KR Subramaniam's death reeks of Tamil Nadu's murky politics, mysterious suicides and accidents
In Tamil Nadu, when leaders of political parties get into trouble, their close aides and confidantes commit “suicides” or meet with unexplained “accidents”
When 59-year-old KR Subramaniam of Tamil Nadu's Namakkal decided to "end his life", he did so with a detailed account of his life so far.
Born in July 1978, Subramaniam wedded in 1986 and fathered a daughter and a son. According to his suicide note dated 6 May, written in Tamil, Subramaniam explained that in 1992, he borrowed some money from his father in law, pledged some of his wife’s jewellery in the banks and began a business called PSK Engineering along with one R Periasamy. By 2000, he had fallen out with other members in PSK Engineering, especially one Thennarasu, and began his own firm in the name of Abirami Contractors.
"Thennarasu continued to create trouble for me and my employees and tried to give me a bad name. Thennarasu had been close to education minister Palaniappan, Apoorva IAS and an IG for the past six years," wrote Subramaniam. He alleged that this group prevented him from winning tenders for construction of government buildings and other contracts.
Despite this, he stated, he won the tender to build the Pudukottai Medical College and completed the job within 12 months, when the original estimate was for a time period of 18 months. During the building process though, Subramaniam alleged that the PSK Engineering team along with government staffers at the Public Works Department stalled his work and even attempted to attack him. "They have also spread false rumours that I am connected with health minister Vijay Bhaskar and am using their proximity to authority and monetary power... I am in no way connected with the health minister... Thennarasu takes commission from contracts in exchange for getting contracts and tenders. Every contractor knows about him and that he is a benami of education minister Palaniappan... He is also the one who has given false information to Income Tax (Department) for ride (raid),” he alleged.
The people who came to conduct the IT raid, according to Subramaniam’s note, called him a benami, threatened him and disgraced him and his family by giving out his name to the media. "I am heartbroken and have not slept or eaten for the past 28 days. I have arrived at the decision to take my own life," he wrote.
Subramaniam also alleged in his note that a deputy commissioner of Income Tax named Karthik Manickam had "kept me in his office room from 11 am to 5 pm in Chennai and used abusive language, threatened and scolded me in the worst possible manner. He threatened me saying that if I did not accept that I was a benami of the health minister, he would ensure that he would make my life a living hell."
Subramaniam’s family has refused to meet any journalist and a blanket of police protection has been thrown around their home in Namakkal, as investigations into his death continue.
Mystery "suicides" and "accidents"
Subramaniam's suicide note may read as a typical one for professionals who work with the despaired and suicidal. But senior leaders from the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (Amma) as well as its rival faction led by O Panneerselvam, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (Puratchi Thalaivi Amma), agree that Subramaniyan was a known aide of former health minister Vijay Bhaskar. "He was his manager and all of us knew it," said one senior leader who did not wish to be named, adding, "What is happening in Tamil Nadu? How many more deaths are we going to witness?"
What this senior leader was referring to was also a series of mysterious "accidents" that took place in late April. On 24 April, a security guard was killed and another was badly injured as armed robbers broke into late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa’s sprawling Kodanadu estate. Five days later, on 29 April, the key accused in the robbery, Jayalalithaa’s former driver C Kanagaraj was killed in Salem in a road accident. On the same day, another key accused KV Sayan was grievously injured in an accident in Kerala. So far eight people have been arrested by Tamil Nadu police in connection with this robbery and murder.
These developments appear eerily coincidental especially when the chain of events in the political course of the state is taken into account since the death of Jayalalithaa in December 2016. With the AIADMK general secretary VK Sasikala, Jaya’s close aide, as well as her nephew TTV Dhinakaran in Bengaluru and Tihar jails respectively, the ruling party is unravelling from within. And political hawks say, there is enormous money and power at stake here.
A murky history of political “suicides”
Historians of Tamil Nadu politics would not be surprised at this turn of events. "Political suicides" date back to as early as 1991 when retired director general of police Dorai Raju allegedly took his life, fearing arrest as the first Jayalalithaa government swept to power. Dorai’s family had denied rumours at the time that he had consumed poison to end his life.
