It's been a week now since the history buffs celebrated the 145th birth anniversary of one of the greatest Prime Ministers of England, Winston Churchill, with a lot of fanfare. Commemorating the occasion, there was saturation coverage in some sections of the media too about his contribution to the victory of the allied forces in World War II. But I was reminded of him for a totally different reason. After all, isn't he the one who called our Father of the Nation, a half-naked fakir? Well, India has evolved since then, and in fact, some say, has definitely arrived. Not just its national leaders -- who now jet around with their monogrammed suits -- but even the fakirs, some of whom wear enough gold to give even the caparisoned elephants of Thrissur Pooram festival a complex, seem to be creating not just waves but setting off tsunamis.
But even among the bevy of swamijis, babas, matas, yogis and satgurus that India has ever produced, Swami Nithyananda is a rare and special talent, one has to acknowledge. While the Internet world would have been set on the path of self realisation and experienced its 'me-too' moment only after his 'me in me talking to me in you' classic clip, we, in this part of the world, were always conscious of his innate ability to pull out everyone from the morass that material life is. In other words, he was a 'mass' hero among millions of his followers even before his E = MC2 elegy to Einstenian physics.
Some might call him a fugitive, but outlaws with a red-corner notice against them just seek asylum in other countries. But here is someone who is painting the whole world red by not just creating a new nation, the original God's own country if you will, but inviting applications for citizenship from those who can neither practice nor perfect Sanathana dharma in peace.
But jokes apart, what really set the police on hot pursuit of Nithyananda this time is the case filed by one of his former disciples that his three daughters were being held in illegal custody by the Swamiji. Though the Gujarat police rescued two, one of the daughters has denied the allegations and claimed that she is with him on her own volition. Neither she or Nithyananda is alone. So what makes people flock to cults and gurus like Nithyananda?
Writing for the Medium website, Kathleen Toohill, who has done extensive work on cult psychology and history, says: “It’s tempting to buy into the fantasy that getting drawn into a cult is something that happens to a “different” kind of person and would never happen to us. But interestingly, research suggests that circumstances may be more significant than personality when it comes to susceptibility to cults.”
She also quotes Robert Pardon, director of the New England Institute of Religious Research, as saying: “These people are often idealists. They think they will make a difference to humanity, or that they will best serve their god or their ideals within the group.”
Though many such commonalities exist between cult groups from ‘Kailaasa’ to California, what is perhaps unique to India is the use of such groups to launder black money, particularly by politicians.
Even in Nithyananda’s case, it is rumoured that one of the top politicians of Karnataka belonging to the Opposition camp, who is now in and out of Tihar, had used his ashram to park his ill-gotten wealth running into thousands of crores. And, of course, there is always the caste angle since we are in India. For instance, enforcement officials and tax authorities are sitting on the files relating to a prominent South-based guru, who is guilty of breaking every law in the book, for years now just because earning his ire will cost the ruling dispensation at least a few parliamentary seats in which his community is in majority.
And it is also ironic that at a time when the Indian government has moved the Citizenship Amendment Bill to give citizenship to refugees from minority communities including Jains, Buddhists and Christians coming from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, a Hindu guru has reportedly approached the UN complaining about religious persecution in India and seeking recognition for his newly minted country.
Only time will tell whether the man who funnels spirituality through his YouTube sermons will succeed in his mission.