Media Bias: Recalling the Kanchi Shankaracharya case – S. Gurumurthy

Tamil Nadi Chief Minister Jayalalithaa and Kanchi Shankaracharya Jayendra Saraswati before their falling out.S. Gurumurthy“When I asked [the SP in charge of the investigation] why he was suspecting the Acharya to be the offender, he said that the victim had been sending highly offensive letters to the Acharya and therefore he had a motive to eliminate him. I asked him whether he thought of the possibility of someone inimical to the Acharya eliminating the victim to put the blame on the Acharya. He was blank.” – S. Gurumurthy

Media bias in the Indian mainstream media.When the Principal Sessions Court in Pondicherry on Wednesday (November 27) acquitted the Kanchi Sankaracharyas, Jayendra Saraswathi and Vijayendra Saraswathi, and all the others charged with the murder of Sankararaman, my mind recalled the arrest of the Sankaracharya in November 2004 and the unprecedented vicious atmosphere created by the Dravidian ideologues and parties, secular media and even liberal intellectuals against the Acharya. They sat upon the Kanchi Mutt, held the Acharya guilty and more and spread all kinds of unmentionable canards about him and the Mutt and hurt beyond words the millions of peaceful spiritual followers of the Mutt, who cried in silence with no one to console them.

No debate on the Sankaracharya judgment will be complete without recalling the vicious and hurtful discourse against the Acharya and the Mutt and how the ancient institution and its faithful underwent the all round assault and pain silently. When the entire spectrum of secular, human rights and liberal megaphones had turned against the Mutt and the Acharya and desecrated them, it was only The New Indian Express which stood for what it believed was right — namely that the Mutt and the Acharya were being hounded without basis and the case itself was groundless. The judicial verdict exonerating the Acharyas and all the others charged with the crime implies that the entire case was misdirected. 

But, based on counter investigation, The New Indian Express said so within days of the arrest of the Acharya. “The Case Is Dead. Who Will Do The Funeral And When?” This was the title of third of the five articles on the Sankaracharya case that appeared in The New Indian Express. This article appeared on November 24, 2004, exactly 12 days after the seer’s arrest on the auspicious Deepavali day. The article opened thus: “On counter investigation, we found the case against the Sankaracharya not just slippery, but actually groundless from day one. Not just that. It involves a bit of fabrication too. Yes the fabrication to fix the Acharya. The police are running for cover. They may not give up yet and may fabricate more to put the case which is dead on life support system. But the case is irretrievably lost.”

The dramatic turn came on Wednesday in the Kancheepuram Magistrate court. The two criminals on whom the police had exclusively relied to name the Sankaracharya as an accused in the case have actually turned to accuse the police as the fabricators of the case itself. The court judgement now pretty much says the same thing. [emphasis added] The New Indian Express carried four more articles in my name on the Sankaracharya case. The first article titled “As the Sankaracharya stands like Abhimanyu” [NIE 23.11.2004] captured the Dravidian political and secular media theatre in the state which were hounding the hapless Acharya stung and stunned by the heinous charge against him.

Kanchi SP Prem Kumar: He was Jayalalithaa's personal choice!The Acharya was damaged more by the false news items planted by the police which the willing secular media and Dravidian megaphones lapped up to defame and discredit the Acharya. Another article titled “Unless the Case is Reinvestigated, Justice will not be Done” [26.11.2004] detailed how on the procured testimonies of hardened criminals the state was telling the judiciary that the Sankaracharya was “the worst criminal”. The fourth article dated 3.12.2004 was on how the case had ceased to be an investigation into a crime and had become a vicious campaign to demolish the Acharya himself. The article ended thus: “Even if, at the end, I am entirely proved wrong, I cannot shirk my duty to alert the public and sensitise the authorities about the destruction of too many values involved in this investigation which is gradually turning into a battle between the silent and silenced Kanchi Mutt on the one hand and police and its associate, the media megaphones on the other. It is no more an investigation into crime … it is now a larger design to defame and discredit the Mutt itself.” The final article titled “Will the Secular Media Heed Justice Reddy’s Warning?” appeared on January 14, 2005. This article was on the judgment of Justice Narasimha Reddy of the Andhra Pradesh High Court before whom a frivolous writ had been filed by some labour union on the basis of media reports linking some deaths [which had taken place six years ago on the premises of a mill, from where the Acharya had been arrested] to the Acharya.

AP High Court Judge Reddy: A sane voice amist the rabid barking of the media.Disposing of the writ, the judge said the petitioner swayed by the media did not want to lag behind in the unprecedented process of denigration of the Kanchi Mutt, an ancient, prestigious and glorious institution with almost a 2,500-year history. He added that it was sad that an institution of such glory was targeted and persecuted in an organised manner in an independent country, by “not only individuals, but also a section of the institutions, such as the State and the Press”. He also noted that the proponents of human rights, fair play and dignity to individuals and institutions have maintained stoic silence, adding “a powerful section is celebrating or watching it with indifference” the “perfidy against the Mutt” that had shocked the nation and beyond”. He noted that the “amount of disrepute and sacrilege inflicted on Sri Jayendra Saraswathi has no comparables adding that harshest possible words were used directly or in innuendo against him” and “today he is subjected to similar treatment as was Draupati in the Court of Kauravas”. That was the state of the Acharya and the Mutt when The New Indian Express stood for truth against tsunami of vicious campaign against the Acharya.

The reward for these articles was an arrest warrant against me and almost a search on The New Indian Express and even the Thuglak magazine, which had carried the Tamil version of the articles. As usual the judiciary came to the rescue and passed orders restraining the state. I was questioned by the Superintendent of Police who led the investigation. When I asked him why he was suspecting the Acharya to be the offender, he said that the victim had been sending highly offensive letters to the Acharya and therefore he had a motive to eliminate him. I asked him whether he thought of the possibility of someone inimical to the Acharya eliminating the victim to put the blame on the Acharya. He was blank. [emphasis added] I told him that the criminal investigation has to exhaust all the possibilities before opting for one particular view. That is precisely what the police in the Sankaracharya case failed and neglected to do. The result was a huge and costly lapse — and great hurt to a noble institution and to its silent and peaceful faithfuls. The Sankaracharya case verdict is a lesson for all — the police, state, media and the liberals — every one of them sided with the police and against the Acharya. Will they now introspect? – The New Indian Express, 28 November 2013

India's liberal secular newspapers had a good time maligning the Shankaracharya and the Kanchi Math!