Hathras stampede: Godman goes missing, has an army of followers

 Lucknow, July 3 : Sakar Vishwa Hari Bhole Baba, at whose religious discourse a massive stampede took place in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras, leaving 121 dead, is now absconding.

The police conducted search operations at Ram Kutir Charitable Trust in Mainpuri district in search of ‘Bhole Baba’, but he was nowhere to be found. Interestingly, the FIR does not mention Bhole Baba as an accused — his manager and organiser Dev Prakash Madhukar, referred to as ‘Mukhya Sewadar’, and other organisers of the religious event have been named in the FIR. Sakar Vishwa Hari Bhole Baba, formerly known as Saurabh Kumar, had previously served in the intelligence department of Uttar Pradesh Police.

After 17 years of service, he quit his job to embark on a spiritual journey as a preacher. He is often seen giving lessons in a white suit and tie. He organises satsang programmes with his wife and is also known as ‘Sakar Vishwa Hari Baba of Patiali’. While his following extends beyond Uttar Pradesh to Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, and though the preacher and his acolytes maintain a distance from the media and also social media, he has a large number of followers who address themselves as ‘Baba’s army’. According to a devotee, Bhole Baba had no religious mentor and soon after he took voluntary retirement from service, he had a ‘vision’ of the deity and since then he became inclined to spiritual pursuits.

He used to hold his satsangs every Tuesday and before Hathras, he held a similar event in Mainpuri district last week. He has an ashram in Mainpuri too. Bhole Baba courted controversy during the Covid pandemic period when he sought permission for a satsang in Farrukhabad district in May 2022 to be attended by only 50 people. However, the congregation grew to over 50,000, causing a major problem for the local administration.