The Madurai bench of the Madras High Court on Wednesday convicted 10 persons accused in the 2007 Dinakaran newspaper office attack case. The Division bench of Justices PN Prakash and B Pugalendhi ordered three consecutive life imprisonments for nine of the accused including ‘Attack Pandi’, a close aide of former Union Minister MK Alagiri. All nine of them were found guilty of murder of three people, who were killed when the newspaper office was set on fire. The quantum of punishment for the 10th convict will be pronounced on March 25. Rajaram, a retired DSP who has been convicted in the case will have to appear before the bench on March 25 to receive the quantum of sentence.
Six other accused have been acquitted in the case. Saravanamuthu, another accused, died during the course of the trial.
"For the supine indifference shown by the police in failing to protect the lives of Vinoth Kumar (D1), Gopinath (D2) and Muthuramalingam (D3), we impose vicarious liability and direct the State of Tamil Nadu to pay a compensation of Rs 5 lakh each to the families of the bereaved, within a period of three months from the date of receipt of a copy of this judgment," ordered the Madras HC.
The conviction of the accused comes 12 years after the Madurai office of Dinakaran, a Tamil newspaper, was attacked, resulting in the death of three people. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) which was handling the case named 17 persons in its chargesheet including a then Deputy Superintendent of police.
Amongst those who have been awarded life imprisonment are Attack Pandi (A1), Arogya Prabhu (A3), Vijya Pandi (A6), P Kandasamy (A7), G Ramaiah Panian (A9), V Sudhakar (A12), Thirumurugan (A14), Ruban (A15), and Malik Batcha (A16). The court has further ordered the Tamil Nadu government to offer a solatium of Rs 5 lakh to the families of the three persons - Vinod, Gopinath and Muthuramalingam - who were killed in the attack.
In December 2009, all 17 accused were acquitted by the district sessions court as the case had reportedly not been proven beyond all reasonable doubt. In March 2011, the Madras High Court allowed an appeal challenging this decision by the CBI.
The case dates back to 2007 when the Dinakaran, a Tamil newspaper belonging to the Sun Group headed by Kalanithi Maran, had carried out a survey stating that MK Stalin was the preferred heir to then DMK President M Karunanidhi.
The paper had in fact published two surveys in quick succession. A survey published on May 5, 2007 had talked about who was the most effective central minister from Tamil Nadu. The survey had given Dayanidhi Maran the highest ranking and showed other ministers like P Chidambaram and Anbumani Ramadoss in poor light. Within days, the next survey appeared- on Karunanidhi's heir- this one giving MK Stalin a clear lead- with Kanimozhi and Alagiri getting minimal votes from people.
On May 9, 2007, a mob led by ‘Attack Pandi’ and other supporters of Karunanidhi’s elder son MK Alagiri, hurled petrol bombs at the Dinakaran office in Madurai. The attack left three employees dead.
The publication of the survey and the subsequent attack on the Dinakaran office caused a major rift in the DMK family between Karunanidhi and his grandnephews Kalanithi Maran and then Union Minister Dayanidhi Maran, who was then forced to step down.
After the Dinakaran burning incident, Karunanidhi distanced himself from the Marans and had given Alagiri a clean chit. The DMK leader had spoken about the incident emotionally in 2008. "When Alagiri and Kanimozhi had not engaged in any attempt to claim to be my heir, such surveys giving them two percent chances were published with malicious intent. I never dreamt that these two children (Maran brothers) who were always holding my hands, when they come of age, that their success and growth, will make them act against me." The families however reconciled a few months later.
Note: The article had earlier erroneously stated that 16 people were convicted in the case, whereas the final order of the court clarified that only 10 were found guilty. The piece has been edited to reflect the same.