“I am Madi Ashok Jadeja. I am blessed by Mata Sikotar. I have divine powers. I can treble your money. If you give me one lakh today, I will give you three lakhs next week.”
If Ashok Jadeja, 35, the self-styled godman and avatar of Mata Sikotar, made you such an offer, how would you react? Astonishingly, hundreds of people were enticed by Ashok Jadeja’s charms and they gave away thousands of crores to the great conman.
Blame it on naivety, raw greed, blind faith or whatever, but it must be said that Ashok Jadeja ran one of the smoothest con jobs ever.
Ashok Jadeja’s primary target were the people of the Chharas community – a poverty stricken nomadic tribe who were once notified by the British as a criminal tribe. “Mataji asked me to take care of you people. She has given me the sole responsibility to double your money to ensure our tribe becomes the richest in the world” he told the members of the community.
Ashok Jadeja’s initial targets were women of the community, who are known to be staunch followers of the goddess Vahanvati Shikotar Mataji. Claiming divine powers, Ashok Jadeja would invite them for religious rituals and then lure them into contributing whatever they could. Jadeja also made a movie on a CD detailing his divine powers, The CD featured popular folk artists and had lots of song and dance in it which kept the audience transfixed and mesmerized them. Initially, Ashok Jadeja rarely managed to garner more than Rs 100 to Rs 200 at a time, but his earnings soon ran to lakhs and crores as his followers became increasingly swayed by him.
Ashok Jadeja’s popularity sky-rocketed in January 2009. People would wait long hours to hear him speak. Many would touch his feet and seek blessings. Huge crowds would gather at each gathering.
The modus operandi was relatively simple. He would take Rs. 200 from people and assure them of Rs. 600 in three days. He would keep his word and the delighted victim would get the promised three-fold. This inspired confidence amongst the community. When his fraudulent scheme became popular and started fetching him serious money, he gradually increased the amount of money and also the duration of repayment, initially by a week, then by a fortnight and then by a month.
As news of his ‘miraculous powers’ spread like wildfire, Jadeja created an entire organization – complete with finance managers and agents who worked on a commission. The commission was 1% and could be higher depending on the volume of money brought in. His finance manager was a man appropriately named ‘Shaitaan Singh’. Jadeja’s empire was spread out over several states including Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Delhi, Punjab, J& K and UP.
Jadeja was careful to keep the pretence that he was doing a special favour only for the benefit of his community and that others could not take advantage of the Mata’s bonanza. He asked all contributors to recite prayers in the local dialect to prove they were actually Sansis. He said he didn’t want ‘others’ to make quick money using the goddess’ blessing. He even took the contributor’s voter I-card photocopies and made entries in a register to keep the pretence that everything was ‘official’.
Jadeja made staggering sums of money – running into several hundred crores – the police are still counting. The loot was used for real estate investments in Gujarat and neighbouring areas. He was also fond of gold, diamonds and jewellery. The CID has so far recovered property worth Rs 5 to 10 crore from Jadeja. It has also seized accounts/records of money collected from people across the country.
The surprising thing is that it is not only the illiterate and superstitious members of the Chharas community that Ashok Jadeja managed to dupe but also savvy builders, businessmen, lawyers and even police officials.
Ankur Garange, a lawyer who practices at the Ahmedabad metropolitan court, said he lost Rs 7 lakh to the conman. Jadeja mesmerized his victims and created an environment in which rationality had no place, the lawyer said.
One of the many victims is Balwant Rathod. He claims that his family has suffered a loss of Rs8 lakh because of this scam, while his sister, brother and other relatives lost about Rs1 crore.
Another victim is Rajesh Kumar, secretary of the Akhil Bhartiya Sehas (Sansi) Bal Samaj. He was so convinced by Jadeja’s powers that his family invested more than Rs 10 lakh with the conman.
Baleshwar Nath, an ex-serviceman from Sultanpuri, gave around Rs 10 lakh—his entire retirement benefit and other savings—to Jadeja.
The sad story is that of Dakxin Bajrangi who was one of the early detractors of Ashok Jadeja. He suspected something amiss and raised the alarm. However, the entire community turned hostile and boycotted Bajrangi. To Bajrangi’s misfortune, his wife deposited Rs 5 lakh with Jadeja’s agents without telling Bajrangi.
Chances of recovery of the swindled funds are remote. It is also a laborious process to bring the guilty to book. India has a very poor track record in the matter of dealing with scams. Previous scams such as the Harshad Mehta scam, the Ketan Parilh scam, the Telgi scam and innumerable others are still clogged up in the courts, with no end in sight.