Indian Hindu religious leader arrested for insulting Mahatma Gandhi and Islam

Police in India has arrested a Hindu religious leader four days after he was charged for allegedly making derogatory remarks against Mahatma Gandhi and attacking Islam during a religious gathering.

Chhattisgarh state’s police arrested Kalicharan Maharaj near Khajuraho city in the neighbouring Madhya Pradesh state on Thursday, officials said.

Three separate teams of Chhattisgarh’s police had been dispatched for his arrest.

Sachin Sharma, a senior police superintendent of the Chhattisgarh police, elaborated on the quest authorities had to embark on to find Kalicharan Maharaj.

The religious leader had apparently been trying to evade arrest, according to several media reports.

“Kalicharan Maharaj was living in a rented room in Bageshwar Dham, 25km from Khajuraho. He booked a room in a guest house in Khajuraho by hiding his identity,” Mr Sharma told the Hindustan Times newspaper.

“When he reached there on Thursday morning, he was arrested by Chhattisgarh police,” he added.

The religious leader had also allegedly told his aides to switch off their phones, said news channel NDTV, citing sources.

Kalicharan Maharaj had been invited to a “dharam sansad [religious conference]” organised in Chhatisgarh’s capital Raipur on 25 and 26 December.

During the conference, he had allegedly hailed Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse.

He had also alleged that “the target of Islam is to capture the nation through politics,” reported India Today. “I salute Nathuram Godse that he killed Gandhi,” he allegedly said.

Some of the speakers at the event, attended by more than 20 religious leaders from across the country, also urged Hindus to arm themselves and “be prepared” for the establishment of a “Hindu Rashtra [Hindu nation]”, reported the Indian Express newspaper.

Following the incident, a police complaint was filed against Kalicharan Maharaj on the basis of a complaint by Raipur city’s former mayor Pramod Dubey, who was also present at the event, according to the newspaper.

The arrest has snowballed into a state-level political controversy.

Chhattisgarh state has a government formed by the Indian National Congress party, which is in the opposition at the national level, while Madhya Pradesh has a government of the ruling, right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party.

Madhya Pradesh state’s home minister Narottam Mishra attacked the Chhattisgarh government over the manner of Kalicharan Maharaj’s arrest.

He accused the Chhattisgarh police of not informing Madhya Pradesh’s police department about the action taken against the religious leader.

Mr Mishra further directed Madhya Pradesh’s police chief to register a protest with his Chhattisgarh counterpart.

Chhattisgarh’s chief minister Bhupesh Baghel said Mr Mishra should say whether he was “happy or sad” about the arrest.

“Narottam Mishra should tell whether he is happy or sad about the arrest of the person who derogated Mahatma Gandhi? No rules have been violated and arrest made by Chhattisgarh police as per procedures (sic).”

Douglas Mateo

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