Inside Job?

Attempted Assassination
of Satya Sai Baba
author's name withheld by request
gathered from several press reports

April, 1997

About 3 years ago, one night a few young men (4?) from among Satya Sai Baba's close aides violently attacked his room with a possible motive of assaulting or killing him. They were blocked outside his room by two other close disciples of Satya Sai Baba. In the ensuing clash, the 2 who tried to save Satya Sai Baba's life got killed. On hearing the commotion, Satya Sai Baba rushed out through another door of his room and activated the alarm system, which awakened all the inmates of the 'Prashanti Nilayam' (meaning 'Abode of Peace-Serenity'), Satya Sai Baba's headquarters. Meanwhile, the assailants ran into another room and locked themselves inside. Later the police arrived. But they broke open the doors of the room and shot dead all the assailants, stating to have done so in pre-emptive defense.

This incident raised shock and sensation across India. Later a large cache of weapons and explosives was uncovered in his premises. The following investigations remained secret and finally the case seemed to have been closed inconclusive. It was said that some criminal conspiracies were taking place in Baba's centre for quite some time earlier, but Baba was unaware of them. This failure of Baba, made many people question his divine ability to solve his devotees' problems and salvage them from their troubles.

Baba's fame continued as usual with his devotees' faith being unshaken.

'Created' Chain
Passed By Assistant

Satya Sai Baba "Miracle"
Filmed By Reporter
author's name withheld by request
gathered from several press reports

April, 1997

The information is based on the newspaper reports from "Indian Express", "News Time" and "Deccan Chronicle", all published from Hyderabad, the capital of Sai Baba's home State in India. Incidentally, "Deccan Chronicle" was the only newspaper that published the photographs that reveal the secret of Sai Baba's "creation" of a golden chain from thin air, at the inaugural ceremony of a Sai Baba Centre at Hyderabad. This chain was "created" and presented to the building architect by Sai Baba, along with the awards to others who worked for bringing up the centre. Sai Baba was apparently unaware of the video recording of the chain hidden under a tray, being passed to him by his assistant, before its being "created".

A lesson for magicians in future!

One of Many Hindu Deities

Elvis Presley
Worshipped in India
by Conrad Goeringer

May 27, 1996

In the Indian state of Karnataka, a Hindu temple appears to boast as one of its deities the True King -- none other than Elvis Presley. According to India Today magazine, a portrait of the hip-grinding rocker is displayed along with other religious icons and "the faithful ... come to worship Elvis just like the other deities." The temple is maintained by a man who last year published a booklet under Presley's name titled "Why my daughter married Michael Jackson."    

Eunuchs Recruited By Force

Caution Urged
At Eunuch Celebration
by Chuck Shepherd
sources: London Free Press (Ontario), Southam News

April, 12, 1994

An AIDS activist organization in Madras, India, made a public plea that eunuchs convening for their annual festival near the city later in the month use condoms during their wild celebration. Many, but fewer than half, of the country's 400,000 eunuchs retain their penises, and Community Action Network estimated that 10,000 sex acts would take place at the close of the 15-day gathering. An AIDS activist said that because most eunuchs were recruited by force, they are "angry" and show little sexual restraint. 

Lotan Baba

Holy Roller Or Idiot?
by Chuck Shepherd
source: Bangkok Post

October, 1994

India's leading Hindu holy "rolling man" Lotan Baba, on a pilgrimage to England, demonstrated his craft by rolling on his side for three miles through the middle of town in his quest for world peace and eternal salvation. He says he has rolled over 4,000 kilometers in India, through deserts, and in the middle of monsoons. Said a shopkeeper quoted by Reuters News Service, "I just looked outside and there was this idiot rolling along the ground." 

Barbaric Divorce Ritual
Continues In India
by Chuck Shepherd
source: Bozeman Daily Chronicle, AP

August, 1993

The Associated Press reported on the growing movement in Muslim countries to abandon the ancient tradition of permitting husbands to divorce their wives by shouting "Talaq!" three times. Pakistan, Turkey, Syria, and Indonesia are among the nations that have abandoned the tradition, but it continues in India.

In India, a man may either shout "Talaq" three times at once, with the divorce effective four months later, or shout "Talaq" one time during each of three consecutive menstrual periods and be divorced immediately after the third shout.

