Asaram Bapu to be quizzed, may be arrested

Jodhpur/New Delhi, Aug 30 (IANS) Spiritual guru Asaram Bapu is to be quizzed in Bhopal Saturday over a complaint that he sexually molested a girl in Jodhpur, police said Friday, adding that he may be arrested.

A police team from Jodhpur will go to the Madhya Pradesh capital to interrogate Asaram Bapu after he failed to appear before Rajasthan Police Friday, a senior police officer said.

The Rajasthan Police rejected the godman's plea that he be given more time to appear before them.

The religious leader, who has a wide following in India and abroad, was Tuesday served a notice at his ashram in Indore in Madhya Pradesh and told to appear before police in Jodhpur before or on Aug 30.

A 16-year-old girl complained to police in Delhi Aug 20 that Asaram Bapu sexually assaulted her at his Jodhpur ashram Aug 15. He and his aides have denied the charge.

The girl studied at Asaram Bapu's ashram in Madhya Pradesh's Chhindwara district and stayed in a hostel there. She apparently went to meet him in Jodhpur where the alleged assault took place.

Amid widespread criticism that officials were taking the matter lightly because it involved Asaram Bapu, Deputy Commissioner of Police Ajay Lamba declared in Jodhpur that no more time can be granted to him.

"We had received a fax from his ashram in Bhopal seeking more time to appear before the police as one of his relatives had expired," Lamba told the media.

"But this is no ground to grant more time and we have rejected his request. We will be sending a team to Bhopal tonight."

According to Lamba, the police have a strong case against the godman.

"We are not going there (Bhopal) with an arrest warrant... We will question him... He may be arrested. He has a weak defence," he added.

Asked if he will positively be taken into custody once the questioning ends, Lamba refused to elaborate.

Asked if police were equipped to deal with thousands of supporters of the godman, Lamba said they were "well prepared".

"We are in talks with the Madhya Pradesh Police who will be cooperating with us. We are well prepared to handle any situation," he said.

Asaram Bapu has fought back, and sought to blame Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her son and party vice president Rahul Gandhi for his predicament.

Across the country, political leaders questioned the delay in arresting Asaram Bapu.

Janata Dal-United's Sharad Yadav raised the issue in the Lok Sabha questioning why the spiritual guru was still roaming free and had not been taken into custody despite facing rape charges.

While Congress leader Ambika Soni insisted that law should be equal for all whether a VIP or commoner, she said: "I don't know the reason for the delay."

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot was left red-faced after the godman claimed links with the Congress leader.

The chief minister denied the claim and slammed Asaram, accusing him of making "baseless" and "cheap" statements.

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