On July 11, the Telangana government “externed” or banned godman Paripoornanada Swami from Hyderabad for a period of six months, stating that he is involved in ‘anti-social’ activities. He was dropped off at his peetham (peeth or ashram) called Sri Peetham at Kakinada in Andhra Pradesh.
Paripoornanada, along with Dalit film critic Kathi Mahesh, were externed from Hyderabad by the city police. The row began when the baba and his followers took exception to comments made by Mahesh about the Ramayana.
Before his externment, the baba was under house arrest for two days. During these two days and after the externment, the leadership and cadre of BJP’s Telangana state unit had been protesting the move and defending the baba. Senior BJP leader Bandaru Dattatreya, who was involved in the Rohith Vemula case, the party’s state president K. Laxman, former president G. Kishan Reddy, several MLAs and MLCs have expressed support to Paripoornananda. They even paid a visit to the Governor, requesting his intervention, and staged dharnas. From the whole episode, it felt as if the baba was a BJP member and the party was bent on defending him.
The turn of events brings to mind BJP’s relationship with such figures. For instance, in Gujarat, the BJP had similarly promoted and protected Asaram Bapu until he was sent to jail on charges of rape. The party also supported Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in Haryana until he too was convicted of raping several of his followers. The party has of course elevated the saffron-clad Adityanath to the post of Uttar Pradesh chief minister.
Same designs for the Telugu states
It seems the party has the same design for Paripoornananda in the two Telugu states. His self-established peetham, much like Asaram Bapu’s ashram in Ahmedabad, is said to control property worth crores of rupees. Paripoornananda also owns properties in Hyderabad and Vijayawada, apart from a Telugu TV channel. With his resources and access to mass media, he has been stealthily promoting a communal agenda, pitting Hindus against Muslims in Telangana and Hindus against Christians in Andhra Pradesh. His channel, Bhaarat Today, operates as the BJP’s campaign hub.
It is likely that the Telangana government has deeper knowledge about Paripoornananda’s activities and agenda. This is the reason he was externed under the provisions of the Anti-Social Activities Act.
It is not a coincidence that the finances of these swamis and babas have no accountability and that the BJP is closely associated with them. Protection of godmen is integral to BJP’s political agenda.
It is also not a coincidence that members of the BJP and its sister organisations have always ended up lending their support to the controversial babas, but not movements that seek social reform against caste inequality and untouchability. They do not organise meetings demanding the right of every Hindu to become a priest, irrespective of caste. On that count, they protect the Brahminical status quo. The party has not opposed denial of temple entry to Dalits. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is known to be not favourably disposed towards inter-religious and inter-caste marriages.
The BJP agenda does not even seek to protect the five historical peethams established by the Adi-Shankara. Their interest lies in protecting newly established peethams, where money flows like water.
What the BJP is doing is quite similar to what many radical Muslim political parties did in Muslim majority countries. The process of patronage resulted in fundamentalist Muslim clergy controlling socio-political institutions, and destroying democratic institutions. This gradually paved the way for religious fundamentalist dictatorship, besides scaling up violence and terrorism.
Indian democracy still fragile
Even though India has had a stable democracy for the last 70 years, it is still fragile. Given the caste and religious inequalities, oppressive and exploitative conditions, Indian democracy can be easily dismantled by fundamental Hindu groups.
In a country of varnadharma (caste law) and multi-religious conflicts, democracy has to be safeguarded within the framework of secularism. There is a global example that has shown us that religious fundamentalism and democracy do not co-exist for long. The experience of Pakistan is a good lesson.
B.R. Ambedkar was confident that the rights of Dalits, Other Backward Classes and Adivasis will not be safeguarded under any form of dictatorship. It was for this reason that he opposed even a socialist form of proletariat dictatorship. Even in today’s democratic setup, the caste system in is deeply entrenched within society. Dalits and lower castes suffer much more than upper castes in every sphere. If Hindu dictatorship is established, untouchability and graded caste inequalities will be reinforced.
The English-educated upper caste ruling forces of the country do not welcome the social changes brought through constitutional democracy, reservations and welfare distributive processes. These caste groups also support the babas and swamis because of their common goal to resist an egalitarian education system and oppose English education to the masses.
The state, civil society and institutions need to be wary of babas and swamis whose numbers are increasing throughout India. Their close association with the BJP and ability to amass fortunes quickly suggest a growing trend of collusion between powerful social and political forces that are bound to hurt the cause of democracy.
Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd is a political theorist and chairman of T-MASS.