Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Thursday, Jul 11, 2002
Jayalalithaa: In the eye of another storm
THE Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Ms J. Jayalalithaa, is right back at the centre of another political controversy. Her government has opened its account on POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) by invoking it for the first time in the State on July 9 and arresting eight MDMK functionaries for their utterances eulogising the LTTE.
One of the functionaries, Mr Ganeshamurthy, is a former MP, and another Mr P. S. Pandian is a former MLA. But the MDMK General Secretary, Mr Vaiko, continues to be out of the net as he is in now in the US. But now, with the Tamil Nadu police having obtained a non-bailable warrant against him from the Tirumangalam magistrate, the stage is set for his arrest as soon as he returns from the US on July 11.
Ms Jayalalithaa's case which she first took to the court of the Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister, Mr L. K. Advani, by writing a demi official letter is that at a meeting held at Tirumangalam in Madurai district on June 29, the MDMK chief waxed eloquent on the virtues of the LTTE and proclaimed, "Yesterday I supported the LTTE. Even today I am supporting the LTTE. Even tomorrow I will continue to support the LTTE. I am not afraid of POTA. I have faced even more draconian laws than POTA."
Describing these utterances against a banned organisation as "audacious and outrageous", Ms Jayalalithaa had told Mr Advani that she had no other option but to arrest Mr Vaiko under POTA for his "blatant support for the terrorist outfit in total disregard and defiance of the laws of the land."
But what must have made Mr Advani and the BJP top brass uncomfortable was her barb that unless "such provocative outbursts are dealt with firmly and with an iron hand, supporters of several fundamentalist organisations... such as SIMI, Al Qaeda, and so on, will get emboldened" and expect the government to "remain a mute spectator".
In more ways than one, this is a masterly stroke by the AIADMK supremo to proceed against a political opponent at the State level, and leave the NDA government red-faced at New Delhi. After all it was this government that had brought in POTA with so much fanfare, in the face of such stiff resistance from Opposition parties, such as the Cong(I) and the Left.
Though such NDA allies as the Telugu Desam Party had reservations, Ms Jayalalithaa was among the first chief ministers from an opposition party to welcome POTA. After September 11, and the attack on Parliament, the NDA government had argued that it required such a law that gives sweeping powers, such as making arrests without a warrant to tackle effectively the serious threat from Islamic fundamentalists and terrorists operating in India with Pakistan's support.
The last thing Mr Advani and company would have expected was to get POTA invoked against one of its own allies in the NDA government. Ms Jayalalithaa only knows too well that Mr Vaiko cannot be expected to climb down even an inch from his high-voltage support for the LTTE and its chief, V. Prabhakaran. So there is no way in which he going to save any embarrassment to the NDA government by either watering down his stand on the LTTE or saying that he had meant anything less than he actually had.
In a statement issued from Chicago, Mr Vaiko has described Ms. Jayalalithaa's decision to invoke POTA against him and his party's functionaries as "political vendetta" and "repressive action."
If the BJP was looking for any straw to clutch on to in his defence, all that the MDMK General secretary is prepared to say at the moment is that he and his party will continue to support LTTE and raise its voice for the cause of Sri Lankan Tamils in a peaceful manner. In this quest, he is prepared to face any "repressive measures" unleashed by the ruling AIADMK in Tamil Nadu. After all, the LTTE had not indulged in any violence or terrorism in either Tamil Nadu or India recently, runs his argument.
So, the man who even defied the DMK chief, Mr M. Karunanidhi, on several occasions over the LTTE issue while he was still in the DMK, and even called on the LTTE chief clandestinely and without using a passport, will not be seen watering down his admiration and support for the Tamil Tigers.
As for the BJP, it has come out with only muted responses to Ms Jayalalithaa's move. While Mr Advani has weakly said that the issue is under the State Government's domain, and that he has called for a report from his Ministry over the issue, the BJP general secretary, Mr Arun Jaitley, has also given a guarded response over the development. When asked a couple of days ago in Delhi how the BJP-led NDA could have in its fold a party that is openly supportive of a banned organisation, he said, the NDA was, after all, bound by a common minimum agenda: "There are certain issues which are not part of the NDA agenda. If anybody is supporting a terrorist organisation, there has to be evidence to substantiate the charge and invoke the provisions of POTA. The quantum of evidence has to be seen and assessed."
That was hardly saying much. When further quizzed on the "misuse of POTA", Mr Jaitley could only mumble that no penal law had been drafted till date, which was not capable of being misused. But there were enough safeguards in POTA to prevent its misuse. If there are, Mr Vaiko, his friends and lawyers will have to search hard to find them. In the meanwhile,
Ms Jayalalithaa has exercised uncharacteristic caution in proceeding with her onslaught against the MDMK. Unlike the last time when she had rushed in to place Mr Karunanidhi behind bars, without a valid arrest warrant, this time, she has gone about the task with cool calculation. First came the letter to Mr Advani, written at the beginning of July and accompanied by video evidence of Mr Vaiko's pro-LTTE and provocative rhetoric. Next came the FIRs and the charge-sheets not only against Mr Vaiko, but also eight others who had waxed eloquent over the LTTE's cause at the same meeting.
And though POTA allowed her the option to make the arrests without warrants duly issued by the court, she was careful enough to move the Tirumangalam Magistrate's court, get valid non-bailable arrest warrants against the MDMK leaders and then make the arrests. For Mr Vaiko, the court had to be approached a second time for the warrant, as initially the magistrate had refused a warrant against the MDMK chief.
So, the stage is set for some more fireworks in Tamil Nadu. Dravidian party cadres have not taken their leaders' arrest lying down. The MDMK has already announced picketing programmes and agitations at district- and taluk-levels on July 12, after Mr Vaiko's arrest and it will be a challenge for the law enforcement machinery to ensure there is no mayhem or violence.
So, what is the message Ms Jayalalithaa is sending to the NDA government through this operation? For one, she is embarrassing the NDA government, which will look incarcerated if it is not able to come to the defence of an NDA ally.
The last time around and in the Karunanidhi episode, it was easy for the NDA government to come to his defence because the whole exercise was done in an unseemly hurry and without any groundwork.This time, she has kept the Central government informed and also gone through legal processes.
Unintentionally or otherwise, she has placed one-time ally, the Cong(I), also in a delicate position. Though a vehement opponent of POTA, the Cong(I) cannot be seen either supporting or sympathetic to anybody who is pro-LTTE.
And so the TNCC chief, Mr E. V. K.S. Elangovan, has finally given a statement supporting the legal action against Mr Vaiko, but opposing the use of POTA for this purpose.
But above all, the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Ms Jayalalithaa, has in a deft move, told the NDA in no uncertain terms that it is she and her party, who are the allies of the BJP and not the MDMK or the DMK.
After all, in the letter to Mr Advani, she used the words "the so-called ally of the NDA", while referring to the MDMK!
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