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Explained: The fight between two warring factions of the Akshar Purushottam Swami Temple in Vadodra

On May 9, a preliminary meeting began to reach a settlement between two warring factions of the Akshar Purushottam Swami Temple at Haridham Sokhda, Vadodara, popularly known as the Sokhda Swaminarayan sect, in the presence of the Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court, MS Shah. The fight between the two factions began after Hariprasad Swami, the presiding swami, passed away in July 2021.

What is the dispute over the Haridham Sokhda Swaminarayan trust?

What began as a dispute over control of the administration and presidency of the trust, following the death of Swami, 87, in July 2021, has now escalated into a dispute over the right to spiritual life and access to trust goods between the two groups.

As the founder of the Sokhda sect, Hariprasad Swami was the only seer to have held the Gadi as the Chairman of the Trust since the early 1970s. Therefore, there has never been a previous instance of election of a successor in the sect. Speculation about his successor grew after his death with his close aides – Premswaroop Swami and Prabodh Swami – leading the way. However, when a committee appointed by Hariprasad Swami during his lifetime ruled that the seer had wished to have his two disciples jointly manage the inheritance of the trust, a conflict arose.

In Gujarat High Court, the lawyer for Prabodh Swami – who was considered the spiritual successor of Hariprasad Swami – said that Premswaroop Swami – who was responsible for the non-spiritual administration of the trust – presented allegedly forged documents to claim that Hariprasad Swami ceded the presidency to him in 2018.

Pavtira Jani, private secretary to Hariprasad Swami, has filed a habeas corpus petition in the High Court seeking the release of the seers who have allegedly been held hostage at the Sokhda campus since December. Jani also challenged the presidency claim made by Premswaroop Swami. The HC left the field open to the Prabodh Swami group to challenge the request for the presidency made by Premswaroop Swami in a competent forum, as it is not related to the petition for habeas corpus. The two groups decided to mediate on other contentious issues.

On April 21, approximately 150 male and female psychics from the trust appeared in the habeas corpus hearing before the HC of Gujarat via video conference from the premises of the Vadodara District Court. (PhotoExpress)

mysterious death

A member of the Gunatit Charan Swami, 67, was found dead on April 27 under mysterious circumstances in his room at the Sokhda dham premises. Vadodara Police Superintendent Rohan Anand said the saint died by hanging on the evening of April 27 and the trust administration decided to “hide the facts” from the police.

The Haridham Sokhda Trust

Based in Vadodara district, this trust, a splinter faction of BAPS (Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha) – which split from the original Vadtal Swaminarayan Gadi in the 1900s – has supporters across the country and in the Kingdom UK, USA and Australia. However, the cult so far only has campuses in India, compared to the global reach of BAPS. Haridham Sokhada also has female followers, which was a point of contention over which he split from the BAPS which prohibits women from joining as disciples or seers.

The habeas corpus petition

According to Pavtira Jani’s petition to HC, Premswaroop Swami and his supporters, including co-secretary of the trust JM Dave and Swami Tyagvallabhdas, allegedly illegally detained the resident saints – men and women, who followed Prabodh Swami – on the campus of Sokhda since December 2021. , in an “attempt to usurp the properties and control of the trust” and “prevent them from coming off to pursue spiritual campaigns on behalf of the Sokhda trust”.

The petition also alleged that Saints and worshipers had been coerced into handing over their cellphones and passports, among other possessions, in order to keep them confined to campus.

On April 21, approximately 150 male and female psychics from the trust appeared in the habeas corpus hearing before Gujarat HC via video conference from Vadodara District Court premises and requested freedom to leave the campus of Gujarat. Sokhda. A divisional bench consisting of Justice Sonia Gokani and Justice Mauna Bhatt had ordered seers and disciples to seek refuge in Ahmedabad while male seers and disciples were directed to the trust’s Bakrol campus in Anand district. .

