Kerala’s godmen on the run

The plethora of godmen that flourished with political support in India's most educated state now find themselves hunted

Jeemon Jacob Thiruvananthapuram

They were all 'holy men'. In hundred per cent literate and Left-leaning Kerala, they were revered. Politicians consulted them, filmstars added glamour to their aura, musclemen guarded them, artists greeted them and top cops escorted them. The law and order machinery considered them privileged. Nobody touched them since they were well-connected and claimed proximity to senior politicians across party affiliations. Their numbers and their sponsors multiplied over the years. Some of them claimed they had predicted the 2004 tsunami a year before it happened.

Now all that is lost. The police are rounding them up for various offences. Their hasty fall started when Santosh Madhavan alias Amrita Chaitanya, the first swami to be booked for cheating and wanted by the Interpol, was arrested and his guest house was raided. Police confiscated pornographic CDs from his locker and found records of huge real estate investments amounting to crores of rupees. They also found the uniform of a circle inspector.

Madhavan was wanted by the Interpol for cheating Rs 45 lakh from an NRI woman from Kerala. Soon after his arrest, Deputy Superintendent of Police Christi Daniel, who is believed to have shielded him, was suspended and Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan ordered a probe the role of police officials who had links with Madhavan. According to police officials, two inspector generals of police had close ties with him.

"He has been charged in different cases, including raping three minor girls who were earlier inmates of his 'home' for the poor. We are investigating various cases against him," said Kochi Police Commissioner Manoj Abraham. He added that Madhavan has also been charged with possessing marijuana while the forest department has registered a case against him for possessing a tiger skin. Madhavan used to keep hidden cameras in all the rooms and toilets of his guest house, where many VIPs used to stay. Now they are tense and worried as the camera recordings (many of which could be pornographic) will be screened by the court.

During the search for Madhavan, bicycle-thief-turned-godman Himaval Maheswara Bhadranandaji, known as 'Ernakulam Swami', was arrested. The swami once claimed he had a divine vision foretelling him of the home minister's elevation to the politburo. The swami considers the home minister his elder brother and affectionately calls him 'Balettan'. Ernakulam Swami, who used to travel in a car with red VIP light and siren (a rare privilege only meant for ministers, senior police officials and VVIPs), claimed he was close to Pannyan Raveendran, a CPI MP representing Thiruvananthapuram. He claimed he had attended his son's marriage. He flaunts the names of his mentors across the political spectrum.

Police arrested Ernakulam Swami for trespassing in a local Malayalam daily's office at Ernakulam and threatening mediapersons. He was later released on bail. After two days, the swami called up the media and police and said he was going to commit suicide. The police brought him to the police station.

TV channels began to beam footage of the drama. The swami lost his cool and started abusing, and as the police tried to restrain him, a gun went off. The episode damaged the image of the police, two officials were suspended and a DSP was censured for dereliction of duty. The police has registered cases against the swami and he, too, is in judicial custody.
Kodiyeri has refuted all allegations against him and his family members. "I've instructed the police to take strong action against these self-styled godmen. Their allegations are politically motivated," he told Hardnews. He agreed that these swamis get police and political patronage. "Whenever wrong things came to my notice, I have directed the police to take strong action. I'm not a promoter of godmen," Kodiyeri said.

His critics don't buy his self-righteous posturing. "Without political support, these swamis can't wield so much power. If Kodiyeri is sincere, why can't he book the police officers who have connections with these swamis," Dileep Mohan, an Ernakulam resident, asked. He feels these statements are an eye-wash and everything will be hushed up when the media shifts its scanner.
Meanwhile, a court has issued an arrest warrant against Swami Viswa Chaitanya, alias Sunil, in the 'bounced cheque case'. Sunil, a former film director, became a 'swami' when his films flopped. He owes Rs 1 million to a producer. He runs an ashram and has a large number of devotees in northern Kerala. The police has not arrested him.

The police are now raiding the homes of godmen with dubious background. In Thiruvananthapuram, a police team inspected the Premavahini Ashramam of Vidyasai at Vazhappalli following information that he had connections with Santhosh Madhavan. There were inspections on the premises of astrologer Purushothama Chandrasekhar at Karamana following a complaint from a woman that he had cheated her of cash. The Peroorkada police inspected the premises of a self-styled 'saint' at Kudappanakkunnu following allegations of fake ayurveda therapy.

Many fake swamis are now leaving Kerala. Some have even gone abroad 'to meet their devotees'. Yes, in god's own country, godmen are on the run.