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Once India's most powerful godman, Chandraswami dies in obscurity

Catch Team | Updated on: 23 May 2017, 22:27 IST

After prolonged illness, one of India most controversial godmen Chandraswami died on Tuesday of renal failure. The 66-year-old was on dialysis and had recently suffered a stroke which led to multiple organ failure.

Accused of multiple financial irregularities leading to multiple probes by Enforcement Directorate (ED), Chandraswami had been embroiled in several controversies including his alleged involvement in former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi's assassination in 1991. Once considered the right hand man and guru of former prime minister PV Narasimha Rao, Chandraswami was no ordinary god man.

Such was his popularity that he gave spiritual advice to the Sultan of Brunei, Sheikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa of Bahrain, actress Elizabeth Taylor, British PM Margaret Thatcher, arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi, Dawood Ibrahim, 'Tiny' Rowland, among many others. Multiple stories of his ways of impressing upon others with his magic tricks have featured in many books published in and outside India.

It was his proximity to Rao that catapulted him to prominence and helped him form bonds with people across the political spectrum. This close proximity to the prime minister opened many doors for the self-styled godman who was now hosting the rich and the famous from not only India but across the world.

Soon after Rao became India's prime minister in 1991, Chandraswami built a massive ashram, Vishwa Dharmayatan Sanathan, in Delhi's Qutub Institutional Area. It is here Chandraswami hosted the who's who of India's political and business circle. With them came wheeler dealers of all kinds and Swami entertained all till law caught up with him. So much so that even Rao couldn't save his favourite godman and had to order his arrest in 1996 for duping a London based businessman of $100,000.

Not only this, Chandraswami was accused of several violations of the Foreign Exchange Regulations Act and in 2012, the Enforcement Directorate had slapped Rs 9 crore penalty in seven such cases. Moreover, an income-tax raid on his ashram recovered original drafts of payments to arms dealer Khashoggi of $11 million which triggered his downfall.

However, his alleged involvement in Rajiv Gandhi's killing finally led to him losing all political relevance and even his closest of followers abandoned him. The Jain Commission investigating Rajiv's death in its report had dedicated an entire chapter on Chandraswami's alleged involvement in the assassination.

In 1997, Outlook magazine, did a cover story on the links between Chandraswami and Rao and claimed that the crucial evidence linking the former with Rajiv's assassination went missing during Rao's tenure as prime minister.

The report titled, 'The Deadly Duo', read: “It is these missing files, documents and intercepts that have kept alive the basic question—Who killed Rajiv Gandhi? Who participated, plotted or silently abetted in the act? Right through his five-year term, Narasimha Rao fuelled the intrigue by losing, misplacing, reconstructing, denying the existence and even allegedly destroying key files. His government did everything it could to place stumbling-blocks and even allegedly tried to wind up the Jain Commission inquiring into the conspiracy.”

Thus began the downfall of Chandraswami who was now being avoided by all those who were once enamored by his trickery and predictions. The glamorous godman had become a shadow of his former self amid multiple probes by the Enforcement Directorate that were beginning to take a toll on his popularity and health. Ever since he was sent to Tihar Jail, Chandraswami lost all his prominence along with followers and had been keeping a low profile till the news of his death surfaced.

Born in 1948 in Behror, Rajasthan, his real name was Nemi Chand Jain and his father was a money lender who moved to Hyderabad in search of better opportunities. According to his followers, the controversial godman was interested in religion since his childhood and left home to become a student of Upadhyar Amar Muni and the tantrik expert Gopinath Kaviraj.

In 2001, Chandrswami, in an interview to Times of India, claimed that he meditated in the forests of Bihar for four years and obtained siddhi as an astrologer and mind reader. He then impressed upon politicians till he met Rao who facilitated his influence in political circles.

In his book, Gurus: Stories of India's Leading Babas (Westland Books), Bhavdeep Kang has dedicated a chapter to Chandraswami titled, 'The Shaman-Shyster: Chandraswami'. In this chapter, Kang recounts how Chandraswami had lost all his fame and followers while spending a quite life in his ashram.

“The big-bellied godman himself looked weary, a far cry from the burly, imposing swami with the laser drill gaze who held the movers and shakers of the world in thrall. One eyelid drooped, giving him a permanent wink. He spoke slowly, with a palpable effort. Stripped of power, he appeared leached of vitality,” writes Kang.

First published: 23 May 2017, 22:27 IST