Badminton, chats with pals: Raja at home in Tihar

It has been over three months since former telecom minister Andimuthu Raja has been cooling his heels in the capital`s Tihar Jail for his suspected involvement in the 2G corruption scam.

New Delhi: It has been over three months since former telecom minister Andimuthu Raja has been cooling his heels in the capital`s Tihar Jail for his suspected involvement in the 2G corruption scam. And in place of the sullenness and shock of the initial days are friendly chats with fellow inmates, morning walks and evening sessions of badminton, jail sources say.

"Unlike many other high-profile accused stationed in Tihar, Raja seems to have adapted to jail life easily in a short period. Initially, in the first week, he was not talkative or interacting with other inmates, but now he seems to have become friendly with the other inmates in his ward," a jail official said to a news agency on condition of anonymity.

Most of his newfound friends are serving life sentences.

"He seems to stick to the routine," the official added.

Jail sources said Raja, who was arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) Feb 13 and was taken to the jail Feb 17, has never thrown any tantrum at any point of time.

Raja, a prominent Dalit face in the DMK, became the union communications minister in 2007. He is accused cheating, criminal conspiracy and corruption in the selling of scarce second generation (2G) telecom airwaves to favoured companies at a fraction of their actual cost, causing huge losses to the exchequer.

A total of 12 of the 14 people chargesheeted by the CBI in the 2G scam, including top bureaucrats and corporates, are lodged in Tihar. Raja is stationed at Jail Number One in Ward Number Nine.

"Raja usually takes a one-hour walk from 5 am to 6 am inside the ward premises. He has become friendly with the 14 other jail inmates in the ward. He has become so friendly that he had shared his home-cooked food with other inmates," the jail official said.

"For the first few days, the tiffin box that came from Raja`s home was small and only for him. But after a few days, the box became bigger, with south Indian food like idli, vada, sambar for breakfast and sambar, rasam and curd rice for lunch. All this he shared with his newfound friends," the official said.

Apart from watching television and reading newspapers and books, Raja also plays badminton with the inmates in the evening.

The jail official also said Raja is much more disciplined as compared to others.

"The only special demand he made was for Tamil newspapers, which has been provided to him," the official added.

According to the source, Raja has stopped getting home cooked food for the past few days. "He is eating jail food and he has complained about its quality," the official said to a news agency.

Raja seems hooked to snacks from the Tihar canteen, which he shares with fellow inmates as well. The canteen, which mostly sells packaged snacks and cold drinks, is inside the complex and one has to pay through coupons.

According to Sunil Gupta, law officer and spokesperson of Tihar Jail, since the jail`s inception in 1958, using money has been prohibited inside the prison premises.

"But the visitors of the accused, who visit them twice a week, can pay Rs 1,000 a visit to the jail authorities (which adds upto Rs 8,000 a month) and in return get coupons, which they can then be passed over to the accused," Gupta said to a news agency.

Raja has a separate cell of 15 ft by 10 ft for security purposes, and Ward Number Nine also houses two senior police officers.

The first is SS Rathi, former assistant commissioner of police convicted in the 1997 Connaught Place shootout case, and the other is RK Sharma, former Indian Police Service (IPS) officer jailed for killing journalist Shivani Bhatnagar.

"As of now there is no chance of Raja coming out of jail," a DMK MP said to a news agency not wishing to be identified, hinting that DMK chief M. Karunanidhi is instead pitching for the release of his 43-year-old daughter Kanimozhi, who too has been in Tihar since May 20 in connection with the case.

"I think Raja knows it and has reconciled to the fact," the MP added.


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