Violence after Asaram 'war' cry

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By OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
  • Published 18.07.08
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Ahmedabad, July 18: The ashram of Asaram Bapu, the spiritual guru of Narendra Modi and L.K. Advani, was the epicentre of violent clashes between his followers and the residents of the neighbourhood who have been fuming over the deaths of two students of a campus gurukul.

Residents of Motera village, Chand Keda and nearby areas, who not long ago were diehard followers of Asaram, set ablaze ashram buses and trucks and attacked disciples who had gathered for Guru Purnima.

The residents’ action followed a sudden burst of violence by supporters of the guru, who asked them to hit back at those who “malign you”.

The flare-up followed days of tension after the bodies of two gurukul students, Dipesh Vaghela, 10, and his cousin, Abhishek Vaghela, 11, were found on July 6 on the riverbed near the ashram at Motera on the outskirts of the city. One of the bodies was mutilated with some organs missing and the heads were tonsured.

Unhappy with the way police handled the investigation and gave a clean chit to ashram authorities, local residents along with traders’ organisations had called a bandh in the area today.

Trouble began around 6 in the morning, when Asaram visited the house of Praful Vaghela, the father of Dipesh, to console the grieving family. Vaghela has been on maun vrat (vow of silence) for the past few days to protest the death of his son and nephew for which he blames the ashram authorities. Vaghela believes the boys were murdered as part of some ritual carried out at the ashram.

Vaghela refused to speak to Asaram and just held his son’s picture in his hand. Sensing the tension, Asaram left the house in just around three minutes but could not get to his car, which had been surrounded by angry residents. He and his aides had to trudge back to the ashram, around a kilometre away.

Once in the ashram, the television evangelist who has a huge audience sought to equate himself with the Prophet Mohammed, who had been wrongly maligned, and Rajesh Talwar, freed of the taint of murdering daughter Aarushi.

Asaram Bapu addresses supporters on Friday. (AFP)

Addressing his devotees, Asaram said he had gone to console the parents of the boys but was attacked by “vested interests”. He then told his followers to retaliate and fight if somebody “maligns and hits you”.

“I have just come to know that some anti-social elements have entered the ashram premises where our women sadhaks reside,” he said over the microphone.

His overzealous army of followers took it as a call for direct action. Grabbing whatever they could lay their hands on — iron rods, sticks — they came out, chased journalists and attacked them and their vehicles and hurled stones, prompting the police to use teargas. One reporter of a TV channel was admitted to hospital with serious injuries.

In retaliation, local residents torched ashram buses in Chandkeda and other areas. Ashram spokesman Uday Sanghani was unable to put a figure on the number of buses set ablaze. “They are torching our buses parked in different places,” he said.

The police had to arrange special buses to evacuate those stranded at the ashram. The devotees had come from far-flung places and were scheduled to stay for another couple of days, but were asked to board the buses and ferried to the railway station.

Joint police commissioner Atul Karnwal said the situation was uncontrollable on Motera Road where the local people are dead against the ashram. “To avoid any untoward incident, we are asking Bapu’s followers to leave,” he said.

This is not the first time the controversial guru has been in the news. A number of court cases pertaining to land grabbing are pending against him in Surat, Godhra and Modasa.