By Ra Ravishankar
16 November, 2004
I Veerappan?", Kanchi Shankaracharya Jayendra Saraswati asked after
he was arrested this Thursday on charges of instigating the murder of
his bete noire Sankararaman.
No, I am not calling
Jayendra a murderer yet. For all his past track record, he ought to
be presumed innocent until proven guilty. However, his character (or
the lack of it) is evident from those who have spoken out in his favor.
Narendra Modi, for
once, forgot his Newton. Or, may be, he felt that if 2,000 murders can
go unpunished, it's unfair for Jayendra to be punished for allegedly
instigating a single murder. Actions from powerful people can have unpleasant
reactions, though only rarely, and this must indeed be a disconcerting
thought for Modi who promptly called the Prime Minister to register
his sadness at Jayendra's arrest.
it an insult to the "whole Hindu community." Vishwa Hindu
Parishad's Ashok Singhal proclaimed it a "conspiracy by the Islamic
and Christian forces", blathered about "non-believers"
in general and promised revenge. Advani prophesied the arrest to have
been made in "haste" or "under pressure." Vajpayee,
that master of doublespeak who remained unperturbed in the immediate
aftermath of the Gujarat pogrom and, in fact, pinned the blame on Muslims
-- "Aag Lagayi Kisne, Aag Phile Kaise" [Who lit the fire,
How did it spread?], he asked -- claimed that Jayendra's arrest had
shocked the entire country. Good, now we know this man has feelings.
But then, the Tamil Nadu Police seems more interested in finding out
"Who committed the murder? How did Sankararaman die?"
of supporters includes a whole lot of other Sangh luminaries, but I
guess you get the point. And it's not a mere coincidence that he finds
so much favor with the top echelons of power in the Sangh. Sample his
following utterances and the reason is obvious.
[In response to
the question, "What is the difference between Hindutva
"This is like making a distinction between insaan and insaniyat.
All those for whom India is home, are part of Hindutva - whether
Hindu, Christian or Muslim. It is our entire culture and way of
[When asked about
the VHP trying to foment communal passion]
"The VHP is only an organisation to spread Hindutva." 
the VHP is preaching an "ultra Hindutva", whatever
it may appear to be ultra; I believe VHP is
an organisation that teaches and spreads the message of
"If the [Shiv]
Sena is getting aggressive it is purely because
it is the need of the times. Even the scriptures recommend this
... It is here that leaders like Thackeray who can mobilise
Hindus become crucial. If his style is high-handed, so be it.
It is necessary." 
"The RSS and
its frontal organisations act as a generator of
Hindu awareness around the world." 
should stop offering namaz on days like December
6. What has happened has happened. They should learn to forget
it. There is no more a masjid now." 
told them [Muslims] to fight all the time?" 
Given this long-standing
friendship, it's not at all surprising that the Sangh has come out swinging
in support of Jayendra. Fellow seers have also spoken out, and Sri Sri
Ravishankar has given a new meaning to the principle of presumption
of innocence: "Saints cannot even think of committing such a crime",
he said, apparently with a straight face. Grapevine has it that cows
in the Hindi belt have stopped yielding milk in protest against the
fate that has befallen their benefactor  and have been loudly crying
out (to) "Amma" (Jayalalitha)!
The initial shock
following the arrest have clearly worn off, and there doesn't seem to
be anything spontaneous about the ongoing protests. If anything, they
seem to be orchestrated by the Sangh organizations and/or by motley
groups of (Brahmin) seers desperately trying to cling on to their privileged
status in society. For those wedded to Varnashrama Adharma, equality
before law is indeed a bitter pill to swallow. Support for Jayendra
from certain Muslim and Christian religious heads also need to be seen
in this context -- their desire to maintain a privileged and irreproachable
position intheir communities, which they feel has been indirectly challenged
by Jayendra's arrest -- though it could also be a reaction to Sangh's
vitriol against minorities.
the Brahminical and Sanghi nature of the protests, the lack of an opposite
viewpoint (barring some lone voices like that of Swami Agnivesh) from
the Hindu community only crowns the likes of Jayendra and the Sangh
as authentic representatives of Hinduism. More silence from the so-called
"silent majority" in the Hindu community will only ensure
their (and their religion's) fast track to universal ridicule and oblivion.
If the Sangh's response
has been predictably virulent, the Congress's response has been predictable
lame. After a long silence, Congress spokesperson Girija Vyas opined
that "perhaps the arrest of the Swami on Diwali could have been
avoided." Certain others in the Congress have echoed the Sangh
line, probably out of blind obesiance to the Jayendra and/or in an attempt
to pander to the Hindutva votes in the cow belt.