The reason behind Dorai’s death was what appeared to be the likely arrest of former home secretary R Nagarajan, a key official in the previous Karunanidhi government. The Padmanabha murder case of 1990 was heating up — the Karunanidhi government faced charges that they helped the killers of Padmanabha, the leader of the rebel Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), a pro-Eelam outfit based in Sri Lanka that opposed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) headed by Prabhakaran.
Padmanabha was killed in Chennai along with 14 others in June 1990. Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leader M Karunanidhi was the chief minister at the time, R Nagarajan the home secretary and Dorai Raju was the IG (crimes) when the murder took place. It was alleged that these three had gone slow on the investigations, thus allowing the perpetrators of the crime to escape to Sri Lanka. A court verdict subsequently exonerated Nagarajan but the Jain Commission report indicted Karunanidhi and Nagarajan.
The Jain Commission report had this to say on the case:
"As regards to the Padmanabha killing he (Nagarajan) stated that he informed the chief minister of the news on the telephone in Tamil Nadu House in Delhi. He had no details at that time, so he could not convey the details to the chief minister. He got the information at 8.45 pm and immediately informed the chief minister. At 9.30 pm, commissioner, city police contacted him and gave some details that the assailants escaped in a white Ambassador car. The then DGP alerted the police, and IGP (crimes) Dorai Raju was put in charge of tracing out the assailants.
"At about 10.45 pm, the DGP again contacted him. At that time when details were available, he asked what steps were taken to apprehend the culprits. The DGP informed him that the chief minister had asked him that the police need not evince keen interest to trace them out till his arrival the next day for further instructions. The then deputy commissioner of police (law and order) Madras City and two other officials contacted him. He told them that they may keep in touch with the DGP. BBC reported in the night that LTTE had no hand in the shootout on the basis of the version of DGP, thereupon he questioned the DGP. (The) DGP denied the BBC version. When he asked about chief minister's instruction to DGP from DIG (CID) Jaffar Ali, he also confirmed it. In the law and order meeting next day, IG (Crimes) Dorai Raju informed that the assailants snatched one Maruti van belonging to some passerby at Villupuram near Railway Gate and the passerby met him (at) the office.
"On 20 June 1990, the chief minister returned from Delhi and took up the special law and order totally and he informed the IG (Crimes) and the DIG/CID to meet him every day and inform (about) the progress in the investigation. Only weekly reports were received in the Secretariat which reflected no progress. There was slackness on the part of the Crime Branch and the culprits escaped to Sri Lanka."
Two other murky "suicides" have been witnessed in Tamil Nadu in the recent past. In July 2001, Ramesh Narayanan, better known as "Anna Nagar" Ramesh as he lived in the Chennai suburb of Anna Nagar, committed suicide jointly with his wife and three daughters. Soft drink bottles laced with pesticide were found at the scene of the suicide.
Then chief minister J Jayalalithaa, who had just come back to power following a DMK tenure, stated in the state Assembly that Ramesh’s death was not suicide. This statement hinted at the timing and circumstances surrounding Ramesh’s death — an investigation had been launched by the Jayalalithaa government into what is now known as the Rs 7 crore “Flyover Scam” in which DMK scion MK Stalin was implicated on corruption charges. Ramesh, Stalin’s close friend and aide, was also charged with extortion by another contractor. In his suicide note, of which the Chennai police released only parts, Ramesh had written: “I request the chief minister to intervene and tell the police not to foist false cases on ordinary people like me. My wife and I took this decision ten days ago and we are implementing it now. We think it is better to end our lives than face these cases and be labelled in the press as one who received commissions.” The DMK charged the police under Jayalalalithaa as having harassed and tortured Ramesh into taking his own life.
Sadiq Batcha’s case is also well known in Tamil Nadu. As investigations into the 2G scam were on, Batcha, a close friend of key accused A Raja, was found hanging in his Chennai house in March 2011. A suicide note recovered stated that he was "embarrassed" at the raids on his home and the properties in connection with the 2G scam, due to his proximity to Raja. He termed his friend Raja and his wife as "good people". The case was transferred to the CBI by the Tamil Nadu police as rumours and speculation swirled over his death. The CBI finally closed the case as a suicide as they could find no evidence of murder.
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