The Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) on Sunday raided the ashram of Swami Aseemand, a Hindu spiritual leader, and the Sabri Mata temple in Dangs, Gujarat. It was looking for the swami, after his alleged role in the September 29 Malegaon blasts that killed six surfaced.
However, by the time the ATS team got to the ashram and temple, Aseemanand had gone into hiding. It is suspected that he could be in any of the 360-odd villages in the tribal district where he has tremendous influence for his work over the last two decades on behalf of the Sangh Parivaar. The ATS managed to arrest one of his associates at the Shabari Mata temple.
The swami came under the ATS scanner after the arrest of his associate Sunil Dhawde from Vapi in south Gujarat.
Highly placed sources in the ATS, Mumbai, told HT that Aseemanand was in touch with arrested Malegaon blast accused Sameer Kulkarni, who is also the chief promoter of Abhinav Bharat. The religious head allegedly used his driver’s mobile phone to talk to Kulkarni — who was arrested on October 28 — often.
Though the ATS found the Dangs connection to the Malegaon blast only recently, the Sangh Parivar’s tryst with the tribal district dates back to the late 1980s, when Aseemanand was entrusted with the responsibility of neutralising the influence of Christian missionaries.
Aseemanand, originally from West Bengal, set up the Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad, a Sangh constituent, in the tribal district. And while Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur may be the prime accused in the Malegaon case, credit goes to the swami for bringing the district into prominence in 1998 with his campaign against Christian missionaries, whom he accused of forcibly converting tribals. This, coupled with his equally publicized movement for reconversion, resulted in the torching of many churches in the district on Christmas eve that year.
With the international community taking note of the situation, then PM A.B. Vajpayee rushed to Dangs to douse the flames of communal tension and called for a national debate on conversions. The anti-conversion debates paid dividends for the Sangh and the BJP made handsome gains in the tribal seats of south Gujarat in the 2002 assembly elections.