Bapu kehte hain: Asaram's son launches party from jail, demands justice for men
You are a self-styled godman's son. You are lodged in jail on the charge of sexually assault. What do you do next?
Naturally, you form a political party, you decide to contest the biggest upcoming Assembly polls in India, and make 'clean politics' and a national commission for men (yes, men) your main poll planks.
Sounds like a good plot for a comedy film or play, right? It could almost be part of the proud tradition of the 'theatre of the absurd', right? Wrong. It's the truth.
Asaram Bapu's son Narayan Sai is the man in question, and he's launched a political outfit called the Ojaswi (brave) Party. Obviously, the party will be vying for the same pro-Hindutva political space as the Bharatiya Janata Party, which has ruled the state non-stop for two decades now.
CM candidate with sadhus' support
Captain Suraj Ram, political advisor to Sai, claims the core committee of the party includes several retired IAS and IPS officers, and a galaxy of sadhus. The party has decided to field candidates on all 182 seats.
Ram, Sai's right hand man, said the Ojaswi Party is a serious political player, which is likely to emerge as a game changer. Many leading saints are likely to campaign for the party. Sai will be the party's chief ministerial candidate .
“We already have a strong base in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, where Sai and Asaram's followers were considered to be the BJP's vote bank. But that phase is over. Now we are here to take on the BJP,” said Ram, the man in-charge of the party's Gujarat affairs.
Charges against father and son
Sai, 45, is currently lodged at Lajpore Central Jail in Surat. He was arrested for allegedly raping a Surat-based woman disciple of his father between 2002 and 2005. Sai was arrested in 2013, when he was hiding in disguise.
The woman had accused Sai of repeated sexual assault when she was living at Asaram's Surat ashram.
Asaram himself is facing trial for allegedly raping a teenaged girl. He is lodged in a jail in Jodhpur, Rajasthan.
A ploy for bail?
It could be just a clever ploy to help Sai get bail, to lead the election campaign. In January, Sai had applied for bail so that he could contest and oversee the election campaign of his party in Uttar Pradesh. But a local court in Surat denied him the luxury of 'temporary bail' to contest the UP elections.
Ahmedabad-based activist Lata Bhatia, a representative of the Sindhu Sena, which belongs to the same Sindhi community as Sai, says the community supports Sai and his father.
“Like any other citizen, they are entitled to bail, it is their legal right. They are accused – they are not convicted yet,” she said.
National Commission for Men – an 'absurd' idea
From the Lajpore Jail, Sai, who claims to have lakhs of devotees across India, mainly in the Hindi-speaking regions, has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He has urged the PM to set up a 'Rashtriya Purush Ayog', a men's commission along the lines of the National Commission for Women (NCW).
Expectedly, women's rights activists are furious. They have labelled the idea as 'laughable' and 'absurd'.
Well-known journalist and writer Sonal Kellogg has ridiculed Sai's suggestion, saying the very idea is 'ludicrous'. Perhaps he needs to be educated, she feels.
“NCW was established to ensure that exploitation of women – domestic violence, dowry deaths, trafficking of girls and women and sexual harassment – is arrested. Men hardly face similar kind of violence and exploitation. So, it is laughable to demand the setting up of a commission for men,” Kellogg said.
Women's rights activist Meenaxi Joshi agreed, calling the idea a 'big joke'. “There is no such situation that warrants the setting up of a commission for men in India,” she said.
High court advocate and women's rights activist Sofia Khan has also described the idea as absurd, claiming that the data released by the National Crime Records Bureau does not substantiate Sai's claim. For setting up a men's commission, there should be legal rationale which, she said, “I don't see at the moment”.
Sai, in his letter, however, has cited several court judgements to make his point – that a commission for men is the need of the hour.
Justifying his rationale, Sai cited a 2016 verdict of a Delhi sessions court, in which the judge had observed: “No one discusses the dignity and honour of a man... Where is the law to protect a man from a woman when he is being persecuted and implicated in a false case?”