Thursday, March 19, 2009

Jahangir in ‘Saravana Bhavan’

Jahangir in ‘Saravana Bhavan’
Syed Ali Mujtaba

I am sure every one may have heard the story of Mughal Emperor Jahangir and Nur Jahan. For those who haven’t, let me recall; Nur Jahan was married to Sher Afghan, the man who killed a lion in a stroke of his sword.

Jahangir saw Nur Jhan and was charmed by her beauty. In order to marry her, he got her husband Sher Afghan murdered. Jahangir later married Nur Jahan. Rest as they say is history.

A similar case erupted in Chennai when Rajagopal (59) owner ‘Saravana Bhavan’ chain of hotels murdered his employee Prince Santhakumar to marry his wife Jeevajyothi.

The grapevine has it was all because of a astrologer who suggested Rajagopal if he marries someone with particular horse-scope his business may flourish more far and wide. It seems Jeevajyothi’s horse scope matched the specification of Rajagopal.

The hotelier made desperate bit to marry Jeevajyothi and tried all possible ways to make her his third wife. Jeevajyoth did not oblige Rajagopal and instead married Shantakumar, an employee of Saravana Bhavan.

Rajgopal having failed in his designs to get Jeevajyothi planned the murder of her husband Santhakumar so that he could marry his widow.

The henchmen of Rajagopal abducted Santhakumar from his residence in Vellacherry in Chennai in Oct 2001. He was taken Kodaikanal and was gruesomely done to death. Santhakumar body was later found dumped in the Kodai hills forest.

A case was registered on the basis of a complaint given by Jeevajothi that her husband had gone missing and feared that he might have been eliminated by Rajagopal and his henchmen. She also accused Rajagopal of sexually harassing her. The case was later altered from a ‘man-missing case’ to that of murder and filed the charge-sheet against Rajagopal and eight others in 2002.

A fast track court had in 2004 sentenced Rajgopal to 10 years rigorous imprisonment and fined him Rs.5.5 million.Rajagopal was arrested but was later let out on bail.

He was rearrested for violating bail conditions during his trial after allegedly attempting to threaten Jeevajothi.He went on appeal to the Madras High court.

The Madras High Court on March 19, 2009 sentenced Rajagopal to life in a murder case and enhanced his 10-year rigorous imprisonment awarded by a trial court.

The verdict was announced by a division bench comprising Justices P.K. Mishra and R. Banumathi, who convicted Rajagopal and six others for the 2001 murder.

The court also increased his conviction from culpable homicide not amounting to murder, to culpable homicide amounting to murder.

The case had caused a sensation, more so of Rajagopal’s meteoric rags to riches story as an entrepreneur and hotelier, starting with a small eatery in Chennai. Rajagopal had struck it rich after opening the ‘Saravana Bhavan’ chain of hotels.

Saravana Bhavan has spread its wings across India and abroad. The chain's website claims it has 22 outlets spread across South India, the North and seven countries.

The chain has a huge woman work force. Young women from rural regions form a strong force in this hotel and sweet chains, largely catering to the middle class in Chennai.

The employees are provided accommodation but have to work long hours, sometimes up to 12 hours a day, with hardly any leave or off. But they claim they are happy working at Saravana Bhavan.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

Tales from India- The Political Circus and More

Tales from India- The Political Circus and More
Syed Ali Mujtaba

In India people look for short cut to fame and success. There are some tried and tested formulas to get there. This holds true about politics as well. There are aspiring political leaders who make impertinent speeches and gain instant publicity.

Take the case of Varun Gandhi, the great grandson of the architect of secular India. He has hit the headlines making inflammable remarks against the Muslim community. Varun says; “This is not a hand [Congress symbol], it is the power of lotus [BJP symbol]. It will cut the head of the Muslims.”

Now imagine if similar words uttered by any Muslim against the Hindu community. What could have been the reaction in the country? A hell might have been let loose and the entire community be flogged for such innuendos.

How Varun Gandhi will be treated after openly inciting hatred among religious communities? One has to wait and watch this case. The general impression is this power drunken politician would get away gaining instant publicity.

Now let me take you to other stories of the great Indian political circus. The tale from the “republic of Bihar” is; its leader Ram Vilas Paswan and Lalu Prasad Yadav, the sworn political enemies, have shook hands to fight the Lok Sabha election together. One may recall Paswan had shown his thumbs down to Yadav when the latter was desperate to form the government after the assembly elections. At that time Paswan had sworn to free Bihar from the clutches of the Lalu raj. Now by aligning with Yadav, he has given fillip to the return of the jungle raj in Bihar. Well that’s why Chameleon thy name is Indian politician!

When we are talking about Bihar, Uttar Pradesh is not far way. A diehard communal leader has turned secular. Kalyan Singh, the former UP chief Minister an ardent fan of Hindutva has joined the Samajwadi party. By doing so he now likes to be considered as a secular leader. It was the same Singh who hailed the demolition of Babari masjid an act of piety and preferred jail to acceptance of his complicity in this crime. He now has changed colors and may like ton be accept in his new avatar. This can only happen in India.

A reverse to Kalyan Singh, is the case of Subramiyam Sawamy, the president of the Janata party. Sawamy, a Harvard university Professor and ex finance minister of India has taken shelter under religion for his political survival. He has changed his political track and vociferously championing the cause of Hindutva. It’s very hard to believe a person of his caliber may stoop to such levels that could spark riot in the Madras High court. TV channels had a field day showing pitched battle fought between the lawyers and the police force on February 19, 2009.

Uma Bharti, the sanayasin who shot into fame during the Ayodhya movement built by the Bhartiya Janata Party is once again in the news. She now likes to canvass for the BJP, the party she left in a huff calling some of its leaders ‘power brokers’ (sattey ke dallal). The defiant leader went on to form her own political outfit called Jan Shakti party. Now Uma Bharti claims she has no money to run her party. So she wants to canvass for the BJP once again.

Well in India any thing can happen. If a slum dog can become a milliner a milliner can also become a slum-dog! Think of Ramalingam Raju, ex CEO of IT major Satyam. After the Satyam scam surfaced, this milliner has become a pauper. Raju who once enjoyed quality life now is spending time in jail. Is this not a milliner becoming slum-dog!

The big story from India is the report published by the Swiss Banking Association claiming Indians are the biggest depositors of black money in banks located in Switzerland. Indians have estimated USD 1.5 trillion in Swiss banks, that’s more black money than the rest of the world combined.

Now compare this with the report of a noted human rights activist Harsh Mander. Mander says in India’s national capital New Delhi, about 3000 people die of hunger annually. Many of them are destitute, reduced to begging as only means of survival. He adds in Delhi an estimated 150000 people are forced to live under open sky. The State provides barest minimum night shelter that’s less than four percent and there is no emergency food support made available.

Harsh Mander, have petitioned to the Supreme Court for the right to food for every citizen, work for all able bodied persons, and direct food transfers to vulnerable groups. The feasibility of his proposal remains in doubt despite the fact that so much money is stacked in Swiss banks; sufficient food reserves are available and in fact reported to be going waste. All this suggest there is utter powerlessness of the people of India even though this country is being touted as the biggest democracy in the world.

Indian story of trial and tribulation, hate and jealousy, hypocrisy and greed, love and admiration, success and failures is never ending. One has to pick a few to drive home the point; ‘Jai Ho’ its wonder that is India, the swan song currently reverberating in the Indian landscape.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at