Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, or Osho, was a well-known and powerful speaker in the 1960s. In 1970 he claimed to have found enlightenment and by 1974 he set up a commune in Pune where followers from across the world congregated to attend his discourses and meditation sessions. Such was his popularity that his followers included some Indian film celebrities of the time (Vinod Khanna, Mahesh Bhatt, to name a few) and high profile individuals from across the world.
Then suddenly, in 1990, he died. He was just 58 years old. He was not suffering from any prior ailment and cause of death on his death certificate stated that it was a heart attack. But to Abhay Vaidya, and many Osho followers, the official cause of death seemed to be a cover up and foul play has been suspected.
We caught up with Abhay Vaidya, author of the book and seasoned journalist with thirty years of experience, who reported extensively on the Osho Commune in the ‘90s as a Times of India correspondent and on the shady land dealings of the Osho International Foundation (OIF), as Resident Editor of DNA, Pune. Vaidya is currently the Resident Editor of the recently launched Pune edition of Hindustan Times.
What was the primary motive of getting this book out there?
I wanted to get the book out there because Osho’s death has not got its closure. What the book does is challenge the existing narrative of his death. The book should be looked at as the most detailed and independent account of Osho’s death and after.
When did the idea of the book come about?
The idea of the book came around 2012. I was trying to write it prior to 2012 also but was busy with my journalistic assignments and couldn’t give it time.
Post 2012 I got serious about the book and it took a year to formulate the ‘What’ of the book. Even then the book had no momentum because I was busy doing other things; freelancing for a number of portals and magazines. Finally I decided that if I were to write the book I would have to stop freelancing, as it was too distracting. By 2015, the book gained momentum.
I had been covering Osho and his death etc. through articles through the ‘80s and ‘90s. But articles have a short shelf life and don’t always tell the full story.
How is this book different from other accounts or books on Osho’s life?
Who Killed Osho? is a definitive account of Osho and his life and covers the entire fifty-year movement. So far there is no journalistic account of his life; most of the books have been written by his disciples.
The research for the book has been in-depth and the book has been put through a journalist’s rigour; no hearsay, all recorded statements and facts only. All precautions have been taken. I am neither on this side, nor that. I am on the side of the truth. And truth must prevail.
What made you suspect that there was foul play in Osho’s death, which is the premise of this book?
I was reporting on the Osho Commune since 1987, when I joined the Times of India in Pune. My reportage was restricted to current events, profiles of visitors, events such as Osho’s birthday (December 11) and day of enlightenment (March 21) etc. On January 19, 1990, the big event happened - Osho died.
He was officially declared dead at 5 pm. At 7 pm, at the evening meditation held in the Commune, called the White Robe Brotherhood, the news of his death was broken by Swami Prem Amrito (part of Osho’s Inner Circle, a doctor by profession and Osho’s personal physician) to the disciples gathered. His body was brought and kept for darshan for just 10-15 minutes and hurriedly cremated.
Osho’s first secretary, Ma Yoga Laxmi, who had fallen out with the Inner Circle, openly alleged murder. Laxmi couldn’t make it for the cremation as she lived in Bombay. Osho’s quick cremation didn’t go down well with his followers. They questioned why the thousands of followers across the world didn’t merit a proper darshan of their guru.
After that the Commune had a big press conference and in the very first week, I reported that something was amiss. First of all, Osho’s family, who lived in the Commune, hadn’t met him in a long time. Secondly, it was odd that Osho didn’t leave a Will or instructions behind. Thirdly, Osho’s girlfriend and caretaker of many years, Ma Prem Nirvano had also died under suspicious circumstances about 41 days before his death.
Why did you think the Will was very important?
I asked everyone in the Commune about a Will but everyone said there was no Will. My point was - you’ve recorded everything, you have a sophisticated audio-video department, but you don’t have a word on how Osho wants to conduct the Commune!
In a one-in-one with me, Swami Chaitanya Keerti, Osho Commune’s spokesperson at the time, said irritatingly, “What should we do? Thrust a mic in his face and ask?”
But that was enough to rouse suspicion.
How did the lack of the Will become an important part of your book?
In 2013, the Commune produced a Will by Osho in an European court for a case related to the use of Osho’s trademark. The Will was very brief and noted Swami Anand Jayesh (chairman of Osho International Foundation and part of Osho’s Inner Circle) and Amrito as executors. The other party got the Will examined in Italy, New Delhi and Aurangabad and it was found to be forged. Eventually, Jayesh and Amrito withdrew the Will.
In 2014-’15 a case was filed in the Koregaon Park Police Station, Pune in relation to this Will and is still languishing pending investigation.
For me, this was yet another dot that connected.
Were Osho’s followers and spokespersons open to talking to you about your allegations that Osho’s death was not as stated to be?
The Osho Commune had become secretive and stopped encouraging the media after he died. They didn’t want any attention. But 25 years after his death, many were willing to talk.
Who did you contact/speak to, and were they able to concretise your suspicions?
I interviewed people in the Commune – Osho International foundation spokesperson Amrit Sadhana, Osho’s cook, Chaitanya Keerti, the then spokesperson, Neelam (last secretary of Osho), Commune in-charge, Chancellor of the multiversity etc. I wanted to speak to Osho’s family. They were 11 siblings and 3 brothers are surviving, and 2 live in Pune. They were unwilling to talk and gave evasive replies. I spoke to the third brother, Swami Shailendra Saraswati in Sonepat, Haryana.
Jayesh and Amrito, the top two people of Osho International Foundation were unavailable.
The most important interview was with Dr. Gokul Gokani (Swami Anand Krishna), an ENT surgeon who issued Osho’s death certificate. He is now 81 years old. I met him in Baroda and he signed an affidavit wherein he agreed to be part of the book.
He said that Osho’s death had been playing on his conscience all these years. He was asked by Jayesh and Amrito to write that Osho died of a myocardial infraction; despite being a doctor he had not examined Osho for signs of death by heart attack. He suspects foul play.
What do you really think happened that fateful day when Osho died?
I don’t know the truth, but I know that what has been put forward so far is a lie. And a lie cannot be allowed to perpetuate as a fact of history.