The court also ordered Premswaroop Swami, JM Dave and Tyagvallabh Swami to refrain from trying to visit the two premises or make contact with the seers and evacuated disciples of Sokhda.

What is the controversy regarding the chairmanship of the Sokhda Swaminaryan Trust?

After the death of Hariprasad Swami, a trust committee announced that “according to the wishes of the deceased trust guru”, it had been decided that his closest disciples – Premswaroop Swami and Prabodh Swami – would “jointly carry on the legacy and the charity”. works of trust”. While Prabodh Swami had been involved in delivering sermons like Hariprasad, Premswaroop Swami was involved in the administrative work of the trust during Hariprasad’s lifetime, followers recall.

Jani, through his lawyer, informed the court that Premswaroop Swami had “shockingly” proclaimed himself president saying that Hariprasad would have resigned as president and trust in August 2018 and appointed Premswaroop in his place. Jani argued in court that Hariprasad Swami did not mention to anyone the 2018 resolution – as claimed by Premswaroop Swami – in which he allegedly appointed the latter as sole authority chairman of the trust after he himself even resigned from his post.

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What are the claims to mediation between the two groups?

The two feuding groups, after much deliberation, agreed to choose an arbitrator – the mediation proposal was initially rejected by the HC’s Premswaroop Swami group. However, at the hearing before the HC on May 2, Premswaroop Swami’s attorney, Lead Counsel Sudhir Nanavati, informed the court that the party had consented to choose an arbitrator. Accordingly, based on the suggestion of the HC, the retired Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court, MS Shah, was chosen as arbitrator and the HC ordered both parties to file their mediation report before the June 13.

However, the two sides had agreed to hold a single meeting at the Gujarat HC Mediation Center on May 9, in an attempt to reach a mutual agreement on the claims and division of the sect before Judge Shah was asked to join the mediation.

An official from the petitioner’s party however added that the issue of the presidency is no longer the main contention in the mediation as the Prabodh Swami group is ready to challenge the claim made by Premswaroop swami in a competent forum.

The issues that are now at the forefront of mediation are the claiming of the group’s ideology. According to the followers in favor of a united sect, the Premswaroop swami group has laid down the condition before the Prabodhswami group that they will not engage in any speeches or spiritual activities on behalf of the Haridham sect, after the separation. Prabodhswami’s followers, however, say that since he was widely associated with sermons after Hariprasad Swami, the followers of the sect automatically regard him as the spiritual guru and “no one can forbid him from reaching out to disciples”.

Other contentious issues relate to the cult’s major assets, including campuses, money, and other spiritual data. While both groups have argued that the other maliciously destroyed important data and financial tracking of the funds, it is said that four donations of large amounts received by the trust during the last four foreign speeches by Hariprasad Swami during his life are a major bone of contention. . The two sides are also expected to discuss the way forward for the divided groups in the use of the Haridham sect title and the right to intellectual property of speeches delivered by Hariprasad Swami during his lifetime. Sources said a 50 TB stash of data on Hariprasad Swami’s life sermons had “missed” from the Sokhda campus.

Have there been divisions in Swaminarayan Sampraday before?

According to the beliefs of the Swaminarayan sect, it was Lord Swaminarayan who established two Gadis (diocese) to administer the Vadtal temples at Kheda and Ahmedabad.

In the 1900s, Shastriji Maharaj, a seer from the Diocese of Vadtal split off to form the BAPS (Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha), based on God-disciple ideology, in which he sought to enshrine a common idol of Swaminarayan with Gunatitanand Swami, a disciple of Swaminarayan. The first Akshar-Purshottam temple was built in Bochasan in 1907.

In the late 1960s, some BAPS disciples, led by Hariprasad Swami, wished to initiate female disciples into the fold, which was contrary to Swaminarayan tradition. The then BAPS guru Yogiji Maharaj turned down the idea and Hariprasad Swami went on to form the Sokdha sect after splitting from BAPS in 1966.