Notorious godman Asaram Bapu, aka Asumal Sirumalani Harpalani, serves life imprisonment in the Central Jail Jodhpur. He was convicted for the rape of a minor and also has murder charges against him.
Gunning for the Godman is the no-holds-barred, first-hand account of how Ajay Lamba, then DCP Jodhpur (West), landed the case and got a team of dedicated officers together. It is the story of how, foiling the Baba’s many attempts to get away scot-free, they arrested him in a matter of only ten days, and how they assiduously saw the victim and her family through a four-year long trial. This, despite the countless threats to not only the girl and her family, but also to DCP Lamba’s own family and team.
A testimony to unrelenting courage, this story of a dynamic police officer’s pursuit of justice is a lesson for these troubled times.
As a citizen of the period that witnessed the affair of the conviction of Godman Asaram, it surprised me how the police managed to do its job in such an effective manner. Make no mistake, I’m not trying to cast aspersions on DCP Ajay Lamba and his team. But given how the rich and powerful seem to get away with practically everything in the modern society, there was an apprehension that the man, who had a following in crores, would surely find this loophole or that to stay out of jail. It’d have disappointed a lot of people had that happened, not least the victim who filed the FIR against Asaram. But to the general public, it’d also have been another “what-else-did-you-expect” moment. That the Jodhpur police, led by the aforementioned DCP Ajay Lamba, made sure the guilty was convicted, is a heartwarming story on its own.
DCP Lamba has co-written this book alongwith Sanjeev Mathur. The writing style is lucid. The authors have made sure that the layman reader can also understand the legal underpinnings of the whole procedure. At every point, when there’s a risk of the text getting heavy, there are enough explainers to counter that. The first-person account also allows us to get a peek into his mind. Of course we’ve all read and watched a lot of crime and detective fiction. But the true-crime aspect of the story elevates this book from another run-of-the-mill police procedural. That the crime and the furore are still fresh in the public mind adds to the pull of the book.
The book opens with a brief life history of Asumal Sirumalani Harpalani, the man who took on the title of Asaram Bapu. Once this finishes, it jumps straight to the day when DCP Lamba got information about the FIR filed against the godman. From there, it proceeds in a clear chronological order. DCP Lamba takes us through the way he assembled a team, engaged in mind games with Asaram and his lawyers, and made sure the victim’s courage and gumption were supported throughout by the police and the prosecution team.
A revealing aspect of the book, for those who weren’t following the coverage of the case at the time, is how the Jodhpur police had to play almost a game of chess with Asaram and co. while making sure that the law and order situation remained under control. Arresting him was a big challenge indeed, but taking him from one city to another, with all the hullabaloo from his supporters in both the cities, required heist movie-level planning. Similarly, getting the right team of prosecutors was another big challenge. We now know that the police succeeded, but the knowledge of it doesn’t make the read any less thrilling.
A minor quibble I have with the book are with passages where a few aspects seem to have been repeated. With all due respect to the officers involved in the case, after a certain point, it became repetitive to read that there was a danger on the team and that the police were dead certain not to let Asaram get away with it.
Another issue, and this is actually a credit to the book, is that the book finishes too soon. It grips you right at the start. It makes you feel all the aspects of the fight. But in a matter of 200-odd pages, it just finishes. I said earlier that this is credit to the book. That’s because the book’s brevity ensures that even casual readers won’t feel bogged down. On my part though, I’d have loved to have some more detail on the investigation process and the sort of machinations from within the system, if any, that the officers had to face. Then again, it’s a fine balance to keep between exhaustiveness and compactness, and I think the authors have tread that best.
The-then outrage against the criminal case and the continuing scourge of violence that women across social strata continue to face in our country says a lot about our society at large. But this book shows us that a dedicated team of law enforcers can make sure that even the most powerful of law breakers face justice. In the bleakness that is 2020, this is a ray of hope.
Verdict: Gunning For The Godman is a crisp, satisfying true-crime page-turner.
Genre: True-crime, Nonfiction, Police Procedural
Reviewed as part of the Blogchatter Book Review Program. Click here to know all about it.
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