them. “We feel special when people jostle for our photos,” he smiles. Kaushik is from a village in Haryana. Constable Yadav recalls that he was at the VIP traffic gate and a majority of the spectators had left the pavilion when the blast occurred on the Pakistani side on November 2. “Initially we thought a tyre had burst. Then we got information from the Pakistani side that it was a cylinder blast. Soon it emerged that it was a fidayeen attack.” Yadav, who belongs to Bharolia village in Mainpuri district of Uttar Pradesh, spent two years in Srinagar on an earlier posting, and realises the implications of the attack. “If a bomber can reach within 400 metres of the International Border, it means the security barriers on the Pakistani side were inadequate. We all have to be extra alert,” says Yadav. Like Yadav, Yogender Singh too was earlier posted in Kashmir for two years. Hailing from Sitapur village in Rajasthan’s Karauli district, he says this assignment is “different” and he feels proud of what he does. Around 5 pm, the countdown to the Retreat begins. After giving the audience a brief introduction on the history of the Wagah Joint Check Post and the ceremony, Kang marches towards the Indian gate on the border, stopping 10 ft short of it. Deepak, 25, a BSF sub-inspector, marches up to him and seeks permission to begin the parade. The respective gates are then opened by both sides, with Deepak and his counterpart on the other side marching towards each other and shaking hands on the International Border. That’s the sign of the beginning of the ceremony, with personnel from the two sides marching towards the gates, staring at each other menacingly, striking their chests forcefully with fists, and marching away. It ends with the two sides bringing down the flags of the countries, and carrying them back. Soon after that, the music starts dying, the crowds start dispersing with a loud chatter, and in the quiet of their quarters, Kang and his men let out a sigh of relief. Dark falls and quickly, and while some settle before TV sets to relax, for the others, the day is not over. By rotation, they man the border at night.
Saturday, Nov 22 2014
Rosberg is looking to prevent Hamilton from becoming Britain’s first multiple champion since Jackie Stewart in 1972. (Source: AP) Nico Rosberg beat title favourite Lewis Hamilton to pole position for the decisive Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix on Saturday as the dominant Mercedes teammates locked out the front row in qualifying. Williams drivers Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa failed to split the leading two but could still play a big part in Sunday’s season-ending ‘duel in the desert’ with their cars right behind on the second row. Hamilton, hoping to become Britain’s first multiple champion since Jackie Stewart in 1971, leads Rosberg by 17 points but the double points on offer means Sunday’s winner will take an unprecedented 50. The Briton, world champion with McLaren in 2008, was fastest in the first two phases of qualifying but a messy lap in the tense final shootout left him unable to deny Rosberg his 11th pole of the 19-race season. The pole was the team’s 18th of the campaign, with Brazilian Massa taking the one that got away, and ensured Mercedes became the first engine manufacturer to take every pole in a season since Ford in 1969. “It’s only one step, a very small step,” commented Rosberg, who needs someone to get between him and Hamilton in the race to have a chance of winning the title if neither Mercedes has mechanical trouble. “This weekend is about the championship, not about pole position. It would have been great if there was a Williams in between us, but that can always happen tomorrow. All I can do is try to go for the win and keep the pressure on,” added Rosberg. Hamilton, winner of 10 races this year to Rosberg’s five but under increasing pressure, has said he wants to take the title with a win and looked unhappy at the outcome. “I generally didn’t have the best of laps but I enjoyed the qualifying session,” said the 29-year-old. “Tomorrow is going to be a special day.” Red bull at back of grid Red Bull drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel will start Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix from the back of the grid after race stewards nullified their qualifying results because of an illegal aerodynamic influence on both cars. Ricciardo and Vettel finished fifth and sixth respectively in Saturday’s qualifying session, but were then disqualified after the race’s technical delegate found that there was excessive flex in the front wing flaps. Red Bull said in a statement that although “disappointed that we have been singled out” it nevertheless accepts the decision. Vettel will start his final race for Red Bull from last spot after helping secure four straight drivers’ and constructors’ titles. The German driver will race for Ferrari next season, replacing Spaniard Fernando Alonso. Money matters Formula One’s smaller teams felt at least a penny had dropped on Saturday after meeting the sport’s commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone and rights holders CVC to discuss demands for more money. Sauber, Force India and Lotus bosses told reporters that Ecclestone had apologised for calling them ‘beggars’ and recognised they had a point in seeking a re-distribution of revenues. “It’s one of the first times, I wouldn’t be arrogant to say it’s the only time, where you really feel somehow that with some key people the coin has dropped,” declared Lotus principal Gerard Lopez. “When CVC took over, the sport was generating $245 million for the teams, it’s now generating close to $900 million, but it’s almost in a worse state than it has ever been.”
