It’s 12 acres of luxury — the best money and blind faith can buy.
The Satlok Ashram of controversial sect leader Rampal Dass, arrested in a late-night swoop Wednesday and ordered in judicial custody till November 28 the next day by the Punjab and Haryana high court, is built like a fortress, surrounded by high walls with watchtowers.
Policemen evacuate supporters of Rampal at Satlok Ashram in Barwala, Hisar, on Thursday. (Gurpreet Singh/HT photo)
“The ashram is built like a fort meant to ward off an invasion. It reminded me of the Agra fort,” said a senior police officer who was part of the Operation Samvedi (sensitive) conducted over three days to nab the “mouse”— codename for the 63-year-old engineer-turned-preacher.
The “fortress” saw bloody clashes Tuesday as the police tried to storm the ashram to arrest Rampal for contempt of court after he repeatedly failed to appear in the HC in a 2006 murder case.
On Thursday, the court cancelled Rampal’s bail in the case even as two more murder cases were slapped against him after six people died in the stand-off.
Cops examine the chair from the area from which Rampal delivered his sermons. (Gurpreet Singh/HT photo)
When HT team visited the complex, which came up in four years, at around 1.40pm, thousands of Rampal’s followers were still inside, most of them in the prayer (satsang) hall — the centre piece of the sprawling complex.
By evening, the police, who searched the ashram, had managed to move out 4,000 people.
The hall that can seat 50,000 has a special enclosure from where Rampal , who claims to be a devotee of mystic poet Kabir, delivered sermons from a hydraulic chair as his private militia stood guard. Separate sitting areas are marked for men and women. Dozens of air-conditioners and hundreds of fans can be seen. A local police officer gave the break-up: 10,000 ceiling and 1,000 exhaust fans under one roof.
A view of the swimming pool at Rampal's ashram. (Gurpreet Singh/ HT photo)
On the extreme left corner of the complex is a four-storey mansion Rampal lived in. A private swimming pool, state-of-the art elevators, 24 AC rooms with attached bathrooms fitted with top-of-the line fixtures, Rampal, whose followers largely come from low-income strata, lived big. One of the rooms had a massage bed, another treadmills as Rampal stared down from huge wall posters. When reports last came in, the police were trying to break open lockers that were there in most of the rooms.
The ashram is one of several Rampal has. Though there is no property Rampal’s name, his Kabir Parmeshwar Bhakti Trust owns large chunks of land in Haryana and is building another ashram in MP. “The ashram owns dozens of buses and vehicles. So far, about 100 vehicles have been impounded,” Hisar deputy commissioner ML Kaushik said.
Sources said there were indications that around 24 firearms were found in the ashram but the police were not ready to confirm it.
A dog walks outside the main entrance of the ashram which saw violent clashes between Rampal's supporters and police Tuesday. (AFP photo)