By KA Antony
The story of Saritha S Nair seems stranger than fiction.
Part of this is her revelation about paying a bribe to Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and some members of his cabinet in exchange for their support in setting up a solar panel business empire in Kerala. However, viewed from a little closer, it also reveals the plight of any attractive young woman trying to make it in a world where others like her fall prey to the sexual appetites of men in authority and their cronies.
Saritha’s case is no different.
What mattered is that this young woman entrepreneur with extraordinary skills was overenthusiastic and ambitious. If beauty can be boon for women, it can also be a curse, as is evident from the life of Saritha — known all over Kerala as ‘Solar Saritha’.
As her revelations spell doom for the Chandy government in Kerala, Firstpost takes a look at the life of the woman who has suddenly assumed star status by turning in to a whistle-blower after finding herself neck-deep in a mega scam. The media might paint her as a seductress who could get into the bedrooms of politicians and even control the chief minister. But her story has a different side to it, if we look at the way she was sexually exploited first by her business partner and later by politicians.
Born into a middle class Nair family in Chengannur in central Kerala, Saritha is the second daughter of Somasekharan Nair and Indira. Somasekharan was a clerk at the Nair Service Society office headquarters at Perunna and Indira a housewife. Saritha lost her father when she was in her teens. Most of her immediate neighbours at Chengannur — the family's erstwhile home — refuse to talk about her as they do not want to be dragged into unnecessary controversy.
However, Sadasivan Nair recalled the death of Somasekharan as a case of suicide. "He ended his life because of financial problems. Indira later got a job at the NSS office and the family lived on her income," said Sadasivan. People at Chngannur do not know much more about Saritha, because her family kept shifting homes after she was arrested in a cheating case in 2005.
Sadasivan remembers Saritha as a quiet girl, who was bright when it came to her studies. "She and her sister studied at St Antony's Higher Secondary School here. Saritha was the topper in the school's final examination in 1994. She had a high distinction," he recalled.
A neighbour who preferred to stay anonymous said the life of Saritha took a sudden turn after her marriage to a man who is still working in the Gulf. She was only 18 at the time of marriage. By this point, she had completed her 'plus two' (junior college) studies and had a diploma from a polytechnic in electronics and communication. After marriage, Saritha undertook a diploma course in aircraft maintenance and engineering.
Saritha's marriage, however, did not last long.
It ended soon after she gave birth to a son. Saritha herself claims that she had an offer letter for a job from an airline company, but did not accept it as her mother and sister objected to the dress code of the company. It was then she entered the share-brokering business, which looked a lucrative option in those days. Her good communication skills came in handy and Saritha did well for herself.
Her so-called fraudulent days began when she was working in the credit card section of HDFC.
It was at this time that she became acquainted with Biju Radhakrishan, her later partner in life and the solar business. Biju was married, but is said to have kept this a secret while dating Saritha. In 2006, Biju is alleged to have killed his wife Resmi in order to marry Saritha. The police first wrote off Resmi's death as a case of suicide. But in 2013, when the Chandy government started feeling the solar scam heat in the form of blackmail, the case was reopened and Biju was arrested for the murder of his wife.
The re-investigation revealed that Biju had suffocated his wife to death after forcing her to drink excess liquor. Currently, Biju, the first accused in the solar scam case, is also serving a life term for the murder of Resmi. Although he had offered to marry Saritha, he preferred to be a live-in partner and was using Saritha to influence politicians and businessmen. Biju slowly started drifting away from Saritha after he met Shalu Menon — a cine-serial actress. According to Saritha, Biju used a major portion of the money she had collected as advance payment from businessmen for setting up solar panel units for himself and Shalu.
First crime and punishment
Saritha was arrested in 2005 after being accused of siphoning investments by HDFC customers. Biju, then working as HDFC manager, was arrested on similar charges. Though both were sent to jail for a brief period, the case was somehow settled. Saritha once again found herself in trouble, this time in a Visa cheating case. This case was also settled with the help of some local politicians.
It was while fighting the first case that Saritha became acquainted with Biju and this perhaps shaped her into whatever it is people call her today.
When Beauty becomes a boon and curse
As Saritha had said during a TV channel interview around six months ago, her beauty was both a boon and a curse for her. It was likely her appearance that compelled many politicians to try and get close to her. If Saritha's deposition before the Justice Sivarajan Commission, inquiring the multi-crore solar scam scandal case is true, most of the politicians — from ministers to MPs, MLAs and even the staff — pretended to help her only with carnal desires in their minds.
Saritha had mentioned the names of all those who exploited her sexually, while in jail in connection with the solar scam case. Although she claims to have a copy of the original letter which according to the director-general of police (DGP) was destroyed by an ADGP, Saritha has refused to produce it before the judicial commission saying that she does not want to do so because there are also some personal things that she does not want to make public. The only politician she once alleged to have raped her was Congress MLA AP Abdullakutty. KB Ganesh Kumar, sports minister in the Chandy government also lost his post owing to his illicit relationship with Saritha.
The project and the politicians
According to the documents — including an affidavit submitted by Saritha before the commission — she and Biju decided to enter the solar panel business in 1991. They had prepared a detailed project report and presented it to Chandy. He said he was interested in the project and rang up Electricity Minister Aryadan Mohammed. The chief minister told Mohammed that he was sending ‘Lakshmi’ to him (after their first arrest, Saritha used to introduce herself as Lakshmi Nair to her clients while Biju posed as RB Nair, a former Reserve Bank of India officer).
Mohammed was also interested in the project and offered every possible bit of help. According to Saritha, she had paid Rs 1.9 crore to Chandy through his man Thomas Kuruvilla in two instalments and he was paid Rs 40 lakh. “They took the money, misused me and never gave me the help they had promised in return,” said Saritha, as a reason for exposing the politicians now.