India 'godman' arrested after supporters clash with police

Guru Rampal Mahara to appear before the High Court of Punjab and Haryana Thursday
India 'godman' arrested after supporters clash with police

Followers of the guru Rampal Mahara exit an ashram on Wednesday as police moved in to arrest the controversial spiritual leader (Photo AFP/Sajjad Hussain)

Police in northern India arrested a controversial guru on Wednesday following clashes with thousands of his supporters that left at least six people dead and hundreds injured.

The guru, 63-year-old Rampal Mahara, was taken into custody on Wednesday almost 24 hours after police stormed his ashram in Hisar district of Haryana state.

He was due to appear before the High Court of Punjab and Haryana later on Thursday. He is accused of a series of crimes, including conspiracy to commit murder.

Rampal's followers opened fire with homemade weapons and lobbed petrol bombs and acid pouches as police converged on the ashram in an attempt to arrest the guru on Tuesday, police officials said.

People present inside the ashram were effectively taken hostage by Rampal’s private army, they said, adding that officers had to remove more than 15,000 people, including women and children, from the ashram before making the arrest.

At least six people, including an infant, were found dead after the initial clash, but police say it is not clear how they died.

“Police did not fire a single shot in the whole operation. There are no injury marks on the bodies. They could have died of natural causes or for want of medical help,” Haryana police director-general SN Vashisht said Thursday.

“Post-mortems will ascertain what caused their death and when,” he said.

Vashisht said the police worked with the twin objective of saving innocent lives and arresting Rampal.

He said some followers were still inside the ashram.

“Our forces are working to bring out all the followers and the ashram remains surrounded by police.”

Some 30,000 police including paramilitary units were deployed outside the ashram to arrest Rampal.

At least 492 supporters were also arrested during the operation, police said.

The move to arrest the guru came after Rampal defied a state High Court summons to appear before it on November 10 and again on Monday.

Rampal is accused of conspiracy to commit murder in a 2006 case where a man was killed at his ashram. He was also wanted on charges of forgery, assault and criminal intimidation relating to cases from last year.

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After this week’s standoff and subsequent violence, fresh cases of sedition and attempted murder have been filed against the self-styled guru.

Rampal, 63, born to a family of farmers in Haryana and an engineer by profession, claims to be an incarnation of a 15th-century mystic poet named Kabir.

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