US embassy cable - 04CHENNAI1418

HINDU PONTIFF ARRESTED FOR MURDER; LITTLE PUBLIC ANGER

Identifier: 04CHENNAI1418
Wikileaks: View 04CHENNAI1418 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Consulate Chennai
Created: 2004-11-12 11:13:00
Classification: UNCLASSIFIED
Tags: PGOV IN Indian Domestic Politics
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 CHENNAI 001418 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV, IN, Indian Domestic Politics 
SUBJECT: HINDU PONTIFF ARRESTED FOR MURDER; LITTLE 
PUBLIC ANGER 
 
REF: A) CHENNAI 519 
 
     B) CHENNAI 1394 
 
1. (SBU) SUMMARY:  Tamil Nadu police arrested one of 
India's most prominent Hindu religious leaders, 
Shankaracharya Jayendra Saraswathi of Kanchi, accused 
of murdering a former aide.  The arrest has shocked 
Tamil Nadu, but there is little public anger.  The 
move upset a miniscule group of the AIADMK's Brahmin 
supporters, but enhanced Jayalalithaa's image as a 
tough, fearless leader and silenced opponents who 
criticized her partiality to fellow upper caste 
Hindus.  END SUMMARY 
 
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TAMIL NADU POLICE ARREST PROMINENT HINDU PONTIFF 
--------------------------------------------- --- 
 
2. (U) On November 11, a special police team from 
Tamil Nadu arrested one of India's most prominent 
Hindu religious leaders, Shankaracharya Jayendra 
Saraswathi of Kanchipuram (aka Kanjivaram), for his 
alleged role in the murder of a former accountant. 
The police force flew to Mahaboobnagar, Andhra 
Pradesh, where Shankaracharya happened to be and 
arrested him without confrontation.  The following 
morning, they returned Shankaracharya to Chennai and 
produced him before the First Class Judicial 
Magistrate of Kanchipuram, the location of his Math 
(pronounced Mutt), his religious seat and headquarters 
for his religious organization.  He was remanded to 15 
days' judicial custody and is currently lodged in 
Vellore prison, 90 miles west of Chennai. 
 
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PONTIFF ACCUSED OF CONSPIRING TO MURDER FORMER AIDE 
--------------------------------------------- ------ 
 
3. (SBU) The Superintendent of Police of the Cuddalore 
District told local media that the 70-year-old 
Shankaracharya played a "significant role" in the 
September 3 murder of Shankararaman, a former 
accountant for the Math.  According to a report in The 
Hindu, the police charged the Pontiff under the Indian 
Penal Code sections for conspiracy, murder and 
abetment.  Senior Chennai journalists told Post that 
Shankararaman had been publicly questioning perceived 
irregularities in the Math's accounts after he quit 
the job and joined a local Vaishnavite (i.e., 
competing) temple in Kanchipuram.  G.C. Shekhar, 
Principal Correspondent of the Hindustan Times, added, 
"The police would have got clinching evidence of the 
Shankaracharya's involvement; otherwise [Tamil Nadu 
Chief Minister] Jayalalithaa would not have permitted 
the arrest."  State police have also allegedly found 
evidence of financial transactions between the Math 
and several men arrested in connection with 
Shankararaman's killing, in addition to a confession 
by one of the men linking the Pontiff to the murder. 
 
--------------------------------------------- ------ 
SHANKARACHARYA A LONGTIME SUPPORTER OF JAYALALITHAA 
--------------------------------------------- ------ 
 
4. (SBU) Although the AIADMK party is an offshoot of 
the rationalist DMK, its chief minister, Jayalalithaa 
is publicly a devout Hindu and devotee of the 
Kanchipuram Math.  In return, the Pontiff publicly 
supported Jayalalithaa during the controversy over her 
anti-conversion law.  They have also made several 
public appearances together at religious functions. 
 
--------------------------------------------- -- 
DMK CONGRATULATES POLICE, STOPS PROTESTING CASE 
--------------------------------------------- -- 
 
4. (SBU) Rather than using the arrest to stir public 
ire, the opposition party DMK instead canceled a 
demonstration planned for November 13 protesting 
inaction on the murder case.  DMK President 
Karunanidhi congratulated the Tamil Nadu police for 
what he called an "honest action."  A bitter opponent 
of the Brahmin-dominated Kanchipuram Math, the DMK 
leader has always kept true to the Dravidian political 
line, rallying lower castes and rationalists against 
the Math leadership. 
 
-------------------------------------------- 
ARREST DOES NOT CAUSE LAW AND ORDER PROBLEMS 
-------------------------------------------- 
 
6. (SBU) Despite Shankaracharya's prominent stature as 
a religious leader, his arrest of the Pontiff did not 
lead to public disturbances in Tamil Nadu. "It is a 
shocking news, but only the Brahmin community will be 
angry," said a senior journalist, pointing out that 
the Brahmins are a tiny minority in the state. 
Government Secretary (Public Department) Pitchandi 
added, "The community is shocked, [but] do not plan to 
react.  We do not apprehend any law and order 
situation developing on this arrest."  BJP Chennai 
District President Kumaravelu said, "He is the 
patriarch of the Brahmin community, [so] the arrest 
will not evoke a response amongst a majority of 
Hindus.  I am sure there is considerable evidence of 
his involvement in the murder."  Sources told Post 
that some Brahmin organizations and possibly the state 
branch of the VHP are likely to organize 
demonstrations in the coming days, though did not 
expect violence. 
 
--------------------------------------------- --- 
CM FURTHER STRENGTHENS HER HAND BEFORE ELECTIONS 
--------------------------------------------- --- 
 
7. (SBU) COMMENT: Since her party's national assembly 
election debacle earlier in the year, Jayalalithaa has 
pursued a series of moves that have made the AIADMK a 
better potential coalition partner.  Following the 
rollback of fiscal reforms (Ref A), the inauguration 
of the Veeranam water project, and the killing of 
noted brigand Veerappan (Ref B), the arrest of the 
Kanchipuram Pontiff gives the chief minister another 
chance to improve her standing.  The DMK had accused 
Jayalalithaa of not actively pursuing Shankaracharya, 
which limits their ability to profit from his arrest. 
Support from a Brahmin community that traditionally 
supported her will weaken, but that will be offset by 
support from Tamil masses that do not revere the 
Kanchipuram Pontiff as much as their own caste and 
community leaders, film stars, or even politicians. 
Look for Jayalalithaa to pursue similar measures to 
consolidate power leading up to the 2006 elections. 
 
HAYNES 

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