Morphed photo likely led to holy man's death

Investigations into the mysterious death of Mahant Narendra Giri, the head of the top religious body Akhil Bharatiya Akhada Parishad (ABAP), allegedly by suicide in Uttar Pradesh's Prayagraj on Monday is being linked to a morphed photo in which he is seen with a girl.

In a suicide note, parts of which are illegible, he said that he was being blackmailed by his closest disciple Anand Giri, who had reportedly morphed the photograph on his computer and was preparing to release it into the public domain.

Mahant (head of a monastery) Giri wrote: "My mind is troubled because of Anand Giri. I was going to take my own life on September 13, 2021, but could not gather the courage.

"Today, I received information that Anand Giri would in a day or two make a photograph of mine with a woman viral using a computer.

"Anand even asked me, 'Once these allegations spread, how many people will you prove your innocence to?'

"I have lived a life of dignity and I cannot live with the humiliation that I will be subjected to."

The 72-year-old mahant was found dead in Bhagambari Mutt by the students of the monastery after he did not come out of his room for his traditional public meeting.

The students knocked on the door and found it bolted from inside. They then broke in and found him hanging.

A postmortem report on Wednesday revealed that he died of "asphyxia due to hanging".

The police later filed a First Information Report (FIR) against Anand, who was arrested in Uttarakhand and charged with harassing the mahant.

It is believed that Anand was the mahant's protege until they fell out in May. He was later reportedly expelled by the mahant over allegations of fraud and financial mismanagement.

There was an apparent patch-up a few days later, with a video showing Anand seeking forgiveness at the feet of his mentor, but the police suspect it was short-lived.

Two other disciples, Aadya Tiwari and his son Sandeep who stayed with Mahant Giri, were also detained for questioning.

In the suicide note, the mahant named Anand, Adhya and Sandeep as responsible for his death.

"I request all Prayagraj police officials to take action against them," wrote the mahant. "The people responsible for my death should be punished so that my soul can rest in peace."

The police said they are looking into the contents of the note. "We are reading the note. He said he was depressed," said senior Prayagraj police officer K.P. Singh on Monday.

"He also wrote what should be done with the ashram after his passing, in the form of a will."

Additional Director-General of Police (Prayagraj zone) Prem Prakash has formed an 18-member special team to investigate the mahant's death.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who is also a representative of the mahant community, hailed Mahant Giri for his contributions, especially in organising the Kumbh Mela, a major festival in Hinduism, in 2019.

Mr Yogi tweeted that "several pieces of evidence" had been collected and the "culprit will not be spared".

Mahants in Prayagraj and Haridwar, however, believe that Mahant Giri's death was the result of a "conspiracy" by those who were angry with him over a series of controversial decisions he made as ABAP chief.

"It is unlikely that there are just one or two people behind his death," said a mahant.

"There are many who were upset by decisions he made since he took over as Akhil Bhartiya Akhara Parishad head in 2016."

In 2017, Mahant Giri had come out with a list of fake ascetics, angering many. "Such hypocrite babas should be put in prison. Their assets must be investigated," he said.

The development had sent ripples through the mahant community across India.

He also announced another list, which had the names of more fake ascetics, two months later.

In 2019, Mahant Giri was accused of being involved in the murder of Mr Ashish Giri, the secretary of Panchayati Akhara at Daryaganj in Prayagraj over a property dispute.

The police later gave the mahant a clean chit.

Mahant Giri also angered a section of the mahants during the Kumbh Mela this year when he refused to give ABAP recognition to a transgender group.

"Mahant Giri had many differences with many people," said a disciple at the Baghambari Mutt.

"The blackmail theory cannot be disregarded.

"Apart from Anand Giri, there are many influential people behind this death which needs to be investigated."

Indo-Asian News Service

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