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Why Shankaracharya's arrest was in bad taste

By T V R Shenoy
November 17, 2004 10:58 IST
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I am not a follower of Jayendra Saraswati, the sixty-ninth Shankaracharya of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham. There are two reasons.

First, I was brought up in the Madhavacharya tradition, which has philosophical differences with the path established by Adi Shankara. Second, I have always been put off by the manner in which Jayendra Saraswati pursued publicity and dabbled in politics. (His intervention in the Ayodhya issue was spectacularly ill-timed.) While respecting his office, I must admit that I have always tried to avoid the man himself and could never quite give him the esteem offered by right to his immediate predecessor.

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That said, I have to say that the manner of his arrest and his treatment thereafter was in rank bad taste. Please understand that I speak only of the behaviour of the authorities, not of the reasons which led them to arrest the Shankaracharya. That does not mean that I believe Tamil Nadu's case. It is a little difficult to believe that the head of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham would sit and plot the death of a man in the Varadaraja Perumal shrine (a sacrilege twice over if ever there was one). And, let us be frank about it, the recent history of the Tamil Nadu police's investigations when it came to VIPs makes me increasingly dubious.

Does anyone remember the flurry of charges that led to Jayalalithaa being thrust behind bars shortly after the Karunanidhi ministry took office in 1996? Or how Karunanidhi himself was dragged away, in full sight of the television cameras, when Jayalalithaa came back to power in 2001? Has there been any movement in those cases -- other than the courts throwing out many of them for lack of evidence?

Yes, I know that it has been reported by the media that Sankararaman's murderers have been caught and that they have named Jayendra Saraswati as the chief instigator. But in the wake of the charges, withdrawals, and counter-charges made by Zaheera Sheikh in the Best Bakery Case, I do not know how much credibility there is even to first person accounts. In any case, there is already a rumour that the so-called confessions were stage-managed by a certain political party as part of a long-term policy to usurp control of the vast properties of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham...

The outrage at Jayendra Saraswati's arrest has been so great that both the Government of India and the government of Andhra Pradesh have issued hasty clarifications that they knew nothing about it. These statements are not particularly believable. Does anybody believe that the Tamil Nadu police would charter a plane and fly off without informing the authorities in Andhra Pradesh or the coordinating powers in Delhi? And if the Government of India wants us to believe that Indian airspace is an uncontrolled public highway, all I can say is that both the Union home ministry and the civil aviation ministry should be charged with dereliction of duty.

Incidentally, it turns out that the Tamil Nadu police flew to Bangalore before they finally made it to Mahbubnagar in Andhra Pradesh. Not only was this a gross violation of airspace regulations, it also speaks volumes of their investigative ability. It was announced a long time ago that Jayendra Saraswati and his entourage would be touring Andhra Pradesh. In fact, the precise itinerary was put up on the official web site ( for everyone to see.

I would also love to know why the Tamil Nadu police chose to arrest Jayendra Saraswati on that particular day. November 12, as they must have known, was being celebrated as Deepavali in several parts of India. (In southern India, it was actually celebrated on November 11.) Surely, someone could have anticipated the fallout of arresting a Shankaracharya on that of all days. He was, after all, going to be in Hyderabad from November 12 to 25, and could have been taken into custody from there at a less sensitive time.

Even if the Tamil Nadu police lack an Internet connection, I am sure the itinerary could not have been all that difficult to obtain! Having arrested him, the Tamil Nadu authorities seem bent on humiliating Jayendra Saraswati. He, a diabetic in his seventieth year, was thrust into jail, refused permission to prepare his own food, and a fuss was made over his lawyers meeting him. Does anyone care to compare this treatment with the way that politicians are treated, how they manage to get admitted into hospital at the murmur of the word 'arrest', and the special facilities showered upon them?

I support the basic principle that everyone is equal before the law. But why is there one treatment for a Laloo Prasad Yadav and another for a Jayendra Saraswati?

I hope the courts sort out the mess as quickly as possible, not just the murder of Sankararaman but also the original charges raised by the victim about criminal misuse of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham's funds. But given the way in which the prime minister, the Union home minister, and the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh rushed to excuse themselves, it seems those three worthies at least have no great confidence in the case against Jayendra Saraswati!

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T V R Shenoy