A murder and an attack

Print edition : August 15, 1998

An attack on N. Sankariah, Tamil Nadu State secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), at Chidambaram on July 28 has drawn widespread protests.

CHIDAMBARAM, the pilgrim centre and university town 200 km away from Chennai, is panic-stricken. Fear stalks its streets after the murder of R. Palanivel, a young activist of the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), on July 9 and the vicious attack on N. Sankariah, secretary of the Tamil Nadu State Committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) on July 28.

The latest incident of the attack on Sankariah's car and other vehicles that followed it, carrying the leaders of the CPI(M) and other parties, took place in the town as the leaders were going to address an all-party public meeting that was organised to condemn Palanivel's murder. Armed goondas smashed the windshield of the Tata Sumo car in which Sankariah was travelling. Its driver, K.S. Sampath, escaped death by ducking when a knife was aimed at his neck.

Sankariah called the attack the result of "a conspiracy and an attempt to murder" him because the CPI(M) was in the vanguard of a movement against the Vandaiyar family of nearby Kavarapattu village. He blamed G.M. Premkumar Vandaiyar and his younger brother G.M. Sridhar Vandaiyar for the "planned attack" and said that a "mastermind was at work" behind it. The brothers, he alleged, were "a big mafia"and Palanivel was murdered because "he tried to break their monopoly"in their business, which included, among other things, the running of liquor shops, a cycle stand near the municipal bus terminus, a pay-and-use toilet at the bus terminus and sand quarrying.

N. Sankariah, secretay, Tamil Nadu State Committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), giving an account of the attack on him, at a press conference in Chennai.-K. GAJENDRAN

Leaders of various political parties, including the CPI(M), the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), the Communist Party of India (CPI), the MDMK, the Congress(I), the Tamilaga Rajiv Congress (TRC) and the Dravidar Kazhagam (D.K.), handed over a memorandum to Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi in Chennai on July 21 alleging that the Vandaiyar brothers were responsible for the murder of Palanivel and demanding that they be arrested.

The attack on the 77-year old Sankariah took place at a railway level crossing, a couple of hundred metres from a cinema, Mariappa Theatre, owned by Sridhar Vandaiyar.

NETTRIKKAN

R. Palanivel, the MDMK activist who was murdered on July 9.-COURTESY: NETTRIKKAN

As the gate opened after a train passed, Sankariah's car moved forward, and a tipper truck carrying about 50 goons came from the opposite direction. They attacked the car with sickles, knives and stones. Sankariah said: "Four or five cars were coming behind. So we drove forward. They tried to hack the front portion of the Tata Sumo. An aruval (a long, curved knife) was aimed at Sampath's neck but he escaped by leaning back in his seat." Sampath was admitted to hospital with injuries caused by glass splinters.

The goondas also smashed a car belonging to the Cuddalore district committee of the CPI(M).

NETTRIKKAN

Sridhar Vandaiyar-COURTESY: NETTRIKKAN

In a statement, Karunanidhi said that the Government "will take impartial action against those who take to violence and it will not give any quarter to hegemonistic fanaticism." AIADMK general secretary Jayalalitha demanded that impartial action be taken against those connected with the incident. Leaders of the CPI, the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC), the Congress(I), the MDMK, the TRC and the Tamil Nadu Rashtriya Janata Dal denounced the attack. CPI(M) cadres staged a road roko agitation in different parts of Cuddalore district and organised protest demonstrations all over the State.

A few days later the Chidambaram police seized the truck that carried the assailants. It had been repainted, and the initials "GMS" on the windshield had been crudely painted over.

According to Sankariah, what was most shocking was that the attack took place despite the presence of a large number of police personnel around the theatre. He describe as an "eyewash" the arrest of 15 persons. He alleged that the assailants came from the direction of the theatre and that stones were thrown also from the theatre. He demanded that goondas billeted in the cinema and in the marriage halls owned by the Vandaiyar family be evicted. The same day (July 29), the police arrested 43 persons from a marriage hall under the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act.

