Simmering discontent against alleged dubious activities of a self-styled godman – Surendra Mishra alias Sura baba – reached a flashpoint on Sunday night as a mob of hundreds of angry locals ransacked his ashram in a village on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar, setting furniture and vehicles on fire, police said.
Police rushed nine platoons of force to control the mob even as Bhubaneswar police commissioner RP Sharma urged people to maintain calm.
“The situation is under control but we are keeping a strict vigil. We are analysing specific complaints and will take appropriate action,” Sharma said.
Sura Baba was taken into police custody in the early hours on Monday. Police have also seized two guns from his ashram.
Sura baba is the second controversial godman after Kendrapara district’s Sarathi Baba to face public wrath in Odisha in a month.
In the first week of August, Sarathi baba was arrested by police following violent protests over his alleged illegal activities.
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Since Sarathi baba’s arrest, the local news channels have been running stories on other self-styled godmen.
On Sunday evening, some locals held a protest demonstration in front of Sura baba's ashram demanding his arrest after a woman leveled allegations of sexual harassment against him in a report aired on a local channel.
Trouble began when some of the demonstrators were allegedly attacked by baba’s followers. Soon hundreds of people from nearby villages reached the 14-acre ashram and went on a rampage that continued past mid-night.
The mob set the record room of the ashram and around 20 vehicles on fire. Five fire tenders were deployed to douse the flames. However, there is no report of any casualties in the incident.
Surendra Mishra, who started out as a priest at a village temple, set up the ashram more than two decades ago. He shot to fame after claiming to acquire a sacred manuscript of Saint Achutananda that could foretell people’s future and solve their problems.
His ashram has duplex flats and residential quarters which accommodate a large number of devotees, mainly women.
In the aftermath of the Sarathi baba controversy, Sura baba too was served with a notice by the local tahsildar earlier this month for alleged land grabbing.
When the baba did not respond to the notice, an assessment by the tehsil found that a half of the ashram was built on government land.
Besides, the baba owns another 30 acres of farm land in Khurda district and another ashram in Balasore and Jajpur districts.