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regular-article-logo Monday, 26 February 2024

An Officer and a Godman

Two hundred years before a fugitive Indian 'guru' thought up the United States of Kailasa, a Scottish soldier introduced the world to Poyais in the Central Americas. A tale of two scams

Upala Sen Published 03.12.23, 07:22 AM
Nithyananda

Nithyananda File picture

Gregor MacGregor, who was a soldier in the British Army, had a reputation. He invented rich connections and high-born relations to make his way into high society. In 1821, he returned to London after spending some years on the Mosquito Coast along the eastern coast of present-day Nicaragua and Honduras. In his new avatar, he was the cazique or prince of Poyais. Not too many had heard of Nithyananda, a self-styled godman beyond Bidadi in Bangalore where he ran his ashram. Then in 2010, an intimate video of him and a Kannada actress went viral and he became famous. The same year, a rape case was filed against him by his driver Lenin. Cut to 2020 and Nithyananda has a new identity --- ruler of Kailasa, an island near Ecuador.

Imaginary homelands

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It is most likely that MacGregor was the one who wrote the book Sketch of the Mosquito Shore: Including the Territory of Poyais in 1822 under the name of Thomas Strangeways. The book has chapter upon chapter on Poyais’ rivers and mountains and minerals — gold and lapis calaminaris — trees, quadrupeds, birds, fish. In the Introduction, Strangeways writes that the clan of Gregor is directly descended from the ancient kings of Scotland. MacGregor created Poyaisian offices in London, Edinburgh and Glasgow to sell land certificates. He engaged publicists to write advertisements and he himself gave interviews in national dailies about Poyais (no comma). It was said that the climate of the place was healthy and the soil very fertile. According to The Rothschild archive website, he contacted many potential financiers, including Nathan Mayer Rothschild. The House of Rothschild did not invest in Poyais, the website notes that “MacGregor orchestrated the issue of a Poyaisian government loan on the London Stock Exchange”. In a letter written in November 1823, MacGregor proposed to make Poyais a Spanish protectorate. That year, MacGregor chartered two boats to ferry over 200 settlers from Scotland to Poyais. There is most likely no book on Kailasa but there is a website. It states that Nithyananda is "the 293rd successor of Paramashiva on this earth". According to the site, Kailasa has its own flag --- with the emblem of “Paramashiva and Nandi” --- a national anthem, a constitution, a currency and a reserve bank.

A lot of bull

In 2020, Nithyananda announced that he was planning for 1,00,000 --- "dispossessed Hindus" --- to settle in Kailasa in the next five years. There have also been reports about e-embassies and e-visas for Kailasa, chartered flights bringing in tourists for a dekko and “a hidden maze of companies and NGOs” behind the island nation itself. Only 50 of those who had left for Poyais in 1823 survived. Others died of malnutrition or yellow fever in the uninhabitable land. MacGregor continued to sell fraud certificates in London and Paris, was arrested and acquitted, and thereafter at some point he applied for citizenship of Venezuela and left for good. According to a March 2023 report in The Guardian, the mayor of Newark met a delegation from Kailasa. In February, other representatives attended two UN meetings in Geneva. In 2022, representatives attended a Diwali party at Britain’s House of Lords. Nithyananda is often quoted as having said: "I can make cows and bulls talk in Sanskrit and Tamil." And from the sound of it, whole nations out of bulls***.

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