The country's legal fraternity is watching every step Kavi Tejpal Singh Tulsi, the senior Supreme Court advocate, takes.
He has taken up a case that many of his colleagues would think twice before touching. He is representing the Tamil Nadu government in a murder case against the Shankaracharya of Kanchi, Jayendra Saraswati, one of India's best-known Hindu spiritual leaders.
But it must not come as any surprise to those who know K T S Tulsi. He is the man who represented the Punjab police against Sikh terrorists. He supported the action against Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. Tulsi also defended former Punjab director general of police K P S Gill in a sexual abuse case.
The case against the Shankaracharya may be Tulsi's toughest test.
The seer is accused by the Tamil Nadu government of conspiring to murder Sankararaman, a former Kanchi Mutt official. The Shankaracharya's arrest has evoked strong reactions across the country. The Bharatiya Janata Party and Vishwa Hindu Parishad call it an assault on Hinduism. The prime minister has written to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, seeking better facilities for the seer in jail.
In this exclusive interview with Senior Editor Sheela Bhatt, Tulsi reveals fresh information about the Tamil Nadu police's case against the Shankaracharaya.
How do you see the case against the Shankaracharya?
The supporters of the Shankaracharya are not appalled by the murder of Sankararaman, but they are upset by mere accusations (against the seer). How dare anyone accuse him of murder!
The question is why is the murder of Sankararaman not a shame for the Hindu religion, but a mere accusation against the Shankaracharya is. The murder of a devotee in the most brutal fashion right inside the holiest of holy places has not appalled anybody. Not one voice has been raised against that murder. Once, he (Sankararaman) was manager of the Mutt and was privy to all that was going on inside the Mutt.
Since the last six months, he had launched a tirade against the Mutt's activities. He had published hundreds of leaflets, sent letters to all and sundry. Nobody felt insulted then. The supreme seat of the Hindu religion was embroiled in a controversy, but nobody took note of it. Why did (former President) Mr (Ramaswamy) Venkataraman not take note of it? Why did (former deputy prime minister Lal Kishenchand) Advani not take it seriously?
Also see: Who was Sankararaman? | Holy man in a controversy
In religious institutions and associations such pamphleteering goes on, it is not a new thing. Nobody can be blamed for not taking it seriously.
I agree with you. But what about Radhakrishna? (the Shankaracharya is also accused of masterminding the assault on G Radhakrishnan, a former aide, and some others in September 2002). What happened when he was beaten up severely?
It was a murderous attack. His daughter and wife were beaten up by the same gang that killed Sankararaman. Even then all of them (the seer's supporters) remained in sound slumber. Radhakrishnan is shouting from the rooftops that all kind of wrong things are going on in the Kanchi Mutt.
Shouldn't they have put their house in order? They (the Shankaracharya's supporters) are shooting the messenger.
What is Jayalalithaa's fault? Is it that she has allowed the law to take its own course? Is she not supposed to? Perhaps not. Because for them a Brahmin is above the law!
Also see: Murder in a temple | 'Can the Pope be arrested like this?'
It's not a question of Brahmin. He is not merely a Brahmin.
He is the noblest of Brahmins!
The seat of Kanchi has a special place in the hearts of Hindus. The Kanchi Shankaracharya represents centuries of Indian holy tradition.
When the president of America was accused of improper sexual conduct, he was cross-examined in front of the whole world.
Are you going to impede the process of the discovery of truth in accordance with the law?
Do the revered institutions of the world have a right to remain embroiled in crime and not be dealt with in accordance with the law?
Does any law, whether moral or legal or divine, give any right to any Shankaracharya to commit murder and then insist you will not investigate him?
If he has deviated from the (holy) path, he has forfeited his right (to be the Shankaracharya).
At least till the inquiry is going on, he should have himself abdicated his position to save the Mutt from further controversy.
There is no justification for him to continue and take this dandam (the holy staff that the Shankaracharya carries at all times. It is a symbol of all the power, moral and spiritual, that the Shankaracharya wields) along with him to jail. Why did he do that?
In fact, his deputy (Vijayendra Saraswati) had taken charge of the dandam, but he grabbed it back.
Some people argue that for millions of Indians their faith is above everything else. Don't you think the religious leader should have been dealt with greater deference?
I beg to disagree. I think (it is) because of this blind faith that we Indians have in our religious leaders that so much of muck is going on in many religious places.
I am not saying in all religious places.
We have to really imbibe the Indian Constitution's values. If we continue to imbibe the feudal values, which are ingrained in our (social) system, we will not be able to develop India into a modern State.
Religion has a place in our heart, but we will have to draw a line. Political parties are trying to fan communal and religious passions. This is most irresponsible.
Not at all. I am not making him a criminal. I am saying that the process of law requires legal agencies to find out about his involvement.
At the moment he is only suspected of an offence. The validity of that suspicion is required to be verified within 24 hours of his arrest by an independent judiciary, by a magistrate who is totally independent. The police have not only placed their case before the magistrate within 12 hours of his arrest, they have also placed the entire material before the high court.
They have found there is substance to the charge. I am not saying he is a criminal. I am saying that involvement in the most serious offence of the penal code is required to be inquired in accordance with the law.Four hundred years ago, the Church of England and the judiciary were divided. Before that, the Church used to dispense justice too. Even today many religious institutions dispense justice, but when they themselves are suspected to have deviated from their path, they claim they are entitled to special perks and privileges.
