Two weeks after a Dubai-based Keralite set reluctant police officials on the trail of an alleged cheat, establishments run by godmen and godwomen in the State have come under the scanner.
While the police are conducting raids to unearth evidence of possible illegal acts, young men under political banners are attacking suspect institutions on a selective basis, motivated by partisan considerations.
Dispensing spiritual solace has been a flourishing business in Kerala for years.
Sensing the commercial possibilities, scores of young people appear to have rushed into this area, leading to a mushrooming of pseudo-religious institutions.
Over the past fortnight, the print and electronic media have turned the spotlight on them. Information unearthed by them shows that many spiritual entrepreneurs have amassed fortunes in a short period and that at least some of them enjoy the patronage of politicians and police officials.
Godmen attracted attention after a Malayalam weekly revealed that Swami Amrita Chaitanya, head of the Santitheeram Trust, Kochi, was none other than Santosh Madhavan, of Kattappana, Idukki, who was wanted by Interpol in connection with a fraud case in the United Arab Emirates.
The electronic media reported that Santosh Madhavan was also wanted by the Central Bureau of Investigation in connection with an arms smuggling case registered in Mumbai.
Amrita Chaitanya appeared before television cameras at a hideout to deny that he was the person wanted by the CBI. He claimed there was no case pending against him anywhere.
He was trying to take advantage of the mistake committed by the media, which had confused Santosh Madhavan, who was wanted in UAE, with another person of the same name, who was wanted in Mumbai.
After watching him on the television screen, Serafin Edwin, a Keralite working in Dubai, informed the channels that he was indeed the man about whom she had lodged a complaint with the UAE police for swindling her of AED 400,000.
Amrita Chaitanya called on a high police official in Kochi to protest his innocence.
The police later came under criticism for not taking him into custody. There were insinuations that he had links with politicians and police officials.
The police explained that he was not arrested because there was no complaint against him. When Serafin faxed a complaint to Thiruvananthapuram, they were left with no excuse for inaction.
Soon there was a flood of reports in the media on the unseemly activities of several others with spiritual pretensions. The reports indicated that the new-rich swamis have made huge investments in real estate.
One saffron-clad youth flaunted before television cameras a gun, for which he had obtained licence in questionable circumstances. He was seen holding the weapon to his head in a police station, where he was taken after he allegedly threatened to commit suicide.
While talking to media persons, he referred to Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan in terms that suggested intimacy.
The State government immediately ordered investigation of the activities of all godmen and godwomen. It was stated that if necessary the existing laws would be amended or a new law enacted to curb cheating under cover of spiritual activity.
The wide-ranging enquiry appeared to be calculated to live down the charge that the spiritual racketeers enjoyed political patronage. Police swooped down on many establishments. There were, however, few arrests as the presiding dignitaries had slipped out before the police arrived.
The Bharatiya Janata Party and the Hindu Aikya Vedi, which is closely associated with it, accused the Left Democratic Front government of attempting to malign Hindu institutions. They asked that the government look into the activities of dubious characters belonging to all religions.
Partisan considerations became evident when Youth Congress men attacked establishments of swamis, who they alleged were close to the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI)- pro-CPI-M youth party-members ransacked the establishments of Hindu swamis and pro-BJP Bharatiya Yuva Morcha workers attacked Christian outfits holding out promises of miracle cure.
Political motivation was also evident in Nilambur panchayat president Aryadan Shaukat's demand that the Panakkad Thangal's miracle cure must also be investigated.
Shihab Thangal of Panakkad is the president of the Muslim League and Shaukat is the son of Congress leader Aryadan Mohammed, who is engaged in a feud with the League in Malappuram.
The Home Minister said no one would be allowed to take the law into their hands, but there was no immediate action against rampaging youths.