The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Prayers in cell, punch in court
- Govt claims seer was about to flee

Chennai, Nov. 13: Meditation and prayers marked Jayendra Saraswati's first day in prison, but no peace was in sight in the Madras High Court complex where a scuffle broke out and the public prosecutor claimed the seer was planning to flee to Nepal.

Emotions ran high soon after the court adjourned the hearing of the Kanchi sankaracharya's bail plea till Wednesday. It means the seer, arrested late on Thursday in connection with the murder of a temple manager in Kancheepuram, will have to stay in Vellore central jail for at least a few more days.

But sources in Kanchi Kamakoti Mutt said the seer, one of the five supreme Hindu religious leaders, was being treated well and that the jail superintendent has been 'very kind'. 'The acharya has been given a special cell (which includes an electric fan) and all materials required for performing his usual (morning) puja,' a source said.

The sankaracharya had chapattis served by the jail though he is used to having food he cooks himself. His lawyer, former Union minister Ram Jethmalani, urged R. Balasubramanian to let his client have the 'facilities to prepare his own food'.

Public prosecutor K. Doraiswamy opposed the plea. 'Suppose something happens and he (the sankaracharya) chooses to die by the choice of his own food, I am answerable to this court,' he said.

'He does not eat much anyway,' the mutt source said later.

The sankaracharya was given newspapers that would have given him a feel of how the media has reported his arrest in Andhra Pradesh by a Tamil Nadu police team that flew down from Chennai.

In the court, Jethmalani argued that his client's judicial custody be cancelled as the 'remand order itself was void'. The former law minister, who described the late-night arrest as a 'publicity stunt', said till today lawyers were not allowed to meet the seer and wanted the bail plea to be treated like a 'habeas corpus petition' as all guidelines had been 'deliberately violated'.

'Was it such an earth-shaking thing that he should be arrested in the night near Hyderabad and flown in here to be directly taken for remand' Jethmalani asked in a packed courtroom.

When Jethmalani kept emphasising the seer's age and that millions revered him as an 'incarnation of god', the judge said 'prima facie, there are incriminating materials against your client'.

The public prosecutor then dropped the bombshell. 'By Wednesday, we will produce evidence that he (the seer) was planning to flee to Nepal,' he said. The prosecution's counter-affidavit said investigations had revealed that a 'gang from Chennai' had murdered the temple manager at the 'instigation and deep-rooted conspiracy hatched' by the sankaracharya and his associates.

Soon after the court adjourned, commotion reigned. Volunteers of the Hindu Munnani, a Sangh parivar outfit, raised slogans against the judge. In the scuffle that followed between them and some lawyers, five volunteers were injured.

The VHP, too, staged protests in several parts of the country.

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