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  BJP’s bad precedent in meddling in Seer’s arrest!  
 

 

By: Ganesh Sovani
ganesh_sovani@rediffmail.com
November 23, 2004

As I write this on Monday 22nd November afternoon, from Mumbai, eleven days have passed, ever since the Kanchi Shankaracharya was arrested by TN police at Mehbaboobnagar (AP) on the first night of Diwali festival from a local ashram, on the charges of conspiring a murder of former Mutt employee Shankarraman who was eliminated on 3rd of September this year.

Millions of people in India were aghast to know about Seer’s arrest when majority of electronic new channels in India had started flashing the news around 6.30 AM on Saturday (12th November) that Shankaracharya has been granted fifteen days judicial custody. One was at loss to know for what he has been arrested and what is his crime?

The things began to unfold after some time, when Superintendent of Police, Cuddllore Prem Kumar spoke to the media assembled outside the JMFC Court at Kanchipuram, when the Pontiff was produced after having been brought by a plane from Hyderabad in the wee hours. Every sensible person in India was looking with utter shock, dismay and disbelief when the video footage of Shankaracharya being brought in a police van to JMFC Kanchi was repeatedly shown on television channels. The man who is revered by millions of people in India and abroad was being labelled as an ‘accused’ in the police papers, which was and it is still unthinkable for many.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad was first to come down heavily on Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalitha when it’s international secretary Dr. Praveen Togadia revealed VHP’s intentions of agitating on the issue, when he was exclusively interviewed by Aaj Tak’s Manish Trivedi in a South Indian temple at Nagpur. Within few hours, both BJP and RSS to came out with their respective statements criticising Seer’s arrest. The BJP’s spokesperson Arun Jaitley, who himself is a celebrated lawyer was cautious enough to protest about the manner in which Shankaracharya was arrested and he showed an exemplary maturity in not commenting about the merits of the case.

But on the other hand, BJP’s another senior party functionary like Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi undertook a visit to Vellore jail along with NDA’s convener George Fernandes and met the Seer, presumably to get a first hand information of what has exactly transpired. While, duo’s meeting with Shankaracharya are quite understandable and nothing wrong in that in any sense, it was absolutely inappropriate and unwarranted on the part of Dr. Joshi to lay a claim before the media that TN police had arrested Kanchi Seer without any evidence, when Dr. Joshi himself had no ways and means to have an access to the evidence gathered by police, over a period of time.
Before commenting about the Shankaracharya’s arrest, it would have been most appropriate on the part of the BJP and its leaders to have take pains to find out what eminent personalities in TN have said on this very debatable issue.

Had BJP leaders would have found out as to what has been said by an eminent politician, author, dramatists and an unenviable personality like Cho Ramaswamy about Seer’s arrest, then one wonders, whether Dr. Joshi would dared to make such a presumptuous allegation about TN police. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Cho is an authority in TN , be it literature, theatre, religion, social issues but above all the politics as well ! Moreover, Cho is the only character in TN, who does not hesitates to call spade a spade and he is the only one who has enjoyed proximity with both Jayalalitha and Pontiff in the past.

As Friday 11th November, was the Dipawali holiday in TN, almost all newspaper establishments in the entire state were closed on that day and hence, there was no newspaper to have a glance at on the following day. However, on the very day of the arrest, Cho was the first person to have told Rediff.com that unless TN police have had ‘clinching evidence’, the Chief Minister Jayalalitha would have not given dared to give her nod to her men in Khaki to go for Seer’s arrest.

All eyes were had glued to Tuesday 17th November, when the Madras HC was to hear a bail petition filed by the Seer to seek his release. However, as the Seer was to be produced before Kanchi magistrate on Wednesday, the Madras HC preferred to adjourn the matter for a day, with clarification that pendency of his bail petition before it was not an impediment for the magistrate to decide the fate of remand application that was to be moved by police before Kanchi court. In fact, it was the very day, when the TN chief minister Jayalalitha chose to announce on the floor of the house, that there was a ‘strong and shocking’ evidence about Shankaracharya’s role in the murder of former Mutt employee Shankarraman. In fact, her very revelation dampened the spirit of many of Seer’s followers across the country.

Although Kanchi magistrate witnessed heavy arguments in favour and against remand of the Seer, he preferred to adjourn the matter for the order, on Friday 19th of November, as both prosecution and accused had heavily relied on dozens of Apex Court and High Court case laws in support of their respective arguments. Quite amazingly, the Seer had requested the magistrate not to pronounce the order, which was to seal the fate of his remand, between 10.30 AM to 12 Noon, as this period was to undergo an influence of Rahu, known as Rahu Kalam. The magistrate on his part declined to concede Seer’s request after severe opposition from the prosecution to that effect, but the magistrate finally pronounced his order at 12.05 PM on Friday (much to the wishes of the Pontiff) and allowed the TN police to have three days police remand for facilitating Shankaracharya’s custodial interrogation.
Quite sadly, the judgment pronounced by the Apex Court in Joginder Singh V/s. State of Uttar Pradesh (AIR 1994 SC 1349) could not come to Seer’s rescue, which speaks about the precautions which the police need to take in case of arresting a well known or reputed person. The emphasis of this verdict is that police should not arrest some one, merely because the offence is cognizable one, which empowers them to cause an arrest.

