ANNACHI’S SAGA: SC confirms life term for Saravana Bhavan owner Rajagopal — charged with killing an employee to grab his wife

Jeevajyothi and the villain of the piece, Rajagopal.


CHENNAI: The Supreme Court on Friday confirmed the life term awarded by the Madras High Court on the owner of the popular Saravana Bhavan restaurant chain, P Rajagopal. This is in connection with a case in which he was charged with killing one of his employees — who married a woman Rajagopal had an eye on. The case, as it turned out, was more sensational than a crime-thriller romance movie.

The murder of employee Shanthakumar took place in 2001, and the case was ongoing for too long. In 2009, the Madras HC sentenced him to life term, and he went in appeal to the Supreme Court. The body of Santhakumar had been recovered from Perumal Mala in Kodaikanal. Rajagopal is known among his employees as Annachi, a Tamil term for businessman.

Jeevajyothi … at centre of Saravana saga ….

As per the case, Rajagopal proposed to Jeevajyothi, daughter of one of his assistant managers at a Chennai branch. Since Rajagopal had already married two women in the past, she refused to marry him. She eventually married Shantakumar in 1999. 

In between, her father Ramasamy had left for Malaysia to take up some work there. Ramasamy was against his daughter marrying Shantakumar, he being a Christian. 

Two years later, the couple filed a complaint with the police, saying Rajagopal and his men threatened them with dire consequences if the two lived together. Within days, Shantakumar was kidnapped, leading to his murder after dramatic developments. 

One argument in court was that Rajagopal was told by an astrologer that he would become super rich if he married one of his employees’ daughter, Jeevajyothi. This was seen more as a tactic by his lawyers to reduce seriousness of the crime. Rajagopal is now aged 71, and he was given time until July this year to surrender, this delay based on cited “health” grounds.

It was in 1994 that Rajagopal met Jeevajyothi at an employees’ get-together. At that time, she was a Plus Two student and she lived with her parents at the Saravana Bhavan employees’ quarters in KK Nagar. Rajagopal took a fancy on her. 

However, by then, she was already in love with Shantakumar, who was taking tuition for her brother. 

A while later, her father quit the job with Saravana Bhavan, and the family moved out of the quarters. Later, one day, Jeevajyothi’s mother approached Rajagopal, seeking help for her son-in-law and daughter to start a small-time business. Rajagopal, instead, started a new set-up and employed the couple there. Thus, the family again fell into Rajagopal’s trap. Rajagopal used one of his aide, Daniel, to eliminate Shantakumar, as per the case.

After kidnap of Shantakumar, Rajagopal forcibly kept Jeevajyoti in his custody for two weeks. During she sensed something was seriously going wrong. An initial attempt to kill Shantakumar did not succeed. He was killed in a second attempt by Rajagopal’s gangsters. 

Rajagopal is 71 and his business empire is worth US$1 billion. Saravana Bhavan is among the top South Indian restaurant chains, with presence in over 20 countries and across continents. It has over 20 restaurants in India, all of them well-run. IHN-NN


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