How can you entirely delink the case against the Shankaracharya from Dravidian politics in Tamil Nadu?
It is true that Dravidian politics is anti-Brahmin. But Jayalalithaa has not got this murder engineered.
The prosecution's case suits her politics...
Let it suit her, but it suits constitutionalism too. It suits the majesty of law. It suits the concept of equality of all before the eyes of the law. May you ever be so high, but the law is above you.
Many argue that the case could have been dealt with more care.
The police have taken utmost care. With folded hands they told the Shankaracharya that 'we are sorry but we will have to arrest you.' Obviously, he got very wild. He asked, 'What do you mean?' The police said they believe he is involved in a murder. He said, 'How dare you say this blasphemous thing?' When the police insisted, he said, 'I'll not go. Tell Jayalalithaa to talk to me.'
After that, for 10 minutes he talked to his deputy (Vijayendra Saraswati). He then voluntarily got up and went with the police. In the jail, his food is cooked by a Brahmin constable. He is allowed to do puja. He is provided with all the puja samgri. He is treated with reverence in custody too. All the wild allegations about his mistreatment in the jail are untrue.
Why was an attempt not made to ask him to resign?
His deputy suggested that to him. His deputy took the dandam (holy staff) away from him, but the senior Shankaracharya grabbed it back. He doesn't want to let go of it.
Was he aware that the police were looking for him?
My feeling is yes, he was aware. He did everything to prevent his arrest. From (approaching former President) Venkataraman to many others. For 10 hours, the Andhra police didn't allow the Tamil Nadu police to arrest him.
In fact, according to information available with the police, he was going to escape the previous night, but for the assurances given to him by the Andhra Pradesh government. The Andhra government had given him a guarantee that he would not be arrested on Andhra territory. That's why he didn't execute the plan.
It sounds ridiculous.
There was a flight plan. There was a helicopter ready.
Do choppers fly in the night?
He was to flee in the day. See, the Tamil Nadu police went to arrest him in the day. The Andhra police kept examining the papers till 6 pm. They kept saying 'we are not convinced.' Ultimately, the director general of police himself scrutinised all the papers and went to Chief Minister (Y S Rajashekhar Reddy). Once the permission was obtained, the police left for the ashram where the seer was putting up.
An industrialist, who had prepared the flight plan, was with the Swamiji at the time of his arrest. The industrialist had kept his helicopter ready in Hyderabad. The flight plan was filed for Hyderabad to the Mahbubnagar ashram (where the Shankaracharya was staying when he was arrested) and from Mahbubnagar to Pune.
The flight plan was not put into operation because initially the Andhra police blocked the Tamil Nadu police's arrest plan. When Swamiji was arrested and when he was walking towards the police van, a camera was following him. Somebody, who is not seen, says, 'If you had gone away yesterday, we would not have had to see this day.' Pune was their destination and from Pune they had plans to go abroad.
Do you believe this story?
I believe that fact is fancier than fiction.
What is the most important evidence against the Shankaracharya?
The police has pinpointed the time and place of the conspiracy hatched directly by the Shankaracharya. The meeting (when the murder was planned) was not with the accused, but with a person who arranged the murder. Now we have evidence in support of that meeting. There is untested evidence of payment to the contract killers. Now, one of the indicted people has confessed before a magistrate under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
There is documentary evidence of strong motive for the murder. Threats were executed against Radhakrishanan. He is alive today. The same modus operandi was executed against Sankararaman. When he didn't give up, he (the Shankaracharya) said 'I am fed up. He has given me too much trouble.' He said something should be done about it.
He didn't say murder him...
He didn't say murder. I am telling you whatever information the police have. He (the Shankaracharya) said he is giving me too much trouble. Something should be done. So the other person said 'we know only one thing that can be done. Remove him from the scene.' Then, he (the Shankaracharya) said, 'All right then, do that.'
No one knows if this information will be substantiated or not. Some of it is not even legally admissible. But in the conspiracy cases the police can't get more than this.
Were you comfortable taking up the case?
I had no hesitation. The ethos of Sikhism have continued to govern me. In Sikhism, Guru Gobind Singh established that everybody is equal. We all sit on the floor, we all eat the same food and we don't believe in higher and lower. So we revolt against this kind of exclusivity by politicians or bureaucrats or religious leaders.
We are children of the same God and we are equal in the eyes of God.
Subconsciously, I revolt against this kind of special treatment accepted by anybody, including by my own religious heads.
Do you think this is Jayalalithaa's boldest move?
Not the boldest move. She has gone by her instincts. The chief minister has gone up in my esteem for having taken action upholding the law even in trying circumstances.
Jayalalithaa is not living in a fool's paradise to not understand that this is an all-India issue.
How do you read the Shankaracharya's alleged actions?
If you see his career there is a certain streak in his personality which compels him to take rash decisions. He is rather impulsive. Ask Radhakrishanan. He is a very important witness.
Sankararaman was protesting against the accounting practices of the Mutt, right? Was that the motive?
He was accusing the Mutt of lots of other things apart from accountancy practices.
So much of immoral activities were going on there.