CHENNAI: In the early years of my journalistic career, there was a running story on a man called M A Rasheed, a lawyer from Kerala whose murder created a political storm in Karnataka though the body was discovered in Tamil Nadu soil. Every development on the story was captured by reporters of the news agency that I worked for and in our southern regional desk in Chennai we processed the dispatches that came in almost daily. Since those reports had significance in all the three states, more importantly Kerala and Karnataka, they were diligently handled with a view to ensuring that all newspapers received them in their teleprinters ahead of the pages going for print.
But in course of time I lost track of the case and did not even bother to find out how it concluded though at one point of time it had rocked the Ramakrishna Hegde government in Karnataka. Suddenly that old ghost was resurrected by my friend and former boss, V Sudarshan, through his latest book ‘Dead End – The Minister, the CBI, and the Murder That Wasn’t.’ Though the publishers, Hachette India, have classified it as ‘Non-fiction/ True crime,’ it does not read like a whodunit story, instead shines the klieg light on a canker that had set in our society, debauching the polity, judiciary and police.
One did not close the book relieved that the mystery behind the murder was solved and the guilty punished — though the facts strung together were all provided by the investigator from the CBI — but was left wondering why Rasheed was killed and why the body was disposed in the manner described in the book. K Ragothaman, the retired CBI sleuth, whose name and face are familiar to many people in Tamil Nadu since he investigated the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and had appeared on television to speak on various issues related to crime investigation, was the man who provided all the grist for Sudarshan’s latest book.
One year back Ragothaman’s monograph on the same Rasheed murder was published under the title, ‘Rarest of Rare Case: Murder of an Advocate.’ But Sudarshan fleshed it out by engaging the investigating officer in a series of conversations just before his passing in 2021 and garnering more details and documents from him. Though the story of CBI investigation into the death of a faceless advocate from Kerala led the case to its logical end at the Madras High Court, Sudarshan’s narration ends with the words: ‘Holding his coat tighter about him, Kuppuswamy Ragothaman stepped into the cold rains.’ For, all the accused arraigned by him painstakingly had been let off and ‘he saw two of the accused head constables scurrying after him like insects, smiling widely.’
Prior to the case being handed over to the CBI, it had seen other State agencies probing the murder and coming up with nothing. Even Ragothaman’s predecessor in the CBI did not find anything amiss in the Karnataka police version that Rasheed left Bangalore by the Island Express and fell from the train near Omalur and died. In fact, the Madras High Court judge felt that failure of the trail court to examine the person who accompanied Rasheed from the lodge to the station and put him in the train had led to the miscarriage of justice when the truth of the matter is that the police escorting him to the station was just a figment of imagination.
The book provides a panoramic view of a social landscape ridden with unscrupulous policemen, politicians, lawyers and judges working hand in hand with criminals and pimps to carry out their tasks that include eliminating anyone who dares to question them. Since Sudarshan relies on documents and evidence to piece together the story, not much details on the activities of the pimps or the girls they trafficked have been given. But he raises the stench of the sleaze in which the police, judiciary and politicians wallow in. He also explicitly tells us how far a beleaguered politician will travel to get himself out of a mess he had got into. R L Jalappa, the Karnataka politician who was an accused, presented himself in person at Ragothaman’s humble flat in Madras. He wanted the investigating officer not to show undue interest in pursuing the case to its logical end and even promised to pay for his mother’s treatment in the US.
When Ragothaman was in no mood to entertain him more than letting him drink the cup of coffee that his wife had brought for the unknown visitor, Jalappa left. But also left behind his suitcase. With his wife alerting him about the suitcase, Ragothaman ran behind the politician and made him go back to the house and pick it up under threat of arrest. Yes, we realise that there are such honest officers like Ragothaman, who pledged his wife’s jewelry to pay for the lunch of the witnesses during the court hearing but was not reimbursed for the legitimate expenses. At the same time, many of the accused in the case were police personnel, including top ranking officers, who had collaborated with seedy characters like pimps and rowdies to remove what a politician felt was a thorn in his flesh. The story also gave a sense of déjà vu since the acrimony that ended in murder and subsequent cover up originated in an educational institution.