January 17, 2021
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Swami Nityananda is back in the news for being challenged after being appointed as the 293rd pontiff of Madurai Adheenam by the incumbent Arunagirinatha

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Chennai Corner

Advani’s Explosive TN Record

BJP leader L.K. Advani called CM Jayalalitha a “natural ally” of his party but it seems not to matter because he is not the go-to leader in the Hindutva party anymore. Even this week it was the statement made by Sushma Swaraj, leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, on the party rejecting Pranab Kumar Mukherjee, union finance minister, and Hamid Ansari, Vice-president of India, and the disunity it created in NDA ranks that was played out. However, when it comes to TN, Advani is still the BJP leader that creates an explosion, literally.

Days before the BJP’s conference (postponed to May 10, 11 from April 28, 29) at Madurai, an improvised explosive device connected to a timer and battery, placed in a tiny box tied to an abandoned bicycle, created a minor blast near a temple close to a place of worship. Although the bicycle was parked for at least three or four days, neither the people in the residential locality of Anna Nagar nor the police bothered about it.

Last year, just before Advani’s departure from Madurai to Kanyakumari during his “rath yatra” (Jan Chethana Yatra for good governance from October 11 that made little impact) police seized a long PVC pipe hidden underneath a culvert, packed with a powerful gel and connected to a battery. A special police investigation team arrested two persons.

In February 1998, TN had its date with terror also linked to Advani. The first of the 13 serial blasts in 11 places had occurred 100 metres from the venue of an election meeting that was to be addressed by him. The blasts killed 46 persons and injured 200 others. Since then TN has been a relatively peaceful place.

Controversial Swami

Just two years after a sleazy video was telecast on Sun TV showing Swami Nityananda in a compromising position with actress Ranjitha, he’s back in the news for being challenged after being appointed last Sunday as the 293rd pontiff of Madurai Adheenam, unilaterally by the incumbent Arunagirinatha Sri Gnanasambanda Desika Paramacharya Swamigal.

Madurai Aadheenam is a monastic institution that promotes Saiva Siddantha in the Tamil tradition for the last 1,500 years now. The Aadheenam has vast landed properties and controls at least four temples in the state. Devotees and 13 mutt heads, passed a resolution against his ascension, that many believe was “bought” by Nityananda.

Even as the controversial godman told the media he was planning to sue those who are challenging his anointment, Gurusamy Desikar, manager of the Madurai office of Mayiladuthurai-based Dharumapuram Aadheenam, has filed a habeas corpus petition at the Madurai bench of the Madras High court, demanding that Arunagirinatha be produced. Desikar’s claim is that Nityananda is indulging in wrongful activities under the guise of religion, which is against the norms of Saiva Siddhantha philosophy, that Arunagirinatha was “not in a good frame of mind” and that certain customs and traditions were flouted when the announcement was made. He prayed that the 292nd pontiff be produced in court to prevent his being sent abroad by Swami Nityananda. It must be mentioned that the Swamigal was at the press conference that the controversial godman called.

Solaikannan of the Hindu Makkal Katchi, which has been protesting Nityananda’s appointment, has also filed a petition saying Arunagirinatha has been restrained from meeting his own followers. It has prayed that the government take over the adheenam and protect its properties. Earlier, Hindu outfits including the Katchi had staged protests saying Nityananda was “least qualified until he cleared the sex slander against him” and that his elevation had made a “mockery of spiritualism”.

CD Baat

Two years ago, Nityananda went absconding after the sex tape came out. A month later, police tracked him down at a village in Himachal Pradesh and arrested him after charging him under different sections of the IPC including Sec 420 and 295-A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings). He spent more than a month in Ramanagar jail before the court granted him bail and he has been back at his Bidadi (near Bangalore) ashram since.

Last July, actress Ranjitha met the police commissioner J K Tripathy saying “Sun TV had morphed my images.” “They placed video cameras inside an ashram and no action was taken,” she said, adding that the change in government had given her the courage to come forward (Sun TV is owned by Kalanithi and Dayanidhi Maran, grand-nephews of then CM M Karunanidhi).

