Chaitra Shuddha Saptami, Kaliyug Varsha 5112
By Rajiv Malhotra
The Conspiracy against Swami Nithyananda
Since I had arrived at the scene while writing my book on the conspiracy in Tamil Nadu religious politics, it was natural to start with that as my emphasis for the investigation. But in this short article I have decided to focus on the matters surrounding his conduct and his organization’s conduct, because these have assumed a more urgent nature. The details of the conspiracy belong in my book as corroborating evidence for my thesis there. The types of parties reported to be behind the conspiracy, both foreign and India based, were remarkably similar to the ones I have written about in the book. So for now I shall merely summarize some of the main points concerning this conspiracy.
First one must understand why Swami Nithyananda became such a target. He was virtually unknown 7 years ago, but once he appeared in public his popularity catapulted at a dramatic rate. For example, last year, UTube wrote to him that he was the most watched of all Indian spiritual leaders on the Internet and proposed a closer collaboration for their viewers. This letter also stated that among all spiritual leaders worldwide (not just Indian) he was the second most popular one, the Vatican being first. His meditation programs have become very popular in USA and in certain Indian states. The main factors are that participants almost invariably report experiencing higher states of consciousness, and he has healed a large number of persons of a variety of diseases. His healing powers are what brought together his core inner group of devotees from around the world – doctors, businessmen, IT professionals, corporate executives. Many of them have explained their personal healings from terminal illnesses as the turning point in their lives. His meditation programs sometimes bring up to a few thousand attendees for periods ranging from a few days to several weeks.
While the funds come mostly from upper strata participants in India and USA, a large portion of the expenses have been allocated to develop grass-roots social and spiritual programs focusing primarily in Tamil Nadu, his native state. This is where he is seen as a threat by Dravidian as well as Christian forces. For instance, in December 2009, about 600 villages across Tamil Nadu sent their local “Nithyananda leaders” for a celebration and planning session in his main ashram near Bangalore. I happened to be present for the event. These common folks, mostly from the lower strata of Tamil society, had walked 300 kilometers for this journey which they saw as a spiritual pilgrimage. The reason for the anger of Christian and Dravidian forces is that his activities have put a dampener to conversions in many districts, and several Christians have return to Hinduism by getting initiated formally into his organization. The swami himself has spoken against conversions, and has also stated that the Dravidian movement had made Tamil people unspiritual in their lives, and that this had caused social decay. His Tamil language publications and courses have become his most popular ones, far exceeding the numbers in English. Also he is a very big threat because he is not a Brahmin. Because he cannot be targeted using the classical attack on Brahmins, and because the masses in Tamil Nadu were rising to swell his ranks, the threat he posed to the existing political power structure had to be stopped one way or another.
The attack against Swami Nithyananda has consisted of two prongs, image and legal. At first a highly sensational sexual charge was broadcast in order to devastate his credibility and create an atmosphere in which any and all kinds of outlandish allegations would be taken at face value. Once the media and popular sentiments had been turned against him, there was one amazing allegation after another in rapid sequence. It was clear that none of this was spontaneous but was being centrally orchestrated under a systematic plan.
What became evident to me was that there was “cooperation” in informal and unofficial ways among the media, police and lower level judiciary. In fact, many third parties were aware of the attack in advance and had warned his people before it happened with specific details of the plan. For instance, one of his top devotees got a phone call from someone based in New York describing the media and police attack that was to come. His predictions turned out to be accurate but at that time the ashramites did not take the threat literally. He said that for the right sum of money he could be helpful in preventing such an attack. He claimed that the planning for this attack had started a year ago. He mentioned that a budget of Rs 200 crores was allocated by some overseas groups to demolish Hindu gurus especially in south India, and named two south Indian churches as the nodal agencies to coordinate this strategic plan. (I am presently pursuing these leads as part of my book investigation.)
