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Godman Cornered?

A new PIL pitches Chandraswami in his toughest legal battle yet

Godman Cornered?
WILL the jet-setting guru Chandraswami be able to wriggle out of this one? Time seems to be running out for the godman, as the Supreme Court this week hears a public interest litigation (PIL), originally filed on September 20, 1995, seeking to appoint a special commission to look into the charges against him.

The investigating agencies—under fire for allegedly protecting the godman are hoping to prevent that eventuality. The PIL, originally filed by advocate Anukul Chandra Pradhan, accuses the agencies of "complete inaction" vis-a-vis the Chandraswami case, because of his "influential connections". The petition primarily seeks an expeditious inquiry into the charges against Chandraswami, to be carried out by special commissioners under the direct supervision of the court.

The PIL was filed only a few days after the then minister of state for internal security, Rajesh Pilot, ordered the swami's arrest, following disclosures by Dawood Ibrahim's hitman, Babloo Srivas-tava, linking the godman to the Dubai-based don. Subsequently, a human rights organisation, People's Union for Civil Rights, also sought the apex court's intervention to book Chandraswami and others in the St Kitts forgery case. The court directed that all complaints pertaining to Chandraswami be clubbed together and appointed advocate Anil Divan as amicus curae. It came down heavily on the CBI, directing it either to "book or leave" him.

The amended petition highlights the Government's reluctance to take action against Chandraswami. It says the probe must cover his alleged FERA and tax violations, the St Kitts forgery case, the Lakhubhai Pathak cheating case, Babloo Srivastava's allegations and the godman's links with politicians. The investigating agencies have failed to take action "in spite of overwhelming material", says the plea.

The fact that the court has taken cognisance of the petition should set alarm bells ringing. Those said to be closely linked with the godman are Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, Petroleum Minister Captain Satish Sharma and former minister R.K. Dhawan. All three and former Union minister K.K. Tewari are named in the FIR in the St Kitts case, but have not been interrogated. Had the CBI acted vigilantly and independently, it would have done so, the petition points out.

It goes on to explain how Chandraswami manages, each time, to get over any crisis—referring to his close proximity to top politicians. To establish the godman's high connections with politicians like Rao and former prime minister Chandra Shekhar, the petition quotes from his own admission before the Jain Commission.

Giving details of the St Kitts forgery case—allegedly plotted by V.P. Singh's political opponents with the aid of Chandraswami and some officials of the Directorate of Enforcement (DOE)—the petition pleads for the confessional statement of the late A.K. Nandy, former DOE deputy director and an accused to the CBI. The petition says, Nandy's statement discloses the role played by politicians. It also describes how the operation was planned by Chandraswami, his aide K.N. Aggarwal alias Mamaji, Larry Kolb (son-in-law of arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi) and the godman's disciple, Dev Kethu.

Quoting from the FIR lodged on May 25, 1990, the petition observes that Rao, then external affairs minister, also had a role to play. The FIR says that Rao called consul general R.K. Rai to his suite at the United Nations Plaza hotel in New York on October 4, 1989, and told him to personally attest the documents brought to him by Nandy.

The petition highlights the CBI's reluctance to follow the Babloo Srivastava case. Contrary to practice, the CBI did not use Srivastava's claim—that he had stayed at Chandraswami's ashram and planted a bomb in journalist Rajinder Jain's car to falsely implicate him at the behest of the godman—in the chargesheet filed in the L.D. Arora murder case.

This omission by the CBI was intended to prevent the judge from taking cognisance of it and directing the agency to investigate Chandraswami for harbouring a criminal. More so, because TADA provisions are drastic, the petition speculates. Had the statement been filed, Chandraswami would have been implicated, it adds. In former Union minister Kalpnath Rai's case, the CBI had filed the statement of Bombay-based criminal Bhai Thakur, which finally led to the arrest of Rai and BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan.

Meanwhile, Chandraswami is maintaining a stoic silence and—perhaps in the hope of propitiating the gods—observing the navratri fast.

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