As notorious, self-styled godmen Asaram and Narain Sai cool their heels in jail, the Gujarat police have unearthed a highly lucrative illicit business venture, milking the faith of innocent devotees. The details seized from an ashram aide's apartment read like the diary of a filthy rich businessman. Sample these nuggets:
- Benami property deals and financial transactions - more than Rs 2,200 crore.
- Cash loans totalling Rs 1,635 crore on fat interest rates.
- Rs 156 crore invested in two US companies in violation of FEMA rules
- Rs 8 crore to bribe people linked to the rape investigations
The total comes to a mindboggling Rs 4,500 crore. But the worth of Asaram's shady empire will cross the Rs 10,000-crore mark if the real estate is valued at the current market rates.
The police have spent months collecting and decoding the information on paper and computer files. It literally blows the lid off a network of deceit and crime centred around Asaram and his ashrams. The data show large-scale tax evasion and malpractices and also names many traders, businessmen and real estate dealers across India. They used black money thus generated for professional and personal gains.
The moneylending operations were funded by devotees’ donations and profits from merchandise sales. Besides money lending, the documents reveal many dubious land deals in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and central and north Indian states - 400-odd ashrams and religious centres. The dubious money trail, involves as many as 800 bank accounts. Most of the land parcels owned by Asaram are illegally acquired, using improper documents and encroachments. In Gujarat alone, the ashram was forced to vacate unlawfully occupied land following police action around Pedhmal Ashram in Sabarkantha, Motera and Surat.
Huge amounts of money came into the ashrams' coffers from merchandise sales- including magazines, prayer books and CDs, soaps, incense and oils, donations and farming on land often usurped by the ashram. Large sums of money were used in dubious land deals and a massive money-lending racket. The annual contract with an Ahmedabad packaging firm alone was worth Rs 350 crore.
Until Asaram's arrest, two magazines published by him -Rishiprasad and Lok Kalyan Setu - sold more than 1.4 million copies a month, netting around Rs 10 crore annually. The bigger grosser was said to be the 50-odd satsang discourses which netted Rs 1 crore through product sales and Asaram’s fees. The biggest money spinners were the annual Gurupurnima functions, which earned donations worth crores.
Every activity minted money - be it bhandaras for the poor, relief work, or gau seva. Anything between 10 and 20 bhandaras were held every year, fetching Rs 150 crore-Rs 200 crore in donations. As against that, the money spent on food distribution was minuscule.
It has been a long pursuit for the police to join the dots of the charges of not only rape and assault, but also of the baba’s shady business dealings. But the police are confident of having a water-tight case, which can stand the court’s scrutiny and ensure that the baba will spend the rest of his life behind the bars.