The road to real estate is the shortest through so-called spirituality. If further proof is required for this very Indian axiom, look no further than the violence unleashed by followers of Jai Gurudev in Mathura.

Old-timers will recall the ubiquitous promise of the 1980s and the 1990s: Jai Gurudev aayenge, promised graffiti plastered on walls across several cities, towns and villages of India. Before he died in 2012, at an unconfirmed age of 116 years, Gurudev aka Tulsidas Maharaj was a curious mix of politics and preaching. By day, he worked on the success of his fledgling Doordarshi party and by night, he preached peace and penance to followers.

A scene during clashes between the police and the encroachers who were being evicted from Jawahar Bagh in Mathura on Thursday. PTI

A scene during clashes between the police and the encroachers who were being evicted from Jawahar Bagh in Mathura on Thursday. PTI

A few years ago, he turned his attention to the cow.

“As long as the blood of cows continues to flow, there can’t be peace on earth,” he preached, railing against almost every politician for allowing the butchery of bovines for meat.

Gurudev has a temple to himself in Mathura, dozens of ashrams, assets and cash worth crores of rupees and thousands of followers. But, it seems, before shuffling his mortal coil, which he compared to a house on rent, Guruji forgot to tell his bhakts the perils of spilling human blood for the petty purpose of grabbing land. For the past two days, a splinter group comprising followers of Guruji, who posthumously rules over a multi-crore spiritual market by preaching peace, have been clashing with cops with swords, country-made pistols and, allegedly, grenades in Mathura.

According to news reports, at least 21 persons died in clashes that began when police tried to evict the followers from Mathura’s Jawahar Bagh. Nearly 3,000 followers, organised under the banner of Swadheen Bharat Subhash Sena, had encroached upon the park two years ago after raising outrageous demands, like a ban on elections for prime minister. They have also been demanding that the government issue currency notes in Subhash Chandra Bose’s name and supply petrol and diesel at highly-subsidised rates.

But, behind the facade of all this hokum was the intention of grabbing land and usurping it as the headquarters of the group that had splintered from the cult founded originally by Jai Gurudev. A few days ago the Allahabad High Court had ordered their eviction from the park. But, when the administration tried to drive them out, the supporters turned violent.

This thuggish behaviour is typical of cults operating in the market of spirituality.

First, they rally around a self-proclaimed godman with a sacred sounding name suffixed with a pious sounding title — Bapu (Asaram), Maa (Radhe), Maharaj (Ashutosh), Baba (Rampal and many others), Sri and Jai Gurudev.

Then, in the name of spreading peace and happiness, many of them amass huge chunks of land, through donations, gifts and forceful occupation. Since their followers are politically significant, politicians fail to act against these land sharks with swiftness and strictness.

In the case of the Swadheen Sena, for instance, the UP government allowed the followers to squat on public land for more than Two years. Why? Consider two facts: Tulsidas Maharaj was believed to be a Yadav from Etawah, home turf of Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav and his family. Two, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and his uncle are believed to be followers of Jai Gurudev.

It has been proven time and again that most of these cults around babas are organised mafias, with their hands in shady deals, wheeling and dealing. In fact, the only factor that drives their success is the profit motive. Both the babas and their bhakts feed off each other, in a loosely organised multi-level marketing scheme sold in the name of spirituality.

As argued by Firstpost earlier, most of the bhakts want something in life, preferably without too much effort or pain: Money, fame, job, security, health, marriage, sex, babies et al. These self-anointed messengers of god specialise in providing short-cuts to desires of their devotees.

A majority of them are either service-providers, facilitators, brokers, networkers or heads of crony clubs that serve each other’s interests. Some are more subtle; instead of material desires, they sell yoga, natural remedies for ailments ranging from homosexuality and cancer, or peace of mind through lifestyle-mantras masquerading as spiritual wisdom. A rare few, like Rajneesh, offer everything under the sun — from sambhog (sex) to samadhi (enlightenment/nirvana/peace)

To understand their modus operandi, next time you think of a godman/woman, imagine Don Vito Corleone, or a Bhai, sitting in his chamber, offering everyone a deal they can’t resist. Just replace the clean-cut suit with a saffron langot (loincloth) or frock and tilak, or garish bridal attire with lots of sindoor.

Initially, when the stakes are low, these cults thrive beneath the surface, in dark corners of so-called spirituality where the gaze of the law doesn’t go usually. But, when the spiral of greed grows, most of the Babas and their cults get outed for what they are.

So, a Rampal gets arrested after violent clashes in Hisar, a Sukhvinder Kaur (Radhe Maa) gets exposed for her alleged sleaze and an Asumal Sirumalani (Asaram Bapu) gets jailed for allegedly exploiting minors for sex. In the end, most of the Indian Babas turn out to be black sheep.

And when they die, their bhakts start grappling for their immense wealth, sometimes going to the insane extent of retaining the dead bodies of their gurus, spreading the myth that they are in a samadhi and will return to life again.

Indians, of course, refuse to learn from experience. Their greed, superstition and servile attitude — the belief that even God can be pleased with an offering — help the Babas and their cults to grow. And keep grabbing land.

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Baba, black sheep: Jai Gurudev and his greedy bhakts of Mathura