It was around two years ago that Mahant Bajrang Muni ‘Udasin’ first surfaced in Sitapur. The antecedents of the priest, who was booked recently for making rape threats, before that are blurry, though the 38-year-old Mahant is almost constantly in the news in the area for land disputes.
Most of these rows involve land around the Shri Laxmandas Udasin Ashram, also known as Badi Sangat, located in Muslim-dominated Khairabad town.
Considering the tension, the Sitapur police now has a deployment of Provincial Armed Constabulary around Badi Sangat, including four policemen.
Bajrang Muni made the rape threats while delivering a speech during a Kalash Yatra, as it crossed Sheesha Waali Masjid in Khairabad town. On April 8, Bajrang Muni issued an apology for the remarks.
Saket Mishra, who lost from the Sitapur Sadar seat in the recent Assembly elections, says locals have filed several complaints against Bajrang Muni, accusing him of threatening them and harassing them with false allegations, and of grabbing their land.
Police say Bajrang Muni faces one more case besides the hate speech, over a clash that had led to injuries to him. Circle Officer, City (Sitapur) Piyush Singh said that Bajrang Muni too has filed three cases, against locals, all related to land and to Badi Sangat.
There are two versions to this story. As per one group, Badi Sangat owned around 3,000 bighas till several decades back, when people from different communities purchased or forcibly captured parts and started living or farming there.
On the other side are people like social activist Nadeem Hasan Khan, a resident of Khairabad, who say it was Bajrang Muni who captured around 200 bighas of land and now claims it was owned by Badi Sangat.
Sub Divisional Magistrate, Sadar, Anil Kumar Rastogi, however, denies any land dispute involving Badi Sangat.
Those close to Bajrang Muni in Khairabad and adjoining areas in Sitapur say he is originally a native of Raniganj area in Pratapgarh district and completed his early education from Indore district in Madhya Pradesh. After a Bachelor’s in Business Administration, he got a job at an airline. It was then that he reportedly came in contact with some “spiritual leaders” and decided to leave his job and join the Udasin Akhara. As part of the organisation, he stayed at Prayagraj, Nasik and Azamgarh before coming to Sitapur.
Contacted over the phone, Bajrang Muni told The Indian Express he was a native of Pratapgarh district, and hung up.
In February last year, Bajrang Muni was provided a police gunner for protection after a skirmish with a local resident, Laiq Khan, and his brothers Atiq and Salman, who allegedly hit him in the legs with a knife, leaving serious injuries. A police officer said: “Bajrang Muni claimed that Laiq’s land, which lies close to Badi Sangat, belonged to the Ashram… There was a heated argument.” The brothers were arrested in the case. A case was filed by both parties in the matter at the Khairabad Police Station.