-Ajay Lamba with Sanjeev Mathur
Asaram heard her out, while continuously shaking his head and looking at Narayan Sai. ACP Chanchal wondered if there was a telepathic connection between the two, because when she glanced at his son, she found him shaking his head in a similar manner. Satyaprakash, who was standing near the corridor, was also keenly observing both son and father with a curious look on his face.
‘Main bol raha hoon ki yeh jhooti complaint hai. Yeh ek rajneetik saazish hai mere virudh. Jab maine kuch bhi nahin kiya hai toh arrest kis baat ki?’ he blurted out, a little less confident this time. (I am telling you that this is a false complaint. This is a political conspiracy against me. When I have not done anything, where is the question of my arrest?) ‘Baba, main iske baare mein kuch bhi nahin bol sakti. Woh sab court decide karegi ki kaun sach bol raha hai aur kaun jhoot bol raha hai,’ she replied. (Baba, I can’t comment on anything. Who is telling the truth and who is telling lies shall be determined by the court.)
Asaram did not respond, but looked at Chanchal with eyes full of contempt and intense dislike.
In that moment, Satish intervened, signalling Chanchal to hand over the command of the situation to him and Satyaprakash.
Satish said to Asaram, ‘Nahin Bapu, aap shreshth hain, aap humare liye respectable hain. Hum aapki izzat aur haisiyat se bhi waqif hain.’ (No Bapu, you are a noble man. You are held in high regard by us. We are also aware of your status and prestige.)
He took this opportunity to hint that Chanchal step out of the room and go into the corridor, which was chock- a-block with the inmates of the ashram, including our advance party – comprising Mukta Pareek and her husband, Satyaprakash – who were posing as Asaram’s followers. They had gathered there to discuss the process of arrest of the accused with the remaining team members.
In the meantime, our team engaged Asaram and his companions in the living area in a negotiation of sorts. Satish came across as a staunch supporter of Asaram. He kept praising Asaram, his mystical powers, and tried to convince the Baba that he himself did not believe in the version of events provided by the victim, but since Asaram’s version of the story was not available with the investigating officer, he ought to be present himself for questioning right now. Satish told Asaram that if she decided that his arrest was not required, the police team would go back. And this trump card played by Satish, earned them the advantage of Asaram agreeing to be interrogated.
Since a quiet environment was needed for the interrogation to take place, Asaram sent all his supporters out of the room. His son and daughter, however, remained. While in Asaram’s living room, Satish telephoned me and said, ‘Sir, Bapu is a very gentle and kind person. He has agreed to be questioned by the investigating officer right now. I’ll inform you of the progress soon.’
I was satisfied that everything was going according to plan. Satish called Chanchal inside and asked her to begin the interrogation.
While she began questioning Asaram about his period of stay in Jodhpur at the time of the alleged incident normally, Chanchal confronted Asaram with a few minor details about the incident that only Asaram and the victim could have known. Shocked at the details Chanchal revealed, Asaram remained silent for a few minutes. Meanwhile, the co-investigators, excluding Satish, kept posing questions to Asaram. Asaram was asked to explain the methods he intended to employ to cure the victim’s ailment. He was asked about how he came to know that the girl was under the influence of evil powers and why he needed the girl to be present in private, that too, during the night, to perform the rituals to cure her. He was asked about the ritual or rituals which were performed, if it was simply the recitation of Mahamrityunjaya jaap and why it was performed in his kutiya to which no one else was allowed any access. Had he performed any such ritual on anyone else too? Who brought the girl into the premises of the kutiya? Where was his cook and personal staff when the girl was performing the ritual? Why was the girl called inside the bedroom when she was meditating? How long was she inside? Asaram was being evasive, hardly answering any of the questions he was being asked, and vacillated between looking furious at times and acting funny at others. He spoke little and we had to record that he was silent for the most part of this interrogation.
Chanchal made an interrogation note while the godman was being interrogated by the team members. Soon, Asaram realized that the police knew everything about his misdeeds from that fateful night, and perhaps because of that, he asked for some time off, for relaxation. It was then that Chanchal showed Asaram the LOC, and told him that he was not to leave the country. He was made to believe that the LOC had been issued after due diligence and judicial scrutiny. As Asaram was, by then, relatively more confident in dealing with Satish, he asked Chanchal to call him.
