What is India Editorial

What does it mean to be 
a Hindu in India?

Unease grows in the hearts of common Indians as they watch a revered saint being arrested and humiliated 

What is India News Service
November 24, 2004 

The arrest and remand of an individual of ascetic stature and the head of one of India’s most affluent mutts has led to the beginnings of a deeper analysis of what it means to be a Hindu in India. 

Leaving aside the rooftop cheers of rabid anti-Hindu and anti-Brahmin outfits like the DMK, whose leader is commonly known as a ruthless politician with no scruples, the political bluster of ministers and those seeing the developments as a means to garnering the limelight for themselves, there is a growing unease in the hearts of common Indians. To add to it is the unbelievable silence of the prime minister and the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, whose policemen arrested the seer.

What does it mean to be a Hindu in India anymore?  It seems to mean that the heavy books of law will be thrown at you literally and figuratively. That you, by virtue of being a so-called majority, are denied the exceptions and the accommodations made for all others, that you will be called a murderer even though the public prosecutor has failed to provide adequate evidence against you and is fumbling and asking for more time.

Guilty before proven innocent

Acknowledged murderers like Veerappan, who have taken the lives of our policemen, security personnel, innocent villagers and anyone who stood in their way, are lauded as “Chandana Veerappan” and “Robin Hood.”  The incestuous circle comes to a tight close.

Laura Kelly, in an article titled
H H Sri Jayendra Saraswati - A Victim of Gutter Politics of Tamilnadu, says Veerappan had links with Karunanidhi. The editor of the Tamil magazine Nakkeran, who also had contacts with Veerappan, published a news item about Sankararaman's murder. He had been in contact with Sankararaman.

As Balbir Kunj writes in The Pioneer,
“While, ironically, the same DMK is celebrating Kanchi Shankaracharya's humiliating midnight arrest, the 'secularists' and self-proclaimed human rights activists are busy rationalising the sordid drama in the name of "rule of law" and "equality before the law". Those (the Left and other "secularists") who are now quoting the rules have no respect either for the law or the Constitution.” 

Anuradadha Dutt says in the same paper, “Shortly after the news of the arrest of Kanchi Shankaracharya Jayendra Saraswati broke, a shocked politico observed on a news channel that though there were numerous cases pending against the Jama Masjid Shahi Imam, no one had dared to arrest him for fear of upsetting the Muslims.” 

As thought this were not enough to raise public suspicion, now comes a glaring slap of a judgment in another murder case against a PMK leader. How different is the Panruti MLA from the seer? Shouldn't the law be applied equally? The Hindu reported, “The Madras High Court today granted anticipatory bail to the Pattali Makkal Katchi MLA from Panruti, T. Velmurugan, who is an accused in a murder case. He was directed to stay in Coimbatore and sign before the judicial magistrate there daily.”  And Justice S. Ashok Kumar, while rejecting the plea of Velmurugan's brothers, Thirumavalavan and Kannan, said, "Normally, in a case of murder, anticipatory bail is not granted, except in exceptional cases and for cogent reasons."

One would ask, “Does not the very position, prestige and respect the Acharya commands make this an exceptional case? Does not the unprecedented stench of anti-Hindu political wrestling focused on one of the richest Hindu mutts make this an exceptional case? Does not the hasty arrest without due process targeting the leader of a majority of Hindus make this an exceptional case?” 

Who is the person we are looking at? Is it another common criminal, an individual with criminal cases against him, or a saint with a clean track record to date? Who is this Shankaracharya that the press has been so quick to condemn?  What makes them jump to adverse conclusions? Is it media bias?  It is well known that Sun TV is owned by the DMK, whose rank and file are celebrating this arrest.  Jaya TV is owned by the chief minister of Tamil Nadu and The Hindu has marital connections with the DMK. Their coverage has caused people to question their neutrality, and a group has called for a mass cancellation of subscription to The Hindu.

The Shankaracharya's Hindu Brahmin status has made him a target of the DMK and other “atheist” groups, and his unorthodox ideas to integrate modern Indian life and keep the mutt “contemporary” have alienated him from staunch orthodox Hindus.

One can see his logic: Tibet remained a “spiritual” country, but isolated from the modern world against the will of the people of that country. Tibet, as it was, no longer exists. The Acharya’s proactive stance was perhaps a way to prevent inviolate obsolescence. His proactive forays to gain political representation for the Hindus was the basis of a longstanding misunderstanding between him and the murdered Shankararaman.

