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‘Dead End’ review: How a Karnataka minister got away with murdering a lawyer

V Sudarshan’s ‘Dead End’, the murderous saga of a Kerala lawyer in which a minister was the prime suspect, is an indictment of India, where brutal crimes attributed to powerful politicians often go unpunished

Dead End: The Minister, the CBI, and the Murder That Wasn’t By V. Sudarshan; Hatchet India; p.p. 187, Rs 499

Journalist V Sudarshan’s racy writing style has Erle Stanley Gardner undertones. In his saga of real murders, Dead End: The Minister, the CBI, and the Murder That Wasn’t (Hachette India), Perry Mason – the criminal defense lawyer in Gardner’s crime fiction – is a hardworking CBI officer, who later served on the team that investigated the former Prime’s assassination. Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

V. Sudarshan
V Sudarshan

This book is based on a real fact. A simple middle-class lawyer from Kerala, A Abdul Rasheed, was brutally murdered in Karnataka while trying to get justice for a man who had clashed with an influential political leader. Despite warnings that he was in grave danger, Rasheed pursued the case. He was ruthlessly beaten by policemen and then killed. His body was dumped near a train track to make it look like a suicide. The 1987 horror sparked a strike by Karnataka lawyers when Ramakrishna Hegde was chief minister.

Complicity of the police

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has asked its Chennai-based Deputy Superintendent of Police, K Ragothaman, to solve the case after a colleague originally tasked with exposing the killers claimed that Rasheed had indeed suicide. It didn’t take long for Ragothaman to conclude that the previous investigation had been shoddy.

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Once Ragothaman started uncovering the evidence, there were tremors in Karnataka. The politician who apparently wanted Rasheed to disappear was the state home secretary. No wonder the Karnataka police were less interested in getting to the bottom of it all. When Ragothaman cornered a senior police officer close to the minister, the tremors turned into a powerful earthquake. The officers were not only found complicit in the murder of the lawyer, but they were also charged with falsifying information and erasing evidence. The minister panicked and handed in his resignation to Hegde when he realized the net was closing in on him.

It was then that the system ganged up on justice. Some approvers turned dramatically hostile, fear written all over their faces. A judge refused to hear the case, citing threatening phone calls from someone claiming to be from the CBI. Pressure mounted on Ragothaman to remove the politician’s name from the indictment sheet, but he refused to back down. He was even ready to leave the CBI, but would remain committed to the truth.

A CBI special prosecutor, equally passionate about truth and justice, saw his home vandalized. Once Congress lost power at the national level, giving way to a coalition government in New Delhi led by Vice President Singh, those linked to the murky murder of Karnataka, led by Janata Dal, heaved a sigh of relief.

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“I know how to make bodies disappear”

Assuming he could bribe Ragothaman, the politician had the audacity to reach his house one day. There, he made a surprising admission: “If I had disposed of the body myself, there would have been no case. I know how to make bodies disappear, but useless police guys ruined the deal. Ragothaman was made of stronger material. He rejected the politician’s advances and told him to take back a briefcase he had brought stuffed full of cash or face immediate arrest.

Unfortunately, the CBI officer – unlike the always successful Perry Mason – was unable to convince the court who the killers were. It wasn’t his fault though. He remained sincere. But suddenly CBI bosses in Delhi didn’t seem so eager to pursue the killers.

When the prime suspect is a powerful politician and the accused are members of the police, and the location happens to be India, even a cold, well-planned murder can end with no one being punished. The gripping murder story ends with an indictment of India, a country that calls itself the world’s largest democracy but where, even today, brutal crimes attributed to powerful politicians often go unpunished.