Searches by Income Tax officials are continuing for the second successive day at multiple premises across various cities, including Karur and Coimbatore, connected to Tamil Nadu Minister for Electricity, Excise and Prohibition Minister Senthil Balaji.
The tax authorities searched the premises of Senthil Balaji's brother V Ashok and other close relatives on Friday(May 26).
A mob of DMK cadres assembled before the residence of Ashok and attempted to prevent the IT officials from entering it. Visuals emerged of DMK cadres gheraoing a woman I-T official when she tried to gain entry into the house of Ashok.
The DMK cadres allegedly damaged a car used by income tax officials. The windscreen of the vehicle was also damaged. Cases were filed in Karur under five sections against DMK cadres for obstructing an officer from performing his duty and damaging property.
The raids at the locations linked to the Kongu strongman left the DMK leadership shellshocked. Chief Minister MK Stalin is currently on an official foreign trip to Singapore and Japan.
The IT raids come days after the Supreme Court quashed an order by the Madras High Court staying the proceedings in the money laundering case lodged by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in a recruitment scam against Senthil Balaji.
The cash-for-jobs scam pertains to his tenure as Transport minister between 2011 and 2014 in the Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (ADMK) government led by late CM J Jayalalithaa.
During his tenure as the Transport Minister in the ADMK government, Balaji is alleged to have entered into a criminal conspiracy with then managing directors of all State Transport Undertakings (STUs) and other officers of transport corporations to secure illegal gratification from candidates to recruit them as a driver, conductor, junior tradesman, junior assistant, junior engineer and assistant engineer in the transport corporations.
CM Stalin's Man Friday
Since joining the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in 2019, Balaji has seen his political fortunes soaring, even ruffling the feathers of veteran party functionaries and senior ministers.
In a move that even shocked DMK insiders, Balaji landed two crucial portfolios in CM Stalin's cabinet.
In the run-up to the 2016 state election, Stalin, who was then the leader of the opposition, made grave allegations against Balaji (then in the ruling ADMK) during the campaign trial.
Stalin charged Balaji with indulging in corruption, kidnapping, extortion and collecting funds for a member of the Sasikala family with whom Balaji is said to have enjoyed a close relationship. However, after switching allegiance to DMK, the resourceful Balaji found his way to the inner coterie of Stalin and his family. His rise in DMK was seen as a reward for his closeness to DMK's first family.
Within months of the DMK government assuming office, Balaji began to face charges of indulging in large-scale corruption in signing energy deals. He also faced criticism for his inept handling of the power shortage in the state.
Balaji, who spearheaded the party's campaign in Erode East bypoll, was also accused of orchestrating massive cash distribution to ensure the victory of Congress candidate EVKS Elangovan.
Many political observers in the state criticised the unprecedented scale of cash distribution in the run-up to Erode East bypoll with ruling DMK and Balaji, in particular, facing charges of indulging in multiple rounds of cash distribution and confining voters in halls to secure them from opposition allurement. Balaji's stock increased further after the ruling alliance candidate won a landslide victory in the bypoll.
Balaji also was in the eye of the storm after bar owners and TASMAC workers protested outside his house, alleging irregularities in awarding tenders to run bars attached to TASMAC. Many bar owners from Thoothukudi alleged that some people had been using the name of Balaji to demand the 'mamool', ranging from Rs 30,000 to Rs 60,000 per month based on the sales, from each of the TASMAC bars.
Balaji's Rise And Fall In ADMK
The rise of Balaji is also attributed to his skills as a powerful political organiser in the western districts of Tamil Nadu. His political graph witnessed a meteoric rise, which local observers attributed to his enormous monetary power.
During his tenure in the ADMK ministry between 2011 and 2014, Balaji, who then enjoyed proximity to Jayalalithaa and Sasikala, wielded enormous influence. Several allegations of corruption rocked his tenure as Transport minister.
For a brief period between 2011 and 2013, Balaji emerged as the most influential minister in the ADMK government.
Balaji's name, among some other senior leaders, was doing the rounds as Jayalalithaa's choice to replace her following her conviction in a disproportionate assets case by a Bengaluru special court in September 2014. However, she nominated O Panneerselvam (OPS) for the post.
Balaji was at the forefront of organising prayers across the state for the release of Jayalalithaa from the case. He even carried a ceremonial firepot and tonsured his head after she was acquitted (he had vowed to do it if she was acquitted).
Balaji was however ousted from the ministry in 2015 after he fell out of favour with a relative of Sasikala and other key figures in the Poes Garden power apparatus.
During the 2016 state assembly elections, Balaji was shifted out of his traditional Karur seat and forced to contest from the neighbouring Aravakurichi constituency. The Election Commission countermanded the election to the Aravakurichi seat over brazen misuse of money and power by Balaji and his DMK opponent, who was also a powerful local businessman.
After the demise of Jayalalithaa, Balaji was a part of the ADMK faction led by TTV Dhinakaran before joining the DMK in the 2019 elections.
Despite SC restoring the criminal complaint against him and IT department investigating him for dubious financial transactions, Balaji will likely brazen out, knowing fully well that he enjoys the unbridled support of the DMK first family and his criticality to DMK's plans of making inroads in the traditionally weak areas of western Tamil Nadu.
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