R. Bhagwan Singh
Political rivals of the Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi will applaud in glee the order of the Supreme Court on 27 August transferring the 'Kiruttinan murder case', in which his son M. K. Azhagiri is the main accused, from the Sessions Court at Madurai to Chittoor in Andhra Pradesh, with the directive that the Sessions Judge, Chittoor, should conduct the trial 'as expeditiously as possible'. The Court has ordered the transfer of this sensational case relating to the May 2003 murder of Kiruttinan, who was a minister in an earlier Karunanidhi Cabinet, after two prosecution witnesses petitioned alleging they were threatened not to depose against the accused in the trial. They had also expressed apprehension that the trial would not be fair as Azhagiri wielded enormous clout in the administration in Tamil Nadu, particularly in the southern districts.
The Apex Court in passing the order has observed that the case was being transferred only to ensure that people would have confidence in the trial---which in effect meant that the Division Bench of Justice S. Ashok Bhan and Justice V. S. Sirpurkar, was convinced that the trial would not be fair at Madurai, the headquarters of the DMK's southern satrap Azhagiri. "The shifting of the case is not because you (Azhagiri) are the son of the chief minister. You are an acknowledged leader of that area. It only disturbs us. The Presiding Officer of the (trial) court had also expressed apprehension," the Court has said, packing a thousand thoughts in just those few lines.
The prosecution in the Kiruttinan case had alleged that Azhagiri had ordered the murder as he did not like any challenge to his clout in the southern districts. Even though the Apex Court has said it was not transferring the case because the accused was the son of the chief minister, it was clear that it did take note of the cloud wielded by Azhagiri in the administration of Tamil Nadu. This aspect was also highlighted in the present petition drawing attention to the May nine attack on the Dinakaran newspaper in Madurai allegedly by Azhagiri supporters angered by an opinion poll it printed giving him a low rating. Three employees of the Tamil daily were killed in that arson.
Even as the opposition parties and the media organisations came down heavily upon the DMK government for letting him run riot, Azhagiri was openly pampered with prime attention at the gala function celebrating the chief minister's 50 years in the legislature, which was organised at Chennai soon after the Dinakaran attack. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi were among the high dignitaries present on the dais alongside Karunanidhi at that time.
And in the bye-election for the Madurai West Assembly seat held in June, Azhagiri worked harder than even the candidate of the Congress ally, because he needed to prove that the attack on Dinakaran did not dent his 'popularity' on home turf. His loyalists later held a grand celebration in Madurai to felicitate Azhagiri for the Congress victory in that bye-election, where one of them even recalled how papa Karunanidhi rose to his feet—an honour reserved only for party general secretary K.Anbazhagan---when the son arrived at the DMK headquarters at Chennai flushed with the poll victory. Replying to all that boundless praise, Azhagiri recalled that his father had warmly complimented him for the huge fame he had won in that bye-election. He did not need any other reward or party post after that papa's pat, he had gushed then, to stress how the recent events had brought him closer to the DMK chief.
Interestingly, when the CBI entrusted with the Dinakaran case filed its charge sheet in the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court on August 6, the premier Central investigating agency had included the deputy superintendent of police V. Rajaram as number 17 in the list of seventeen accused, alleging he was a mute spectator at the newspaper office when the goons torched the building with the three innocent workers inside. When the DSP contested this and wanted the Court to quash the case, the CBI came up with its counter on August 28 claiming it had videotapes to prove that Rajaram was indeed a silent spectator to the arson.
True, video evidence could be good enough to punish the officer but then, what does the CBI expect the poor fellow to do? Challenge the ravaging thugs? Was it not common knowledge that some of the members of that attack-team, figuring in the CBI charge sheet, have long been close to Azhagiri? These posers do not mean that the pampered son of the chief minister must surely be responsible for that murderous attack, which could have been the work of a surcharged mob even without his go-ahead signal. True, one could thus give him the benefit of doubt. In fact, many in the media circles had then said it was quite possible that Azhagiri might have merely expressed anger and told his 'mob' to teach Dinakaran a lesson and the 'boys' acted in over-enthusiasm!
Back to the Supreme Court order; it must be noted that transferring such controversial cases as the Kiruttinan murder, from one state to another might help in getting fair trial but did not automatically ensure their speedy disposal. For instance, former AIADMK chief minister Ms Jayalalithaa's wealth case was transferred from Chennai to Bangalore but it is still dragging on trapped in a host of legal complexities. Almost similar is the plight of the Sankararaman murder case transferred from Chengalpattu Sessions Court to the Puducherry court—the Kanchi Sankaracharyas are among the accused in this case.
The Supreme Court would do well to monitor the progress of such sensitive cases to ensure their speedy disposal. While a pickpocket pulled out of a crowded bus gets his three-month jail term double-quick and remains forever on the police records as a piece of garbage for resurrection whenever a face is required before a magistrate trying even a different case, the rich and powerful are almost getting away with murder, literally. And if a chain-snatcher in Bhagalpur of Bihar can be beaten to pulp by the public and then dragged by the motorcycle of a policeman in an ugly interpretation of our enlightened independence, a wealthy and politically powerful person accused of serious crimes can fly in with his battery of smart lawyers and walk away with a bail order.
SC transfers Azhagiri case to Chittoor