Twenty years ago, a well known bar hotelier and civil works contractor, Vellappally Natesan, was roped in by some of the priests of the Sivagiri Mutt, the spiritual centre for the Ezhava community, including the then prominent Swami Saswathikananda, to stop the BJP’s attempts to enter into the ranks of the spiritual centre. Since then, Natesan has come to be the unquestionable leader of the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP), an organisation which currently represents the interests of the Ezhava community.
In his tenure as the SNDP leader, Natesan used his power to silence dissenting voices and came to harbour political interests. He recently got into an electoral understanding with the BJP for the upcoming local body elections in the state. But, Natesan’s controversial actions and the several allegations against him have caused much unease for the possible BJP-SNDP alliance.
Mired in Allegations
The first allegation of corruption against Natesan was made by CPM leader V S Achuthanandan. He alleged that Natesan has taken close to Rs 100 crore in the last five years for appointments in colleges run by the SNDP. Achuthanandan has also alleged that the SNDP leader has misused the organisation’s micro-finance scheme. This allegation has also been backed by the SNDP’s breakaway group, the Sree Narayana Dharma Vedi.
The most serious allegation has come from businessman and bar hotelier Biju Ramesh who has said that Natesan and his son Thushar planned the murder of Swami Saswathikananda, the former head of the Sivagiri Mutt, in 2002. The swami had died 13 years ago while taking bath in the Periyar River in the town of Alwaye. Ramesh has also said that Thushar had once attacked the swami while they were visiting Dubai together. “The swami had to cut the trip short for this reason and return to India. He was very disappointed,” says Ramesh.
Demands for Reinvestigation
After the murder allegation against Natesan, the opposition has called for a re-investigation of the case with the swami’s relatives also coming forward to demand a CBI probe into the matter. Even the current priest of the Mutt, Swami Prakashananda, is backing the probe.
Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala has already entrusted Assistant Deputy General of Police (ADGP) S Ananthakrishnan to look into the possibilities of reopening the case.
All these allegations against Natesan have upset the BJP. The party has gone on a defensive with BJP state president V Muraleedharan saying that his party had forged an electoral understanding with the SNDP for the upcoming local body elections only and has not entered in any state-wide alliance with the Yogam. Such a statement has given clear hints that the SNDP leader has to face the charges levelled against him all alone. Furthermore, BJP leader Sreedharan Pillai has backed the demand for reopening the investigation. Pillai’s demand clearly reveals the panic that has spread in the BJP state camp regarding the issue.
However, it has been learnt that the central leadership of the BJP has given clear instruction to the state leadership to throw its weight behind Natesan and fight the ‘politically motivated’ allegations. This decision has come at the displeasure of a section of BJP leaders in the state. Muraleedharan was not in the favour of allying with Natesan since the very beginning. Moreover, the news of the central leadership of the BJP projecting Natesan as a chief ministerial candidate had irked the state leadership and this displeasure was evident during a press meet by Muraleedharan.
In response to the allegations, Natesan has said that police had already probed the death of Swami Saswathikanand and concluded that it was a clear case of drowning. “The allegation against me is raised with vested interest and is of a political nature. I am willing to face any probe,” says Natesan.