In the eight months since the election, he has claimed that madrasas teach students terrorism and "love jihad", called Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse a patriot, asked Hindu women to protect their religion by producing at least four children and declared that cow slaughter and conversion to Islam and Christianity would soon be punishable by death.
These statements may be ludicrous, but seem to pale in comparison to some of the charges laid out against him. The man who preaches hate and religious intolerance, wishes death upon people for their choice of meat and sees women as nothing but baby-making machines has, unsurprisingly, a history of rape and murder allegations trailing him.
Swami Sachidanand Hari, better known as Sakshi Maharaj, has a large following in Etah, UP, where he hails from. He also runs a large network of ashrams and schools across the state, and is extremely popular among his disciples.
He began his political career in the 1990s with the Bharatiya Janata Party, was elected to the Lok Sabha twice from Farrukhabad, switched allegiance to the Samajwadi Party, then joined former UP chief minister Kalyan Singh’s Rashtriya Kranti Party and finally moved back to the BJP.
In 2000, a college principal in Etah filed a police complaint accusing Maharaj and two of his nephews of gang-raping her. The woman and her male associate were allegedly assaulted by the godman when they were driving to Agra from Etah.
Maharaj had to spend a month in Tihar jail on rape charges, but was eventually let off.
Ten years ago, however, another rape complaint was filed against him in Farrukhabad, by a disciple of his ashram. “The woman is from Mainpuri and still maintains that Sakshi Maharaj had taken advantage of her and raped her in the ashram,” said Yogendra Singh Yadav, a Farrukhabad-based editor of Hindi publication Yuva Peedhi. “When the case had gone to court, however, the police filed a report saying there was no rape.”
More sensational headlines were made in 1997 when, as the sitting MP of Farrukhabad, Sakshi Maharaj was named as one of the people complicit in the killing of Brahm Dutt Dwivedi, a senior BJP leader. Maharaj’s name came up in the later stage of the investigation, but he was eventually given a clean chit for the murder.
More recently, in April 2013, Maharaj and his brother were accused of murdering Sujata Verma, a member of the UP state women’s commission. She was shot at close range by someone in the Etah ashram, which she had visited that day.
“Sujata Verma used to claim that Sakshi Maharaj had adopted her as a daughter, and there was a property dispute between them,” said Mohammed Arif Khan, a journalist based in Etah. “Verma had taken hold of a part of his ashram, and about two months later, she was killed.”
Soon after the murder, Maharaj had been on the run. Verma’s son claimed that the godman had threatened his mother in the past. Maharaj later pleaded innocent in court, and was not convicted.
Yadav claims Maharaj also has a history of booth capturing during election time. “During the Lok Sabha election ten years ago, I remember him going around Farrukhabad with a caravan of vehicles and armed guards to capture booths,” he said. “At one point, his weapons were seized and handed over to the police, but he eventually won the seat.”
Scroll made several efforts to phone Maharaj to ask him about these charges but he did not return calls.