NETTRIKKAN

Premkumar Vandaiyar.-COURTESY: NETTRIKKAN

Sankariah demanded that those leading the movement against the Vandaiyar family, including the CPI(M)'s Cuddalore district secretary K. Balakrishnan and Chidambaram town secretary B. Ibramsah alias Moosa, be given protection. Balakrishnan had received death threats, Sankariah pointed out.

According to Balakrishnan, the goons could not get close to Sankariah because the narrow road was divided in the middle by bitumen drums. Six vehicles were damaged, he said.

The cinema at Chidambaram owned by Sridhar Vandaiyar, situated close to the scene of attack on Sankariah.-M. MOORTHY

The same evening, unrelated to the attack on Sankariah's car, violence broke out in different parts of Chidambaram town. Crowds directed their fury at shops belonging to the supporters of the Vandaiyar brothers. A group of people ransacked the house of an advocate, K. Venkataraman, who it was rumoured would file an application seeking anticipatory bail for the Vandaiyar brothers. (On August 6, another advocate moved anticipatory bail applications for the brothers before the Cuddalore District and Sessions Judge S.R. Singharavelu. The Judge rejected them.) Several buses were damaged in stone-throwing. Close to the venue of the public meeting, the police fired buckshots and used teargas to disperse angry crowds.

The public meeting drew an unprecedented crowd. Those who addressed the meeting and demanded action against the Vandaiyar brothers included Sankariah, CPI State secretary R. Nallakannu, PMK leader Dr.S. Ramadoss, TMC leader and Chidambaram Municipal Chairman V.M.S. Chandrapandian, Dr. Durai Krishnamurthi of the DMK, T.M. Selvaganapathy of the AIADMK, MDMK leader Gingee N. Ramachandran and BJP State general secretary L. Ganesan.

What has angered the CPI(M) leadership is that the case registered by the police does not include a charge under Section 307 (attempt to murder) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The charges pertain only to Sections 147 (punishment for rioting), 148 (rioting, armed with deadly weapons), 341 (punishment for wrongful restraint), 323 (punishment for voluntarily causing hurt) and 336 (act endangering life or personal safety of others) read with Section 3 of the Tamil Nadu Property (Prevention of Damage and Loss) Act.

Asked about this, Cuddalore District Super intendent of Police C. Sylendra Babu said that Sampath did not give a complaint that would attract the provisions of Section 307. He said that the 15 arrested persons had said that they attacked the cars in Sankariah's convoy because they had information that a convoy of cars had gone to Kavarapattu to attack the house of the Vandaiyar brothers. At the level crossing, when they saw a group of cars flying red flags, they thought that these were returning after carrying out the attack, they said.

Eventually, the Chidambaram police did include Section 307 in the charge on the basis of a statement given by a CPI(M) activist, Zakir Hussain, who was in Sankariah's car. Zakir Hussain said that the attackers had raised slogans threatening to "finish off" the CPI(M) leader.

THE Crime Branch-Criminal Investigation Department (CB-CID), which has been asked to investigate Palanivel's murder, has announced a reward for information leading to the arrest of the two brothers Sridhar Vandaiyar and Premkumar Vandaiyar, who have been cited as accused in the case. The CB-CID, led by Deputy Inspector-General of Police K. Muthukaruppan and Superintendent of Police K. Thukkaiandi, have launched a hunt for them and three others - Thamba, Sivakumar and Suresh.

The van allegedly used by the assailants of Palanivel and the truck that allegedly carried people who attacked Sankariah, seized by the police.-M. MOORTHY

The petition presented by party leaders to the Chief Minister accused the Vandaiyar family of involvement in smuggling, the sale of illicit liquor, monopoly bidding for liquor shops, the municipal cycle stand and sand quarrying, and stationing more than 200 goondas in the cinema and marriage halls owned by them. The memorandum added: "People from all parts of Chidambaram live in fear. There is no guarantee for the life of anybody. Although the police are aware of their (Vandaiyars') atrocities, there is no history of their taking any action."

Palanivel, secretary of the Kumaratchi Panchayat Union unit of the MDMK, dared to break the monopoly of the Vandaiyar family in bidding in auctions for liquor shops, the cycle stand, the pay-and-use toilets and the collection of fee from buses entering the bus stand.

