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