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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 29

Kerala’s Flourishing Spiritual Bazar

Godmen and Women spread their Tentacles to Politics, Administration, Shady Business Deals, Sex and Drug Racketeering

Friday 11 July 2008, by N A Karim

Kerala is deservedly famous for its educational advancement, social progress and cultural regeneration among the States of India. Long before Independence an impressive line of social reformers like Sree Narayana Guru revolutionised the traditional regressive beliefs of the people and made them progressive in their outlook in all social, political and cultural matters. It was in this upturned social soil the seed of socialism was sown which soon sprouted and changed the political landscape of this small State. No wonder in the first election after the formation of the new State of Kerala, people voted the Communists to power to the shock and dismay of the landed and capitalistic vested interests of the country and outside.

Though the first Communist Government suffered a political setback when all the Right reactionary forces joined hands to oust them from power and succeeded in a doubtful manner through their dubious high-voltage propaganda funded by foreign centres of political and religious conservatism, people had thought at the height of its renaissance in Kerala that there was no turning back to its nearly primitive religious beliefs and practices of Malayalees due to which the saint-socialist, Swami Vivekananda, termed the then Kerala ‘a lunatic asylum’.

But alas! the State has now become a greater and more dangerous lunatic asylum with all kinds of godmen and women proliferating almost daily with their tentacles menacingly growing and bringing within their grips a major share of the social, political, economic and educational and cultural life of the State. Finding these pedlars of spiritual solutions for everything a convenient cover for all their nefarious activities, like land grabbing, drug dealing, sex racketeering, corrupt and criminal elements in the society patronised and protected them. Thus both found a convenient alliance, and under this arrangement expanded their areas of influence in politics, administration and even education and cultural life.

Mata Amridandamayi, who was once a wayward girl, wandering on the beaches near Kollam, despised by her own kith and kin, has now grown to be the venerated ‘Amma’ with properties, institutions and devotees of all kinds and world-wide activities involving billions of money. Personally she is reputed to be uncorrupt, but there are people, including foreigners of doubtful credentials and dubious aims, in her organisation posing danger even to national security. In the State a well-equipped medical college and hospital complex function in her name. But this does not absolve her organisation of the doubtful sources of money for their extensive and expensive activities.

In the State there are numberless ashrams and spiritual centres of various kinds and grades, all of which are growing due to their flourishing spiritual business along with other illegal financial and other transactions. Sex is almost a common factor in all these spiritual establishments of all religious denominations. This is perhaps one reason for the attraction of politicians, policemen and bureaucrats with perversions to these centres and their active patronage and protection. It is significant that a police officer’s uniform along with a tiger skin was seized in a raid of one of the ashrams of Santhosh Madhavan, a fabulous godman, whose several highly scandalous financial, sexual and other criminal activities were prised open to the entire world to see of fake godmen and women with their spicy and juicy but highly scandalous stories.

The Chief Minister, V.S. Achuthanandan, has taken a tough stand against these criminals and anti-social elements in spiritual garbs when the media is exposing one fake godman after another with their shocking past and present criminal activities. The Indian soil has always been generally fertile for the growth of this parasitic class. But with the rise of a rich class which is devoid of any principle the need for spiritual support also arose. Globalisation with its liberalisation and privatisation and scarce concern for the society to which they belong is at the root of the proliferation of these purveyors of spiritual solutions to soothe the guilty consciences of the rich people of this age of predatory capitalism.

The great German philosopher, Frederick Nietsche, who died at the beginning of the last century, had declared that ‘god is dead and anything is possible now’. Similarly some thought that the Soviet Union has disappeared and with it socialism is also dead. So everything is allowable in the name of the triumphant market forces. The words of the former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher—that ‘there is nothing called society, there are only individuals’—were a kind of celebration of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dawn of the era of neo-liberalism.

The dependence on the solace provided by the fake godmen who condone everything that the sinner has done for a price became a convenient arrangement for both. Similarly when security of life became uncertain in a world of cut-throat competition and vagaries of market forces people wanted some of kind of assurance in their lives. They clung to any hope provided by this exploitative class with a modicum of human psychology and could make them their spiritual slaves with a few clever tricks. Such a new clientele community, who are also with no moral position in anything including business in periods of a crisis, wanted moral support of a kind that is easy to purchase though at high price.

The style of luxurious life that these godman lead is astonishing. In order to make themselves safe from the hands of law they cultivate the mighty and the powerful in society, government and politics. The recent raids that were conducted by the police have brought to light the nexus between powerful politicians and some of these high-profile so-called spiritual leaders. In a society where people are gullible a few tricks cleverly practised by them might make the devotees their absolute slaves for life. Anything spoken against them is treated as blasphemy by the devotees.

A casual jocular remark made by the Chief Whip of the then Left Democratic Government in the Kerala Assembly about the public embrace of Amridandamayi by A.K. Antony created a big furore and the so-called devotees pounced on the Chief Whip as if he had uttered an unpardonable heresy. This has been the atmosphere then in the State which is slowly changing with the unravelling of the life and activities of Santhosh Madhavan and his ilk of the newly born tribe of godmen.

The author is a former Pro-Vice-Chancellor, University of Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram.

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