Saturday, Nov 22 2014
Rampal saw himself as an incarnation of Kabir and Guru Nanak, someone who had taken birth ‘to bring about a spiritual revolution in the world’. HE PREACHED, HE CLASHED On the morning of Tuesday, November 18, as more than 6,000 security personnel laid siege to his ashram, most of India’s attention turned to Sant Rampal, a man with over 20,000 followers, many seemingly willing to give up their lives for him. By the end of Wednesday night, he was a man accused of waging war against the State. Nineteen years ago, he was Rampal Singh, a junior engineer with the Haryana Irrigation Department. And many more years ago, he was simply Rampal, the son of farmer Nand Ram in Dhanana, a village in Sonepat that borders Rohtak district of Haryana. Shakuntla Devi, 70, lives with her sons and grandchildren in what was till 2012 Rampal’s ancestral home. “I have spent my entire life in this village. We bought this house for Rs 4.6 lakh. I used to live three houses away. As a child, Rampal would play dholaks during satsangs and weddings.” Jai Singh and Rampal were “never friends”. Though their paths ran parallel for a while — they went to the same school and were colleagues in the state irrigation department in Rohtak — they lost touch soon after. Singh says the Rampal he knew was an “introvert”. “Both of us did our matriculation from Gohana High School in Sonepat in 1971-72. Even then, he was religious. He used to read lots of books on Lord Hanuman and chant Hanuman Chalisa. But we later found out that he had started following saint Kabir’s philosophies. I don’t know much about his tenure as a junior engineer; we did not work together for long,” says Jai Singh, who retired from the Irrigation Department a few years ago. Jai Singh’s account of Rampal’s devotion towards Hanuman is corroborated by the ‘Brief Introduction on Sant Rampal’ published on the ashram’s website — “For 25 years, you (Sant Rampal) continuously worshipped Hanuman Ji. Everyday recited Hanuman Chalisa seven times, and consecutively for eighteen years went to a famous temple of Hanuman Ji in a village Salahsar in district Churu in Rajasthan to do worship (sic).” In the ‘80s, he married Naro Devi. The couple have four children — two sons and two daughters — and the entire family lived inside the Barwala ashram until the siege. The ‘introduction’ on his website claims that at 16, Rampal met a Kabirpanthi called Saint Ramdevanand who convinced him that “religious practices served no purpose”. But it wasn’t until 1996, when he resigned from his job, that he seriously took to delivering sermons. In those initial days, Rampal would drive around towns and villages of Sonepat and Rohtak, sermons blaring out from a small microphone he attached to his motorcycle. People who knew him then say he used to get Rohtak photographers to shoot videos and pictures of his satsangs. One such photographer who worked with him for seven years, between 1996 and 2003, requested anonymity while saying that Rampal almost never paid up for the work he got done. “We were told that we could recover our money by selling our photographs to the devotees or the people who hosted his satsangs in their homes,” says the photographer. He said Rampal also organised pilgrimage tours to Kashi and Triveni for 4,000 to 5,000 people and charged hefty amounts for his services. As his fame spread, Rampal’s Splendor bike gave way to a Mahindra jeep which he drove himself till he later got himself a driver. Around 2000, he came in contact with a transporter from Rohtak who became his devotee. When his business in Pune flourished, the grateful transporter, who now runs a logistics company chain, reportedly bought the first three acres of land in Karontha where Rampal set up the Rohtak ashram. Shyam Malik, who left Rampal’s ashram in Karontha after a ‘disagreement’, says, “If a disciple returned to tell Rampal that he had profited in his work or business because of the godman’s blessing, he would be asked to donate 10 per cent of his income to the guru.” Rampal saw himself as an incarnation of Kabir and Guru Nanak, someone who had taken birth “to bring about a spiritual revolution in the world”. His website says he is the messiah whose birth Nostradamus, Lady Florence of New Jersey and astrologer Boriska Silvigar, among others, had predicted. But oddly for someone who claims to be an incarnation of Kabir, the first police case registered against him was in 2006 for a clash between his supporters and members of an ashram dedicated to Kabir in Chhudani village of Jhajjar district. This was the same ashram where Rampal received initiation into Kabirpanthi — the seat of his guru Ramdevanand. Soon after resigning