Kalyan Arun recalls how Subramanian Swamy barged in, arguing with the CBI on why the godman should not be arrested.

21 years after godman Chandraswami was arrested from Madras a journalist recounts the night
Voices Controversy Sunday, May 28, 2017 - 20:17

May 2, 1996 had been a hectic day. Tamil Nadu had voted that day in simultaneous polls to Lok Sabha and the state Assembly, the run up to which had seen high political drama. Over the previous weeks, the then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao as President of All India Congress Committee had decided to ally with Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK, much against the majority wish of the party’s Tamil Nadu unit.

Revolting against it, senior Congress leader GK Moopanar has quit the party with his supporters to form the Tamil Maanila Congress and allied with DMK. The alliance had been backed by Rajinikanth with his famous “Andavane vanthalum Thamizh Nattai Kappatha mudiyathu” (even God cannot save Tamil Nadu) if Jayalalithaa was voted back to power.

This was the background in which the polling had taken place that day. My camera-person and I, colleagues at Business India group’s TV channel BITV (TVi), had been busy right from early morning with election stories. By 8 pm that night, the channel’s two camera persons N Balasundaram and G Manimaran had packed up for the day and were on their way home. I had just finished faxing the final draft of the script for the Tamil Nadu election story package, when TVi’s news coordinator Vishnu Makhijani called me from Delhi with a short message. “Arrest warrant has been issued by a Delhi court against Chandraswami in the Lakhubhai Pathak case. He might be arrested tonight in Chennai.”

It just needed two calls to confirm that Chandraswami (real name Nemichand Jain) was staying in Sindhoori Hotel near Apollo Hospitals on Greams Road. As this was the pre-mobile phone era, I could not contact either Bala or Manimaran, instead I called up their residence land lines and left messages asking both to rush to Sindhoori Hotel immediately.

I then picked up the camera (we were still in heavy beta-cam age those days), put a fresh battery and a tape into it, picked up a spare battery and a spare tape also, and drove in the office Maruti Omini to Sindhoori Hotel just two kilometrers from our office on Peter’s road.

When I reached the hotel, a couple of reporters were already there, and in a short while, at around 8.45 pm a CBI team led by joint director (South) D Mukherjee arrived on the scene. While Mukherjee remained outside the hotel, the others went up to Chandraswami’s fourth floor suite.

By then more media persons and TV crews had arrived, and we crowded around Mukherjee, who told us that an arrest warrant had been issued by the Delhi Chief Metropolitan Magistrate’s court against Chandraswami and his associate Kailash Nath Agrawal alias Mamaji. He said that the Madras office of CBI had got a faxed copy of the warrant only around 7 pm. The plan, he said, was to serve the warrant and produce Chandraswami before the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, Egmore (Madras) and if the CMM granted permission, he would be flown to Delhi by the first available flight.

The case against Chandraswami was that he had cheated a London-based businessman Lakhubhai Pathak of USD 100,000. Pathak, an India-born businessman had built a pickle empire in the UK earning him the sobriquet “Pickle King.”  His allegation was that Chandraswami had arranged a meeting with PV Narasimha Rao in New York in 1987, during which he had been promised contract for supply of newsprint and had been asked a kickback of USD  100,000. He claimed that he had paid the amount in two cheques, one for  $ 27,000 and another for $ 73,000 to Chandraswami and his associate Mamaji, but they had reneged on their promise. Along with Chandraswami and Mamaji, Rao was also named as an accused. After several legal hurdles, the CBI which was investigating the case had finally managed get an arrest warrant against Chandraswami and Mamaji, which its officers were now trying to serve on the fake Godman.

And for the media persons gathered at Sindhoori Hotel, the wait began even as the CBI officials “negotiated” with Chandraswami, who, we were later informed, had claimed that he had an anticipatory bail but could not produce the bail order copy.

Just as the reporters were settling down for an eventless wait, around 10 pm Dr Subramaniam Swamy walked in. Swamy was at that time president of Janata Party, and known to be as close to Chandraswami as Narasimha Rao was.

His initial bluster was very calmly brushed aside by CBI officer Srilakshmi Prasad who politely but firmly told him that the CBI was only serving the arrest warrant and that he (Swamy) could not go to Chandraswami’s room. Swamy then turned on Mukherjee, who was talking to some media persons, and went on agitatedly about the complaint being false, of Chandraswami being framed, and claimed that the Godman had a heart ailment.

Ticked off by Mukherjee’s contemptuous silence, Swamy then took off against the waiting media persons briefly before going on record with his claims that Chandraswami was a victim of a witch-hunt. Swamy, we learnt, had met Chandraswami around 8 pm after the news about the warrant had been conveyed to him, and had left the hotel just a few minutes before the CBI team had arrived.

Soon, comparative silence descended in the hotel lobby, which was broken after midnight by a flurry of activity. Chandraswami had been arrested and was to be taken to the Madras CMM’s residence in Mehta Nagar. The CMM, Anbazhagan had been alerted, we were told.

My cameraman colleague Balasundaram, reached the hotel just as I started recording the visuals of Chandraswami being brought down the corridor from the lift in a wheelchair. Bala took over from there on with the camera.

Swamy tried futilely to intervene one last time telling Mukherjee that his Godman friend should be taken to a hospital first as he had heart ailment.

Chandraswami was, however, bundled into a CBI van, and with a posse of vehicles bearing journalists, the convoy slowly crawled out of Sindhoori hotel towards the CMM’s residence.

Three hours later, CBI had obtained the ‘prisoner on transit warrant’ from the CMM and were ready to fly Chandaswami to Delhi by the early morning Indian Airlines flight.

(Acknowledge with thanks a couple of journalist friends who were also there that night for jogging my memory on a few details)

Post script: Almost six years after this arrest, Narasimha Rao was discharged in the case for want of adequate evidence.  Chandraswami and Mamaji were convicted by the Delhi magistrate court but they went on appeal.

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