When you have the law on your side, hammer away at the law,' the veteran attorney told his junior, 'When you have the facts on your side, hammer away at the facts.'
'Yes, but what does one do if one has neither the facts nor the law to support one's case?'
'Hammer away at the table!'
When Jayendra Saraswati was arrested on the morning of November 12 I thought the Tamil Nadu police must have gathered enough evidence to make a prima facie case, perhaps not enough to get him convicted but sufficient to say that he should be taken into custody.
The first doubts began to emerge when the police began to make its case, and the unspoken thought turned into actual suspicion when K T S Tulsi began trying to revive the ghost of supposed Brahminical prejudice. When a lawyer of his experience speaks of casteism rather than cite hard evidence you know he is hammering on the table.
The Supreme Court put the stamp of its disapproval on the arrest when it chose to grant bail to Jayendra Saraswati. Murder, the deliberate decision to take the life of another human being, is one of the gravest charges in the book, and it should not be granted under normal circumstances to the prime accused in a case. In throwing out all the arguments put forward by Tamil Nadu, the Supreme Court has, in effect, raised a doubt over the validity of the case from beginning to end. Using some of the strongest language I have ever heard from the apex court, their Lordships stated in plain words that there isn't even a prima facie case against Jayendra Saraswati.
But it is an open question if such a botched-up job will ever reach the trial stage. On November 11, the Tamil Nadu police said it sought custody of the Shankaracharya of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham because it wanted to interrogate him with a view to filing the chargesheet. Sixty days later, when Tamil Nadu was forced to release him on the Supreme Court's order, there was still no chargesheet -- nor any indication of when one might be filed. Instead, we see the spectacle of a Tamil Nadu administration teetering between vindictiveness and panic.
The first emotion became apparent when the Tamil Nadu police decided to take Vijayendra Saraswati, the junior Shankaracharya, into custody. The timing is significant, it came mere hours after the order to release Jayendra Saraswati. Vijayendra Saraswati had already been questioned once or twice in the dramatic days following his guru's arrest.
In fact, the Tamil Nadu police themselves had stated that the investigation was complete -- which, ironically, came two days before Vijayendra Saraswati's arrest. Having assured the chief minister that there was 'clinching evidence' of Jayendra Saraswati's complicity -- a claim which she repeated in the Tamil Nadu assembly -- the investigators must now turn around and convince people that it was the hitherto unsuspected junior pontiff who was at fault.
Round Two of the investigation began as badly as Round One. Many people were upset that Jayendra Saraswati had been arrested in the wee hours of Deepavali. His disciple, it turns out, was taken into custody while he was actually performing puja in the Kanchi Mutt. The excuse given in the first instance was that the senior Shankaracharya was getting ready to flee to Nepal in a helicopter. Was there, perhaps, a Star Trek-type teleporter in Kanchi which led to the haste to drag Vijayendra Saraswati away?
The latest move by the government of Tamil Nadu is an appeal to the Supreme Court that Jayendra Saraswati should be kept as far away as possible. Its representative has filed a plea asking that he should be asked to stay away not just from the Kamakoti Peetham, nor even from Tamil Nadu, but from all of South India. In other words, having moved heaven and earth to keep him behind bars the government of Tamil Nadu now thinks it can breathe easier only when the Vindhyas stand between him and them!
What on earth is going on? I used to think that this could be part of an elaborate plan to embroil the DMK courtesy of Appu. To be honest, I didn't take it very seriously upon hearing allegations that the Tamil Nadu authorities were trying to usurp the wealth of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham. But with Vijayendra Saraswati behind bars and the attempt to push Jayendra Saraswati out of southern India altogether, I really don't know what to believe.
To my mind, there is, however, an even graver question than the motives of the Jayalalithaa regime -- the unsolved murder of Sankararaman. I know that Jayendra Saraswati's devotees might be so happy at his release that they might forget the actual victim.
But a crime was committed -- sacrilege in fact, since it took place inside the Varadaraja Perumal shrine. Until his murderers are brought to book there can be no full-stop to this case. May one hope that the Tamil Nadu police display somewhat greater efficiency and honesty of purpose henceforward?