THE law has finally taken its course. And caught up with Pamulapurti Venkata Narasimha Rao. What the St Kitts forgery case couldn't do, what the Jain hawala scandal couldn't do and what Harshad Mehta's allegations couldn't do, a little-known non-resident Indian has managed to do: drag the former prime minister to the courts.
When London-based "Pickle King" Lakhubhai Pathak, 71, testified before the chief metropolitan magistrate (CMM) in Delhi on July 5 that godman Chandraswami had induced him to part with $100,000 after introducing him to Rao at a Manhattan hotel in 1983, to secure a contract to supply paper pulp and newsprint to State Trading Corporation, it was clear what was in store.
Four days later, when CMM Prem Kumar slapped charges of cheating and conspiracy under Sections 420 and 120 (B) of the Indian Penal Code on the Congress president, he left a nation stunned. "Be you ever so high, the law is above you," said the CMM. And, acting on an application filed by a lawyers' body, he summoned Rao, who had so far managed to steer clear of every charge hurled at him, to appear before him on July 24.
Legal eagles are debating the CMM's order. Should Section 420 have been invoked, or the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA) since Pathak had told the court that he agreed to pay Chandraswami $100,000 only after Rao, then external affairs in the Indira Gandhi cabinet, had assured him that "your work will be done". The political repurcussions of Rao being accused along with Chandraswami and his aide Kailash Nath Agarwal, better known as Mamaji, will be felt for long. It was a sudden and strange twist to a 13-year tale, which just the other day seemed to be meandering along.
In September last year, when notorious criminal Babloo Srivastava exposed the alleged links between Chandraswami and underworld don Dawood Ibrahim, it was clear that he had opened a Pandora's box. However, when the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) failed to arrest the globe-trotting guru—despite former minister of state for home Rajesh Pilot's specific orders—many thought the case was as good as dead.
The first panic button was pressed in March this year when the Supreme Court admitted a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) and asked the CBI to complete investigation in all pending cases against the godman. Even then nobody had imagined that the trail would ultimately lead to Narasimha Rao—that, too, in a little known case of cheating involving Pathak. "There is nothing in the Lakhubhai case," was the line CBI officials took in private.
Pathak had not named Rao when he first filed a complaint in 1987, or when the CBI recorded his statement, a year later. The businessman, already facing a defamation suit filed by Chandraswami, had been advised against naming Rao by his CBI lawyers.
But, Pathak's court-room deposition detailing Rao's involvement in the case changed the script and its entire focus. He had been summoned from London by the CBI as a prosecution witness, and chargesheets had been filed—largely at the Supreme Court's behest—against Chandraswami and Mamaji following their arrest in Madras in May.
The CBI resisted Pathak's efforts to drag Rao's name into the case. When Pathak did so in court, the CBI counsel, in fact, objected. But Chandraswami's counsel, Ashok Arora, reacted vehemently. "The truth is being suppressed," he said, a clear indication of the strains that have developed in the Rao-Chandraswami relationship now clearly established by Pathak.
That was not all. After his bail application was rejected for the seventh time this fortnight, Chandraswami reportedly told one of his aides to ask friends in the press to be ready because "once I will come out, I will come out with a vengeance". His lawyer has also declared that his client will open the lid before the Supreme Court when it hears the PIL on July 22. "Definitely we are not going to make speeches in the Supreme Court, my client will say something concrete and shall not ask for relief," said Arora. Rao's legal strategists led by Kapil Sibal too were busy preparing his defence.
But Chandraswami won't find it easy to escape. Pathak has reportedly given the Directorate of Enforcement (DoE) officials a list of Indian businessmen abroad who have, at some point in time or the other, been cheated by the godman, but who do not want to come out against him. In fact, in the beginning of his crusade against the swami in 1984, Pathak tried to bring all his victims together. He contacted several of them in London, Los Angeles and New York among other places, but in vain. He circulated a 'white paper' on Chandraswami on August 6, 1984, when it became more or less clear that the godman had duped him of his money and also that there was no chance of getting the contract of supplying paper pulp and newsprint to India.
