A day after Narendra Giri, the head of top religious body Akhil Bharatiya Akhada Parishad, died allegedly by suicide in Uttar Pradesh's Prayagraj, one of his closest disciples has been arrested in connection with the case.
Additionally, a special investigation team has been formed to probe the case.
The seer, who was known to be vocal on religious and political issues, purportedly left a seven-page handwritten note naming among others his protege and disciple Anand Giri, who was his closest aide until May when they had a public fallout.
Caught by the police in Uttarakhand last evening, Anand has been accused of harassing the seer. An FIR naming him was registered under Section 306 (abetment to suicide) of the Indian Penal Code at George Town police station in Prayagraj.
The two other disciples detained for questioning are Sandeep Tiwari and Aadya Tiwari, who stayed with Narendra Giri. The Parishad is the largest organisation of sadhus in India.
According to the wishes of the seer's followers, the body will be kept for darshan (public viewing) on Tuesday so that people can pay their last respects, and a five-member team will conduct a post-mortem examination on Wednesday. After that, he will be laid to rest in a samadhi as per religious rites and beliefs of the religious leader.
Who is Anand Giri, the main accused in the case?
One time close aid and one of the most prominent disciples of the late seer, Anand Giri has been controversy's favourite child for a long time now.
He was arrested in Australia in 2016 after two of his women disciples accused him of sexual assault. He also had a bitter falling out with his guru Narendra Giri in May.
Anand was allegedly expelled by the seer over allegations of fraud and financial mismanagement. He was also accused of breaking the rules of asceticism by staying in touch with his family. Anand, on the other hand, had also laid serious allegations against his former mentor. He accused him of selling away the mutt's land for personal gain.
He also alleged that the death of two young disciples in the ashrams was actually murder. There was an apparent patch-up a few days later, with a video showing Anand Giri seeking forgiveness at the feet of his mentor, but the police suspect it was short-lived.
SP (City) Dinesh Kumar Singh said a forensic field unit is carrying out an investigation and people in the mutts were being questioned in this connection. A purported suicide note was found from the room and it named his disciple, Anand Giri, and two others as responsible for the extreme step, police said.
India Today has also quoted a seer from Noida to claim that Anand allegedly misused his power and tried to get control of a Brahmachari Kuti in Uttar Pradesh's Noida by claiming to be the first Mahant. The news publication claimed that tapes of conversation between the Noida ashram's seer and Giri revealed that the latter was distraught because of Anand's action. To this, Giri himself says he was tired of Anand's politics. He also went on to say that despite him intervening several times, such incidents kept happening.
Firstpost could not independently verify the veracity of these claims.
Anand, meanwhile, has maintained that this is a huge conspiracy under which the seer was murdered and he is being maligned to end his career. Anand claimed that some police officials and Giri's family were pressuring him to sell the mutt's lands and may have eventually pushed him to end his life.
The suicide note
Prima facie the police is treating this as a case of suicide because the room where the body was found was locked from inside. Also, the presence of a handwritten suicide note adds more weight to the theory.
The seer had written that he was mentally disturbed and was ending his life. The seer had written he was upset with one of his disciples, the police said. He had also delegated various responsibilities to his disciples in the note, they said. The seer had also talked about the construction of a samadhi in the suicide note.
However, conflicting theories about the suicide have come to light.
Doubts have also been cast over the suicide note he allegedly left behind as some of his supporters claiming that Giri did not know how to write. Another theory is that Giri's dispute with Anand was already resolved and his death could have another angle to it.
However, various media reports have quoted other disciples to claim that the seer also recorded a video before his death, the contents of which is similar to the suicide note.
Another report in a regional news website claimed that the rope used in the alleged suicide was purchased by one of the seer's disciples on his instructions just a day before his death. The seer had reportedly said that he needed the rope to hang his laundry.
Botched forensic evidence?
According to Inspector General of Police KP Singh, Mahant Giri's body was found hanging from the ceiling by his disciples at around 5 pm on Monday. The IGP said that police had received a call at 5.30 pm from the mutt that the seer had hanged himself and added that his body was found at the guest house where he lived during the day.
A forensics field team has been deployed to collect evidence in the case. However, local media reports say that the police was unable to protect the crime scene from being contaminated, which is a key aspect in collecting reliable forensic evidence.
The body had already been taken down by the time the police reached the site and several of the disciples were in the room. The alleged suicide note was also handled by several people before the police took possession of it.
The police have nonetheless said that they will conduct a transparent and swift investigation in the matter and an SIT has been formed under the local police chief. Prima facie it appeared to be a case of suicide but things will be clearer after the post-mortem and forensic tests, the police said.
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath also said that all aspects related to the death of top seer Mahant Narendra Giri are being probed and that the guilty will be punished.
The police under ADG (Allahabad zone) and commissioner, Allahabad are working as a team, the chief minister who rushed to Allahabad to pay respects to the seer told newspersons there.
Asserting that evidence has been collected in connection with the seer's death, Adityanath said the case will be solved soon.
A collection of Suicide prevention helpline numbers are available here. Please reach out if you or anyone you know is in need of support. The All-India helpline number is: 022 2754 6669