On November 22, the Madras High Court observed that “Madurai is facing a peculiar law and order issue with a war between two gangs, leading to a chain of murders one after the other as revenge”.

Collage of TN gang rivals VK Gurusamy and M RajapandianVK Gurusamy (L) and M Rajapandian (R), photo credit: Vikatan
news Crime Thursday, November 25, 2021 - 17:00

Fifty years ago, VK Gurusamy, a DMK worker who was then in his twenties, moved from Kamuthi village in Ramanathapuram to Keerathurai, a small neighbourhood in Madurai city of Tamil Nadu, in the hope for a better future. He did succeed. It was here, in Keerathurai, that he made his fortunes, rose to fame as the loyal aide of MK Azhagiri, former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Karunanidhi’s son, and a political aspirant to reckon with. This was also the place where Gurusamy met his arch-nemesis — M Rajapandian, a staunch AIADMK man who was notoriously nicknamed ‘Attack’ Pandi — thirty years ago.

Today, Gurusamy is 75-years-old, and lives with fear for his life, as he could be attacked any day. Sixty-three-year-old Rajapandian, meanwhile, is serving time for a murder case. 

What started as a squabble over sticking political posters for an election in 2001, took no time to snowball into a gory gangland war between Gurusamy and Rajapandian. It cost more than 20 lives, spanning three generations of the two men’s family and friends who were unwittingly caught in the bitter rivalry. The three-decade-old rivalry continues to simmer even today, so much so that it has now caught the attention of the Madras High Court. 

On Monday, November 22, the court observed that “the city of Madurai is facing a peculiar law and order issue with a war between two gangs, leading to a chain of murders one after the other as revenge.” A bench of Justices S Vaidyanathan and G Jayachandran made the observation while dismissing the habeas corpus pleas filed to revoke the detention orders of four people — Dineshkumar, Alex, Alaguraja and Raja — who were detained under the Goondas Act. This gang of four, according to the prosecution, had beheaded a young named Muruganandham on November 15, 2020. 

The group murdered Muruganandham with sickles and knives, and then placed his decapitated head in front of Madurai’s St Mary’s Church. On investigating, the police learnt two things: a) Muruganandham was the wrong target; b) this was a revenge killing for a 2019 murder of another man named MS Pandian. 

Though these murders are recent, their raison d'être was writ large — the bitter 30-year-old political rivalry between Gurusamy and Rajapandian. 

A local reporter who has covered these gangland wars for decades told TNM that while 20 is the official count of people who lost their lives in this political crime saga, the real count could be anywhere between 30 and 40. “Earlier, the rivalry continued because of blind loyalty. Men who pledged allegiance to these two groups would engage in violence. But today, the groups hire hitmen — young recruits who take quotations for murder — for a quick buck, thereby stretching the old rivalry,” he explained. 

TNM spoke to local sources and a senior cop to unravel the bloody gangland wars that have gripped Madurai since 2001.

The genesis of revenge murders

According to local sources, Rajapandian and Gurusamy hail from the same native of Kamuthi, and both men are distantly related. Rajapandian was already settled in Madurai’s Keerathurai village when Gurusamy arrived. 

Over the years, both Guruswamy and Rajapandi grew in ranks, assuming the role of Zonal Chairperson of the Madurai Municipal Corporation in two different zones at one point.

Later, both Rajapandi and Guruswamy got tickets to contest in the 2001 local body polls from Keerathurai. However, by then, the duo became bitter rivals and things took an unexpected turn when Gurusamy’s men killed Rajapandian’s brother’s son over sticking party posters ahead of the local body elections in Madurai city.

Since then, 19 men have been killed in a chain of revenge murders. 

Almost all of them were brutally murdered. They were attacked with weapons or beheaded in public view. 

Some of them, like Muruganandham (killed in November 2020), were murdered just for being friends or family members of the gang members, despite having no criminal history or connection with the rivalry. Their rivalry has also cost Gurusamy and Rajapandian dearly, what with both losing brothers, sons, sons-in-law and trusted aides over the years.

Innocent lives caught in the mess

G Muruganandham (22) from Chennai’s Uthandi was killed in 2020. His only crime was that he had been friends with Manikandan, the man accused of killing Gurusamy’s second son-in-law, MS Pandian, in 2019. Pandian was a lawyer and DMK worker. 