In the letter, which later formed the basis for a defamation suit filed by Chandraswami against him, Pathak warned all concerned of the swami's misdeeds. He appealed through the letter: "I hope those reading this letter will come forward with me to expose this treacherous, dangerous and vengeful man and prevent further expansion of his illegal activities."
Pathak described Chandraswami's modus operandi in detail: he captures his prospective victims by showing albums of his photographs with presidents, prime ministers, ministers, speakers, sheikhs, amirs, actors and actresses of various countries. He promises to get green card through his connections with congressmen and senators of the US.
Pathak had been introduced to Chandraswami in 1982 by Vinod Bhatta, an acquaintance, in London. They came to Pathak's house for lunch where the godman played his old trick on him. He showed him an album of his photographs with the then president of India, Giani Zail Singh, and other influential politicians. Pathak, at once innocent and wise, decided to take Chandraswami's help to expand his business.
The trap had been laid and Pathak had been ensnared. Chandraswami lay low for some time after the introduction. In November 1983, he called Pathak in London and said: "Pathakji aap to hamko bhool gaye hein (Pathakji, you have forgotten us)." He then asked the businessman to come to Hotel Palace. When Pathak reached, the godman enquired about his problems to win his confidence. Once Pathak opened up, Chandraswami immediately made the offer. Pathak told the CMM's court: "He said bhagwan has given you this opportunity to meet me," and offered to organise a meeting with an Indian minister. The plot was on.
The next morning Pathak got a call from Chandraswami saying that he had had a conversation with the minister and the minister had assured help to Pathak. The godman asked Pathak to contact him in the afternoon. He would tell him how the minister was going to help. When Pathak met Chandraswami at 3.30 pm, he said the minister had a couple of export schemes of supplying alumini-um, soya bean oil, diesel engine and coal which might suit Pathak.
In the meantime, Chandraswami kept introducing Pathak to influential and big personalities. A completely impressed and besotted Pathak was then asked by Chandraswami: "How much money do you have?" Pathak said: "Swamiji, paise ki baat kahan se ayee?" (where does the question of money arise). The godman assured Pathak: "I don't need the money, but the minister is answerable to Parliament. And since you are a foreigner, he will have to explain why the contract was given to you." Pathak says he told him the money could not be arranged, but Chandraswami kept insisting. He said a contract to supply paper pulp and newsprint to India was a golden opportunity. The order had to be supplied by April 15, 1984. He also suggested to Pathak that he contact his wife and sons for the money and come to New York to collect the contract papers, once the money was arranged.
Pathak approached his son in New Jersey in December 1983. Chandraswami was staying at the Hotel Holoron in Manhattan, which was where according to Pathak's statement he met "the minister" P.V. Narasimha Rao on December 22/23 1983 and got an assurance—"your work will be done". Still, Pathak was not too sure. Therefore, when the godman asked him on December 30 whether the money had been arranged, Pathak expressed his doubts, saying that it all appeared just like smoke. "You can feel it, it can bring tears to your eyes, but you cannot contain it in a bag."
On hearing this, according to Pathak, Chandraswami got a little annoyed and said the minister had been approached and it was now difficult to go back. Pathak had no other choice but to arrange the cash. He borrowed $27,000 from his son Yogesh Pathak as a short-term loan. For the rest of the money—$73,000—Pathak contacted his friend Ranabhai Rastogi, the owner of Ethnic Foods.
Having arranged the money, Pathak went to Santa Monica next morning, where the swami told him the money was to be deposited in an earmarked bank account in New York. On January 3, 1984, Pathak along with his son went to Chandraswami in a New York hotel. They were given the bank account number. But when his son went to the bank to deposit the two cheques, the bankers refused to accept them as he did not have the name of the account holder.
Pathak had to return to London the next day. So he went to see the godman again. Chandraswami asked for the cheques and said he will get them deposited. "I took the cheques from my son and handed them to the swami," recalled Pathak before the CMM. Later, he realised that the money had gone down the drain.
