A kind of mystery stuff added to the high drama in the massive income tax searches across Tamil Nadu on Thursday. It was one of the biggest raids in the history of the Income Tax department. It’s been 24 hours since over 1,000 officials swooped down almost simultaneously on over 150 properties in Tamil Nadu linked to big fish.
To carry out searches on such an unprecedented scale, the income tax department had to adopt a trick, faking a wedding entourage. The department hired more than 300 cars from a city operator and had stickers ‘Srini weds Mahi’ on all of them to carry officials to various destinations early on Thursday.
The shock value didn’t just come from the politically rich people raided, but by the mere magnitude of the operations. The taxis had stickers affixed to the front as well as on the rear to ensure the operation remained top secret. In almost all the searches conducted by the department since the demonetization order came last November, officials of the department had used only department cars.
“Thursday’s searches were on a massive scale and it was not possible to source department vehicles for all officials in Chennai. We then thought of hiring taxis in large numbers and Thursday being an auspicious day for marriages, we stuck stickers to camouflage our arrival at various destinations,” a senior I-T official told.
Secrecy played a huge role in the operation that started around 5.30 am on Thursday. Tamil Nadu which has grown familiar with the Income Tax department’s affinity to ridding the state of black money, woke up to the news of raids at over 150 properties across the state.
Cars moving across Chennai with “Srini Weds Mahi” flyers stuck onto their windscreens, it emerged hours into the raids, were used by Income Tax officials on the trail of the powerful family of jailed AIADMK leader VK Sasikala, former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa’s close aide who took control of the ruling party after her death in December.
Drivers of the taxis were not allowed to use their cellphones until they dropped the officials at their respective destinations. “This again was to prevent leak of information about the searches. Some of the drivers of these taxis are also owners and must be well connected. We told the taxi company that the drivers will not be allowed to use their phones,” said the official.
There were 187 homes, offices and farmhouses to be searched, say officials, and not nearly enough official vehicles. Their list included relatives of Sasikala’s nephew Vivek Jayaraman, the chief of Jaya TV, her niece Krishnapriya, her brother Dhivakaran, husband Jayaraman and nephew TTV Dhinakaran, the sidelined AIADMK leader currently fighting for control of the party.
This massive raid, the latest clampdown by the I-T department against members of the AIADMK, would have been unthinkable even a year back when former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa was battling for her life. But now, not only has the virtual wall of protection around the Mannargudi clan been pulled down, but even the hand of the Tamil Nadu government is evident from the police protection that I-T officials have received across the state.
Individuals and companies linked to Sasikala’s family are accused of massing enormous wealth in the past year. The hiring of such a large number of cars for the raids was bound to be noticed unless it was for a wedding. And that is how “Srini” and “Mahi” saved the day with their “wedding”.
The rented cars were numbered and sent to various points for the raids. Eventually, the wedding stickers came to be the official pass for raid cars to cross police cordons and gates. Tax officials continued their searches.