Palanivel challenged the Vandaiyar family's monopoly in every way. According to Municipal Chairman Chandrapandian, Sridhar Vandaiyar "banned" the screening of the film "Marumalarchi" in a cinema hall in Chidambaram in January because it glorified a person belonging to the rival Padayachi community. Palanivel and others took the film cans in a procession and saw to it that the film was screened.

Palanivel was hacked to death on July 9 as he came out of the bath in Sharjahan Complex, a lodge in a busy area of Chidambaram town, where he stayed. The group of men who attacked him drove away in a van even as people watched in horror. The police later seized the van sans the number plate.

The Cuddalore police, acting on a tip-off, detained seven persons at the Cuddalore railway station and these persons readily confessed that they had murdered Palanivel. Mean while, the case was transferred to the CB-CID. Balakrishnan said:"When the CB-CID questioned these men, it was found that they did not know how Palanivel looked or where the lodge (Sharjahan Complex) was. Palanivel had 24 cut injuries. But these men said that they hacked him only two or three times and he died."

These men, all of whom worked for Sridhar Vandaiyar's family, were later let off. "The purpose of their surrender, the question of who directed them (to do so) and other questions are under investigation," the DIG said.

Violence broke out when Palanivel's body was taken in a procession on July 10 to his village, Kathirimedu. A cinema owned by the Vandaiyar family was stoned. Shops run by the Vandayars' supporters were damaged and vehicles were attacked. Effigies of Sridhar Vandaiyar were burnt at several places.

Balakrishnan alleged that the Vandaiyar family had exercised a tight grip over a number of villages around their village and organised a network of rowdy elements to help in shady activities such as smuggling since the 1940s. They set up kangaroo courts (kattai panchayat, in Tamil) to settle local disputes. Balakrishnan said: "Since they wanted to expand their hegemonistic boundaries, they entered Chidambaram town and started interfering in all kinds of matters." They acquired cinema halls and a marriage mantap in the town. They set up prawn farms and hatcheries and controlled the trade.

A car damaged in the attack.-M. MOORTHY

In early 1998, Palanivel stepped in. He organised a "syndicate" to break the monopoly of the Vandaiyar family. Chandrapandian said: "The rowdies who were employed to run the cycle stand and the toilet often fought with villagers. Village elders were humiliated. They (the syndicate) wanted to stop all this."

According to Chandrapandian, the cycle stand fetched an auction sum of Rs. 24 lakhs this year, while the Vandaiyars had bid for it last year for Rs.1.65 lakhs. The pay-and-use toilet was auctioned last year for Rs.2.45 lakhs against Rs. 7 lakhs this year. Chandrapandian said: "In 1996, all the bids (by the Vandaiyars) fetched only Rs.16 lakhs. In 1997, they brought in Rs.37 lakhs. This year, all the bids together brought a revenue of about Rs.80 lakhs. That is how we could pay salaries to the staff of the municipality and we also became a selection grade municipality."

Balakrishnan said a liquor shop near the bus stand was bid (by the Vandaiyar family) for Rs.1.25 lakhs last year but it fetched Rs.11.45 lakhs this year. "So you can imagine the loss for the Government (in the preceding years) from the bids for 30 to 40 liquor shops in Chidambaram, Kattumannarkovil and Cuddalore taluks," Balakrishnan said.

One of those present at Mariappa Theatre, talking to Frontline, alleged that Vanniyars were creating trouble, under an all-party umbrella, because they resented the rise of the Vandaiyar community. They said that the houses of Vandaiyars at Tiruvasaladi village were burnt down.

Balakrishnan denied that there was any communal motive in these incidents. "We are not opposed to the Mukkulathor or the Vandaiyar community. The point is that Vanniyars form a majority here and the Vandaiyars are trying to split them."

Superintendent of Police Sylendra Babu, who quickly brought the incendiary situation in Chidambaram town under control, denied that there was any communal motive behind the incidents. In all, 62 persons have been arrested.

Cuddalore district Collector Sandeep Saxena also said that the situation in the town had come to normal.

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