Rat-God Spreads
Pneumonic Plague
by Chuck Shepherd
source: Northwest Florida Daily News, AP

September 30, 1994

Since September 20, health authorities estimate that several hundred people have died in India of pneumonic plague, which had been absent from the country since 1966. Still, many Hindus in the country refused to kill rats, the most probable carrier of the plague.

In Hindu mythology, the god Ganesh is accompanied by a rat wherever he travels, and worshipers still make their offerings on behalf of Ganesh and his little friend. Hindus have been seen taking rats from traps and merely releasing them away from their homes, hoping they will not return. In city parks in Calcutta, rats are fed much as pigeons are fed in the U.S. Said a retired government official in New Delhi, "The time has come for people to realize it is either us or the rat."

Spice Girls Too Hot
For Erotic Hindu Temple
by Woody Johnson

February 19, 1998

New Delhi -- A proposal by the pop group Spice Girls to perform before a 1,000-year-old Hindu temple has sparked outrage among Indian artists and conservationists.

Geeta Chandran, an exponent of classical Indian dance, said the show should be stopped because it would undermine the sanctity of the temple in the central Indian town of Khajuraho. The temple is known for its erotic sculptures. "Such performances would marginalize the delicate spiritual context in which these temples were constructed nearly 1,000 years ago," she told Reuters News Service.

Though television and music companies said they were not aware of the proposed performance, Indian newspapers carried front page stories on the ban: "Spicy touch too hot for artistes," "Stop Spice Girls Chandela show" and "Save Khajuraho from Spice Girls." Permission is required from the Archeological Survey of India (ASI), and officials there likewise denied knowledge of the proposed concert. "We have not received any request or intimation from either the Spice Girls or from any other agencies on their behalf to perform at Khajuraho," said R.C. Aggarwal, who is in charge of monuments at the ASI. Another official said, "Why should they be allowed to perform at Khajuraho? That would be an insult to the sanctity of a historical monument."

The temples were built in the 10th and 11th centuries by Chandela Dynasty kings in the state of Madhya Pradesh. Tourists flock to Khajuraho to view the erotic carvings, which depict the art of love-making as described in the Kamasutra. "The eroticism of Khajuraho is part of the larger Hindu view of cyclicality of life," Chandran told Reuters. "By making those temples an erotic prop to their performance, the Spice Girls would be hurting the sentiments of centuries and centuries of sacred creativity in India."

Joy Basu, a conservationist, said vibrations from such the concert could damage the delicate structure of the temple. "It would generate thousands of watts of sound and ultra-violet lights which might harm the old monuments," said Basu. Last year the ASI installed vibrometers at Khajuraho to gauge the impact of airplanes flying over the monuments there, and concluded that the monuments were being damaged by the vibrations. "Any kind of physical damage to the edifice is our main concern," Basu said.

Hindu Party Broadens Its Appeal

The Disenchanted

Hindu-Centric Party
Appeals to Extremes
In India's Latest Vote
Moderates and Even Muslims
Look to BJP to Build
A New Political Order
Thorn in Washington's Side
by Jonathan Karp and Michael Williams
Staff Reporters of The Wall Street Journal

February 27, 1998

Suhawa, India -- Sajjan Singh Chauhan, a 30-year-old wheat farmer, tills his land in this northern village and dreams of helping India become a Hindu nation. Far away, in an office high over Bombay, U.S.-trained management consultant Sanjiv Anand, 38, longs for an India with a vibrant, modern economy.

The two men have very little in common, but they are united in their support for a long-scorned political party that is ready to inherit the world's second-most-populous country.

Whether or not the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party wins control of Parliament when results start coming in Monday in India's 12th general election, it is fast becoming the new political establishment. In its 18-year march to reshape this country, the BJP has been building a seemingly incongruous coalition of Indians -- rich and poor, modern and medieval -- who are swayed by its appeal to wounded Hindu pride or fed up with corruption and bungling in the old political order. One thing that unites the extremes: the affront BJP supporters feel at Indian Muslims who root for Pakistan in cricket matches against India.

A Problem for the U.S.

A BJP-led India could prove a tough customer for the U.S. and worsen tensions in a region where, despite rampant poverty and archaic infrastructure, governments continue to spend heavily on defense. The BJP's platform calls for openly declaring India a nuclear-weapons power, a move that would trigger U.S. trade sanctions. On the economic front, the BJP wants to limit foreign investment to infrastructure (power plants and roads, not consumer products) and to protect Indian companies from takeovers by multinationals.

