P. Rajagopal (businessman)
Rajagopal with his sons in 2010
|Born||5 August 1947|
|Died||18 July 2019 (aged 71)|
|Occupation||Founder of Saravana Bhavan|
P. Rajagopal (5 August 1947 – 18 July 2019) was the founder of the Saravana Bhavan chain of restaurants based in Chennai, India. Born in rural Tamil Nadu into a farming family, and with little education, Rajagopal built a global restaurant chain. In later life, he was convicted for a 2001 murder, and began serving a life sentence in July 2019. Several days after his imprisonment, he had a heart attack and died.
Rajagopal was born in Punnaiyadi, a tiny village in Tuticorin District, Tamil Nadu, India. His father was an onion seller; his mother was a homemaker. In 1973, a few years after he came to Madras, he started a general provisions store in K K Nagar. In 1981, he opened his first restaurant, Saravana Bhavan, in Madras. By 2019, his company had expanded to 127 restaurants in 24 countries, employing about 5,000 people.
On the advice of an astrologer, he obsessively tried to take Jeevajothi, the daughter of one of his employees, as his third wife, but she was already married and rejected him. He orchestrated multiple threats, beatings and exorcism against her and her family. In 2001, after one attempted murder, he successfully orchestrated the murder of her husband Santhakumar. He was sentenced to life for the murder.
Life sentence for murder
In 2009, the brand value of the restaurant chain plunged after the founder Rajagopal was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Madras High Court after being convicted of the murder of employee Prince Santhakumar in 2001 and sexual harassment of Santhakumar's wife Jeevajothi. Jeevajothi was the daughter of one of his assistant managers. Rajagopal wanted to marry Jeevajothi, but she was already married to Santhakumar. Santhakumar was kidnapped and his body was found strangled a few days later in a resort town in the Western Ghats mountain range. Rajagopal was freed on bail for medical reasons while his case was appealed to the Indian Supreme Court. However, a judgement was passed enhancing his prison term to a life sentence, upholding a lower court's conviction.
Supreme Court upholding
On 29 March 2019, the Supreme Court of India upheld Rajagopal's murder conviction and life imprisonment. As per the order of the Supreme Court, he would have to surrender to the authorities by 7 July 2019 and would have to spend the rest of his days in prison. Rajagopal surrendered to the authorities on 9 July 2019. Although his counsel pleaded for an extension of bail on medical grounds, the plea was rejected by the Supreme Court, which ordered the tycoon to "surrender immediately". Rajagopal also sought exemption from surrendering and pleaded that his hospitalisation time be treated as time spent behind bars. The court rejected this.
After surrendering on 9 July 2019 to serve his life sentence, Rajagopal had a heart attack on 13 July 2019. The Madras High Court granted permission to transfer him from the prison ward of Stanley Medical College Hospital to Vijaya Hospital in Chennai, where he died on the morning of 18 July 2019.
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- Vasudevan, Lokpria (16 July 2019). "Saravana Bhavan founder P Rajagopal critical, on ventilator". India Today. Retrieved 18 July 2019.
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