Asaram: From building a Rs. 10,000cr empire to life imprisonment
The tale of Asaram, self-styled godman, reached a certain end today: he was convicted of raping a minor five years earlier. The clout he enjoys came to light as the hearing went on. Having a Rs. 10,000cr empire and sharing ties with influential politicians of the country's two main parties surely helped. How the boy from a poor family reached this point is indeed intriguing.
Asaram was born in Berani village of Sindh province in Pakistan as Asumal Sirumalani. The family came to Ahmedabad after partition, but he had to drop out of school in Class IV after his father's death. He started doing odd jobs before starting his "spiritual quest" towards the Himalayas, where he met Lilashah Bapur, his 'guru.' It was Lilashah who named him Asaram.
Asaram returned to Ahmedabad, then started doing penance on the banks of the Sabarmati near Motera. In 1972, he set up the 'Moksha Kutir,' a humble hut for devotees, along the banks. Over the years, his popularity grew, and he set up 400 ashrams in India and abroad in 40 years. The Kutir at Motera is also a full-fledged ashram now.
Asaram took the first hit in 2008, when two cousins staying at his Motera ashram were found dead on the riverbed. Seven of his followers were booked. Things turned worse in 2013, when a UP minor accused him of raping her. Two Surat sisters made similar allegations against him and his son Narayan Sai. Asaram has also been accused of land grabbing.
During these four decades, Asaram amassed huge wealth. According to the documents seized from his ashram after his arrest in 2013, the 77-year-old 'godman' owns wealth of Rs. 10,000cr in various forms, including property, his ashrams, jewelry and cash. And this doesn't even include the market value of the vast plots of land that he owns.
Asaram's friendship with political leaders helped. The 1981 and 1992 Congress governments allotted him 14,515sq meter of land, while the 1997 and 1999 BJP governments allotted him 25,000sq meter. He has been the chief guest at events by different CMs, including Ashok Gehlot (Rajasthan Congress), Shivraj Singh Chouhan (MP), PK Dhumal (JP), Raman Singh (Chhattisgarh) and Parkash Singh Badal (Punjab), all BJP and allies.
Asaram enjoyed the obeisance of political heavyweights including Atal Bihari Vajpayee, HD Deve Gowda, KR Narayanan, LK Advani and Farooq Abdullah, before his ties with the BJP worsened. Since the falling out, the Gujarat government has taken over more than 70 acres of his land in Ahmedabad and Sabarkantha. In 2009, it claimed that Asaram had encroached on 67,059sq meter of land.
Now, the 'godman' has been sentenced to life for raping the 16-year-old girl from UP. Throughout the years, several witnesses associated with the two rape cases against him have been shot dead or stabbed; three died, others survived. One went missing from Lucknow.