Even as police were on the lookout for the elusive Asaram Bapu, accused of sexually assaulting a minor girl, his son said the spiritual guru, who has a huge following, was not in hiding and police could question him any time.
As as his arrest looked imminent, dozens of supporters of the man, who has millions of disciples in India and around the world, gathered in Rajasthan's Jodhpur city and assaulted media persons that left two seriously injured.
Police detained a dozen supporters and clamped prohibitory orders, banning gathering of more than four people in the area where the guru’s ashram is in Jodhpur.
Officials also sealed the ashram's main gate and used mild force to disperse his supporters who started gathering in the morning following reports of Asaram's impending arrest.
A Rajasthan Police team that left Friday night for Bhopal to question Asaram Bapu and “then probably to arrest him” said they are still looking for the guru who is untraceable.
But his son, Narayan Sai, told reporters in Indore that Bapu, as he is popularly known is "not in hiding" and was in hospital. "Police are welcome to question him anytime," he told reporters.
"He is innocent and no rape took place. He is not hiding and has been admitted due to ill health," he added, without naming the hospital where the guru is being hospitalised.
Asaram Bapu, 72, has been booked under various sections of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act and the Indian Penal Code. A look-out circular has also been issued against himn to prevent any attempt by him to leave the country.
The victim's family has started a 24-hour hunger strike in Shahajahanpur in Uttar Pradesh demanding Asaram Bapu's immediate arrest.
Since early morning large number of Asaram’s supporters gathered at the spiritual guru’s Bhopal and Indore ashrams, as news spread that he could be in one of these two places.
Fearing law and order breakdown, a large posse of policemen were stationed at three ashrams of the guru, a Hindu preacher who was born in Sindh province of Pakistan before his family migrated to near Ahmedabad in Gujarat.
Asaram Bapu, who hit the headlines last December for his remarks that the Delhi gangrape victim would have been spared if only she had addressed her assaulters as brothers, is facing arrest after a 16-year-old girl lodged a complaint with police Aug 20, accusing him of sexually assaulting her at his Jodhpur ashram.
He has denied the charge with his son that the girl was "mentally unstable".
Asaram Bapu has instead blamed Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her son and party vice president Rahul Gandhi for his predicament.
He was Tuesday served notice at his ashram in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, asking him to appear before police in Jodhpur for questioning before or on Aug 30. However, he sought more time and played a cat-and-mouse game with police the whole of Friday.
Amid widespread criticism that officials were taking the matter lightly because it involved Asaram Bapu, police said Friday that no more time will be granted to him.
"He will be questioned and may be arrested after that," the police officer said.
"His followers may create ruckus. So we have deployed heavy police force near the ashram and other places in Jodhpur," the officer said.
The officer added that a battalion of Rajasthan Armed Constabulary (RAC) had also been stationed.
The attack on mediapersons also led to a twitter war between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress party.
Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh said : “The most vocal voice of BJP against atrocities against women has been Sushma Swaraj (Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha). Why is she quiet in the Asharam Bapu's case?”.
He was responding to BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman’s tweet.
"Asaram, what or who is stopping the investigative agencies from taking necessary lawful action? FIRs in Delhi and Rajasthan. Both Congress.”
Condemning the attack on journalists, Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari tweeted : “Assault on journalists by a religious preacher's followers extremely disturbing and condemnable. Is this what they teach & preach to their flock?" .
A television reporter and his cameraman were seriously injured when a mob attacked them, police said.