No sooner, Kanchi magistrate’s order of police remand became public, the BJP on its part, rushed to call on President of India, who himself hails from TN and who is an extremely religious person to vent it’s feelings over the Seer’s arrest. As if this was not enough, the BJP, VHP, RSS and other Parivar organizations have taken this issue to the streets across the country and on Monday a call for ‘Bharat Bandh’ was given. Interestingly, on the second day of Shakaracharya’s arrest, a bandh call was given by some Hindu organizations in Kerala, where Hindus account only 33 % and it was relatively a successful bandh!

It seems that BJP and other Parivar outfits have decided to come out openly in support of Shankaracharya of Kanchipuram! By doing this, one of the biggest advantages which BJP will get at this critical juncture, is that, the bitter issues like Uma Bharati and the alleged rumbling amongst the Parivar organizations will be relegated to the back burner. One will not be surprised if Uma is silently pardoned and she is allowed to make a smooth entry on the stage or platform, where BJP or other outfit are protesting over Seer’s arrest. In fact, at this juncture, the presence of mercurial character like Uma Bharati would have definitely become handy for BJP and its allied organizations to vent their anger against Jayalalitha and DMK leaders, etc. over the Seer’s arrest.

Congress has taken an extremely ambivalent stand on this issue. It has neither condemned the manner of Seer’s arrest nor has it commented any thing about the whole issue. In fact, the DMK chief K. Karunanidhi was the first to politicize this issue, who wrote an article in party’s mouthpiece over Seer’s arrest. Much to the astonishment of many, it is the same DMK chief who now claims that it was the personal vendetta of Jayalalitha against the Seer, which led to the latter’s arrest! Perhaps the nationwide protests emanated on the on the third day of BJP’s agitation, which is joined by none other than former President of India R. Venkatraman might have forced Karuninanidhi to soft peddle on the issue.

But the moot question is, whether the issue starved BJP should gamble so low to conquer? When the matter is not only sub-judice and allegations of serious nature have been levelled by the police against the Seer and the fact that even the JMFC Kanchi while disposing of remand application of the police has opined that there was a prima-facie case against Shankaracharya, what should prompt the BJP to make such a misadventure ?

Even though the Seer had challenged his three days police custody remand, before Madras HC, on Monday, the HC had virtually justified Kanchi magistrate’s action. As a matter of fact, the Madras HC proceeding virtually became an infractuous , as the Kanchi magistrate refused to grant further police remand of Pontiff to police.

Barring few posters which have emerged in Kanchipuram itself showing Shankaracharya with Veerappan style moustache and with nasty write up about it, it is interesting to note that quite surprisingly, the entire TN is calm and quite after Seer’s arrest. But then why the BJP and it’s allied organizations should disturb the public life by resorting to bandh. One wonders how come, the BJP forget that barely few months ago, the Bombay High Court had fined the BJP and it’s partner in Maharashtra Shiv Sena for Rs. 20 lakh for calling a bandh in Maharashtra after twin blasts which took place in Mumbai last August. What is the point in inviting the wrath of Supreme Court again? Who will be responsible, if the bandh is marred by any violence and affray?

One feels that BJP is creating an extremely bad precedent in protesting over a matter, which is seized before the judiciary? One will not be surprised if some DMK or or DK, or PMK activists in TN files any contempt petition against BJP leaders for making unsubstantiated comments about the matter which is sub-judice?

By resorting to an agitation over Shankarachary’a issue, one feels that perhaps the BJP is giving a ‘licence’ to the people or activists belonging to other religions and faiths in India to come on to the streets, should their leader (who might be revered by many in their respective religion or faiths or communities) in the event of his or her arrest for involvement in any serious crime. Therefore, a question needs to be asked, in future how the BJP could blame the people, activists, or supporters of any religious figure belonging to any non – Hindu or non – Brahmin community or faith in the event of such leader’s arrest, who according to them could be a holy man and it was impossible according to them about his involvement in any such crime.

Hence, one feels that it would be difficult for the police authorities henceforth to arrest any religious or community figure, should his or her arrest is necessary during an investigation of a crime, be it an offence relating to a human body or an offence related to money or land dispute !
It would have been sensible for the BJP to maintain equanimity at this critical juncture, when the party is in turmoil much due to internal factors rather than the external issues.

As the investigation is at infancy stage, as regards Shankaracharya’s role in Shankarraman’s murder, it is very premature to comment about the innocence of Kanchi Seer’s. Therefore, the very argument that Seer would not get a fair trial is extremely premature and totally unwarranted. This issue could come up only if TN police finally file a charge sheet (challan) against Seer and the matter finally comes up for the hearing. One would not be surprised if any judge hauls up VHP, BJP, etc. in distant future for raking up such demands.

In the meanwhile, the Seer himself has said that he is unwilling to approach the Supreme Court of India for seeking his release. Though his move is bound to distress millions of his followers or devotees, it is a very sensible and cautious move. If SC were to reject his bail plea, by sighting that the investigation being at preliminary stage, then it would be very difficult for the Sessions Court or Madras HC to grant a bail to Seer in the immediate future, as the Apex Court, i.e. the superior court has rejected his bail on some grounds and it might work as a caveat or stumbling block in granting bail to him, unless some fresh facts are brought on record showing his innocence about the crime. By all accounts, to approach SC at this juncture is an extremely risky exercise for Shankaracharya.

Sooner the BJP and its Parivar outfits realize this, it would be better not only for them, but even for Seer as well !

Ganesh Sovani

(Writer is senior criminal lawyer from Thane, Maharashtra, India and he is also engaged in freelance writing for almost two decades having an authority on scores of issues. He can be contacted at ganesh_sovani@rediffmail.com)


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