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10 Minutes In A Life

By S Anand

03 December, 2004

"To powerful ministers and industrialists I was a ladder, now the ladder's broken; I held the Brahmins of this country together like a sack, that sack's torn; to the Dalits I was a vessel that offered them water, that vessel's broken."
—Jayendra Saraswati in his testimony to the police

With tears rolling down his cheeks, Jayendra Saraswati, the Shankaracharya of the Kanchi math, has admitted to his role in the murder of A. Sankararaman, manager of the Varadarajaperumal temple in Kanchipuram. Over three days (November 19-21) at the All-Women's police station in Kanchipuram, Jayendra Saraswati unburdened himself to three superintendents of police.

A senior officer Outlook spoke to gave details of the confessions which have also been videographed. There is a catch though—statements made in custody are not admissible as evidence in a court of law. But the entire exercise has filled in the gaps
for the investigating team trying to put together the sequence of events.

One member of the interrogation team said the Shankaracharya, in a "repentful mood", admitted that Sankararaman had become a thorn in his flesh with his letters (over three years) threatening to expose the wrongdoings at the math. The letters left him "sleepless, tortured and deeply upset". The "empire" the Shankaracharya had painfully built up over two decades was being destabilised. "His sensational allegations angered me. It would anger anybody," Jayendra Saraswati told the police.

When Sankararaman's last letter (August 30) arrived, Ravi Subramaniam, a Chennai-based contractor and staunch devotee of the math, was present with Jayendra Saraswati. "How long do I have to suffer this torture? Is there no end to this? I should henceforth receive no letter from him," the Shankaracharya apparently told Ravi, who had helped in the construction of some math buildings. The latter reportedly said he'd ensure the letter from Sankararaman was the last, but added that this would involve some expenditure. The Shankaracharya ordered math manager N. Sundaresan to make the necessary arrangements. Ravi then contracted Appu alias Krishnaswamy for the murder.

In an interview to Nakkheeran (September 25), Jayendra Saraswati had admitted that "some of my bhaktas may have been responsible for Sankararaman's end". It appears the unnamed bhaktas were Ravi and Appu. Both are at large and special teams of the police are even now hot on their trail. Appu, perhaps getting wind of the impending arrest, had obtained clearance from the Madras HC on November 4 to visit the US for three months on medical grounds. The permission has now been stayed.

It was Appu who allegedly hired the six killers. Also a devotee of Jayendra Saraswati, he's been involved with the math for over two years. The police have confiscated photographs and video-recordings showing the Shankaracharya with Appu. One such photograph—taken a few weeks before the murder at a marriage the Shankaracharya graced—features a shirtless Appu offering paadapuja to Jayendra Saraswati. Police say Appu was earlier an associate of senior DMK leader Arcot N. Veerasamy, minister in the 1996-01 Karunanidhi government. "It was while working for Veerasamy that Appu became powerful in the city," says a police officer.

Ravi Subramaniam, estranged from his wife, came to the math seeking the Shankaracharya's counsel on "family problems". Over the years, he became a confidant of Jayendra Saraswati. A senior math hand confirms that Ravi was a regular visitor "who could get an audience with the swami any time he wished". Just like Ravi would confide in Jayendra Saraswati, the latter too began to confide in his bhakta. In 2002, when the seer felt unduly bothered by S. Radhakrishnan, a math functionary, Ravi introduced Appu to the math.Subsequently, Radhakrishnan, his wife and an associate were attacked in September '02 by Appu's men. Soon, Appu, earlier booked under the Tamil Nadu Goonda Act, also became a regular at the math.

During interrogation, Jayendra Saraswati is said to have confessed that Appu was in touch via cellphone before and after the murder. Even Kadiravan, one of the six alleged hitmen, called him on the cellphone after the murder. Kadiravan though refuted everything this week before the court, saying he had been tortured by the police into making a statement. An investigating officer says "this doesn't mean much. He was produced before a magistrate five times but never said anything about torture".

Regretting his action, Jayendra Saraswati apparently told the police: "In 10 minutes, my mind faltered, and my life has been ruined." Says a senior member of the police team, "Jayendra Saraswati had not opened up to anyone since the murder. After speaking to us and all the tears, he felt emotionally relieved. The three-day confession has had a psycho-therapeutic effect on him. He was asking for forgiveness and said he was always thinking of the several tribulations that even Hindu gods underwent."

When asked why he hadn't contacted any of the powerful people he knew to deal with Sankararaman, Jayendra Saraswati reportedly said: "I'm used to powerful people coming and seeking my counsel and favours. How could I confess to them about my problems?" The Shankaracharya has apparently named several retired judges, senior police and government officials too who sought him out for favours, from quarry contracts to governor postings. "If the math operates more than 120 trusts today, it's because a lot of black money and hawala money of the rich and famous finds its way here." He also claims to being a "radical and revolutionary Shankaracharya" who gave the math a national profile.

The bitter infighting in the Kanchi math also came to the fore. The Shankaracharya told the police that his junior, Vijayendra Saraswati, was a "very duplicitous person". Asked about the reported sex scandals, the pontiff replied, "You must ask that fellow and his brother Raghu about it." Jayendra Saraswati now wants to return to the math to "cleanse and reform it". While realising it may be impossible for him to resume his old duties—"Who will respect me now?"—he is keen on installing a new Shankaracharya higher in rank to Vijayendra.

The Shankaracharya's judicial custody in the murder case ends on November 26, but before that he goes before a magistrate in Chennai in the Radhakrishnan assault case. On November 23, the Shankaracharya was served an arrest memo for his role in it. The enmity with Radhakrishnan also owed to his threat of an expose on the siphoning off of math funds.

Meanwhile, the bjp's moves to mobilise public opinion on the issue have come to naught. L.K. Advani called on Jayendra Saraswati at the Vellore jail and on Vijayendra Saraswati in Kanchi, and was at a rally in Chennai on November 22. But Madras HC judge P.D. Dinakaran's observations—revoking any public meeting supporting or protesting the arrest—should have a sobering effect on the Hindutva brigade. Anyway, other than Brahmin groups conducting yagnas and lighting lamps, there's been little other public reaction.

It's hardly surprising, since even locals in Kanchipuram feel the math has done little for them. Says Vasudevan, a Brahmin who mans a small store, "They were always looking to expand their real estate holdings. They took over the houses of several Brahmins here by cajoling or threatening them. When the math asks you to write your property in their name, you voluntarily surrender or they send goons after you." The math owns several such houses in the temple town.

Jayendra Saraswati himself has confessed to his real estate involvements.In Chennai, prime property owned by the math on Spur Tank Road, Chetpet, was sold to Heritage Property Development Company. The builder, V. Krishnaprasadh, is developing a luxury 40-apartment complex there, Heritage Sankara—the going rate for one flat: Rs 52 lakh. In return, the math is getting a 25,000 sq ft 'Jagadguru Sri Jayendra Saraswati Peetarohana Swarna Jayanthi Mandapam' "with exclusive darshan/restrooms for Their Holiness". For now though, the Shankaracharya must rest awhile in his small cell at the Vellore prison.

©Outlook Publishing (India) Private Limited 2004










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