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Seer back in jail, DMK backtracks

Kancheepuram, Nov. 22: A magistrate today ruled against extending Jayendra Saraswati's police remand, bringing the smile back on the Kanchi seer's face, even as the first cracks in political solidarity emerged over his arrest in a murder case.

In a comment that suggested a turnaround, M. Karunanidhi ' whose DMK had been demanding action in the case ' told reporters in Chennai 'there appeared to be an element of vendetta and political motive' on the part of the Tamil Nadu government.

But the day also brought some bad news for the seer. Madras High Court dismissed his petition challenging his remand in police custody by Kancheepuram first judicial magistrate Uthamaraj. Judge A.K. Rajan rejected the defence counsel's contention that the order granting police custody from November 19 till 10.30 this morning while he was already in judicial custody was 'illegal'. The high court also turned down the seer's plea seeking the presence of an advocate during interrogation in police custody.

This morning, the Kancheepuram magistrate, before whom he was produced, ruled that extension of police custody 'is not necessary'.

Additional public prosecutor S. Jayakumar and police officials supervising the probe into the September 3 murder of Shankar Raman, a former aide of the seer, were crestfallen as Uthamaraj rejected their plea to extend the remand till 2 pm tomorrow. The magistrate ruled there has 'already' been 'sufficient interrogation'.

'We were given only two-and-a-half days. We could question the accused only after he completed his puja and other religious activities,' Jayakumar argued.

The magistrate ordered that the seer be taken back to Vellore Central jail, where his judicial remand would continue till November 26.

Draped in a bright yellow shawl over his saffron robes, the religious leader looked confident for the first time since his arrest 11 days ago. The packed courtroom saw some lively exchanges when the magistrate put questions to the acharya. Asked if he was given proper food in police custody, the seer smiled and nodded.

Asked whether government doctors had examined him in custody, he shot back: 'Thrice daily.' When the magistrate asked if he had faced any harassment, the seer said: 'Illai, Illai (No, No). Nobody harassed me.'

'Onrum Illai, Nichaiyama Illai (Nothing, definitely not),' he said, smiling, when the magistrate asked if he had suffered any injury.

There was a burst of laughter when the additional public prosecutor told the magistrate the seer was 'happy' in police custody.

BJP chief L.K. Advani today called on the Kanchi mutt's junior acharya, Vijayendra Saraswati.

If Advani voiced concern at the way the Jayalalithaa government has handled the seer's arrest, so did Karunanidhi. 'The way the sankaracharya has been dealt with is too much,' the DMK leader said.

Karunanidhi, who had earlier welcomed the arrest as an 'honest action' of the police, told reporters one could not 'forget' that there had been 'many personal matters' between the chief minister and the seer. He pointed out that the arrest was made two-and-a-half months after the murder.

'What happened in between' What are the reasons for the delay' They (government) say investigations. But if one sees reports that come now, there are doubts even in this.'

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