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Army’s loss is bribe brigade’s gain

Chennai, May 27: Before being caught last week while taking a bribe from a tax official allegedly to fix a transfer, there was nothing much R. Perumalswamy could lay claim to by way of fame. Except one.

People who have followed his not so exciting career recall that the personal assistant to minister of state for finance Gingee Ramachandran, felled by the transfer-for-cash scam, had joined the army after his schooling.

Perumalswamy created something of a flutter in his village Kalingapatti, in the deep south of Tamil Nadu’s Tirunelveli district, when he suddenly returned home. The question then on some lips was: Had he deserted the army'

The answer is not clear.

In his late thirties now, Perumalswamy was born in a family of modest means. But he was born in the right village. Kalingapatti also happens to be the birthplace of Vaiko, famous as the first MP to be booked under the Prevention of Terrorism Act — and that, too, a partner in the Vajpayee-led coalition.

The Kalingapatti connection helped Perumalswamy, who sports a bushy moustache that southern gentlemen favour, plug into the Vaiko circuit when he set sail — only figuratively — on his adventures in Delhi.

This was in the early nineties when Vaiko had not split from the DMK and was that party’s Rajya Sabha MP. Vaiko was expelled from the DMK in 1993, after which he went on to form his own party, the MDMK.

Perumalswamy is not one to put both his feet in one boat, though. He swam at times with MPs of the rival side, the ADMK, as well.

And was he useful' Someone needs a cooking gas connection. Perumalswamy will do it. Someone else has to get a visa done for a friend. Perumalswamy will do it. He was the man for all odd jobs. Not the least, he was a man who had to earn a living, any which way.

Sources said that at least twice in that fledgling phase of his Delhi career, he had got into trouble. Each time, he was bailed out by friends.

Tugged by this friendship, Perumalswamy sidled closer to MDMK leaders as the party became a part of the Vajpayee coalition in 1998, but still had not joined the government.

After the 1999 Lok Sabha polls, it walked into the ministry. Perumalswamy had by then hitched his star to Ramachandran who was first appointed minister of state for textiles.

The personal assistant strung along when Ramachandran went up the ladder to the finance ministry in a shuffle in 2000.

By the time the transfer-for-cash scam broke last week, the two had been together for four years as minister and PA.

Given this not so short association, sources here say Perumalswamy “could not have rotated money in lakhs” without the knowledge of the minister. Ramachandran has strongly protested his innocence.

A former MDMK secretary of Tirunelveli district, T.A.K. Lakshmanan, has openly alleged that Perumalswamy was acting as an “agent” as he went about organising transfers for tax officials in exchange for cash.

Lakshmanan insists that the CBI question not Ramachandran alone, but also Vaiko, now in Vellore prison.

To be caught up in a scam is a cruel blow to Vaiko, who broke from the DMK in pursuit of his lofty objective of bringing about a renaissance in the Dravidian movement.

He had hesitated about joining the government for fear that power would chain party leaders to Delhi, alienating them from the young supporters who need to be reared on vigorous idealism.

Vaiko may or may not have known that the idealism that flowed from Delhi down south came through telephone lines.

Sources alleged that income-tax surveys or raids on the premises of influential people in Tamil Nadu were stalled by calls from Ramachandran’s office. Tax officials were at times harassed verbally.

In one instance, they said, the minister’s office stopped a survey of the assets of a leading engineering college because its promoter happened to belong to the same Vanniyar caste as does Ramachandran.

If caste does not work, cash will. Ask Perumalswamy.

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