The BJP's social agenda is more radical. It wants to declare India a "Hindu state" and unite all Indians according to "the Hindu way of life." BJP critics say that Hindu nationalism is nonsense, because unlike Islam or Christianity, Hinduism has no clear creed, only a panoply of gods and an emphasis on individual prayer. Foes regard the BJP's ideology of "one nation, one people, one culture" as anathema to modern India's foundation as a secular, pluralistic society. India is home to 770 million Hindus, but also to nearly 120 million Muslims, who feel threatened by the BJP's nationalist vision.

Acknowledging India's diversity, the BJP is trying to shed a sectarian stigma gained during its campaign in the 1980s to build a Hindu temple at the site of a mosque in north India. That crusade led to the mosque's razing and the worst religious violence here since the 1947 partition that created Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. So too, the BJP wants to distinguish its image from that of the militant ethnocentric groups that spawned the party -- and that some opponents liken to the Nazis.

Republican Analogy

But the BJP's newfound popularity is perhaps more analogous to the resurgence of the Republican Party in the U.S. in the 1980s and 1990s. The BJP is exploiting the decline of India's once-dominant Congress Party to create a new political center and new terms of debate. Instead of equality, for instance, the BJP talks of equal opportunity for all Indians, thus appealing to Hindus who resent affirmative-action programs for low-caste Indians. The BJP has enormous goodwill among shopkeepers and traders, because it began advocating free-market policies long before India began dismantling socialism in 1991. Sure, it's attracting anti-Muslim bigots, but the BJP is also wooing moderate professional and middle-class Hindus -- and even some Muslims -- who feel that the party is the only viable successor to the Congress Party and the weak leadership of recent years.

Which BJP will emerge? If Rameshwarlal Sharma has his way, it will be the party of Hindu chauvinism.

Sitting in the lotus position on the cement floor of his office, the 35-year-old former merchant describes his career in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or National Volunteer Force, a Hindu-nationalist group that was founded in 1925 and spawned a political movement that coalesced as the BJP in 1980. Mr. Sharma joined the RSS at the age of 12, donning khaki shorts and taking part in daily exercise and catechism drills. In 1992, he helped rally the Hindu mob that tore down the Babri Mosque, which Hindu zealots claimed had been built on the site of a temple to the Hindu god Ram. "That structure was a blot on the nation, and now it has been removed," he says proudly, rubbing his scruffy beard. "I faced police bullets. And when the walls came crashing down, I was buried in the rubble."

Mr. Sharma gave up his home-furnishings shop three years ago to become a full-time activist in the World Hindu Council, the religious wing of the RSS family of organizations. He runs a cadre of 200 activists in market towns and farming villages in the state of Rajasthan, building schools and organizing clinics, advocating vegetarianism and erecting Hindu shrines. And in the election campaign, the council has Mr. Sharma and his men stumping for the BJP.

But people like Mr. Sharma pose a dilemma for the BJP leadership. Though it is India's largest party, the BJP won less than a third of the seats in Parliament and 20 percent of the votes cast in the last election, figures that all opinion polls suggest will improve sharply in this vote. So the party is reaching out to Muslims to broaden its support: It boasts of having six Muslim candidates (out of 383 seats it is contesting), and a party leader called the mosque's destruction a "mistake." The problem is that much of the party's support is rooted in anti-Muslim sentiment. The World Hindu Council and other members of the RSS family still form the core of the BJP's election machine, and the party needs activists like Mr. Sharma to extend its reach.

It's a strategy that wins votes and divides communities, as can be seen in Suhawa, a village of 350 farm households, roughly half Hindu, half Muslim. Here Mr. Sharma introduces one of his staunchest followers: Sajjan Singh Chauhan, the young wheat farmer here. Mr. Chauhan was actually born Sajan Kathat -- a Muslim. But 10 years ago, he attended a World Hindu Council festival and heard a message that changed his life: He and his fellow villagers weren't really Muslim peasants, a preacher declared, but the converted descendants of Prithviraja Chauhan, a 12th-century Hindu king who waged a losing war against Muslim invaders from Afghanistan.

