Swami Aseemanand may be on the run with the ATS searching for him in the Malegaon blast case, but his name still inspires awe and fear in Dangs. He is the man who has single-handedly revived the BJP’s fortunes in this region, which was once a Congress bastion.
Aseemanand came to the Dangs in 1997 and started working under the aegis of the Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad, a sangh parivar affiliate that works with tribals. The swami was responsible for holding the largest congregation of tribals in February 2006 through the “Shabri Kumbh” where five lakh tribals congregated for a three-day ceremony.
The fair was held in honour of Shabri, an Adivasi woman who is supposed to have met Lord Ram at that place. Dangs, the smallest and southernmost district in Gujarat with 92 per cent tribal population, has been the bastion of Christian missionaries since 1896. These missionaries have been accused of forcibly converting Christians.
The district, which has a population of 1.86 lakh spread over 312 villages, has 133 churches to cater to the districts’ 30 per cent Christian population.
The Swami’s relentless — sometimes violent — drive against the Christian missionaries since 1997 communalised the district and was instrumental in breaching the Congress stronghold in Dang. Dang had elected Congress MLA Madhubhai Bhoye for four consecutive elections. BJP’s Vijay Patel finally defeated Bhoye in the 2007 elections. Aseemanand’s work among the tribals was instrumental in Bhoye’s defeat.
“The BJP had chosen the district as the next bastion to be conquered and Aseemanand’s initiative in holding the Shabri Kumbh has helped the party in reaching out to the tribals,” political analyst Laxman Bagul said.
Aseemanand was not only instrumental in planning the Shabri Kumbh, but also in constructing a temple for the devotees to Shabri. The temple, Shabri Dham, surrounded by dense forests, is located at Subir, 30 km from the Avha, the district headquarters. Incidentally, the temple is also the place where Aseemanand used to stay when he was in Dang.
Aseemanand has a huge local following. He has supporters in Nasik as well, which incidentally is only 180 km away and is the place where a few of the men accused in the malegaon blast case have been picked up from.