Zealots lose fight to let sleeping guru lie

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NEW DELHI - More than 1,200 Calcutta police raided a Hindu temple yesterday to drag out the mouldering corpse of an Indian guru believed by his worshippers to be not dead but in a meditative trance, writes Tim McGirk.

Armed with tridents and throwing acid-filled light bulbs and fistfuls of chilli powder, more than 4,000 of the guru's devotees battled with the police for four hours. The police fought back with clubs and finally overran the inner shrine, where the body of Balak Brahmachari lay decomposing on blocks of ice. His followers had laid out a change of clothes for the moment when their 73-year-old guru would snap back to life. For 56 days they had waited, although two separate teams of doctors pronounced him dead of heart failure.

The corpse of the holy man - nicknamed the 'Marxist God-man' because he had so many secret admirers among the ruling West Bengal Communist Party - was sped off to an electric crematorium and quickly burnt.

More than 60 police were injured in 'Operation Holy Rite', including a senior superintendent who was speared several times by a zealot with a trident. Police arrested 950 of the guru's disciples, who claimed he had 'died' for 21 days in 1973 and then rose again. Even as the corpse changed colour and shrivelled in the heat, the devotees declared their intention to keep it for six months. Police said the remains were in a state of 'utter decomposition'.

Thousands of pilgrims had flocked to the Santan Dal Ashram. When the police arrived they found it surrounded by a human barricade of blind, crippled and diseased people who had been promised that the guru would cure them when he returned. Many were severely clubbed by the police but neighbours rejoiced that the Marxist God- man had at last departed.