Slain vhp man was conversion king

When 30-odd masked gunmen walked into an ashram in Kandhamal district on Saturday night, Orissa was busy celebrating Janmashtami, a prominent Hindu festival. In the Jaleshpata Kanyashram, a residential school for tribal girls, an ageing Swami Lakshamananda Saraswati was in the toilet when the gunmen barged in and riddled the 84-year-old man with bullets from automatic guns after breaking open the door. Four others, Arupananda, Chinmayananda, Mata Bhaktimayee, all disciples and inmates of the ashram, and an unsuspecting civilian, Sadanand Gachha, also could not escape the murderous assailants who vanished into the night.

As Orissa erupted over the killing of the ageing Swami, a member of the influential Kendriya Margdarshak Mandali of the VHP who has been working against conversion of tribals into Christianity, the ruling Biju Janata Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party Government, led by Naveen Patnaik, quickly labelled it as the handiwork of Maoists. Leaders cutting across party lines condemned the killing and the Chief Minister instituted an inquiry by a retired judge of the Orissa High Court.

Born in 1924 in Gurujang village of Talcher, a coal-mining town in Orissa, Lakshmanananda wanted to dedicate his life to the poor. He was married and had two sons. But one day, he renounced his family and left for the Himalayas to meditate. He returned in the 1960s and joined Vinoba Bhave in his Goraksha movement (anti-cow slaughter movement). During the Kumbh mela at Allahabad in 1966, he met Bhupen Bose, an RSS pracharak, who persuaded him to come to Orissa and work for the tribals. In the next few years he chose Chakapada village in Kandhamal as his place of work. Over the next decades he set up hostels for tribal girls, hospitals, and organised massive yagnas. He soon became a crucial part of the Sangh Parivar's growth in Orissa through his preachings of the Vedas and for stopping tribals from converting to Christianity. In fact, he became an icon for the saffron brigade in the state.

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