After winning a ‘ban Gita’ petition in a Rusian court, two sets of Iskcon followers are now bracing for a turf war before the Supreme Court of India to determine who owns the imposing, multi-crore temple complex on Hare Krishna Hill in Bengaluru.
The Supreme Court has been asked to decide if the temple complex that came up in 1997 belongs to the Bengaluru or the Mumbai branch of Iskcon, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
The case, originally filed in 2001 before a local court in Bengaluru, landed in the country’s apex court in May last as a special leave petition, after going through the Karnataka High Court on appeal, and is now slated for hearing on Feb 16 this year.
The suit has its bearing in both theological and materialistic issues of Iskcon, founded in 1966 by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada over the manner in which the units of the society should function and who succeeds him as the next leader.
“Iskcon Bengaluru is a legal entity in existence and separate from Iskcon-Mumbai,” Madhu Pandit Das, the president of Iskcon Bengaluru, who was expelled from the society in 1999 along with a few others for raising these questions, said.
But the Mumbai faction differs.
“This is a very old case. All Iskcon trusts registered in India are affiliated to the Mumbai society,” an Iskcon sadhu associated with the Mumbai Iskcon society said over phone from Mumbai, requesting not to be identified.
“The Mumbai trust was registered first in India in 1966 under the Societies Registration Act of 1860. The Bengaluru trust followed, but under the same affiliation,” the Sadhu added.
According to legal papers on the turf war available, the theological debate that has been on since 1977, when Prabhupada died, found its echo during a meeting of the society’s general body at its headquarters in Mayapur near Kolkata in 1998.
There, the representatives of the Bengaluru Iskcon raised the theological issue, such as the succession pattern that at present rests on 20-25 members of the general body who act as acharyas or gurus.
The question also arose on the relationship between Iskcon branches and its global body.
Madhu Pandit Das supported the view that there will be no one disciple of Prabhupada to succeed him as acharya and every branch of Iskcon will be an independent entity with no administrative or organisational affiliation to the global body.
Das, an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technolocy (IIT) in Mumbai, who has been with Iskcon since 1982, went to a local court to prevent the Mumbai branch from taking over possession of the Bengaluru temple complex at Hare Krishna Hill.
The local court gave an order in his favour.
But this has been challenged by Mumbai Iskcon that acts like the de facto global haadquarters of what is popularly called the Hare Krishna Movement with Gopal Krishna Maharaj as the India chief.
The Karnataka High Court then set aside the local court’s judgment and also reversed the findings on the title to the Hare Krishna Hill temple complex in favour Mumbai Iskcon. Now, the Bengaluru branch has moved the Supreme Court.
Only in December, Iskcon had won a case in Russia where a local court in Siberia threw a petition filed by local authorities seeking a ban on a version of Bhagwad Gita written by Prabhupada as an ‘extremist’ literature that sought to spread sectarian hatred.