It was then that Satish, very smartly, offered him a face-saving and dignified exit. Asaram was told that he was going to be arrested sooner or later, and if he created a ruckus during that process, even his son and daughter would be arrested by the local police for disrupting police duty. He was assured that he would be ushered out of the ashram like a guest and taken to Jodhpur by air, not by road, as was ordinarily the case. He was assured that he would then be housed in a police guest house while in custody, and that he could engage the best lawyers possible, who would easily be able to bail him out because the case against him was rather weak.
Surprisingly, the inducement seemed to work in our favour, for upon hearing this, Asaram called in his team of lawyers, who were already present at the ashram, to discuss the plan with them. Thereafter, he sent the lawyers out of the room and called our team inside to tell them that he was ready to go with them to Jodhpur for being interrogated, but on the condition that the followers in the ashram didn’t come to know any of this. The team readily agreed and asked him to send his followers farther away from the immediate vicinity of the room and tell them that the police was not going to pick him up. They wanted a safe distance between the accused and his followers. By this time, Asaram was absolutely certain that Satish had become his faithful disciple.
Suddenly, after about half an hour or so, Asaram, his two children and two of his attendants, followed by Chanchal and Mukta, walked out of the room and into the corridor where all the commandos were standing.
This time, it was Subhash who called me. ‘Sir, he is being very smug about the whole thing and not answering our questions properly. We tried to cajole him, request him, but he refuses to budge. When we tried to threaten him with immediate arrest, he just got up and walked out of the room. Though he promises to cooperate and come with us, I doubt his intentions, as he is changing his stand frequently and is quite agitated. But we are trying our best.’
By now, Asaram was surrounded by his followers, who were shouting slogans against the police team, which could be heard clearly over the phone. I asked Subhash to deal with the situation. I knew he would do it ably.
He, then, directly faced Asaram and said to him in a firm tone, ‘Baba, humne aapse namrata se request ki thi ke aap humare saath cooperate karein, magar aapne aisa kuch bhi nahin kiya. Agar aap aisa hi bartaav karenge toh main aapko isi waqt arrest karne ka aadesh deta hoon aur aapko Jodhpur le jaane ka prabandh bhi karta hoon.’ (Baba, we had politely requested you to cooperate with us but you did not. If you continue to behave like this with us, I am going to give the order to arrest you this very moment and also make arrangements for transporting you to Jodhpur.) When Asaram heard the tone of Subhash’s voice, he realized that this team meant business. tfor a moment, everyone could see a hint of fear in his eyes.
‘Tum aisa nahin kar sakte. Tum ko abhi upar se orders aajayenge ki mujhko arrest nahin kar sakte,’ he tried bluffing Subhash. (You can do nothing of the sort. You will soon receive orders from your superiors that you cannot arrest me.)
In response, Subhash took out his mobile phone from his trouser pocket and switched it off in front of Asaram. He also gestured to the other team members and the commandos to do the same.
When Asaram saw him switch off his phone, telling his team to do the same, he panicked. He began to look for Satish, whom he believed to be his faithful follower. Seeing Satish, he asked him to come close and whispered into his ear to calm his men down. Satish told him that Subhash was now in command of the team and the situation.
When Asaram heard this, he was back to being his unruffled self and said, ‘Theek hai, theek hai, main chalunga tumhare saath Jodhpur, magar abhi raat ke barah baj chuke hain. Main tumhare saath kal savere chal lunga.’ (All right, all right, I will accompany you to Jodhpur, but it is twelve in the night right now. I will leave with you tomorrow morning.)
Satish knew that it was indeed very late in the night, which could lead to an operational hazard if they insisted on Asaram’s immediate arrest and transportation. But before he could respond to him, Asaram started speaking to his son in Sindhi, his native language.
After he had said what he wanted to say to Narayan Sai, he looked at Satish and told him in a dismissive tone, ‘Theek hai, phir kal subah nikalte hain.’ (All right, then we leave tomorrow morning.)
(Excerpted with permission from Gunning for the Godman: The True Story Behind Asaram Bapu’s Conviction, Ajay Lamba with Sanjeev Mathur, HarperCollins India. )