from his job as a junior engineer in the Haryana government, Rampal’s first stop was the Chhudani ashram, where he reportedly grabbed the guru’s seat after the latter’s death. He also allegedly tampered with an ‘ancient text’ written by the sect’s previous gurus, which so enraged the villagers that they chased him out of Chhudani. A few years down, he established himself at Karontha in Rohtak district and one of his disciples, Krishan Das, who was disillusioned with Rampal, went back to Chhudani ashram and wrote a book called ‘Shaitan Bana Bhagwan’, an unflattering account of Rampal’s transformation into a godman. On June 19, 2006, an enraged Rampal allegedly got his men to attack the Chhudani ashram and the police picked up 48 of his followers. They were taken to a police chowki in Dighal village, where some more of Rampal’s followers gathered and allegedly set the chowki on fire. By this time, Rampal was also criticising the practices of the Arya Samaj and people in the Rohtak belt, an Arya Samaj stronghold, began to oppose him. But that only served to increase his clout. One of his followers who spoke on condition of anonymity said only 10 to 12 per cent of his ‘devotees’ are from Haryana and the others are mostly from UP, MP, Chhattisgarh and even Maharashtra and that’s because he was already at odds with many villages across Haryana for speaking against Hindu customs and idols. In a state with a strong Arya Samaj influence, he ridiculed ‘Satyarth Prakash’, the 19th-century teachings of Arya Samaj founder Dayanand Saraswati. He called Saraswati’s teachings “unscientific” and used them as a tool to speak against conventional religious practices. Some of these arguments were made in ‘Gyan Ganga’, a book published by the ashram that increased tensions in the area. With the Arya Samaj in Rohtak asking people to rise in protest against Rampal, the baba’s followers were involved in another violent clash, in Karontha in July 2006. The clash resulted in the death of Sonu, a youth from Baghpur village, and Rampal was arrested for murder. After 22 months in jail, he came out and went to Barwala in Hisar, where the Arya Samaj has relatively less influence. Here, sources say, in 2008, Rampal designed his ashram, strategically placing his residence well at the back, and also raised a force of trained “commandos.” “These commandos were asked to dress up like the police’s Black Cats. They used to wear black bandanas, were armed with sophisticated rifles and other weapons, and were trained by retired officers of the Army, police and even NSG,” one of the sources said. Sanjeev Kaushal, Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister, said, “His commandos had weapons of all calibers including .315 bore rifles, .32 revolvers and pistols and even country-made pistols and revolvers.” Rampal used his supporters to spread his influence across states such as Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Orissa, especially in areas where Kabirpanthi was already prevalent. “There are very few men in this country who speak on Kabirpanthi and our Baba was a reincarnation of Kabir. We asked our supporters to spread the word in their own areas, and bring people needy of solace to the ashram,” says Rahul Das, spokesperson for the Satlok Ashram in Karontha. “Rampal’s followers are mainly from the backward castes. Of the 459 people we arrested on charges of rioting during the operation to nab Rampal, 118 were from Rajasthan, 116 from Haryana, 83 from Uttar Pradesh, 72 from Madhya Pradesh, 10 from Bihar and three from Nepal,” said Haryana’s Director General of Police S N Vashisht. Other officers spoke of how many of Rampal’s followers were people without jobs and the ashram at least ensured them two square meals a day. “Many of his followers were people who could not find work in their villages, had heard of his ashram and arrived. They got food at the ashram and a roof over their heads. Then there were others who stayed in the ashram and left every morning for work,” said a senior police officer on condition of anonymity. People who have tracked his rise say Rampal used the local media to great effect in his initial years as a ‘sant’, but grew increasingly inaccessible. Balwan Singh Malik, a veteran journalist based in Sonepat, says,”When Rampal had just begun delivering religious discourses, he was a frequent visitor to newspaper offices in Rohtak and Sonepat. With some help from his journalist friends, he used to get his religious discourses published. He used to design his own press notes and deliver them to newspaper offices. Till 2006, when he was first arrested from Karontha ashram, he was somewhat accessible. However, after