Born as Krishna Pal Singh in 1947 in UP’s Gonda district, Chinmayanand had apparently left home when he was 20 to learn lessons in spirituality and religion from Dharmanand.
He had completed his education in Vrindavan. According to a booklet produced by the Haridwar ashram he now ‘manages’: “From 1967 to 1971 he [Chinmayanand] studied Gayatri and Tantra in Haridwar, Varanasi and Guwahati, and completed his M.A. (Philosophy) and Doctorate (Comparative study of Shankar and Arvinda).”
In the 1990s, Chinmayanand was looking after four educational institutions in Shahjahanpur -- one established by his guru and three by his guru’s predecessor -- and also managing the Member of Parliament (MP) portfolio. Chinmayanand won from UP’s Machhalishahr constituency during the 1998 Lok Sabha elections, and the Jaunpur constituency during the 1999 Lok Sabha elections that resulted in a third Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.
In a biographical sketch dating back from the short-lived 12th Lok Sabha (1998), Chinmayanand described himself as a “political and social worker and religious missionary”. His hobbies include “reading, writing, travelling, gardening and yoga”. Although the sketch mentions that the Swami is associated with “several” spiritual, cultural and educational organisations, according to his website, he is associated with over 30 of them. This includes 8 trusts that manages, in addition to hospitals, dispensaries and a dozen ashrams in Rishikesh, Vrindavan, Haridwar, Mainpuri and Shahjahanpur.
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In later years, when tensions arose between the Vajpayee-led faction and the VHP- and RSS-oriented factions in the government, Chinmayanand was made the Minister of State in the Home Ministry in May 2003 to appease the VHP.
Chinmayanand’s friendship with Adityanath has a history. During the Ramjanmabhoomi movement in the 1980s, Chinamayanand had worked shoulder-to-shoulder with Adityanath’s guru, Mahant Avaidyanath, the then head priest of the Gorakhnath Temple. The two had founded the Ram Janmabhoomi Mukti Sangharsh Samiti.
In the years that followed, Chinamayanand had managed the Shahjahanpur branch of Adityanath’s saffron militia, the Hindu Yuva Vahini. A visitor in Chinmayanand’s schools and colleges will find plaques citing that Adityanath inaugurated an auditorium or a department on this day in that year. Even after he became Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Adityanath came to Shahjahanpur in 2018 to inaugurate a school building in the Shri Daivi Sampad Inter College (SDSIC).
UP CM Yogi Adityanath with Swami Chinmayanand in 2017. | Courtesy: Yogi Adityanath on Twitter
In a cramped and creaky Shahjahanpur, Chinmayanand’s schools and colleges provide a sprawling contrast: big red and white buildings that overlook well-trimmed and lush green lawns with statutes of a goddess here and a saint there. The classrooms have high-ceilings and large portraits of a composed and stiff Chinmayanand and his gurus hang everywhere in the campus.
In Shahjahanpur, the incident produced two types of responses. The common people would tell you that the Swami enjoyed local omnipotence and was capable of doing what he did. There was an acknowledgement of a darker side. Among the opinion-makers, that is, journalists and politicians, there was an instrumental silence about such an acknowledgement. The collective brainstorming in this circle was dedicated to how Chinmayanand will manage this problem, not whether he was the culprit.
“They all know he did it, but they will not dare to say it. They will keep showering praise on him and that’s that,” a senior journalist with a local paper told me.
What was uniform was the shaming of the woman and cheap gossip about her character and that of her family. In her neighbourhood, two young men sniggered when I asked them about her. “She has had many boyfriends,” they said. Snigger, snigger. “And she was anyway living with him (Chinmayanand) in the campus.” More sniggering. “The parents are to blame. If you keep a sweet outside, wouldn’t someone come and eat it?” Snigger, snigger.
The locality in Shahjahanpur where the accuser’s family lives.
“The journalists in Shahjahanpur are Chinmayanand’s patronised class. They will not and can not write against him,” said a journalist from a national magazine who boasts of writing against the Swami, even if it is from the safe distance of Lucknow.
Another senior journalist working for a national Hindi daily told this correspondent that “a lot of resources are being dedicated to divert this issue”.
As the controversy trail-blazed through Shahjahanpur, Chinmayanand was away in Haridwar, in one of the ashrams where Sukhdevanand once spent his meditative summers. He was in a state of maun vrat (a vow of silence), we were told.
After being spotted in Delhi on August 28, the woman was found in Rajasthan on August 30. There was another man with her called Sanjay Singh. The police took them to Delhi, where the accuser met her family, who had also been brought there from Shahjahanpur. After she was produced in the Supreme Court on August 31, the bench said that she “doesn't want to go back to Uttar Pradesh till she meets her parents here and after the meeting, she will make the decision on her future course of action.” The apex court ordered the UP government to shift her and her brother to another college, and constitute a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe charges levelled by her against Chinmayanand.
“He has raped me,” the woman revealed on September 9 with half a dozen mics hogging her face, which was draped almost entirely with a black dupatta. “He exploited me for over a year.”
“I have no problem answering questions but at least arrest him (Chinmayanand),” she added, her voice giving away anxiety and annoyance. “I was running for days, trying to save myself. The Shahjahanpur DM threatened my father...There is a threat from UP police."
On September 10, Amar Ujala reported that a “video of Swami Chinmayananda...is becoming public on social media” where he is “getting a massage from a student”. The video’s screenshots were posted on a website called bhadas4media, showing an old man lying completely naked and receiving a massage from a younger woman. “The student recorded Chinmayanand being naked on January 31 through a hidden camera fixed in her specs,” the article claimed. The video has not been authenticated yet.
In 2011, Chinmayanand had been accused of rape and kidnapping by a “sadhvi” in his ashram. Like in the latest case, he evaded arrest then even after a bailable warrant had been produced in his name. Last year, a report had noted that the “entire government machinery was trying to shield him” when the controversy propped up. The Swami’s accused and her husband had tried to confront him and the spat was caught on camera. But like a good friend, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had then given orders to the state’s law and justice department to withdraw the case against Chinmayanad days after allegedly meeting him at his Mumukshu Ashram in Shahjahanpur.
But the latest allegations have brought to fore a set of more complicated problems. The Swami’s latest accuser claims she has evidence against him. The national media too, as her family concedes, have taken her side. A video claiming to show Chinmayanand with a young student is doing the rounds on the internet and opinion-makers in Shahjahanpur are not sure how their Swami will get this monkey off his back. Will Chinmayanand, the super-saint of Shahjahanpur, the scion of a great sadhu tradition, lover of children, foe of Bollywood music and the demolisher of the Babri Masjid, manage to get out of this unscathed? We’ll have to let the investigation take its course, but will Chinmayanand?—Excerpted from News Laundry