It began as an attempted crusade against superstition, but instead ended in venerated mythmaking and apartheid in a fancy dress. That’s what happened when ABP News tried to do a reality check on the rumoured miraculous powers of a self-styled godman in Madhya Pradesh.
Dhirendra Shastri, a 26-year-old self-styled godman who leads the Bageshwar Dham in Chhatarpur of Bundelkhand, claims to understand the problems of all those who seek his help and jot them down on a piece of paper without asking for any inputs. However, he is now in the news over allegations that he is just another fraud, after he refused to accept a challenge by the Nagpur-based Akhil Bharatiya Andhshraddha Nirmoolan Samiti – an anti-superstition organisation.
He allegedly fled from a Ramkatha in Nagpur when challenged by the organisation and has since been trending on social media. He has previously received support from right-wing Hindu outfits, and has even claimed that he is being targeted for being a Hindu as Muslim and Christian priests are “never asked” such questions. He has made similar statements in the past, including on bulldozer “justice”. But more on that later.
Meanwhile, ABP News decided to do a “reality check” on Shastri’s powers, and ended up supporting his “miracles”. But here’s the catch: all the information that Shastri revealed on stage was already on the reporter’s Facebook profile.
#EXCLUSIVE: à¤¬à¤¾à¤à¥à¤¶à¥à¤µà¤° à¤§à¤¾à¤® à¤¸à¤°à¤à¤¾à¤° Vs à¤à¥à¤à¤¾à¤¨à¥à¤à¤¦à¥à¤° à¤¤à¤¿à¤µà¤¾à¤°à¥— ABP News (@ABPNews) January 20, 2023
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Here’s what happened
The channel’s reporter Gyanendra Tiwari was among a host of media personnel watching Shastri deliver sermons, when the latter suddenly asked, “A journalist whose uncle is named Bhrigunath Tiwari must come on stage.”
As Tiwari climbed the stage, Shastri asked, “Is your uncle named Bhrigunath Tiwari?” Shastri was seated on a large white sofa, dressed in a red-and-white-checkered robe, a maala, and red headgear. The reporter touched his feet and sat next to them in veneration.
“Yes, my uncle is Bhrigunath Tiwari. He lives in Bhopal but is in Mathura right now.”
The godman’s followers began raising slogans in applause. But Shastri went on to confirm if the reporter had revealed any of this before to anyone and that he would face “maha-paap”, a major sin, if so.
“Guruji main teen din se balki is sacchai ko ABP News mein dikha raha hoon. Maine koi andhvishwaas dikhaane ka aur bataane ka kaam nahin kiya hai,” the reporter responded, saying that his channel has been trying to show the “truth” for the past three days and he is not amplifying any superstition.
This was enough encouragement for the Bagheswar Dham chief, who thundered with another “miracle”. “So is your brother called Raghvendra Tiwari,” he asked.
“Yes, guruji,” said Tiwari, hands folded. Quickly turning to the audience, the reporter said, “As a journalist I am saying all hail Aacharya Dhirendra Shastri because what I am seeing and hearing is not a miracle.”
“Has your brother just built a house? Is your niece named Abhishee?” Shastri thundered. “Ji, guruji,” Tiwari responded.
“From today, stop calling me superstitious, or you’ll be stripped…whoever is spreading myths, stop doing it from today. I pledge from this seat that I will not give any other evidence after today,” said Shastri, to huge cheer from the audience.
Social media users were quick to call out the channel and its reporter. Many noted that Shastri’s “revelations” were already out there in the public domain, on Tiwari’s social media profile.
à¤¬à¤¾à¤à¥à¤¶à¥à¤µà¤° à¤§à¤¾à¤® à¤à¥ à¤¬à¤¾à¤¬à¤¾ à¤§à¥à¤°à¥à¤à¤¦à¥à¤° à¤¶à¤¾à¤¸à¥à¤¤à¥à¤°à¥ à¤¨à¥ ABP à¤à¥ à¤à¤¿à¤¸ à¤ªà¤¤à¥à¤°à¤à¤¾à¤° à¤à¥ à¤°à¤¿à¤¶à¥à¤¤à¥à¤¦à¤¾à¤°à¥à¤ à¤à¤° à¤à¤° à¤à¥ à¤¬à¤¾à¤°à¥ à¤®à¥à¤ à¤à¤¾à¤¨à¤à¤¾à¤°à¥ à¤¦à¥, à¤µà¥ à¤¸à¤¾à¤°à¥ à¤à¤¨à¤à¥ à¤«à¥à¤¸à¤¬à¥à¤ à¤ à¤à¤¾à¤à¤à¤ à¤ªà¤° à¤à¤ªà¤²à¤¬à¥à¤§ à¤¹à¥. à¤¯à¥ à¤¸à¤¬ @kapsology à¤¨à¥ à¤¬à¤¤à¤¾à¤¯à¤¾. à¤à¥à¤° à¤¤à¤¬ à¤¤à¥ à¤®à¤¾à¤°à¥à¤ à¤à¤¼à¤à¤°à¤¬à¤°à¥à¤ à¤à¤¸à¥ à¤²à¤¾à¤à¥à¤ à¤¬à¤¾à¤¬à¤¾à¤à¤ à¤à¥ à¤¬à¤°à¤¾à¤¬à¤° à¤¹à¥. pic.twitter.com/eYuWZX27Or— Swati Mishra (@swati_mishr) January 20, 2023
Media, baba, and politics
While several Congress leaders, including Madhya Pradesh leader of opposition Govind Singh, have hit out at Shastri, asking him to prove his powers, the party may need not look any further than itself for proof. After all, its Raipur MLA Vikas Upadhyay appeared on ABP News, in a “super exclusive” telecast featuring the “godman” and reporter Tiwari – as a devout follower who takes no offence at being called a “paagal” or madman by Shastri.
