While still at school, I remember a controversy had erupted over then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s proposed visit to the Guruvayoor temple in Kerala —because she was a widow. I have vague memories of a similar controversy over her desire to visit the Jagannath temple at Puri in Orissa. But I believe they made an exception for her as she was the Prime Minister.
Years later, when I was a cub reporter there was general outrage in our newsroom as wire services began to circulate photographs of Mrs Gandhi’s visit to some Jain munis during the Mahamastaka Abhisheka of Bahubali at Shravanabelagola in Karnataka. Not because she had stepped into forbidden territory again, but because those monks had belonged to the Digamber sect and had met the Prime Minister with nothing on. ``How could they appear thus before a woman?’’ I recall my news editor railing who later decided not to publish the picture of a poker faced Mrs Gandhi sitting on the ground in the midst of at least a dozen naked men surrounding her on three sides.
I do not know if Mrs Gandhi ever visited Muslim and Christian shrines, but at least she restricted her religious visits to recognised and legitimate temples and sects. Her son, Rajiv Gandhi, though, once sought blessings from some obscure godman who would kick people for blessing. According to various reports back then, he did kick Rajiv on his head but the then Prime Minister lost the next election anyway. Later, Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao’s absolute faith in the frightful looking tantric Chandraswami did not help him retain office either. Bal Thackeray, too, patronised the tantric, but to no great advantage to himself.
Closer home, I recall, Congress leader Kripashankar Singh rushing to the airport one day to welcome Asaram Bapu in whom he vested great faith. We know how that episode turned out — Asaram was eventually discovered to be a paedophile and rapist. That embarrassed even Union minister Uma Bharti who initially tried to defend him but gave up after the courts were unconvinced of his innocence (they continue to deny him bail).
In recent times, NCP leader Jayant Patil, while a minister in the Maharashtra government, sought blessings of the Sai Baba at Puttaparthi. On his way back, Patil met with a major accident in which he broke several bones. His colleague Dilip Valse Patil invited the then rising star Ramdev Baba to his home — soon after, he was axed by NCP chief Sharad Pawar. Late chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh kicked up a minor storm during his first tenure after he failed to attend a tea party on the eve of an assembly session traditionally hosted by the CM. Sai Baba had been visiting Latur, Deshmukh’s home constituency, and he believed seeking the godman’s blessings was more important than his Constitutional duty. Soon after, he lost the confidence of his own party president and was summarily dismissed as chief minister for no apparent reason.
After Deshmukh’s second dismissal following the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, his successor Ashok Chavan went a step further and invited Sai Baba to his official residence. The blessings he sought obviously did not last too long and Chavan continues to be embroiled in the Adarsh case that is severely limiting his political graph.
Now, the current chief minister Devendra Fadnavis is under severe attack from all sections for sharing a dais with another self-appointed godman, Narendrababa, on his birthday. The godman was previously a government official dismissed from service on corruption charges and it is doubtful he could have taught Fadnavis a thing or two about good governance. But apart from the storm Fadnavis has kicked up with his statement that religion is superior to politics or governance, coming close on the heels of a photograph showing Fadnavis meeting notorious gangster Baba Bodke that went viral last week, Fadnavis seems not to get the right measure of mixing religion with politics — or even crime.
For, Bodke is a notorious criminal with several murder cases against him and was kicked out of the NCP following immense outrage after Ajit Pawar welcomed him to the party with open arms, saying the party needs people like him to ensure its growth. It is ironical then that Ajit should lam Fadnavis for his meeting with Bodke, who is seeking a ticket to the Pune Corporation elections from the BJP, for that is what he had wanted from the NCP once.
So there are godmen and then there are godmen. Each must then choose his own nemesis.