A Glorious Past

The revelation of this "lost identity" electrified the young peasant. "I never knew the truth about my forefathers," he says, waving dismissively at his two-room concrete shack. Mr. Chauhan says he embraced Hinduism immediately, took the name Chauhan in honor of the king, and set about proselytizing fellow Muslim villagers. (The council claims to have converted more than 50,000 Muslims to Hinduism in this region over the past 15 years, though the number is impossible to verify.)

Soon, Mr. Chauhan says, he was ostracized from family gatherings, and Muslims threw stones at the homes of relatives who live next to the village mosque. These setbacks only stiffened his resolve "to lead a Hindu way of life" -- going to temple on all festivals, for instance, and abandoning Muslim practices such as circumcision for his sons. He joined the local World Hindu Council, which lobbies parents to give their children Hindu names; this month, he spent a week canvassing door-to-door for the BJP. "I agree that India should be a Hindu nation, and the government should be run in accordance with the national religion," he says.

Across a dirt road, 30 feet and a world away, lives Mr. Chauhan's 45-year-old brother, Rasul Kathat. Around the time his younger brother took up Hinduism, Mr. Kathat embraced a stricter form of Islam, and he enrolled his children in a Muslim school that missionaries opened a year and a half ago. "It isn't necessary that my brother and I vote for the same party," he says with a frown. The Islamic school, in a white stucco building that flies the Congress Party flag, is run by another member of the family, 21-year-old cousin Asif Khan Kathat. "It's not possible to make this country a Hindu nation," he says, laughing in contempt. "If we started dominating politics, we'd also like India to be a Muslim nation. But that's wishful thinking."

Economic Concerns

In his Bombay office tower, management consultant Sanjiv Anand has another vision: Piloting India's economy into the next century. He and other urban professionals are critical to India's struggle for prosperity, and they are demanding a greater voice in public affairs. Increasingly, they are turning to the BJP.

After voting for the Congress Party in the past two elections, Mr. Anand has had it with economic mismanagement and corruption. "Those guys have run the country into the ground," says Mr. Anand, who earned an M.B.A. from New York University and worked in the U.S. for several years before returning home in 1991 with plans to start a business.

When he applied to build a factory to make medical equipment, considered a "high priority" industry by New Delhi, government officials made him traipse from office to office for a year -- a delay caused by his refusal to grease palms, he says. By the time Mr. Anand's investment was approved, the rupee had lost so much of its value that imported parts had become prohibitively expensive and his plans were far less feasible, though he did start up the business.

Mr. Anand believes the BJP will create a better working environment because it has been strongly pro-business and, despite its protectionist rhetoric, will have to keep India's markets open because of the country's growing reliance on global trade and investment. Mr. Anand also expresses admiration for the avuncular Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who polls show is India's most respected leader and most popular choice for prime minister.

Filling the Void

Mr. Vajpayee is considered a moderate, and he is integral to the BJP's drive to fill the large centrist void left by the decline of the Congress Party, which has ruled India for 44 of the past 50 years. After the 1996 election, India's newly assertive lower-caste and regional parties, with the fickle backing of the Congress Party, united in a short-lived coalition government that existed only to keep the BJP out of power. This year, the 73-year-old Mr. Vajpayee has struck his own alliances with regional parties but is still likely to need further help to gain a majority. The question is how long he can restrain Hindu-nationalist firebrands in the party's upper ranks. For nearly five years, no state ruled by the BJP has witnessed major Hindu-Muslim rioting. But right at the top of the BJP's platform is a pledge to build the Ram temple.

Mr. Anand dismisses the BJP's Hindu-chauvinist line as campaign rhetoric that will prove impossible to implement in pluralistic India. Though his upper-middle-class lifestyle places him among a tiny but growing minority in impoverished India, his religious views are far more typical than the Hinduism espoused by Mr. Sharma, the activist who helped topple the mosque.

Mr. Anand visits a temple once a year. His father, a Hindu who was displaced from his birthplace in what is now Pakistan amid the violence of partition, keeps a Koran and a Bible along with Hindu scriptures at his home. Mr. Anand's wife, educated as he was at a Christian school, maintains a Hindu shrine-which includes a picture of Jesus. "That's Hinduism for me," he says. "Hinduism is the most live-and-let-live religion in the world."