The political career of S Jagathrakshakan seems to have come full circle with the DMK deciding to field him as a chief ministerial candidate for Puducherry. In Tamil Nadu politics those who have been party loyalists are often overlooked. Jagathrakshakan started his career as a staunch supporter of MGR and as an AIADMK man.
Samikkannu Jagathrakshakan comes from Kalingamalai village in Villuppuram district and is the fifth and youngest child of his parents. After completing his schooling in Villuppuram, Jagathrakshakan moved to Chennai where he completed his post-graduation and B.Ed. He tried to get a teacher’s job.
Like Duraimurugan, a senior DMK leader who is from Vellore under which Jagathrakshakan’s Lok Sabha constituency Arakkonam falls, Jagathrakshakan also started his career from student days. He was a member of the Dravida Maanavar Munnetra Kazhagam, the DMK’s student wing. A hardcore fan of MGR, Jagathrakshakan followed the actor when he parted ways from the DMK and launched ADMK (as it was called then).
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In 1980, Jagathrakshakan contested from Uthiramerur assembly seat and he won against the Congress candidate. Before completing his term, Jagathrakshakan established Bharath Institute of Science and Technology, a professional college, in 1984. He is one of the first politicians who started educational institutions and earned the sobriquet ‘Kalvi Thanthai’. He has set up five medical colleges, including one in Puducherry, and two hospitals.
In 1985, he contested for Lok Sabha and was elected from Arakkonam constituency, which has a large number of Vanniyars. Being a Vanniyar himself, it was a cakewalk for him. Following MGR’s death in 1987, Jagathrakshakan joined the camp of Janaki, MGR’s wife, and MGR’s close aide RM Veerappan who supported Janaki. But leaving the Janaki camp proved futile. In the 1989 assembly election, he ended up in fourth position in Uthiramerur.
He then joined MGR Kazhagam, founded by Veerappan, and the party fought the 1999 Lok Sabha elections along with the DMK. Jagathrakshakan contested under DMK and won from Arakkonam. In 2003, his engineering college upgraded to Bharath University. It is alleged that the medical colleges he runs under the name of Bharath Institute of Higher Education and Research collected capitation fees violating a Supreme Court order in 2009.
In 2000, he floated his own party, the Veera Vanniyar Peravai, which was later renamed as Jananaayaga Munnetra Kazhagam. It was during this time, he was introduced to DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi. Jagathrakshakan was recognized as a well-read person with a deep knowledge of Tamil and for his good oratorical skill, and for blending Dravidian ideology with Bhakti literature.
At Karunanidhi’s behest, Jagathrakshakan merged his party with DMK in 2009. While Jagathrakshakan used to call Karunanidhi ‘anna’ (elder brother), he was fondly called by Karunanidhi as ‘alwar’ as Jagathrakshakan is knowledgeable in Vaishnavism. In 2009, he won from Arakkonam Lok Sabha seat, which is now a coveted seat targeted by DMK and PMK, a Vanniyar caste group.
The bond between Karunanidhi and Jagathrakshakan was so strong that due to the prodding of the latter, Karunanidhi penned the script ‘Ramanujar’, after the eponymous Vaishnavite figure, which was telecast on Kalaignar TV between 2015 and 2017.
As a minister of state, Jagathrakshakan served in the information & broadcasting and commerce & industry ministries.
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Chasing corruption charges
Besides, ‘Alwar’, Jagathrakshakan is also known by another moniker — Gajaanaa, which literally means the treasure trove of the party. He is extremely generous for spending for the party. However, there are serious corruption charges against him, including amassing wealth disproportionate to his known sources of income. In his official declaration, Jagathrakshakan claimed his total wealth in 2009 was ₹5 crore which increased manifold in 2011 to ₹70 crore. By 2019, his wealth rose to ₹114 crore.
In September 2020, the Enforcement Directorate seized properties of Jagathrakshakan and his family worth ₹89.19 crore under the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA). “During the course of investigation under the provisions of FEMA, it has transpired that on June 15, 2017, Jagathrakshakan and his son Sundeep Anand had subscribed to 70,00,000 shares and 20,00,000 shares respectively of M/s Silver Park International Pvt Ltd, Singapore, without obtaining the approval of Reserve Bank of India”, the ED said.
It was alleged that in order to bring him to the BJP camp, the government has revived the investigation related to Chrome Leather factory, which he bought in 1995. A case related to the purchase of the factory was dismissed in 2013. However, the CB-CID has started a re-probe. Jagathrakshakan has clarified he is not joining the BJP.
It is also alleged that a lot of liquor purchases were made from the Elite Distilleries, which is run by his son. When asked about it, he said in an interview: “Those are run by my family. I am running ‘Alwar Aaivu Maiyyam’ — a research center.”
In 2018, lyricist Vairamuthu wrote a paper on Aandaal, a major character in Vaishnavite bhakti literarure, which led to a controversy with the Dravidian ideologues supporting Vairamuthu. But the statement issued by Jagathrakshakan opposed Vairamuthu’s stand and made public that the pontiff of Srivilliputhur Mutt has ended his 10-day fasting after Durga Stalin’s request. This not only became a contentious point for the anti-DMK section, but also disappointed the DMK functionaries. His alleged investments in Sri Lanka also caused a flutter in the party.
At a time when the DMK is facing criticism over the party’s stand against Hindus, the party leadership might have thought that Jagathrakshakan, who is a Vaishnavite and has always been seen sporting a ‘tilak’ on his forehead, would be of help electorally. Besides, his Vanniyar caste identity can help the party to garner votes of that community, which a substantial presence in Puducherry.