Manikandan belonged to the Rajapandian gang. On April 18, 2019 — the day of polling in the Lok Sabha elections — Manikandan and others allegedly murdered Pandian. The gang had arrived with sickles and knives in an auto-rickshaw when Pandian was engaged in election work near Chinthamani. Newspapers reports said that Pandian was chased into a house and murdered there. 

After Pandian’s murder, Gurusamy and his gang reportedly swore to kill Manikandan. And on November 15, 2020, when Manikandan was standing with his friends —  Muruganandham, Muniyamsamy and Dinesh — near St Mary’s Church Road in Madurai, a gang chased the four men. However, the gang ended up killing Muruganandham, although the target was Manikandan. While Manikandan and Dinesh escaped, the fourth man P Muniyaswamy (25) was injured and hospitalised. 

Just like Muruganandham, a 45-year-old AIADMK man named I Mayil Murugan, too, was an innocent victim of the rivalry. He was killed in 2013. Murugan was the maternal uncle of Karthick, a goon belonging to the Rajapandian gang. Karthick was accused of hacking to death ‘Pambu’ Pandi — Gurusamy’s brother — in retaliation for the 2003 murder of Chinna Munees, Rajapandian’s nephew. 

Mayil Murugan was murdered in September 2013, less than a week after Pandi was murdered on East Marret Street in Madurai. According to reports, 45-year-old Murugan was sipping tea by a shop near CMR Road in Coimbatore when the armed gang arrived and assaulted him. Murugan was chased, hacked to death and left to die on the road. 

More family members, aides killed

While innocents lost their lives, close friends and family of the political rivals, too, were murdered every year. This includes two of Gurusamy’s sons-in-law, his brother Pambu Pandi and eight people from Rajapandi camp, including his son, Thoppili Muniyaswamy. 

On June 13, 2017, Muniyaswamy, a known history-sheeter with the Keerathurai police, went missing and his wife filed a complaint with the Anna Nagar police in Madurai. Later, two men — VK G Mani (Gurusamy’s son) and Palani Murugan (25) —  surrendered before the local authorities and confessed to murdering Muniyaswamy. They allegedly said they kidnapped Muniyaswamy and murdered him with sticks and clubs in Ariyamangalam, a short drive away from Keerathurai. His body was later burnt in the forest-like area.

Not surprisingly, Muniyaswamy’s death, too, was not an independent incident, but a revenge killing after the Rajapandian group murdered Muthuramalingam, the first son-in-law of Gurusamy, back in 2016. 

In 2018, Rajapandian lost two more trusted aides — Saguni Karthick (26) and Muthu Irulandi (25). They were shot dead by the Madurai police in an encounter in the Sikkander Chavadi area in Madurai city. The police maintained that the two men were shot in self-defence, as they had attacked the officers. Both Karthick and Muthu Irulandi had at least 10 criminal cases against him in the Keerathurai police station, and were well-known history sheeters. 

Did police fail to stop these murders?

A senior IPS officer, who served as Madurai Rural Superintendent of Police a decade ago, said that a major reason for the retaliatory murders was the lack of proper scrutiny and surveillance from the enforcers of law and order in the region. 

“A thorough follow up of court proceedings in these murders, and bail orders of these accused men can help keep a tab on their release status and activities,” the senior IPS officer told TNM on the condition of anonymity. 

He suggested surveilling the accused men when they are out on bail. “Of course, managing manpower in the police department is a challenge, but keeping a close eye on such accused men on bail can reduce these attacks significantly. When many of these accused men get out of jail, either on bail or after serving term, they continue to commit more murders. So making sure the accused are complying with the bail conditions, and taking due action if they aren’t can help keep a check on these crimes,” he explained. 

Meanwhile, in Muruganandham’s murder in 2020, the court observed that of the 12 accused men, detention orders had been passed against only four accused in the case, as their antecedents and association directly threaten the law and order situation in Madurai city. The court also observed that the detaining authority used discretion and did not pass preventive detention indiscriminately against every accused person. The court noted that such detention orders on a select few have been passed only in the rarest of rare cases, where the very presence of certain persons in society will create a disturbance. 

With the Madras High Court’s observation about these crimes, the senior IPS officer believes that more efforts will be made to keep these accused gang members under surveillance. 

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