Violent clashes broke out in an Odisha district on Friday after popular but controversial spiritual leader Sarathi Baba was spotted lounging in a Hyderabad hotel lobby with a woman, allegedly his lover.
Protesters demanding his arrest turned violent in Kendrapara, where he has his ashram on the outskirts of the town. The clashes left several people, including security personnel, wounded as police baton-charged and lobbed teargas shells to disperse the angry crowd.
The protests started after a television channel aired images of the jeans-clad Sarathi Baba with a woman in a hotel in Hyderabad and allegations swirled that he had spent a week there with her.
Reasserting his celibacy, Sarathi Baba on Friday denied having any affair with the woman.
He defended his right to wear T-shirts and jeans. “I sometimes wear normal clothes while traveling. What is wrong with it?” he asked.
Sarathi Baba also denied allegations that he had non-vegetarian food and alcohol during his stay in the hotel.
Originally known as Santosh Kumar Raula, he apparently disappeared in 1985 to return seven years later as a spiritual guru. His devotees include legislators of the ruling Biju Janata Dal.
Opposition parties alleged that the BJD was protecting him. “The state government was covering up the misdeeds of the baba because he controls a huge vote bank,” senior BJP leader Bijay Mohapatra said.