When Asaram’s threat of violence by supporters, political influence could not stop his arrest by Rajasthan Police
Notorious godman Asaram Bapu, aka Asumal Sirumalani Harpalani, serves life imprisonment in the Central Jail Jodhpur. He was convicted for the rape of a minor and also has murder charges against him. Gunning for the Godman is the no-holds-barred, first-hand account of how Ajay Lamba, then DCP Jodhpur (West), landed the case and got a team of dedicated officers together. It is the story of how, foiling the Baba's many attempts to get away scot-free, they arrested him in a matter of only ten days, and how they assiduously saw the victim and her family through a four-year long trial. This, despite the countless threats to not only the girl and her family, but also to DCP Lamba's own family and team. A testimony to unrelenting courage, this story of a dynamic police officer's pursuit of justice is a lesson for these troubled times.
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.
Meanwhile, Satish called me to say that they had convinced Asaram to come with them and they would leave for the airport at four in the morning. The Baba had been recommended rest until then.
While Satish was briefing me about the progress that had been made thus far, and the understanding that he had developed between him and Asaram, investigators continued to put forward to Asaram uncomfortable questions related to the crime. Uncooperative, he frequently changed his position. At times, he even strayed from his promise of going with the team to Jodhpur in the morning. The exchanges between the officers and the godman were at times calm, and at others, heated. While Mukta, Satyaprakash and Subhash fired questions at him, Chanchal was recording the verbal exchanges.
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. For 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.)
I got another call on my mobile. It was Satyaprakash. This was his first call to me since the inception of this operation and I was surprised that he was calling me instead of Chanchal, Subhash or Satish. When I answered his call, he said, ‘Sir, Jai Hind. Asaram is trying to deceive us! Sir, the man has asked his son to collect more of his supporters during the night and block his departure in the morning!’
Shocked as I was to hear this, I was also glad that Satyaprakash understood Sindhi. We had some advantage. And there was no time to waste. I asked Satyaprakash to tell everyone to behave as if they all believed the Baba. And then, I asked him to tell Satish to request Asaram to send his followers out and ask them to remain outside the main gate. ‘Once he has done so, some of you sit in the room with Asaram, and others, in the corridor outside. Wait for my instructions.’
Next, I called the Indore police requesting that they arrange for the exit of my team along with Asaram. Indore police acted promptly. They started increasing the deployment at the front end of the ashram. Riot control equipment, along with water cannons and tear-gas trucks, were stationed. The supporters of Asaram already present in front of the ashram, and those that were gathering there, observed everything that went on with eager attention.
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