With the Mumbai Anti-Terrorist Squad expected in Jammu to investigate links of Dayanand Pandey, alias Swami Amritanand Saraswati, arrested in the Malegaon blast case, details of his stay in the city have begun to emerge.
Pandey introduced himself as the new ‘Shankaracharya’ of the Sharda Sarvagya Peeth to the Kashmiri Pandits Welfare Association in Jammu in 2005. The seat of the Peeth is in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
He said he wanted to work for the Kashmiri Pandits and preserve temples in the Valley. The office-bearers were impressed and agreed when he asked to be part of the committee looking after the association’s dharamshala in Hardwar, Uttarakhand.
“People forced me to include him. I had my doubts, but succumbed to the pressure,” association chairman A.N. Vaishnavi told HT. Pandey was given one room in the dharamshala but occupied two more and even put up the board of the Sharda Peeth. Differences cropped up, but were sorted out.
Though he agreed to the draft of the document drawn for the dharamshala’s committee, Pandey said he would get them done himself, Vaishnavi said. The final draft, however, had Pandey as the only trustee. “A case was filed against him and he was thrown out of the dharamshala,” Vaishnavi said.
That ended their association with him. “It was later that we got to know that Pandey got himself made the Shankaracharya by paying a hefty amount to a religious organisation at Varanasi.”
During his Jammu stay, Pandey got close to a number of senior police and defence officials. He was involved in the Amaranth agitation and addressed a press conference with Leela Karan Sharma, convener, Amarnath Sangharsh Samiti.
He left his audience impressed in Faridabad as well. His discourse on Sharada, worshipped by Kashmiri Hindus as the goddess of learning, at Mata Chakreshwari temple won him a fan following.
“He had an aura around him,” said Rashneek Kher of the Kashmiri Sewak Samaj, an NGO which organises Navreh (new year) celebrations. “We do not know if he is involved in the Malegaon case. But if he is, then it is strange… Devotees who visit the PoK-based Sharada Peeth also visit the dargah of Sufi saint Baba Makhdoom which is close to it,” said Kher.