The CMM, after recording Pathak's statement, said "the revelations made by the complainant are shocking. It points out to the existence of criminal conspiracy between Shri P.V. Narasimha Rao and Chandraswami." The CMM cited circumstances that showed Rao's complicity in the conspiracy. When "the minister" was introduced to Pathak by Chandraswami in a Manhattan hotel on December 22, 1983, it was Rao. Pathak says Chandraswami and Rao were-closeted in the godman's room for more than an hour and when they came out Chandraswami introduced him to Rao. Pathak shook hands with Rao who said: "Pathakji, swamiji ne mujhko sab kuch bata diya hai. Aapka kaam ho jayega (Swamiji has told me everything and your work will be done"). The statement that Chandraswami and Rao were closetted in a room points to a conspiracy. His alleged assurance to Pathak—that the work will be done—makes Rao more vulnerable.
Legal opinion over the CMM's order is divided. One section says Pathak's statement makes enough ground for initiating action against Rao under the PCA because he was a public servant then. Section 13 and Section 7 of the PCA say that if "a public servant accepts any gratification for attempting to render any service to any person, with the Central Government...corporation or government company ...(he) shall be punishable."
Senior advocate P. N. Lekhi feels that instead of summoning Rao under Section 420 (IPC), the court should have booked him under Section 13 of the PCA. According to him, summoning Rao under Section 420 would dilute the case, as in all cases under 420 IPC, the prosecution has to prove the charge beyond reasonable doubt. Whereas, in the PCA (Section 20) it is presumed, unless proved otherwise, that the gratification was taken as a reward.
However, summoning Rao came as a blessing in disguise for Chandraswami. His aide Vikram Singh is satisfied that with Rao becoming an accused, the fate of all the accused—Rao, Chandraswami and Mamaji—will be decided together. For Rao, though, there's more in store. The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha case comes up on August 2. The only comfort he can take is that he hasn't been dragged into it the way Lakhubhai Pathak has.
We at Outlookindia.com welcome feedback and your comments, including scathing criticism
1. Scathing, passionate, even angry critiques are welcome, but please do not indulge in abuse and invective. Our Primary concern is to keep the debate civil. We urge our users to try and express their disagreements without being disagreeable. Personal attacks are not welcome. No ad hominem please.
2. Please do not post the same message again and again in the same or different threads
3. Please keep your responses confined to the subject matter of the article you are responding to. Please note that our comments section is not a general free-for-all but for feedback to articles/blogs posted on the site
4. Our endeavour is to keep these forums unmoderated and unexpurgated. But if any of the above three conditions are violated, we reserve the right to delete any comment that we deem objectionable and also to withdraw posting privileges from the abuser. Please also note that hate-speech is punishable by law and in extreme circumstances, we may be forced to take legal action by tracing the IP addresses of the poster.
5. If someone is being abusive or personal, or generally being a troll or a flame-baiter, please do not descend to their level. The best response to such posters is to ignore them and send us a message at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT
6. Please do not copy and paste copyrighted material. If you do think that an article elsewhere has relevance to the point you wish to make, please only quote what is considered fair-use and provide a link to the article under question.
7. There is no particular outlookindia.com line on any subject. The views expressed in our opinion section are those of the author concerned and not that of all of outlookindia.com or all its authors.
8. Please also note that you are solely responsible for the comments posted by you on the site. The comments could be deleted or edited entirely at our discretion if we find them objectionable. However, the mere fact of their existence on our site does not mean that we necessarily approve of their contents. In short, the onus of responsibility for the comments remains solely with the authors thereof. Outlookindia.com or any of its group publications, may, however, retains the right to publish any of these comments, with or without editing, in any medium whatsoever. It is therefore in your own interest to be careful before posting.
9.Outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for how any search engine -- such as Google, Bing etc -- caches or displays these comments. Please note that you are solely responsible for posting these comments and it is a privilege being granted to our registered users which can be withdrawn in case of abuse. To reiterate:
a. Comments once posted can only be deleted at the discretion of outlookindia.com
b. The comments reflect the views of the authors and not of outlookindia.com
c. outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for the way search engines cache or display these comments
d. Please therefore take due caution before you post any comments as your words could potentially be used against you
10. We have an online thread for our comments policy:
You are welcome to post your suggestions here or in case you have a specific issue, to directly email us at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT