The ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam is fighting on both political and legal fronts to counter the allegation that Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami was linked to the April 2017 burglary at the late J Jayalalithaa’s estate at Kodanadu. But it seems the party, already damaged by a slew of corruption charges such as the gutka scam, is fighting a losing cause.
Since the allegation surfaced in a documentary released by the journalist Mathew Samuel last week, all major Opposition parties have been demanding Palaniswami’s resignation. On Monday, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s MK Stalin took the demand to Governor Banwarilal Purohit.
The AIADMK responded on Tuesday by sending a delegation to the governor to refute the charges against the chief minister. KP Munusamy, the party’s coordinator who led the delegation, later told Scroll.in that Stalin was making false accusations against Palaniswami. “We met the governor to counter these charges,” he added, without divulging any details.
On the legal front, Raj Sathyan, deputy secretary of the ruling party’s IT wing, had earlier filed a complaint demanding the police arrest Samuel as well as KV Sayan and Valayar Manoj, the Kodanadu burglary suspects who first made the allegation against the chief minister.
The chief minister has described the documentary as a conspiracy against him.
Four months after Jayalalithaa’s death, a suspected gang broke into her 800-acre Kodanadu estate in the Nilgiris district on April 24, 2017. They murdered a security guard named Om Bahadur and injured another, Krishna Bahadur, before escaping with valuables, computer drives and some papers, The Week reported. The estate’s CCTV surveillance system had been either removed or was not working, The Hindu quoted the police as saying.
One of the suspects was arrested on April 27 and seven more the next day. The police claimed the burglary was plotted by Kanakaraj, a former driver for Jayalalithaa, and Sayan.
Then the case took a suspicious turn. On April 28, Kanakaraj and Sayan separately met with what the police described as road accidents. Kanakaraj was killed. Sayan lived but lost his wife and daughter.
Two months later, on July 3, an accountant working at the Kodanadu estate was found dead at his home. The police told The News Minute website at the time that Dinesh Kumar had committed suicide, unable to bear the pain following a surgery.
As Sayan, Manoj and other suspects were released on bail in the following months, the case receded from news headlines. It returned to the spotlight last Friday when Samuel, chief executive of Narada News TV channel, released the documentary containing the allegation against the chief minister.
Two days later, acting on Sathyan’s complaint, the Chennai police arrested Sayan and Manoj, and charged them under penal provisions related to “doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony” and making statements causing public mischief.
Samuel accused fellow TV journalist Ramesh Honey Kumar of tipping the police about the whereabouts of Sayan and Manoj. Kumar denied the allegation.
The police produced the suspects before a magistrate in Egmore on Monday and sought their judicial custody. The magistrate refused.
In the dock
It is not only the ruling party that the documentary has put in the dock. Questions are also being raised about the police’s role in the matter.
This has compelled senior police officials involved in investigating the burglary and murder at the Kodanadu estate and the subsequent deaths of the suspects to defend themselves.
Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Salem Deputy Inspector General Senthil Kumar maintained that Kanakaraj died accidentally. “He died in a motorcycle accident on the Salem-Chennai bypass road,” Kumar was quoted as saying by Business Standard. “Investigations were made based on a complaint from his brother Dhanpal and it was confirmed the death was accidental.”
Murali Rambha, former superintendent of police of the Nilgiris, told The Hindu on Sunday that the burglary suspects were intercepted by the police as they fled. There were no valuables, hard drives or documents in their vehicle as has been claimed, he added, only watches and a glass showpiece. “They were intercepted within a couple of hours,” Rambha, now the police chief of Thoothukudi, told the newspaper. “The Gudalur police even detained them on suspicion. However, they were allowed to go after some locals identified them and vouched for their good antecedents.”