Watching the triumphant return of Surendra Mishra aka Sura Baba to his fiefdom at Jhi’nti Sasan on TV on Saturday, one could not but marvel at the spell the godman has cast on his disciples. As if on cue, the devotees returned in droves to the Trahi Aachyut ashram they had abandoned since the presiding deity was arrested and taken away on a host of charges including land grab, sexual exploitation and even murder. “Only we know how we have lived these two and a half years,” a woman devotee in her 30s told OTV, her voice nearly choking with emotion. [She was referring to the period that the ‘God’ spent in jail.] The ashram was buzzing with activity with beaming devotees running helter-skelter to welcome their ‘God’. Going by the scenes that one saw on Saturday, it would not be surprising if it is back to ‘business as usual’ at the ashram soon.
I dare say Santosh Raul alias Sarathi Baba, who is facing more or less the same charges as Sura Baba, and his committed followers must be seething at the ‘injustice’ of it all! Readers will perhaps remember the pitched battle the devotees had fought with the locals and the police when their ‘God’ was being taken away by the police. If and when the Baba does return to his Barimula ashram, no one should be surprised if his followers flock the abandoned ashram again.
The violent protests by devotees of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh that left nearly 40 people dead in Panchkula and other places in Haryana after the Dera Sacha Sauda chief was sentenced to 20 years in prison by a Panchkula court for raping two women are too recent to bear repetition. A couple of years ago, followers of Asharam Bapu, another godman in the dock, had laid seize to the National Highway No 16 (then NH 5) near Rasulgarh in Bhubaneswar demanding the immediate release of their savior, who was arrested (he is still in jail) on charges of raping a minor girl.
I often wonder what is it that makes followers of godmen believe in them unquestioningly, even in the face of incontrovertible proof of their wrongdoing. Nothing, it seems, would shake their blind faith in their saviour no matter what the law enforcing agencies or the courts say, do or rule. Reason and rational thinking clearly do not stand a chance against blind faith. It is possible it has to do with people giving too much importance to that popular saying; “Bishwase Milai Krushna, Tarke Bahu Dura” (“Realisation of God comes through faith; Argument would take you nowhere.” [I am sure all other Indian languages have equivalents of the proverb.] It is also possible that the Babas use some form of hypnotization, black magic or a simple trick (recall the stone cow in the Barimula ashram of Sarathi Baba oozing milk from its udders!) to win the unwavering loyalty of their followers. May be it has to do with the fact that the rich and the powerful bow their heads before these godmen.
The more fundamental question, however, is why do people need Babas (or Gurus, if you like) in the first place? I have had heated arguments with friends on this over the years, arguing that no Guru says anything that is not already there as part of our collective wisdom enshrined in our scriptures and holy books, but to no avail. What has surprised me is that all those who have argued that man cannot do without a guru were well educated, seemingly rational people. Years ago, I had incurred the wrath of my mother and my grandmother after driving out a Baba, who had laid siege to my room in my absence and would take food only from a woman, from the house.
There can be no bigger irony than the fact that we live in a country where our ancient wisdom always encouraged the spirit of inquiry and whose Constitution enjoins upon the government the task of inculcating the ‘scientific spirit’ in its citizens and yet cannot do without these Babas. I am not for a moment suggesting that all Babas are morally depraved people. But why do we need Babas as ‘middlemen’ to pursue a path of spirituality? Even more unfortunate is the fact that even educated people subscribe to the view that one cannot do without a Guru. The sooner we get rid of our blind faith in the Guru system, the better it will be for the country.