There was another concrete extortion effort about eleven or twelve days prior to the scandal breaking out. A lawyer contacted them and claimed that his client had compromising videos, and that the client was seeking money or else they would get released. The same intermediary later sent a letter containing a variety of unsubstantiated criminal allegations against Swami Nithyananda, and this letter’s distribution list included India’s Prime Minister, President, Sonya Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, various Chief Ministers and police heads, various national criminal investigation and security organizations. I have a copy of this letter, and it makes the Nithyananda organization seem like a terrorist outfit that needs to be attacked for the sake of public safety. This letter along with a DVD of the sex video was delivered to the Chief Minister of Karnataka state two hours before the videotape was first aired. Clearly, the attack was well planned and executed across many locations, and was persistently carried out over several days. This is not the work of some isolated individuals.
There were warnings given to individuals in the ashram that their phones were being tapped and that they better leave to save their own lives, because something horrible was about to happen. One friendly man based in Pune who runs a magazine and is a devotee of Swami Nithyananda, told the ashram a week in advance of the attack that some such catastrophe would happen. He named his source as a man in Bangalore press club. Another publisher in Hyderabad who distributes Swami Nithyananda’s books in Telugu, called three times to warn that a graphic video would be released and gave a precise time for this to happen. It was also reported that an American devotee who had fallen out of the ashram was working in association with Jody Razdik who specializes in guru bashing at a prominent web site. He was being helped by an Indian based in San Diego, who was once very deeply involved inside the Nithyananda organization but had turned malicious. The only man who has openly come out as the main accuser was an ashramite who had a falling out when he got demoted due to his conduct. It was recently reported that he had a prior criminal record against him but nobody in the ashram had checked out his background before admitting him.
There were constant threats received to harass the ashramites and scare them away, with claims that “narcotics will be planted to cause arrest warrants.” The actions by the police were being leaked to the media ahead of time and even to the opposing side, leading to numerous “tips” received by “friends” asking the ashram dwellers to run away before “the attack comes.”
But even after a couple of weeks since the scandal has erupted, the lawyers for Swami Nithyananda’s ashram have failed to get copies of any concrete charges filed with the police, except a few trivial ones. Each time they approach for specific details they are told that there is no formal charge, except relatively minor ones. So the intimidation has been carried out mainly through media reports, without any legal due process starting where facts and arguments could get cross-examined. This lack of formal charges has enabled an atmosphere of intimidation using rumors and threats that cannot be pinned down officially.
It is important to contrast this with the manner in which Indian media treats scandals facing Islamic or Christian groups. The numerous scandals occurring overseas often get blocked by Indian media entirely, or are given mild treatment with tremendous sensitivity, in order to be seen as “secular” and not “communal.” By contrast every kind of allegation against any Hindu group gets clubbed in one homogeneous category and treated as a social scourge equivalent to terror groups.
The media’s hounding mentality and mafia tactics deserve to be condemned. In the Swami Nithyananda case, they have used carrots and sticks to lure and threaten, using whatever would get them more sensational footage. Several TV stations and journalists camped out in Haridwar and sent me emails requesting my help in arranging an interview. When I failed to deliver (because it was not up to me to deliver any such thing), some of them turned nasty against me. One TV woman promised the swami’s people “positive” coverage if she got an exclusive. But after the interview, she betrayed and turned it into more distortion and smut. This led Swami Nithyananda’s handlers to give interviews to more stations in order to counteract this distortion. But the more they said before TV cameras, the worse the scandal became. One station was blatant in its threat to the swami’s assistant: “If you don’t give us an interview right away, we will show you the power of the media to destroy you.” At one point a major TV station also wanted to drag in Ramakrishna Mission with similar allegations, but someone was able to stop that.
Many of the gurus I met have told me in confidence that they fear that similar attacks are coming to more Hindu gurus, but that there is no central Hindu mechanism to deal with these episodes along the lines of various church mechanisms that intervene when Christianity faces a scandal. I sent feelers to the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha as to whether it should offer to step in and take over the ashram and its related organizations, thereby bringing new management to clean up matters and bring stability to the enterprise. I was told that while this was a “good idea in principle,” it was not practical because HDAS is simply not set up to deal with this.
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