By PATHIKRIT SANYAL
Self-styled godman Asaram Bapu getting life-imprisonment on April 25 for raping a 16-year-old in 2013 evoked many reactions. On Twitter, many, including the official handle of Congress party, began to share pictures and videos of all the statesmen and celebrities who have sought the patronage of the spiritual leader over the course of the years. Among them, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the most prominent, along with former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The implication was that a man is known by the company he keeps.
One particular minute-long video shows Modi, then Gujarat chief minister, addressing a gathering: “I have been lucky enough to seek Bapu’s [Asaram] blessings from times when none knew him”. The clip also shows Asaram going on to hug a visibly younger looking Modi. People circulated the video and alleged that Narendra Modi, the former chief minister of Gujarat, the state where Asaram he founded his famous and sprawling ashram, had strong connections with the tainted guru.
Bollywood actor Farhan Akhtar took to social media to call out the hypocrisy.
Akhtar wrote, “So, Asaram is a child rapist. And he has been found guilty. Good. But can people please stop sharing images of him with PM Modi. Patronising him before he was exposed to be a pervert is no crime. Let’s be fair and give him the benefit of doubt that he, like us, did not know.”
Congress, however, completely overlooked the fact that Modi had warned party members in 2013 — when Asaram was accused of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl — not to defend the baba and betray any allegiances.
Even before the arrest, it was clear that relations were strained between the two. In September, 2012 Asaram issued a threat to the Narendra Modi-led Gujarat government cautioning it against targeting him and his son Narayan Sai in a case related to the mysterious death of two male disciples. In a public address, Asaram warned the then CM Modi, by saying, “If you try to suppress us more, we will throw you out [of power]”.
In fact, in 2008, it was the incumbent Modi government that had ordered a Commission of Inquiry after two boys went missing from Asaram’s ashram in Gujarat’s Motera.
Those who took on Modi and Vajpayee and a bouquet of BJP veteran leaders, failed to acknowledge that Congress’ Digvijaya Singh, Kamal Nath and Motilal Vora have all also been seen seeking the godman’s blessing in the past.
In fact, Congress leader Digvijaya Singh, who had criticised the BJP on the Asaram Bapu issue, in 2013, about protecting fake godmen, seemed to have forgotten that in Madhya Pradesh, he as CM of the state had awarded Asaram prime land in 1998.
That is not to say that BJP members have not shown their support for the now-convicted child rapist.
Uma Bharti, the Union minister for drinking water and sanitation, said in 2013 that rape charge against Asaram could be a “politically motivated”. Even Prabhat Jha, a member of Rajya Sabha from Madhya Pradesh, had said in 2013, “Rape charges against Asaram Bapu is a well-planned Congress conspiracy.”
Both parties should wake up and realised that the godman was patronised equally by them. After all, they saw the advantage of having a cult leader who swayed millions by their side. The same was true for Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Insaan — now sitting in prison for raping two of his followers more than 15 years ago — who was courted by both the parties for endless means.
Ahead of Haryana Assembly elections, the BJP in-charge of the state Kailash Vijayvargiya took as many as 44 candidates to the Dera Sacha Sauda seeking blessings of Ram Rahim. Similarly, in 2007, Ram Rahim extended support to the Congress; he belived that the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP government of the time had targeted his followers in the state.
So despite one’s reservations with the politics and policies of PM Narendra Modi, it would be unfair to squarely target him to be in a video with Asaram — especially by Congress leaders.
Unless there is proof that PM Modi showed allegiance to the godman, despite being aware of his transgressions, hollow accusations like “a man is known by the company he keeps” don’t stand.