But Shastri is not alien to power proximity, with admirers across the political spectrum. Last year in August, a viral photograph showed BJP’s firebrand leader and Madhya Pradesh home minister Narottam Mishra, and senior police officers, seated on the floor, while Shastri sat on a sofa, engaged in conversation. It was from a religious event in Datia.
Several opposition leaders had raised questions over the photograph, asking if it bode well for constitutional morality.
Shastri has also been accused of promoting casteist and communal sentiments. In a video, he was seen telling a follower not to touch him, calling him an “untouchable”.
à¤¯à¥ à¤¸à¤¨à¤¾à¤¤à¤¨ à¤à¥ à¤ªà¥à¤à¤¾à¤°à¥ à¤¹à¥à¤, à¤®à¤à¤ à¤¸à¥ à¤¬à¥à¤ à¤à¤° à¤à¤¾à¤à¤µ à¤à¤¾à¤à¤µ à¤à¤°à¤¤à¥ à¤¹à¥à¤ à¤à¤° à¤à¥à¤¤ à¤ à¤à¥à¤¤ à¤à¥ à¤à¤¡à¤¼à¥ à¤¸à¤¾à¤§à¤¨à¤¾ à¤®à¥à¤ à¤²à¥à¤¨ à¤°à¤¹à¤¤à¥ à¤¹à¥à¤. à¤®à¤à¤¾à¤² à¤¹à¥ à¤à¥à¤ à¤à¥ à¤²à¥. à¤®à¤¹à¤¾à¤°à¤¾à¤ à¤à¥ à¤à¥ à¤à¤¾à¤à¤µ à¤¸à¥à¤¨à¤¿à¤. pic.twitter.com/Yi9sSlelWf— Devesh Mishra/Ø¯ÛÙÛØ´ (@fake2fact) May 25, 2022
With communal flare-ups in several areas after Ram Navami rallies last year, there were demolitions of Muslim properties. Shastri had then of “bulldozer justice”, asking “all Hindus” to unite. “I will also buy a bulldozer in a few days,” he had said. “All Hindus, pick up arms, and say that all of us Hindus are one,” he said, referring to reports that Ram Navami rallies faced stone-pelting in Muslim-populated areas.
Shastri’s sermons see gatherings in thousands. He claims to cure everything, from demonic possession to healing of ailments. He even talks to Raavan on the phone. If you believe so.
à¤à¤¸à¤à¤¾ à¤®à¤à¤¼à¤¾à¤ à¤à¥à¤¯à¥à¤ à¤à¤¡à¤¼à¤¾ à¤°à¤¹à¥ à¤¹à¥à¤ à¤²à¤¿à¤¬à¥à¤°à¤¾à¤à¤¡à¥? à¤°à¤¾à¤µà¤£ à¤¸à¥ à¤«à¤¼à¥à¤¨ à¤ªà¤° à¤¬à¤¾à¤¤ à¤à¤°à¤¨à¤¾ à¤®à¥à¤®à¤à¤¿à¤¨ à¤¨à¤¹à¥à¤ à¤¹à¥ à¤à¥à¤¯à¤¾? ð— Bhagat Ram (@bhagatram2020) January 19, 2023
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What does the law say?
Such godmen appear on television screens each day, in varying attires, some as astrologers, some as fortune-tellers, speaking on eclipses, horoscopes and what not. This is a slightly less exalted category than the usual primetime babas speaking on broadly communal themes to a biased anchor.
Sometimes, even the anchors surpass these babas in making bizarre claims. Consider the example when Times Now Navbharat anchors passed off a rare Himalayan Griffon vulture sighting in Kanpur as Jatayu’s visit to Ayodhya. Jatayu is a demigod from Ramayan who takes avian forms.
In 2021, the union ministry of information and broadcasting had released an asking channels to stop airing programmes that promote superstition. It cited Rule 6(1)(j) of Programme Code and Rule 7(5) of Advertising Code of the Cable Television Networks Rules, 1994.
“It has come to the notice of this Ministry that some of the TV channels telecast programmes/ advertisements which encourage superstition and blind belief. Miraculous solutions of all problems are offered by the self-proclaimed preachers,” it had said.
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