History of worshipping saints started during Bhakti movement, a theistic devotional trend that emerged in medieval Hinduism which later acted as the de facto catalyst to the formation of Sikhism, and witnessed some of the notable souls like Saint Kabir and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu among many more and their teaching which gave meaning to people’s life. These people lived with common people, felt the same pain as them and worked together for the betterment of Humanity.
Today, we can find saints in every corner of India. However, only a handful of them have little desire to help people. Most of them live in luxurious hotels, oops I mean Ashrams with armed bodyguards and beautiful female followers sitting next to them for “Sanskaari Glamour.” Names such as Radhe Maa, Asarama Bapu and Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Insaan Chinnaswami Muttuswami Venugopal Iyer Homo Sapien are among the first when we think of “Dhongi Babas.” But there is one baba you may or may not have heard of, a baba who goes by the name of Nirmal Baba. Count the number of times I typed baba. Baba.
Picture this for a second, you go to a friend of yours for advice, but before listening to your problems he asks you to pay a sum of Rs 2000. You pay him gladly, hoping it will be worth it but to your utter surprise, he asks, “Samose dikhaayi de rahe hai! khaate ho? (You see those samosas? Do you eat them?)
You reply, “Yes.”
“Hare chutney ke saath ya laal chutney ke saath? (With green chutney or red chutney?)”
“Hari Chutney ke saath har shanivar do samose khaao, kripa honi shuru hojayegi (Start having two samosas in green chutney every Saturday, god will start showering his blessings)”
Mind-bending, innit? But this is exactly what goes down in Nirmal Baba’s Samagams, meetings held by Nirmal Darbar in different cities around the country including Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai, which also airs through various channels on television, up to 40 to be exact and has over 450,000 followers on Facebook and around 46,000 followers on Twitter.
Nirmaljeet Singh Nerula alias Nirmal Baba is a self-proclaimed godman known for his public discourses and is widely followed in North India for his treatises on social issues as well as his Samagam in Nirmal Darbar. During these Samagams, he converses with aggrieved devotees who usually narrate their worries to him. Most people focus on getting a better job, solving marriage related problems or other aspirational issues.
He is infamous for his obnoxious and ill-logical solutions, like the one I mentioned earlier. One man got to his feet and asked the guru for help with his failing business. “Do you own a briefcase,” the man was asked. He said he did but that it was 15 years old. Nirmal Baba smirked at him. “15 years? Then how can you hope to keep God’s grace,” he snapped. “Go and buy another one.”
To a woman from Chhattisgarh whose daughter was having unspecified problems, he enquired if she ever ate spinach. She had last eaten some six months ago, she said. “Well try and eat it twice a month. Have it with some cottage cheese and chapattis. Give some to the poor people as well,” he replied.
At one instance, Nirmal Baba suggested a man to go and play ludo with 3 kids and gamble in a casino so that kripa(blessings) starts showering on him. Take some time and try to guess what could the query of the man possibly be. Let me help you, it was “Whether my sister-in-law should undergo a brain-tumour-operation.” His solutions are so simple yet ridiculous that a compilation of them could be the script of a Sajid Khan Movie. Call it Dumbshakals.
According to people from different parts of the world; he has healing powers to cure diseases like typhoid, jaundice etc, and not only can he scan the individual but also has the power to guess about a person’s possessions; just by talking over the phone. One of his supporters (a professor of psychology at Delhi University), has said that she believed “he had some sort of extra-sensory perception” and “he was performing a positive mental health role.” I ask, if he really has healing powers, where is the vaccine we’ve all been waiting for?
Baba claims he started to develop special powers of perception around 15 years ago. Previously he had run a series of off-and-on businesses and had a stake in a garment factory and a mining operation in the eastern state of Jharkhand. Asked whether there was a break-through moment, he said people started coming to him for “treatment” for either their health or problems at work. He said he was different from other gurus in that he didn’t recommend “mantras or tantras” and told people to continue following their own faith. “I didn’t give medicine. It’s a blessing. People are getting the blessing,” he said.
Baba also asks for 10% of the salary of a person who visits him for the solution of any trouble in their life. Add to that the money he makes from shows on news channels and general entertainment channels, the guru and possessor of the ‘third eye’ has an annual (2012) turnover of (hold your breath) ₹234 crores. While the number is a bit unbelievable, he is being accused of misusing the funds to buy a hotel (and possibly start a hotel chain), buying properties in Delhi and using funds for undisclosed activities.
Back in 2012, two teenagers filed a report against Baba at a Lucknow police station. Tanaya Thakur, 16, and Aritya Thakur, 13, said they wanted Baba punished for allegedly cheating ordinary people through his “impractical” solutions. The report says his activities fuel superstitious thoughts and are a “hindrance to modernistic thoughts”.
In the same year Harish Veer Singh, a Baghpat-based professor, had alleged that he had gone to the godman to seek help for his health problems. Baba had allegedly asked Singh, a diabetic patient, to consume kheer, following which he said his health deteriorated. This is not the only case against the godman. In all, three cases have been filed against the controversial godman in Uttar Pradesh for alleged fraud and cheating. In another police case filed at Indira Puram, Jai Ram Singh alleged that Nirmal Baba cheated him of Rs 31,000 by promising to cure his ailment. In a third case, Jitender Singh filed a police complaint against Narula for allegedly cheating him of Rs 11,000 in exchange for curing his health problem. He claimed that he developed regular pain in his body after he ate panipuri for months following the godman’s advice.
“I never asked people to deposit money to solve their problems. I never assured them of any magical solution to their woes,” Baba said, denying all the allegations against him.
The question which then arises is if he really is a conman then why he is not arrested yet and how he is still doing Samagams without any worry? Well, because you can’t really prove in the legal sense of the term that any spiritual leader is a fake. As long as he/she is careful and does not make binding claims (e.g., “Your cancer will be healed in 10 days or I will return the money you paid me”), the legal machinery cannot get involved. Nirmal Baba, in particular, is really good at this. Notice he says: “Kripa Shuru Hogi” (“Grace will flow”). He is very careful by not specifying what the nature of grace is. It may be healing of an ailment or the strength to endure the pain.
And as for why his followers trust him blindly, the simple explanation for that is that no one wants to take the responsibility for self. Almost everybody has problems in life and wants an escape. Now when they see that they only have to pay this much amount and their suffering will end, they get overwhelmed. Reports say that Baba also seats some of his own team who not only make the auditorium seem crowded but also recite made up stories as to how the kripa of Nirmal Baba helped them solve their life problems. This is enough to compel most Indians to at least give baba a try. A typical example of herd mentality.
If you have problems in your life, depending on divine intervention is the last, most moronic solution that there is. It’s like that joke where a person shits in front of a sea and waits for a tsunami to clean it. The fact of the matter is that faith is the easiest to manufacture and sells like hotcakes. It has the best profit margins in the history of business. So, is Nirmal Baba a conman or a genius for turning his follower’s blinding trust into a business model? That’s up for you to decide.