Kancheepuram, Nov. 12: Charged with murder, the sankaracharya of Kanchi was rounded up last night in a manner that drew a furious response from the holy man.
'Am I a Veerappan' Swami Jayendra Saraswati, one of the five supreme Hindu religious leaders, asked police officers escorting him.
Brought from Hyderabad, where he was arrested, the sankaracharya refused to get into a police vehicle similar to the one used in the operation against the forest brigand a month ago.
The seer's arrest, as the 'prime accused' in a temple murder, has shaken up the religious establishment and stirred the political pot with appeals going to the Prime Minister to intervene against the action by the Jayalalithaa government.
Picked up by a Tamil Nadu police team from Mehboobnagar, near the Andhra capital, the sankaracharya was flown to Chennai on a rain-drenched Deepavali (in South India it was observed yesterday) night and taken to Kancheepuram where he was remanded in custody in Vellore jail till November 26.
After his angry reaction, a senior police officer drove the seer in his own car to Kancheepuram. It was in this ancient holy town that Shankar Raman, the manager of the Sri Varadaraja Perumal temple, was murdered by hired killers on the evening of September 3 on the premises.
The sankaracharya's lawyer, Y. Thyagarajan, said the seer had been booked under IPC sections that relate to murder (302), criminal conspiracy (120-b), abetment and screening of evidence.
He said the charges 'were baseless and vindictive, based on some confessions by third parties not connected with the Kanchi Mutt in any way'.
Cuddalore superintendent of police N. Premkumar said the seer was held on the basis of information provided by two of the accused arrested on November 9. 'We have a lot of documents' to show that the sankaracharya was linked to the killing, Premkumar said.
Later, in Madras High Court, the public prosecutor cited what he called evidence of contact between the sankaracharya and the assailants, withdrawal of large amounts of money around the time of the murder from a certain bank and the corresponding recovery of a substantial chunk of the cash from the killers.
In the bail application, the sankaracharya proclaimed innocence and said he had already been questioned by the police on several occasions and had cooperated with them.
The court declined the prayer of the seer's lawyers to allow him to stay in a special house until the bail application is heard. This means the 69-year-old sankaracharya will have to spend the night in jail. The bail plea will be heard tomorrow.
Political observers said Jayalalithaa's sudden action in arresting the sankaracharya, who was close to the BJP-led NDA, was aimed at thwarting the Opposition DMK from making an issue out of the murder. She fought the last Lok Sabha elections with the BJP.
DMK chief M. Karunanidhi left little doubt which side he was on. He congratulated the Tamil Nadu police for its 'honest piece of action'.