WILL Chandraswami ever be nailed? This week, finally, may provide an answer as the godman was remanded to a day's judicial custody till May 4. But that answer hinges on another key question: is Narasimha Rao losing his grip over the proceedings? That may be decided by May 10, when the results of the elections are expected to be known. If Rao returns as Prime Minister, the May 2 arrest of the well-chronicled and controversial godman in a Madras hotel could turn out to be merely a flash in the pan.
But in the event of the reins of power slipping from Rao's hands, the investigating agencies may have a different role to play. "The charges are serious. Depends on how they are framed," says an official coordinating several charges against the self-styled guru—which range from income-tax evasion to FERA violations to charges of bribery and cheating.
Officials admit that the charge on which Chandraswami and close associate Kailash Nath Agrawal (alias 'Mamaji') were picked up—of cheating London-based NRI Lakhu Bhai Pathak to the tune of $100,000—is a weak link in the chain of investigations launched against the godman. But if Rao's downfall becomes inevitable, there is every reason for Chandraswami's tryst with trouble to be long drawn out.
On May 2, Delhi's chief metropolitan magistrate Prem Kumar issued non-bailable warrants against Chandraswami. Issuing the warrants, Kumar directed the CBI that the godman be arrested and produced on or before May 14. Such is the godman's clout that reporters trying to ascertain the next course of action were informed that "he would have to be traced", even though it seemed common knowledge that the god-man was holed up in Madras.
A 10-member CBI team headed by Joint Director D. Mukerjee descended on the Om Sindoori hotel in Madras the same evening. Interestingly, the hotel owner is Apollo hospital's Dr Pratap Reddy, a Chandraswami acolyte. Inside the hotel—which resembled a set out of a detective movie, with CBI sleuths prowling around with their cellphones—the godman was talking to Janata Party chief Subramanian Swamy. The three-hour meeting between the former Union commerce minister and the guru was ostensibly meant to ward off the arrest. Swamy was reportedly trying to use his friend and former attorney general G. Ramaswamy to invoke immunity through a 1988 bail order in the same case.
The godman had already summoned a battery of doctors who were ready to certify his "acute condition of cervical spondilitis". But the CBI would have none of it. In a move reflecting freshly-found confi-dence, Mukerjee said that if the godman needed treatment, he would have to accompany the CBI men to a government hospital. After that, Chandraswami got into the waiting CBI car without further ado and was taken to the residence of additional sessions judge S. Sambandam, where a transit warrant was to be obtained.
The CBI had registered the case against the godman on the basis of a complaint filed by Lakhu Bhai Pathak in 1988. The agency had chargesheeted the godman and 'Mamaji' for cheating Pathak through the false promise of using their influence to secure him a newsprint and paper pulp contract in India. Since then, nothing much had happened. As judge Prem Kumar observed in his 17-page order, "investigations had been going on for years without any tangible results."
Interestingly enough, the preliminary investigations conducted by a CBI superintendent of police in the Pathak case found the "allegations to be true". Subsequently, the case was transferred to the Enforcement Directorate for initiating "necessary action". And the Directorate has declined to reveal the further course of investigations, claiming privilege because of the sensitive nature of the case. Now, perhaps, it will be forced to reveal its hand. The real drama may have just begun to unfold.