If Netflix etc. are looking for a tightly written, edge-of-the-seat crime story structured as streaming-friendly episodes, they need look no further than V. Sudarshan’s Dead End: The Minister, the CBI, and the Murder that Wasn’t, the scary and infuriating account of a Home Minister who had an officer of the court murdered. No, it is not Delhi-based and not even recent history: this is the story of the murder of the advocate M.A. Rasheed in August 1987 at the behest of the then Karnataka Home Minister, R.L. Jalappa.
Dead End: The Minister, the CBI, and the Murder that Wasn’t
Though Jalappa was eventually acquitted and managed to become Union Minister under Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, Dead End, a breezy and hypnotising read, nails down Jalappa’s criminality as per the charge sheet, judicial statements, witness testimony, and interactions with the chief investigator, DSP K. Ragothaman. Both Jalappa and Ragothaman passed away last year. Jalappa was 96; an anodyne obituary in a Bengaluru newspaper said he “was linked to the sensational murder of lawyer Abdul Rasheed”. Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai unironically observed: “His death is a big loss for gentle politics in the State.” Tell that to Rasheed’s widow.
Rasheed, a lawyer in his mid-30s practising in Kerala, was perhaps at the wrong place at the wrong time. In August 1987, he celebrated Bakrid with his children and in-laws and travelled to Bengaluru to help his brother and a friend’s daughter in their educational pursuits. (On the train he bought a copy of Frontline, “a sedate fortnightly”.)
Unfortunately, Rasheed’s contact in Bengaluru, P. Sadasivan, owner of the Sanjay Gandhi College of Education, was in a jam. Chief Minister Ramakrishna Hegde’s Cabinet had approved the setting up of two medical colleges, one in Kolar, the bid for which was won by Sadasivan. But Jalappa wanted the proposed medical college. So, the government withdrew its approval to Sadasivan (who had spent a considerable sum on the land, and so on) and the Cabinet backdated an approval so that Jalappa’s front could set it up.
Jalappa wanted his business rival to keep quiet, and Sadasivan, in an act of courage, sued, asking Rasheed to represent his case. The police mercilessly thrashed Rasheed for filing the petition. Bruised and in tattered clothes, he went to the press and sent telegrams to the Chief Minister, the Chief Justice, and the Commissioner of Police. Rasheed then disappeared. His body was found two days later in an inaccessible bush by the railway tracks near Salem in Tamil Nadu.
The story that unfolds is of how the CBI, despite all sorts of pressure, pursued the case mainly because of its relentless bloodhound Ragothaman. The narrative painstakingly takes all evidence that at the time proved beyond doubt that Jalappa had not only ordered the killing but had also seen for himself the dead body, before instructing his henchmen to get rid of it. Ragothaman nabs Jalappa, but that is not how the story ends.
Besides the extensive documents, including case diaries, Sudarshan has relied on a series of interviews with Ragothaman (in the nick of time, given the retired CBI officer’s death during the COVID-19 pandemic) to structure and flesh out an engrossing narrative that makes the book unputdownable. (It helps that it is a slim 187 pages.) Incidentally, Ragothaman was the chief investigating officer in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, and had he and Sudarshan had time to collaborate, the resulting book would undoubtedly have been an eye-opener.
In the Rasheed case, one follows Ragothaman as he tracks down every clue, every stray remark, every inconsistency in the evidence. The key culprit in this murder was the then DCP, West, K. Narayanan, a truly nauseating police officer who was basically Jalappa’s right-hand man, carrying out his master’s every last command like a well-trained dog (like not to burn the body but throw it near the tracks so that it looked like Rasheed fell off a train and died).
Narayanan made sure the Commissioner of Police did not see vital documents; Narayanan reversed his own documented decisions that Ragothaman fortunately managed to uncover; and Narayanan, at a restaurant in Coimbatore (where the trial was held so that the Karnataka authorities would not derail it), confident that he would get away with it, strolled into the dining area where Ragothaman and Public Prosecutor C. Shivappa were having lunch, and virtually danced around their table as if to say, “Catch me if you can”.
(The police across India are no different 35 years later. For example, take the 2020 north-east Delhi riots case, where the accused are overwhelmingly Muslim even though it was their community that was targeted and their property destroyed, by goons brought in from outside, in a now-favoured modus operandi.)
What helped Ragothaman was that the public was behind him, and this includes key police personnel and the judiciary (other than individuals sold out to Jalappa and gang). For instance, on page 123, racing against time, Ragothaman reaches the Law Secretariat to get a copy of Shivappa’s appointment to satisfy a pernickety judge. It is lunch hour and no one is in the office except “one assistant who was about to open her tiffin box”. Upon hearing that it related to the sensational Rasheed murder case, she promptly found the order and made a photocopy. Imagine that.
It also helped, though Sudarshan does not make it explicit, political circumstances enabled the successful pursuit of investigation. Hegde’s was a Janata Party government (that later became the Janata Dal); at the Centre was Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress government and its CBI director was Mohan Katre. As a crime reporter at the time, I met Katre on several occasions, and though he was always nice to me, I found him to be a steadfast champion of Rajiv Gandhi, particularly when the Bofors arms scandal surfaced and eventually led to V.P. Singh leading a National Front coalition government headed by the Janata Dal.
It is therefore not surprising that on the last day of V.P. Singh’s government, the verdict was announced. Seven policemen were convicted and Jalappa, among others, acquitted. Jalappa went on to become India’s Textiles Minister. The convicts filed review petitions, and in 2002, in an astoundingly bad judgment by Justice N. Dinakar, who was Special Public Prosecutor in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case when Ragothaman was chief investigating officer, the convictions were overturned. All Ragothaman can do is walk out quietly into the rain.
One could say that with Dead End, 2022 has been a good year for true crime writing, having witnessed over the summer the publication of the magnificent The Mendicant Prince by Aruna Chakravarti, a fascinating case of a dead zamindar who reappears as a godman 12 years after his “death”. That book is complete with family intrigue, sexual decadence, and a filmy courtroom drama and is a must-read for anyone interested in the mysterious corners of Indian colonial history. The drama in Dead End is of a different kind: it cuts straight to the murder, the chase,s and the detection, and there is courtroom drama. But it is no less a crime narrative and is worth every minute.
Aditya Sinha is a writer and journalist based in the NCR.
- This is a tightly written, edge-of-the-seat true crime story.
- This is the story of the murder of the advocate M.A. Rasheed in August 1987 at the behest of the then Karnataka Home Minister, R.L. Jalappa.
- Though Jalappa was eventually acquitted, Dead End nails down Jalappa’s criminality as per the charge sheet, judicial statements, witness testimony, and interactions with the chief investigator, DSP K. Ragothaman.
- The CBI, despite all sorts of pressure, pursued the case mainly because of its relentless bloodhound, Ragothaman.
- Ragothaman was also the chief investigating officer in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.