Rights and wrongs

Some state that
the arrest could not have been made without the specific authorisation of the Chief Minister, in view of the standing of the mutt worldwide, the high profile enjoyed by Sri Jayendra Saraswati, and the ramifications of such a course of action, and that Jayalalithaa had “been punctilious in respecting the Hindu sentiments and the sanctity of its institutions.” Thus, the paper says, there is absolutely "no reason to suspect any ulterior motives on her part, or on the part of the police.”

Jayalalithaa on Wednesday broke her silence on the arrest, asserting in the Assembly that he had been held on "startling and definite information" about his involvement in a murder case.

Lack of evidence

“Whether the seer is guilty or not will be known after the court verdict. But whatever "evidence" the prosecution has produced so far, can at best be termed dubious. It is based on cell phone records and the phone does not belong to the Shankaracharya. The money recovered from the alleged killers has been traced to a bank account, not that of the mutt but an NGO.

The counsel for the Acharya has clearly stated in interviews with NDTV that the evidence was not conclusive.The public prosecutor has himself requested time to gather his “evidence”

What motives?

What motive could the Acharya have had?  If we are going to speculate that this ascetic will benefit in some way by this murder, make off with crores that are his to control in any case, we should also consider that it is being said that Shankararaman’s threatened expose of mutt irregularities caused the acharya to have him murdered.

The charge is that the Acharya spoke to hired killers and ordered the murder.  Some have called for a cool analysis of the situation. Realistically speaking, a man with as much influence as the Acharya need never have to call a killer, hand over money, and commit murder.

Our nation has hundreds of criminals who “distance” themselves from such acts with ease.  Any number of people could have killed Shankararaman, including the notorious associates of the Nakkeeran editor whom Shankararaman contacted. This could have been done to frame the Acharya and cause enough chaos to warrant political control of an institution flush with cash. After all, the prime source of unofficial political cash, Veerappan, is dead, and until someone fills his shoes, the cash will cease to flow.

The political angle

Why did Jayalalithaa give her nod to the midnight arrest of the pontiff in Mahboobnagar on Diwali? Until a few months ago, the Kanchi seer was one of her close advisers. Why did DMK chief Karunanidhi insist on sitting in a dharna for inquiry into Sankararaman's murder?

Some assert
that Jayalalithaa and her party have been very close to the holy man, so the turn of events is quite startling: "It has to be assumed that a presentable case has been built up against the Sankaracharya, although Ms Jayalalithaa has never been known to be too particular about criminal cases. The electoral drubbing she received after her tie-up with the BJP and her pro-Hindu policies may have forced her to look for ways to rebuild an anti-Brahminical image. At least her action has pre-empted Mr Karunanidhi from making a to-do about the charges against the Kanchi head, and has suggested that she is growing distant from the BJP’s Hindutva line”

The difference lies in the community the arrested seer belongs to. “The inference was that political compulsions, hinging on wooing minority votes, had cast a protective cordon around the Islamic pontiff, who is notorious as a rabble-rouser In this case, the timing and surreptitious manner of the seer's arrest, on Diwali, followed by a long weekend and Id, another holiday, suggests that something unholy is brewing. For, the closure of the courts and jails in this period ensured that the Shankaracharya could be hurriedly secreted away without hope of redressal until the vacation ended. It was a deliberate move to preempt remedial action on his behalf.
Several groups say political parties have their eye on the mutt's coffers. The DMK has gone so far as to suggest that the mutt management should come under a government board. However Jayalalithaa has said she is not interested in taking over the hoary institution.
"We want that the mutt should not be defamed. We do not want the mutt to come to a standstill," she said.

The aftermath of the arrest of has brought into sharp relief several issues relating to the management of religious mutts in general. While it is true that these organizations control vast sums of money and are not required to report their financial dealings to the public in general, they do not differ  in operation to any other religious group world over.

However, the political motives seem to be stronger than any the Acharya could have had to be a party to this murder. Apart from the cash involved, there is a lot of control and power associated with the mutt’s various organizations. He has reportedly told high-profile visitors that he was a victim of Jayalalithaa's vendetta.
The seer reportedly said he had refused to make over a popular and well-established medical school run by the Kanchi Mutt trust to Jayalalithaa, and this had further angered the chief minister.  

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