2b News FRIDAY 30 NOVEMBER 2007 EVENING STANDARD

Guru followers asked to target Gandhi party

Newspaper Article re Prem Rawat aka Guru Maharaj JiROBERT MENDICK CHIEF REPORTER

FOLLOWERS of a former cult leader are accused today of infiltrating a star-studded event organised by Lord Attenborough to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his Oscar-winning movie Gandhi.

Secret mails passed to the Evening Standard reveal how supporters of the Maharaji are being urged to use the charity fundraiser to spread their leader's message to wealthy guests. Lord Attenborough will give a speech at the event, held at the British Academy of Film and Television

Academy headquarters in Piccadilly tomorrow. Ben Kingsley, who won an Oscar for his portrayal of Gandhi, will attend along with senior diplomats from the Indian, Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi High Commissions and celebrities.

Followers of the Maharaji are being asked to pay £250 for tickets for the event to spread their leader's message The Indian-born Maharaji — real name Prem Rawat —has donated £10,000 to Lord Attenborough's Gandhi Foundation for the right to address the audience before a screening of the film, followed by a champagne reception and dinner. The money will go to help the poor in India.

An email to the Maharaji's supporters, obtained by the Evening Standard, states: "This is a unique event because it will be attended by a VIP audience of diplomats, politicians, celebrities and very influential and wealthy business people who will be exposed to M's message for the first time.

"It is perhaps one of the most influential groups of people ever to gather to hear M's message in the UK and possibly the West.

"This is a unique opportunity to attend an event as ambassadors for TPRF [The Prem Rawat Foundation] and M."

The email was sent by City accountant Roland Klepzig, who is also a trustee of Elan Vital, a charity set up to promote Mr Rawat's teachings. He refused to comment on the email.

The Gandhi Foundation, of which Lord Attenborough is patron, said today it was not aware of the allegations that Mr Rawat is a former cult leader. He now enjoys a life of great wealth in California.

After being read the contents of the email, Omar Hayat, one of the Gandhi Foundation's trustees and organiser of Saturday's event, replied: "Gosh. That's news to me."

Mr Rawat, 49, formerly known as the Guru Maharaj Ji, enjoyed huge support in the Seventies and Eighties as spiritual leader of The Divine Light Mission, an alleged religious cult which set up communes across the world. His disciples are said to have referred to him as the Lord of the Universe and considered him a descendant of God. He has since established TPRF and the Elan Vital educational charity.

Ian Haworth, of the Cult Information Centre, said: "These are groups about which we are concerned. We have received complaints overe years." Former disgruntled followers of Mr Rawat accuse him of getting rich on their donations, a claim branded ludicrous by current supporters.

James Shaw, a spokesman for Elan Vital, pointed out his organisation had received charitable status and was governed by Charity Commission laws. "The fact is we are not a cult and we do not behave in cult-like ways," he said.