From obscurity to notoriety, the journey of a small-time businessman from a nondescript corner in western Tamil Nadu to international attention was quick, bizarre and bewildering. What remains to be seen now is how the case would pan out.
T M Ramalingam is basking in the limelight now, it doesn’t matter if the ‘stardom’ came in the form of Income Tax raids and hours of grilling — a status usually reserved for billionaire businessmen and politicians.
A commodity broker in groundnut and coconut, Ramalingam became the centre of attraction after I-T officials raided his house on December 31 following a tip off that he was in possession of $ 5 billion worth of US treasury bonds, one of the most valued financial instruments in the world, which, however, is not traded in India. But after scrutiny officials said they were not treasury bonds but international bills of exchange. Since the raid, he has been answering officials and the media alike, reiterating that the documents were genuine and indeed his.
The news that Ramalingam was in possession of such riches was greeted by astonishment by the people in Upputhuraipalayam near Dharapuram, who knew him as a reasonably well-off businessman, but not one who is rich enough to be in the elite list of moneyed Indians.
According to locals, the 46-year-old hails from Chettiar caste, a largely successful trading community, who shifted base from Pollachi to Dharapuram near Tiruppur in the mid-90s with his family. His house is modest and has an Innova MPV, and few other visible signs of affluence or opulence. His wife is a homemaker and they have two school-going children - including son Bharanidharan in whose name he apparently proposed to set up a petroleum refinery at Thondi in coastal Ramanathapuram district. The district collector and the Registrar of Companies denied that any company has been registered there.
The mediapersons who rushed to his home were stumped by the cheerful demeanour with which Ramalingam welcomed them. There were no signs of stress on the man who could lose his billions — and even spend time in prison — who unhesitatingly confirmed that there were raids, seizure and that the documents were indeed his. He obliged accompanying lensmen who clicked his pictures sitting on the couch and standing near the gate, sporting an unperturbed smile.
The bewilderment soon led to wild speculation, with some raising questions whether this was