10 Minutes In
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
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 thoughstatements
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.
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 photographtaken a few weeks
before the murder at a marriage the Shankaracharya gracedfeatures
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
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.
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.
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 observationsrevoking any public
meeting supporting or protesting the arrestshould 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.
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 Sankarathe 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.
(India) Private Limited 2004