On March 12, 2012, Lenin Karuppan, the whistleblower who exposed Nithyananda, surrendered before the state CID’s Crime Branch in Chennai. Lenin, a former disciple of Nithyananda, surrendered to avoid an arrest warrant being issued against him after Nityananda’s complaint that he was demanding money. Lenin, who has been denied bail, also faces charges of leaking the sleazy video tape.

Preferred Poison

Despite what PMK’s Dr Ramadoss, who has been a strong votary of prohibition, would say – or do if ever he was in power – he has to accept the fact that despite his moralistic worldview on booze, the reality is something else. In any case, Ramadoss is otherwise busy after being quizzed but not named in the charge-sheet filed by the CBI last month for the murder of Muruganandham, a close associate of CVe Shanmugam, the current minister for commercial taxes. The alleged murder took place in the run-up to the 2006 assembly elections. Incidentally his son, Dr Anbumani Ramadoss, the former union health minister, escaped being charge-sheeted in this case but was charged by the CBI late last month before a Delhi court for allegedly abusing his official position in allowing an Indore-based medical college to go ahead with admissions without having sufficient faculty and clinical material.

The reality of booze is that it has a graph that rises year after year whether it is because of the sale of liquor or the money the government makes from it. In July last year, three months after Jayalalitha was sworn in as the CM, the prices of liquor went up and that is reflected in the revenue that the state got, Rs 18,081.16 crore for 2011-12, a 20.82 per cent increase over the previous financial year. Liquor sales in 2010-11 was 14,965.42 crore. There was also a growth in consumption of 12 per cent with 5.4 crore cases of hard liquor sold compared to 4.8 crore cases in the previous year. But the good news is that as compared to the 17 per cent growth in 2010-11, this year has been slow.

The profit for the government is around Rs 15,000 crore after accounting for expenditure on buying liquor, salaries on the 32,000-odd persons it employs in the 6,200-odd TASMAC outlets – which was created by Jayalalitha in 2003 and which has the monopoly for selling liquor – rent and other expenses.

The preferred poison here is brandy whose consumption is 80 per cent of the total sales. Since 2008, brandy consumption has shot up from 53 per cent to 73 per cent. The sale of rum is14 per cent and whisky is 4 per cent of the total sales.

Booze Bounty

The revenue collection on liquor is evidence enough that despite Ramadoss frequently reiterating there should be prohibition, it will not happen. In 1996, revenue collection was just Rs 1,425 crore (Rs 934 crore by way of excise revenue and Rs 491 crore by way of sales tax). Less than 20 years late it has zoomed to over Rs 18,000 crores.

But the government mouths platitudes such as: “The policy of the government is total eradication of illicit liquor which causes irreparable damage to the poor and downtrodden people. Therefore, while initiating all possible measures to strengthen enforcement efforts, the government would pursue tirelessly its campaign against drinking illicit and spurious liquor.” While illicit liquor is brewed taking the lives of dozens during liquor tragedies, many tipplers would swear that their bottles are tampered with. A shot or two of rum/whisky/brandy is poured out and replaced with water. Many restaurateurs do that so tipplers would order more and more to get high and they make money hand over fist.

Premalatha, wife of DMDK chief Vijaykanth, during her campaign for the local body elections, attacked Dravidian parties. “The only area in which TN has witnessed growth is the expanding number of retail liquor shops run by Tasmac. These shops are destroying innumerable families.” But both the DMK and AIADMK have been complicit in this because both Dravidian majors use the revenue earned from liquor to generously dole out freebies. You turn the man into an alcoholic to give the woman a mixer, grinder and fan!

24 x 7 Bars

Here’s another side to the liquor story. With IT companies and BPOs working round the clock, hoteliers in south India want the government to allow them to keep their bars open 24x7. K. Syamu Raju, who was elected president of the South India Hotels and Restaurant Association (SIHRA) at the 60th annual general meeting held here last year, said excise rules were “outdated as per emerging trends” and therefore hoteliers have approached the state government to relax excise rules. It’s unlikely that the government will officially tweak the timing. In any case, Tasmac bars and shops, not to mention many watering holes in Chennai, routinely keep their businesses open long after official closing hours.

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