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The case of Akhil Bharatiya Akhara Parishad president Mahant Narendra Giri’s death has been handed over to the CBI. For those in power, it’s the easiest way to pour water on the flame of any controversy. Most of the time, after the announcement of a CBI probe, public outcry starts to cool down.

The so-called suicide note found in the mahant’s room has triggered some interesting questions. The mahant was a celibate, so who was trying to blackmail him in the name of an obscene video clip? His disciple Anand Giri, who has been arrested, claimed that the mahant could not read or write, so who wrote the long suicide note? How much truth is there in this claim? It will certainly be probed, but I would like to quote a former IPS officer and columnist for Hindustan, Vibhuti Narayan Rai. He said it’s a false claim that the mahant was not educated. In 1989, when Rai was posted as senior superintendent of police at the Kumbh Mela, the mahant often came to him with many applications. If necessary, amendments were made right there by the mahant himself. Questions are also being raised about Giri’s flashy lifestyle.

Why is it that whenever a saint dies under mysterious circumstances, controversies related to fame, fortune and power arise?

I used to be a correspondent for a daily in Allahabad in the early 1980s. Once a year, Prabhudutt Brahmachari used to call journalists to his Jhusi ashram, which he called Pratishthan Puri. We would be served puris, kachoris, potato curry and kheer. He spoke impeccably. He was the one who actively led the movements for cow protection and the Hindu Code Bill. In 1952, he contested against Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru from Phulpur. His words and personality created international interest during the election. Nehru won by thousands of votes, but swamiji’s purpose had been fulfilled. By the time I met him, a long time had passed. He regretted that the new generation was unaware of this ‘struggle’.

In swamiji’s words, the anger towards the Nehru family’s western lifestyle was obvious, but he was also angry with the Jan Sangh leaders. He believed that the Hindu Code Bill and cow protection movements did not get their adequate support. Once, when I sought his opinion regarding an abbot and his statement, what I got was an interesting answer. He said there are two types of saints—those who don’t mind donating their loincloth for the welfare of the people and those who even rob others’ loincloths for their own welfare.

In another instance, my parents took the three of us—my brother, sister and I—to meet Swami Karpatriji Maharaj. We sat at his feet and listened to what he said. He was a wonderful blend of simplicity, scholarship and experience. The swamiji had also tried his hand in politics. To fight for the issues of the Hindu Code Bill and cow protection, he had formed a political party called Akhil Bharatiya Ram-Rajya Parishad in 1948. While Prabhuduttji and Karpatriji had similarities, there were some differences. If they were part of the crowd, how can we call them saints?

I referred to these two saints because as a teenager or a young professional, I had simultaneously experienced the grandeur and simplicity of their personalities. Their attempt to interfere in the politics of independent India on the basis of religious issues paved the way for the likes of Dhirendra Brahmachari and Chandraswami. Perhaps even they had never imagined such an outcome. Today, by playing an indirect or active part in politics, many saints have sharpened their ambitions, but have bypassed the sacrifices and tenacity of their predecessors.

To elaborate further, I would like to go back a few years. The TV news medium was in its infancy when I saw a video in which Atal Bihari Vajpayee was holding a meeting in the presence of Sant Asaram. In his excellent vocabulary, Atalji did not forget to mention the importance of Hinduism as well as the tremendous contribution of ‘Bapu’ (Asaram) towards it. Certainly, back then, Atalji could not have predicted Asaram’s fate, but he did know that with this initiative, he was wooing a large section of voters. If politicians tend to use religion and religious people, then why should the saints lag behind? Today, many saints do not enter politics directly, yet they have no qualms about using politicians.

If this combination of politics and sainthood was used for uplifting society, then it would not be a bad thing. But the problem is that it has become a means to fulfil some unfulfilled ambitions. If those who donate their own loincloth are dominated by those who rob loincloths, then what will happen to the saintliness that has been deep-rooted in our beliefs for centuries?

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. The views expressed are personal.

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