His daughter is 13; her son is 12. When darkness closes in on them, they are uppermost in their mind. Behind a locked cell, former central minister Andimuthu Raja thinks of his daughter. Now out of jail — where son Aditya was always in her thoughts — Rajya Sabha member M.K. Kanimozhi makes sure that he travels with her to Delhi, even though it’s a city he’s not greatly fond of.
Jail is not something that the parliamentarians from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party want to talk about. For Kanimozhi, party strongman M. Karunanidhi’s much-loved daughter, the experience is too raw to recount. For Raja, Karunanidhi’s close lieutenant, the ordeal is far from over.
“Loneliness is hard to beat inside the jail,” says the former telecom minister.
His day in jail No. 1 at the Tihar Central Jail starts at five in the morning. He takes a walk on the grounds, watches the news on his 14-inch colour television set — the one source of entertainment that’s been provided to him — and then reads papers and books connected to his case.
In the evenings he often plays a game of badminton with other “celebrity” inmates housed in Tihar. When the clock strikes 11, Raja has to call it a day. The former telecom minister sleeps on the cemented floor, to wake up again before dawn.
When The Telegraph catches up with him, he is at the Central Bureau of Investigation court at Delhi’s Patiala House, where his case is up for a hearing. Dressed in a pristine white starched shirt with long sleeves and a pair of black trousers, he looks relaxed. When the court breaks for 30 minutes, he moves around the visitors’ corner outside the courtroom, attending to party members who have gathered to meet him with a big smile. He offers them coffee and biscuits.
Raja is not eager to talk about his time in jail, but opens up bit by bit. His wife, M.A. Parameswari, is by his side, and he plays with her sleek gold bangles as he speaks. “She is the source of all positive energy,” he says, patting her back.
Kanimozhi, on the other hand, stresses that she is still not ready to talk about her jail days. She is sitting in her sixth floor apartment — part of a residential complex for parliamentarians in Luytens’s Delhi — 20km yet light years away from Tihar jail. Dressed in an off-white embroidered kurta matched with cream pyjamas and dupatta, she sits on a black leather sofa in her living room.
Her son is in an adjoining room. Most of her afternoons are spent with Aditya, who studies at a Chennai school. “He hates Delhi but he will be here for a week with me,” she smiles. Clearly, she is making up for her all the days lost.
Raja and Kanimozhi are the two most high-profile accused in the multi-crore-rupee 2G spectrum scam. They have been charged with criminal conspiracy, cheating and forgery under the Prevention of Corruption Act. Kanimozhi, jailed last May, has been on bail for the past five months. Raja has been in jail since he was arrested in February last year. “This is a learning experience for me,” he says. “I have to overcome this challenge.”
Kanimozhi’s time in jail was filled with “lonely” moments, says an associate. She took long walks on the campus every morning and evening. “By now, she must be aware of every brick in the walls of the jail,” the associate adds.
While Kanimozhi mostly kept to herself, Raja likes to have people around him. “He loves to interact with people,” says a jail source. Occasionally, he even insists that his party members be allowed to meet him when visitors are not allowed. “We also get calls from the office of Mr Karunanidhi asking us to grant him permission to meet his party members at odd hours. But we cannot entertain such requests,” says the source. The ailing Karunanidhi went to visit his 44-year-old daughter thrice when she was in jail. Every time, it was an emotional reunion. But being kept away from her son was what upset her the most.
Raja too shares a strong bond with his daughter. Their birthdays fall on the same day — October 26 — and his wife points out that they have spent every birthday together. “Though he often fails to remember our wedding anniversary in February, he can never forget to be with his daughter on her birthday. Usually, we throw a party or go out for a good dinner to celebrate the two birthdays together,” she says.
Last year was different. There was no celebration with Raja in jail. “Our daughter made a special card for him and gifted it to him in jail. He was overjoyed but was quite emotional,” Parameswari says.
But Raja, a follower of E.V. Ramaswamy — the leader of the Dravidian movement — calls himself a fighter. “I am a born fighter. Injustice has happened to me and I will fight till the end. Only fighting gives me the ultimate strength,” says Raja. Parameswari adds that Raja has always been inspired by Tamil superstar Sivaji Ganesan’s Deiva Magan — a film about a man with a scarred face who fights all odd.
For Kanimozhi, on the other hand, strength came from the epic Mahabharata. “I finished reading the Mahabharata in jail. It gave me a lot of strength,” Kanimozhi says, measuring every word as she speaks.
She also spent many evenings going through parliamentary proceedings. “She would religiously follow every event in Parliament, especially during the Anna Hazare episode last August,” says the jail source.
The problems of women inmates concerned her too. “In most cases, women have been forced by their family members to accept charges of crime they haven’t committed. I want to do something for them but that is possible only after my case gets over,” she says.
Like with Raja, language was a problem for Kanimozhi. Both speak English and Tamil but are not fluent in Hindi, which made it difficult for her — and continues to pose problems for him — during interactions with Hindi-speaking inmates. “But Kanimozhi’s Hindi improved in those six months. From five words, her vocabulary went up to 20,” one of her associates says.
Since both are from Tamil Nadu, they are accustomed to their regional cuisine and found it difficult to get used to north Indian food. Raja has been given permission to get food from home on health grounds. His wife provides him with home-cooked sambar, sabzi, roti and curd rice thrice a day. “He loves pepper mutton but he is not allowed to eat non-vegetarian food in jail,” his wife rues.
Kanimozhi was served home-cooked food — usually sambar rice and curd rice — twice a week. “She is not a fussy eater. She managed with whatever was served inside the jail. If she wanted anything else, she bought it from the jail canteen,” says the jail source.
Kanimozhi seldom drew attention to herself. Even now, when she is in court where her case is being heard, she sits quietly in the back, leaving her lawyers to fight out the legal battle for her.
Raja, on the other hand, is in the thick of the proceedings. He is also fighting his own case — along with his lawyers — and intervenes every now and then. “It is my case and I have to follow every bit of it,” says Raja, a qualified lawyer.
Raja may file for bail once former telecom secretary Siddarth Behura, also in jail, gets bail. We have to get rid of the case,” Parmeswari says with grim determination. “I religiously visit the Sai Baba and Shani temples twice a week.”
The family is not planning anything to mark his homecoming though. “Our last holiday was in Russia two years ago. Maybe we will plan a holiday after he is out. But now we are just keeping our fingers crossed,” she says.