The current out-break of violent attacks on Indian diplomats in Washington and other capitals is thought by many observers to reflect the frustration of the extremist Ananda Marga organization with Prime Minister Morarji Desai's government.
Members of the organization, in India and abroad, had hoped that Desai would free their guru, Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar, imprisoned on a murder charge by Desai's predcessor. Indira Gandhi, in 1971. The Desai government has turned a deaf ear to continued appeals by Ananda Marga, which has a fascist reputation in its home country.
Like all extremist organizations in India, of right and left, the Ananda Marga was banned furing Gandhi's 21-month period of "emergency" rule in 1975 and 1976. When Desai's rightist People's Party toppled Gandhi from power in March, the Ananda Marga and the rest of the 26 banned groups were allowed to resume functioning.
But Sarker, whose followers revere him as "bliss personified," remains in prison in Patna, capital of the improverished northeastern state of Bihar. His followers say he has at various times been posioned, tortured and otherwise mistreated. Since he began a modified fast in 1973, his weight is said to have dropped from 147 pounds to 105.
Sarkar, 56, is also said to have gone deaf, mute and blind in prison and to communicate only through the use of alphabetical charts. Journalists have not been permitted to meet him in jail.
Sarkar founded Ananda Marga, which means "path of bliss," in the Bihar town of Ranchi in 1955. The original intent of the former railway accounting clerk was to form a group devoted to the mystical tantric cult of yoga.
In 1965, the organization took on political overtones with the establishment of anti-corruption socio-economic guidelines known as the "Progressive Utilization Theory," or Prout. for short.
Proutists as Ananda Margis also call themselves, are virulently anti-Marxist. This earned them the wrath of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and, in 1965, a gang of Communists allegedly killed five Ananda Margis in West Bengal.
The organization has spread to most states of India, where its "monks" and "nuns" are easily distinguished by their saffron robes and head coverings. The men grow untrimmed beards and hair and occassionally carry daggers in their belts.
Despite persistent claims of its followers in india - many of whom are highly educated and some of whom have been senior government officials - that Ananda Marga's basic aim is to rid the country of corruption, it is tainted by an aura of mystical violence.
Tantric yoga favors such practices as sexual orgies and, on occasion, ritual murder. When Bihar police raided the group's headquarters and arrested the guru in 1971, they reportedly discovered a number of weapons and five human skulls.
Sarkar's wife reportedly left him and sought police protection. SHe and a number of defectors from the group alleged that Sarkar had murdered eighteen followers who threatened to defect and that he forced young men and boys into homosexual acts.
These allegations were lowered to six murders and eventually boiled down to a charge of conspiracy to murder.
Sarkar was convicted and the case is now on appeal. He has not been granted bail. According to a former home secretary, bail was withheld because the government feared Sarkar would "tamper with the evidence."
Ananda Marga's image in India contrasts markedly with its reputation abroad until the rash of violence began recently as a charitable organizaiton, the group claims 250,000 Indian members and another 70,000 in 35 countries, including 20,000 in the United States.
Away from India, the Ananda Marga concentrates on yoga, social service and cultural activities, its members say. They claim to have given disaster aid in such diverse countries as Nicaragua and Bangladesh. Although they state opposition to corruption in all forms in all countries, they say they do not attempt to impose Proutist theory outside India.
The last time the Ananda Marga resorted to violence in an effort to gain Sarkar's release was in April 1973. At that time, a monk was burned to death in New Delhi during a massive week-long demonstration.
A CBS-TV cameraman and sound technician were arrested for filming the burning. The cameraman, Surender M. Lal, said it was a self-immolation, but the police said The victim had been drugged and then burned alive by two other monks.
The Gandhi government insisted that it did not consider Ananda Marga a serious threat. However, officials always were reluctant to discuss the organization in other than the broadest terms.
Well before the "emergency," Gandhi banned all government workers from membership in Ananda Marga. This ban evidently continues under Desai.
Desai's own views on the organization are not clear. However, as a believer in the back-to-the land tenets of the late Mohandas K. Gandhi, Desai may be offended by Ananda Marga's view of gandhian thinking, which the organization terms "primitive."
Ananda Marga operates an efficient public relations organization. Journalists who have writtin about the group are immediately contacted by spokesmen and inundated with tracts and publicity.