Charges of rape against Asaram Bapu part of a conspiracy to malign Hinduism by showing the seers in poor light, says the VHP leader

After the dispute between the Uttar Pradesh government and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) over its yatra around Ayodhya, the arrest of self-styled godman Asumal Sirumalani aka Asaram Bapu has emerged as the new issue of political contestation between Hindutva organisations and centrist political forces.

On Monday, the VHP stepped up its rhetoric as Asaram was remanded to judicial custody for 14 days. Champat Rai, general secretary, VHP, told The Hindu, “We see it as a conspiracy to erode the faith, shraddha of Hindu followers. When faith is weakened, society becomes weaker.”

Claiming that such issues are never raised in the case of ‘politicians and priests’, he argued, “Our media is either owned by the Gulf countries or those with dollars. All media has foreign ownership, and they want an opportunity to defame Hindus.” Mr. Rai said that while Hindus saw women ‘as mothers’, others saw them as ‘objects of lust’. “The media must think how far they want to go to weaken our society, our country.”

VHP’s patron Ashok Singhal had earlier claimed Asaram was ‘framed’ in order to show ‘seers in a poor light’, and questioned, “How can anybody level such heinous allegations against an 80-year-old seer?” He alleged ‘attacks on Hinduism’ had increased after Sonia Gandhi took charge of the Congress.

The other components of the Sangh Parivar chose to be more cautious.

Ram Madhav, spokesperson of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), said they had not expressed a view on the matter. He told The Hindu, “If the VHP has given a view, there is no need for the RSS to react.” Prakash Javadekar, spokesperson, Bharatiya Janata Party, said, “Law will take its own course.” Asked about whether he shared the VHP’s view, he said he had not seen it.

With Hindutva forces seeking to use the issue to ‘mobilise Hindu sentiments’, as one Sangh leader said privately, the Congress went on the offensive. Renuka Chowdhury, spokesperson, Congress, told reporters at a briefing, “Why only saints? All offenders of such crimes should get punishment.” She added, “Law is equal to all. The message is no one is above the law.”

Sharad Yadav, president, Janata Dal-United, had been at the forefront of demanding Asaram’s immediate arrest in Parliament last week.

Asaram was arrested following an FIR filed by a 16-year-old girl alleging sexual assault. He cleared a potency test and was declared physically and mentally fit. He has denied the charges.