coming out of jail in 2008, he went completely out of touch.” Till he resurfaced eight years later in Barwala in dramatic fashion. AND HIS UNIVERSE The exodus began in earnest on Wednesday morning and ended a day later. In those 24 hours, more than 20,000 people emerged from the damaged gates of Satlok Ashram in Barwala in Haryana’s Hisar district. Behind them was a universe governed by one man who they believed was their god. On Wednesday, after almost every devotee had left, The Sunday Express walked around the 12-acre ashram. Sant Rampal’s haven was a story of many contradictions. There was faith and violence. Poverty and opulence. Sermons of peace and cries of war. The satsang area The ceiling is high and the roof is made of asbestos. Hanging from the rafters every 10 feet are fans, rows and rows of them. Under them, across an area more than the size of three football fields are thousands of mattresses, pillows and blankets. Every supporter slept on the floor. Next to one mattress are three bags with ‘Akhil Das’ written in Hindi on all three. He had come with his family, with at least two children. One bag has a blue frock and a slightly bigger white shirt and jeans. All three bags are full of clothes. There are books next to nearly every mattress, all with photographs of Rampal. The messages in the books mirror the instructions on the walls. A poster on one wall says, “If you consume drugs, you will be reborn as a dog. If you touch alcohol, you will be born as a chicken. If you eat chicken, you will be consigned to hell.” On Wednesday afternoon, as police personnel went around searching every room, they found evidence of a highly organised administration. Registers documented names and addresses of everyone who entered or exited. The discourse area Every day, Rampal would appear for a pravachan (religious discourse) for four hours, between 12 and 2 in the afternoon and 7 and 9 in the evening. “Woh bhagwaan ki tarah zamin se prakat hua karte the (He rises like the Lord),” says Satbir Ram from Darbhanga in Bihar, unaware the Baba’s ‘divinity’ was aided by the hydraulic throne-lift that brought him up from the ground floor to the second. On top of his throne, hidden from view of the cameras that constantly record his speeches, is a Carrier air conditioner. To the left of his throne is a smaller seat, painted in gold, with a small makeshift studio with arclights in front of it. There are at least 20 laptops and 10 DVD players, each loaded with Rampal’s sermons. A storeroom to one side is stacked with gadget boxes delivered from Flipkart. The ‘pranam sthal’ on the ground floor is proof that this was a tightly-run ship. A board says, “Please don’t give donations to any person other than the Baba.” There is another seat in an enclosure, where Rampal both accepted ‘alms’ and showered blessings. Even this had two buttons on either side, to control the height and slant of the chair. The polytechnic Many came for spiritual succour, racked by poverty or unemployment or distress in their families. Others were lured by the promise of free medical treatment in the ashram’s polytechnic. The polytechnic has five rooms, the first of which is a dispensary for free medicines. In almirahs next to a counter are painkillers and syringes. Bandages and cotton wool are on the top shelf. The six bins are filled with blood-soaked rags, evidence of Tuesday’s battle. There is also an ‘injection and dressing room’ and an X-Ray room. There are two other rooms with eight steel almirahs filled with stacks of asthalin and the diabetes drug Novolin. The kitchen Devotees speak of a kitchen that ran like a conveyor belt, with roles assigned to each volunteer. “Each of us did something — peeling, cooking or simply stirring,” says Savita Sahu from Balasore in Orissa, who is now standing in a queue for a bus out of Barwala. Today, there are large cauldrons of khichdi, kheer, and dal. Stacked in an enclosure are close to sixty 20-kg sacks of wheat, rice and pulses. There are hundreds more such sacks in two adjacent store rooms. In two parallel lines are 16 large Blue Star freezers, with vegetables and fruits in some and milk in others. The house The four-storeyed home has a swimming pool with a changing room to the left and 25 well-maintained rooms, each with at least one airconditioner. Many of the rooms have large LED TVs complete with DVD players. On the third floor, where Rampal likely lived, the balcony is covered by a blue canopy. The baba appeared to like his privacy. A bullet-proof Tata Safari Dicor parked on the ground floor too indicates this — a white curtain separates the front and rear row of seats. The rear windows too are covered by white sheets.
