Did income Tax probe nudge Tamil star Sarath Kumar to merge his party with BJP?

The actor reportedly facing fine for taking Rs 2 cr for election expenditure in 2016

Sarath Kumar BJP (File) Actor-politician Sarath Kumar (centre) merges his party with the BJP in presence of parrty's state president K. Annamalai (right) and National Secretary Arvind Menon | X

On March 12, a week after signing an electoral pact with the BJP in Tamil Nadu, actor-politician R. Sarath Kumar disbanded his party All India Samathuva Makkal Katchi (AISMK) and merged it with the BJP. The merger happened in the presence of BJP State President K. Annamalai who welcomed Sarath Kumar into the party. “This is just the beginning. This is not my decision, but, the decision of the people,” said Sarath Kumar.

As the actor merged his party with the BJP, Tamil social media platforms got busy rolling out memes trolling the actor’s decision to merge his party. A former Rajya Sabha MP and a MLA from Tiruchendur, Sarath Kumar on Wednesday clarified that it was his conscious decision and he doesn’t care about memes or criticisms.

Who is Sarath Kumar?

Called as ‘Supreme Star’, actor Sarath Kumar began his political career in 1996. It was the era when the Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK was hugely unpopular following her foster son V.N. Sudhakaran's grand wedding ceremony. Actors like Rajinikanth, Sarath Kumar and others backed the DMK and the G.K. Moopanar-led Tamil Maanila Congress combine and campaigned for the front. The TMC-DMK alliance swept the polls.

He contested the 1998 Lok Sabha polls from Tirunelveli constituency on a DMK ticket and lost. Subsequently, Sarath Kumar was nominated to the Rajya Sabha on a DMK ticket by then party chief M. Karunanidhi. Later, Sarath Kumar fell out with the DMK only to join the AIADMK led by Jayalalithaa. In 2006, after he had a difference of opinion with Jayalalithaa, Sarath Kumar floated his own political outfit All India Samathuva Makkal Katchi (AISMK). Hailing from one of the majority communities in the South, Sarath Kumar had the backing of the Nadars in Tirunelveli and Thoothukudi region. 

With this strength in 2011, he joined the AIADMK alliance and won from the Tenkasi constituency as MLA. In 2016 again, he contested assembly polls from Tiruchendur constituency on AIADMK ticket against DMK strongman Anita R. Radhakrishnan and lost.

Sarath Kumar has not been very active in politics since then as most of his supporters had quit his outfit to join either of the two Dravidian majors. During the 2021 assembly elections, he was part of an alliance led by Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam and was allotted 26 seats. 

On March 12, when he joined the BJP, its State President Annamalai said, “He called me at 2am in the night to confirm that he is merging his party with the BJP. He joined the party unconditionally with the sole purpose of supporting our prime minister.” 

But, what pushed Sarath Kumar to go for this “conscious decision”?

While there were several media reports that his daughter Varalakshmi was summoned by the NIA in a drug case, she dismissed it claiming it to be “false.” Incidentally, one of her former personal assistants, Adilingam, lodged in the Puzhal prison now was accused of dealing with drugs, arms and ammunition. 

But political circles in Chennai are abuzz with the star’s newfound bonhomie for the BJP. Incidentally, in 2017, Sarath Kumar was summoned and questioned by the Income Tax department for taking Rs.2 crore towards the 2016 election expenditure from a businessman in Chennai. On May 9, 2017, the principal director of income tax (PDIT) sent a note to the director-general of income tax investigation, detailing the way cash was distributed to voters in the run-up to the 2016 assembly polls. 

In an exclusive report, THE WEEK in 2019 wrote how cash for votes played a huge role in buying the people's mandate during the 2016 assembly general elections. A note from the Income Tax department accessed by THE WEEK then revealed how money was distributed for buying votes. 

The note from PDIT cites documents seized in December 2016 from a businessman’s office in Chennai. During the investigation, Sarath Kumar also came under the Income Tax scanner. Sarath Kumar, who contested from the Tiruchendur constituency in AIADMK ticket, had allegedly taken Rs. 2 crore which was acknowledged by his daughter Rayane as per the PDIT note. In April and May 2017, the IT department recorded the sworn statements of both Rayane and Sarath Kumar, in which they admitted to having received Rs 2 crore from a businessman. “The cash was received by my daughter… who informed my staff about it. The sum of Rs 2 crore was received towards acting and producing a film. I would account it as income in 2016-17 and pay the necessary tax at the earliest,” he told the IT officials as per the PDIT note. 

According to highly placed sources in the state BJP, Sarath could not pay the Income Tax dues as he did not have many cinema opportunities in the recent past. Also, the interest towards the Income Tax fine amount had bloated turning into a huge burden for the family. Incidentally, his wife Radhika’s media company, Radan Media Works, had also come under the IT scanner during the past decade. 

While the BJPians in Tamil Nadu feel that Sarath’s entry into the party could help them get the Nadar community votes in Tirunelveli, Tenkasi region, the ‘Supreme star’ seems to be the new film star from Tamil Nadu to have come out clean after getting into the ‘BJP washing machine.’

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