Quibbles about Jayendra's
time of arrest are particularly irritating, for we have often seen --
most recently, in the Best Bakery case -- that justice delayed is justice
denied. The time is always right to do right, as Martin Luther King
Jr. would say. The state ought not to wait for an auspicious time or
the appropriate star signs and moon shapes to pick up a suspect, more
so when the suspect is someone as powerful as Jayendra. People in positions
of power are wont to muzzling any opposition -- particularly when they
have everything to lose (as is the case with Jayendra) -- and in such
cases, time is of the essence. Given Jayendra's economic might (as head
of a 5000 crore empire) and well-entrenched political connections (the
current president as well as several former prime ministers and presidents
are known to be his followers), there's every possibility of prosecution
witnesses turning hostile if he is let loose. His imprisonment would
certainly embolden the witnesses, and his fame rules out any possibility
of his being subjected to torture, so the best bet to justice seems
to be to maintain the status quo. At the very least, the state must
promise and ensure full protection to all witnesses and their families.
The case is bound
to get more and more interesting as the investigation expands, but there's
another sub-text to this story. A section of the press has focussed
on the ideological rivalry between the Brahminical Kanchi mutt and the
rationalists headed by Periyar and proclaimed Karunanidhi to be an inheritor
of Periyar's legacy. That this is not quite the case is evident from
the following comment made by Karunanidhi after Jayendra's arrest: "if
a virtuous woman commits mistakes, she can get pardon by taking a holy
bath in Ganges but if the Ganges itself commits a mistake, where can
for pardon?" Such talk of "women's chastity" and "holy
bath in Ganges" could hardly come from a rationalist. Though he
has effectively ruled out any truck with the BJP , Karunanidhi still
needs to go a long way toward extricating himself from the morass that
is Sangh spirituality. Indeed, by choosing to focus solely on the alleged
misdeeds of Jayendra the individual, he is letting the Brahminical underpinnings
of the Sankara mutt go unquestioned. It remains to be seen whether his
current appeal to the state government to "ensure that the Mutt
is being run to safeguard the interests of all sections of downtrodden
people" will evolve into a principled stand or peter off as a one-time
appeal meant to assuage the rationalists in his party.
The scene in "Amma"
Jayalalitha's camp is entirely different. Jaya has never shied off from
revealing her Hindutva colors, be it in banning religious conversions
or in publicly supporting Narendra Modi after the Gujarat pogrom. However,
the electoral debacle earlier this year seems to have left her badly
shaken. Her alliance not only lost all the parliamentary seats, but
ominously enough for her, also trailed in all the assembly segments.
Sensing the need for a mid-course correction, she promptly withdrew
the ban on conversions and other repressive measures, but this by itself
was hardly going
to be sufficient. Recent elections in Tamil Nadu have borne out the
essence of pre-poll alliances and it's here that Jaya found herself
shortchanged. For instance, in the parliamentary elections, the Jaya-led
alliance suffered a whitewash despite the voteshare of Jaya's ADMK dropping
by only 1.63 per cent. The difference between victory and defeat lay
in the relative strengths of the BJP and the anti-BJP formations. With
the latter showing no signs of breaking, and the BJP showing no signs
of recovery in Tamil Nadu (where it had a 5.07 per cent vote share)
or elsewhere (as evident from the electoral debacle in Maharashtra),
dumping the BJP seems to be the prudent option. This is what Jaya seems
to be doing with a vengeance now, for it should have been obvious that
any move against Jayendra would invite the Sangh's ire and she still
decided to go ahead with the arrest. In fact, her resolve to dump the
Sangh seems to have been so strong that she basically acqueisced to
the demands of the DMK (which had been threatening to launch an agitation
demading a probe of Jayendra's link with Sankararaman's murder), something
unthinkable given her bitter enmity with Karunanidhi. How this will
affect Jaya's electoral fortunes is a matter of conjecture, but what
is clear is that the BJP is in for a long political hibernation. All
this despite the fact that the Sangh seems keen  on tagging on to
If this isn't good
enough, the recent bonhomie between PMK's Ramadoss and Dalit Panther's
Thirumavalavan is even more cause for hope. The coming together of these
two political formations (which derive their strengths from the Vanniyar
and dalit communities, respectively), which had for long been at each
other's throats, further skews the electoral arithmetic against the
Sangh. Ramadoss has in the past too often sold himself to the highest
bidder, but if his recent pronouncements are anything to go by, here
in lies the genesis of a formidable third front that along with the
Left parties could act as a check against the Brahminism of the dravidian
parties. Despite constituting 20-25 per cent of the vote share spread
throughout Tamil Nadu , dalits have so far been deprived of political
power, but the fall of the Brahminist citadel and the new political
formations might just prove to be the tonic for the dalit movement.
3. Deccan Herald,
March 12, 2003
Silk" (S Anand), Outlook, March 25, 2002
Also see S Anand's "I am Neither Happy Not Unhappy" (Outlookindia.com,
July 9, 2003) for an analysis of Jayendra's "impartiality"
to the Ayodhya issue.
6. After Jayendra
threatened a fast unto death over the plight of the
country's cow population, the National Commission for Cattle came up
with a nearly 1,500 page report that recommended amending POTA to
detain gangs that smuggle cows.
7. In a statement
released on November 9, 2004, Karunanidhi lashed out
at the BJP for pursuing "policies that were against secularism,
communal harmony and unity of the country."
[Newindpress.com, November 9, 2004]
8. How else does
one explain the fact that while blaming just about
everyone else the Sangh has not made any adverse comments against Jaya?