Saturday, Nov 22 2014
Diego Costa and Eden Hazard scored for Chelsea in their 2-0 win over West Brom on Saturday. (Source: Reuters) Chelsea maintained its firm grip on top spot with a serene victory over West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, while Manchester City found it tougher overcoming Swansea in the Premier League. Diego Costa and Eden Hazard had already scored for Chelsea when West Brom midfielder Claudio Yacob was dismissed in the 29th minute as the leaders cruised to a 2-0 win. City remains eight points back in third place after being forced to come from behind against Swansea. Stevan Jovetic canceled out Wilfried Bony’s opener for Swansea before Yaya Toure clinched the champions’ 2-1 win in the second half. Newcastle’s resurgence after a woeful start to the season continued with a fifth straight league win. Moussa Sissoko scored in the 1-0 victory over Queens Park Rangers as Newcastle provisionally moved fourth. But West Ham’s five-match unbeaten run ended with a 2-1 loss to Everton. Burnley recorded its first away win of the season as Danny Ings’ double led the team to a 2-1 win at Stoke and off the bottom of the standings, with QPR now last. Leicester’s goalless run went beyond 500 minutes after drawing 0-0 with Sunderland.
Saturday, Nov 22 2014
Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav’s 75th birthday on Saturday ended on an unfortunate note when a woman died during a stampede that broke out in Uttar Pradesh’s Badaun district where blankets were being distributed as part of Mr Yadav’s birthday celebrations. Several persons were injured but the exact number was not known. According to reports reaching here, SP MP Dharmendra Yadav was distributing the blankets in Badaun when the crowds got restive and began rushing towards the dais to get blankets and this led to a major stampede The BJP has criticised the SP for not ensuring proper security arrangements during an event like this. Meanwhile, brushing aside all the negative publicity, Mr Yadav said that this was the best celebration he had ever witnessed in his life and thanked Azam Khan for it. In another significant statement, Mr Yadav asked his ministers to promote the Modi model of development in villages. This was his first public acknowledgement of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s development skills. “For an ideal development, our ministers and legislators should start working on improving and developing infrastructure from their native villages. They must promote development schemes there. Residents of villages who are now well placed should also return to their roots and contribute to the development in the villages,” he said. Mr Yadav added: “I can never forget this and I will now be indebted to Azam Khan till my last breath. I can also feel the burden of his expectations regarding development of Rampur and the Maulana Jauhar University.” Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday wished Mr Yadav on his 75th birthday. “On Mulayam Singh Yadavji’s birthday I extend my greetings to him and pray that he is blessed with a long and healthy life,” Mr Modi tweeted.
Saturday, Nov 22 2014
Federer and Wawrinka, who won doubles gold at the 2008 Olympics, ended a four-game losing streak in Davis Cup. (Source: Reuters) Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka defeated Richard Gasquet and Julien Benneteau 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 to give Switzerland a 2-1 lead over France in the Davis Cup final on Saturday. Federer and Wawrinka did not concede a single break and dominated the key points to withstand their opponent’s charge in the second set. The teams ended the first day level at 1-1 after Wawrinka defeated Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Federer lost in straight sets to Gael Monfils in the opening singles. Federer’s prediction that he would play better despite his bad back was right, with the 17-time Grand Slam champion serving and moving far better on the clay. Federer and Wawrinka, who won doubles gold at the 2008 Olympics, ended a four-game losing streak in Davis Cup after posting their first win together in the event in three years.
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