Ram Vriksh Yadav was not a godman in the sense Asaram Bapu is. He did not have an ashram so to speak, or a fleet of luxury cars, or a boudoir full of women to attend to him. The number of his followers did not run into millions. But he would certainly have become one if he had not been abandoned by his master Jai Baba Gurudeva some years ago. And it is this sense of rejection that put Yadav on an entirely different trajectory. And with a fair measure of certainty I can say he would have returned to his old ways had he not met a premature end in the fire that broke out following a full-scale battle with the police in Mathura last week.
In the beginning what happened in Mathura looked like a pure law and order problem that the State often encounters with encroachers. Jawahar Bagh is a semi-residential locality in Mathura, with land that belongs to the horticulture department of the UP government. For more than two years, a group of people, with their strength growing every passing day and reaching about 3,000 when things reached a flashpoint, had gathered in the area under the leadership of Yadav. He banded them into an organisation called the Bharat Vidhik Kranti Satyagraha, whose military arm was called the Subhas Sena. He might have called it the Indian National Army because the idioms he used for his supposed struggle for ‘independence’ from the ‘colonial hand-me-downs’ are passionately nationalistic.
Some locals who knew them had even thought they were Naxals or Maoists, even though looking at all that has transpired so far, the organisation that Yadav led never talked of Marx, Lenin or Mao. But it did have a ‘radical programme’, if it can be called one. And some of things it sought to do matched those of the Maoists. Though Yadav had once contested an election on behalf of the Doordarshini Party, his new organisation wanted all elections to all legislative bodies rescinded, the offices of president and prime minister abolished, a new currency introduced, etc. In other words, they wanted an overthrow of the existing social order and, keeping that in view, built a ‘commune’, in which they grew vegetables.
After that what? It promised things that millenarian movements across the words had done over centuries: Give hopes of a Utopia, when petrol would be available at 40 litres to a rupee and diesel at 60 litres to a rupee.
This gives the impression that this movement was like many peasant and tribal rebellions that had dotted the landscape of India over the years of British rule, when traditional social structures came into conflict with the supposed forces of modernisation. But there is more to it than this. Yadav had an ambition. His mentor, Jai Baba Gurudeva, had left properties said to be worth Rs 12,000 crore (looks like an exaggerated figure) before he died in 2012. Yadav wanted to be the legatee of this property but was bested by another of Gurudeva’s followers, Pankaj Baba, who has the powerful backing of the ruling Samajwadi Party in UP and has formed his organisation Jai Gurudeva Dharma Pracharak Sanstha. By going through the motions of a ‘liberation struggle’, Yadav simply sought to make another dash at what he thought was rightfully his.
All this gives you a view of the ways of godmen and their cults, how they begin their careers, etc. All of them may not be of the same texture. But the long and the short of it is that they turn out more or less the same. They play upon the insecurities of people to enrich themselves, and then worm themselves into the favours of the politically powerful. Once they have done, they become a law unto themselves. Just recall the incident of Ashutosh Maharaj, whose body has been kept in the freezer for two years in Jalandhar. His followers, members of the Divya Jyoti Jagriti Sansthan, still believe he will come back. When the police intervened to retrieve his body, they found his followers were heavily armed. People with a more realistic bent of mind say this is just a stunt being performed by people who want his property.
I am not against religion or religious cults. Nor do I have any objection to the tax concessions that ashrams and monasteries get. But why should they get land at concessional rates, when the subject of land is such a hot potato? I do object when godmen openly flout all laws of the land and are allowed to get away because they can influence a few pockets of voters here and there. When children disappear from ashrams and their bodies are recovered in a mutilated condition, and yet the matter is not investigated, I am really outraged. When bodies are found in ashrams and the police taken an inordinately long time to file an FIR, causing all evidence to vanish, is there not cause for concern? Such elements are scattered all over the country. Against their might the State appears quite faint of heart. Why else would the district administration in Mathura look the other way, as it has now been blamed for doing, when people were occupying government land? How is it that the squatters had been gathering sophisticated weapons and the police did not know anything about it? How is it that they had the courage to fire at the police? Did they assume the police would not return the fire? If some people start keeping functioning outside the ambit of the law and they are allowed to do so by the State, what will that result in? Will it not simply result in the undermining of the State? At the hands of godmen and unscrupulous politicians, who start their careers as petty criminals or bootleggers.
Hence the State must get its act together by cracking down on law-breakers and punishing those found on the wrong side of the law, even if they are godmen or putative revolutionaries. If it does so, it will earn the gratitude of the people. Just recall that people in Mathura mourned the death of the two policemen who died while evicting the squatters and not many tears were shed for the offenders who were killed fighting the police.