Dehradun: The Akhil Bharatiya Akhara Parishad (ABAP), a council of Hindu seer groups, is currently a divided house over the election of the successor to ex-ABAP chief Mahant Narendra Giri, who was found dead under mysterious circumstances at his Baghambari Mutt in Uttar Pradesh’s Prayagraj last month.
On 20 October, a group of akharas in Haridwar declared Shaivite Mahanirvani Akhara secretary Mahant Ravindra Puri as new chief of the ABAP. The move came ahead of a scheduled meeting in Prayagraj Monday to elect the ABAP president.
ABAP general secretary Mahant Harigiri condemned the ‘election’, calling it illegal and without any credibility.
While Haridwar-based Mahant Puri and seers supporting him claimed that he was elected democratically, Mahant Harigiri said if Puri and his supporters had a majority, they should have demonstrated it at the Prayagraj meeting.
Puri claimed that the ABAP has 13 akharas as members, and he has the support of seven. He told ThePrint that his election was thus in accordance with norms, terming the Prayagraj meeting as a futile exercise.
“Our electoral procedure was fully democratic as seven of the 13 akharas supported us. Election at Mahanirvani Akhara (in Haridwar) was held under the leadership of (ABAP) working president Mahant Devendra Singh ji. This obviates the need for the 25 October meeting. It’s inconsequential,” said Puri.
“Those who have not supported us will do so in the coming days,” he added.
Haridwar-based Udasin Akhara head seer Swami Harichetnanand also threw his weight behind this claim.
“Ravindra Puri ji has been elected unanimously as the new president of the akhara parishad. New council has representatives of every region from across the country,” he said, adding that there is no need for the Prayagraj meeting.
However, Mahant Harigiri disputed Puri’s claim of majority support, saying it wasn’t possible since three of the akharas supporting Puri withdrew from the council during Haridwar Kumbh in April this year.
“Three Vaishnav akharas had parted ways with ABAP during Haridwar Kumbh this year. Thus the apex body of the seers was reduced to 10 members. Prayagraj election meeting agenda was shared with 10 members as the Vaishnav akharas were disqualified after they formed the Akhil Bharatiya Vaishnav Akharas Parishad,” Harigiri said.
“As to the remaining four supporting akharas, how can we know who they were? Their names were not made public,” the ABAP general secretary said, adding that he is in constant touch with nine of the 10 council members. Harigiri also denied the existence of any ‘working president’ position.
Calling the 20 October election illegal, Mahant Harigiri said ABAP has a “definite democratic way of electing its president” and the ‘polls’ last week were “against ABAP norms”.
“What was the pressing need to hold elections — as they claimed — in the night, as if there was no tomorrow? They will be questioned for their action in the Prayagraj meeting. All the seven Sanyasi akharas and a couple more are with us. I am in constant touch with them,” he added.
He said the agenda for electing Narendra Giri’s successor was announced the day after the late seer’s last rites were performed on 22 September.
“All 10 Akhara members of the council were sent the agenda for the 25 October meeting at Niranjani Akhara, Daraganj in Prayagraj. It was finalised after due consultation with all akhara representatives including Mahant Ravindra Puri. They could have exhibited their hold over majority Akharas in the presence of other members in a proper way,” added Harigiri.
What is ABAP, and akharas?
The ABAP is an umbrella body of seers mainly from north and central India, broadly grouped into Sanyasi, Udasin, Vaishnava and Nirmal sects, also known as akharas, based on their religious practices.
There are 13 such akharas, with slight differences in practices. Seven of these 13 belong to Sanyasis while three are Vaishnava akharas, two Udasin and one Nirmal Akhara.
Sanyasis are also called Shaivites or Nagas, while Vaishnavas are known as Bairagis.
It’s believed that only the seven Shaivite akharas were the creation of the most revered Hindu sanyasi Adi Shankaracharya in the 8th century. Well-known Juna Akhara based in Varanasi is the largest among these.
While some akharas have their headquarters in Haridwar, Varanasi and Prayagraj, others are based in Ayodhya, Nashik, Sabarkantha and Junagadh.
Bickering over top job
The race for capturing the top seat in the ABAP has been ongoing for nearly a month now after the mysterious death of former chief Mahant Narendra Giri, who was allegedly murdered. A Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe is on.
Calling it a ‘midterm election’, a section of Akhara leaders have been lobbying to retain the presidency with the Prayagraj-based Niranjani Akhara, to which Narendra Giri belonged, for the rest of the five-year term.
Narendra Giri was first bestowed the ABAP leadership in 2015 at the Ujjain Kumbh. He was re-elected in Haridwar in 2020.
Vaishnava akharas, who have often alleged step-motherly treatment to them at the cost of Sanyasis, claimed that the top two ABAP positions — president and general secretary — are always held by Sanyasi Akharas. They now demand at least one of these.