If Chennai in the theatre of Tamil Nadu, it is screening a political thriller that has gone somewhat cold. Kodanadu, 550 km from the capital, nestled in the Nilgiris has unveiled a suspense drama. It is a whodunit with former chief minister J Jayalalithaa's private estate the scene of crime. In the last ten days, it has left two people dead and one seriously injured, with the police groping in the mountain mist.
The facts of the case first. On the intervening night of 23 and 24 April, between midnight and 2 am, a security guard at the sprawling 800 acre estate, Krishna Thapa was assaulted and tied near gate 8 in a truck. His fingers were chopped when he resisted the assault which indicates that the burglars were armed with sharp weapons. The gang's next target was Thapa's colleague, Om Bahadur who was guarding gate 10. He was killed and his legs were tied to a tree. The burglars, reportedly eleven of them, escaped in three vehicles — an Innova, a Ford Endeavour and a Santro.
What got stolen from the place is a mystery because very few know what was there inside in the first place. So far, the media has planted unsubstantiated stories about how property documents worth crores of rupees were carried away in boxes.
On the other hand, the police, it would seem, is keen to downplay the theft case. They have revealed the theft of five watches and a crystal figure of a rhino. It is laughable that a armed gang would break into a sprawling estate in the dead of night, kill one person and injure another, to steal a few watches and a showpiece.
Sources familiar with the layout of the accommodation arrangement at the estate say Jayalalithaa and Sasikala, who are both partners owning the estate along with Ilavarasi, Sasikala's sister-in-law, used three rooms. If there are any valuables in terms of jewellery or documents, they would be kept in either of the rooms. The police have admitted to the three rooms being broken into. If there is anything missing from there, only Sasikala or Ilavarasi would be able to tell. Another person who may be aware is the estate manager, who is from Sasikala's native Thanjavur district.
The cops found hand gloves and car number plates (found to be fake) used by the gang dumped near Kothagiri, on the outskirts of Kodanadu. Subsequently based on the CCTV footage obtained from the Kodanad town marketplace, one of the vehicles was traced. The police named Kanakraj, a former driver to Jayalalithaa who was sacked reportedly on charges of misusing her name, as the prime suspect and Sayan alias Shyam from Thrissur in Kerala, as his co-mastermind. The police believe that Kanakraj, since he was familiar with the estate, gave the gang the sketch of the bungalow while Sayan arranged for the gang members.
Police sources reveal that Kanakraj had sold the story of about Rs 200 crore in cash being kept at the bungalow, to goad the gang to attempt the daring heist. He also told them that breaking in was safe as there are no dogs and CCTVs at the bungalow.
But the story took another twist when Kanakraj was killed in a road accident on 28 April at Attur near Salem. He was riding a bike which was hit by a car, killing him on the spot. The police said he was drunk while riding the bike while his family members said he was on his way to attend a family function.
Coincidentally, Sayan who was travelling from Thrissur to Palakkad in his car on Saturday also met with an accident. His wife and daughter died while he is in hospital, still not out of danger.
The story so far conveys one thing. That it was not a simple case of a driver probably getting greedy and organising a team of burglars. There is certainly more than what meets the eye. Here are a few questions that need answering:
1. How is it even possible that the private estate of the person who was chief minister till five months back or that of the person who is still general secretary of the ruling AIADMK, not protected by CCTVs?
Assuming for a moment that it is so, Tamil Nadu needs answers on when the CCTVs were removed. It is highly unlikely that for a Z plus category security protectee Jayalalithaa who was guarded by NSG commandos, CCTV cover at her summer residence won't be provided. And if they were indeed removed after her demise, who issued orders to remove the CCTVs?
Chennai-based former IAS officer MG Devasahayam says, "There may be no formal orders to remove the CCTVs. They would have been allowed to become dysfunctional deliberately. The Kodanadu estate is a mysterious place and I think the intruders were trying to lay their hands on some specific documents.''
2. Who are the people who visited Kodanad estate after 22 September 2016, when Jayalalithaa was admitted to hospital? Any investigation team also needs to look at whether anything major was taken away by anyone during this period. Though it is a private estate, since it was being used to transact government business when Jayalalithaa would work out of there during the summer months, the Tamil Nadu police is well within its rights to check if confidential government files are still kept at the bungalow. Also with information that money was stashed away at the estate, it gives the cops good reason to comb the place. No one from the Mannargudi family has reportedly visited Kodanadu ever since Sasikala went to jail on 15 February.
3. Did Jayalalithaa leave behind a will? And was the burglary's real intent to unearth the document?
4. Sasikala and Ilavarasi are reportedly co-owners of the Kodanad estate and both of them are in Bengaluru prison now, serving their sentence in the Disproportionate Assets case. They are the only two people who would now know what was in the three rooms. If there was something very important, wouldn't Sasikala have taken it out during the politically relatively peaceful months of December and January?
5. Was the burglary ordered by someone powerful who was trying to take out something else from the bungalow? Sources say it is quite possible that documents of properties belonging to other people may have kept there. Which means Kanakraj was not the mastermind but just a pawn in the game.
6. The car that hit Kanakraj was a Karnataka registration vehicle. Has the driver's background been investigated to find out if he had a genuine reason to be passing through Attur at that time? This is because Kanakraj's brother Dhanapal says there was nothing at the scene to suggest it was an accident.
7. There is a political angle to Kanakraj as well. He hails from Edappadi, the native village of chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami. Kanakraj is believed to be a distant relative of the chief minister though not on good terms now.
8. Sayan hit a stationery truck on the highway which begs the question if he deliberately did so or was he being chased by someone. Both his wife and daughter also reportedly have deep cuts on their neck, which brings in a murder angle to this accident'.
9. Since the gang does not seem to have succeeded in its attempt, a second burglary attempt is quite possible. Has the security been beefed up at the estate? Or has an attempt been made to find out what is it that is so desired by outside elements?
10. Finally, the case should ideally be handed over the CID. Shouldn't the AIADMK government that swears by Jayalalithaa, be concerned about a burglary attempt and murder at her residence?
Published Date: May 02, 2017 17:02 PM | Updated Date: May 02, 2017 17:02 PM