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Wednesday, July 04, 2001



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Revenge, arrests, videotapes...

Rasheeda Bhagat

THE messy arrest of the former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Mr M. Karunanidhi, might be behind us. And damage-control exercise might have begun from the Jayalalithaa government which, obviously, does not want to give the NDA Government at the Centre any mo re excuses to impose President's rule in the State.

On the other side, enthused by the Centre's quick and stern response, universal condemnation of the arrests of Mr Karunanidhi and the two Union Ministers, Mr Murasoli Maran and Mr T. R. Baalu, a different kind of drama was enacted in Chennai.

The two Union Ministers were freed on Monday but refused to go home, insisting that until the charges against them, of assaulting police officers and preventing them from doing their duty, were dropped, they would remain `arrested'. Of course, on Tuesday afternoon, better sense prevailed, and the AIADMK Government dropped the charges, in the interest of ``cordial Centre-State relations''.

At the end of the day, however, what will remain in public mind for long will be the strong visuals of a 78-year-old former Chief Minister and elder statesman manhandled by a posse of policemen. The Tamil Nadu police and Jaya TV have now come out with ta pes to prove that the visuals put out by Sun TV channel, owned by Mr Maran's son, Mr Kalanidhi Maran, did not tell the entire truth. According to their version, Mr Karunanidhi's arrest was proceeding well and without much trouble till Mr Maran and his fa mily arrived on the scene. The visuals show a frowning and irritated Mr Maran engaged in an animated debate with the police officers, obviously over the charges on which Mr Karunanidhi was being arrested, and the absence of a warrant. The police video fo otage, which was later telecast by the channels shows Mr Maran hitting a police officer.

From the other side, the charge is that this is all ``trumped up'' and the whole thing is a set-up.

Hair-splitting apart, the biggest casualty in this sordid affair has been the image of Tamil Nadu and its people. Wonders a Mumbaikar: What kind of people would strip a Union Minister down to his undergarments and put that visual on television channels n on-stop for the whole world to see?

Somebody else from Kolkata wonders how long this politics of revenge and retribution will continue in Tamil Nadu. He adds in jest, ``Why not end this battle and acrimony for once and all by putting Mr Karunanidhi and Ms Jayalalithaa in the ring and let t he winner take the State and rule it forever?''

Jest apart, one thing is certain. Having won such a massive mandate from the people, but still in a vulnerable position -- the six-month deadline hangs over her like the Damocles sword -- Ms Jayalalithaa should have shown more restraint in getting even w ith Mr Karunanidhi who had put her in prison after coming to power.

The manner and the hurry in which she and her Government acted only gave her detractors the opportunity to shake their heads gravely and say: We knew this all along. In fact, the news channel run by the India Today group, Aaj Tak, gave the whole episode a touch of the worst of Bollywood when it titled all transmission pertaining to the Tamil Nadu developments ``Jaya ka Badla'' (Jaya's revenge)!

Moving over to New Delhi, the speed with which the NDA team was rushed to Chennai, the pace at which the NDA convenor, Mr George Fernandes, completed his investigations and concluded that Tamil Nadu is a fit case for imposition of President's rule by inv oking Article 356, deserve equal condemnation.

But, then, Mr Fernandes seems to specialise in conducting and completing investigations at break-neck speed. The nation has not forgotten his whistlestop tour of West Bengal a few months ago, ironically at the instance of then-friend-now-foe Trinamool Co ngress chief, Ms Mamata Banerjee, when he concluded that the ``law and order situation in West Bengal was worse than in Bihar''.

Let us move away from Mr Fernandes who, stripped of his position as Defence Minister following the Tehelka tapes, has become a full-time trouble-shooter for the NDA. The Union Law Minister, Mr Arun Jaitley, might have the perfect TV presence as well as t he twin advantage of being extremely articulate in both English and Hindi; he might also know his law well, having practised it for decades. But as he expressed shock over the arrest of the two Union Ministers, one could not but help feel outraged at the tone and tenor of his outrage. Without saying so he almost implied that just because the two were Union Ministers, they should not have been touched.

In short, the threatening noises from New Delhi and veiled threats that the NDA Government just might invoke Article 356, are shameful, to say the least. The NDA Government got egg on its face the last time it invoked this provision in Bihar, and it is d oubtful if it would be prepared to get it again, that too so soon.

But somewhere in the corner of the minds of the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and the Home Minister, Mr L. K. Advani, should reside the unpleasant memories of how the prima donna from Tamil Nadu withdrew support to and brought their government down in April 1999. What a golden opportunity to get even, one might think.

It is doubtful if Mr Vajpayee will bow to pressure from the likes of Mr Fernandes, and attempt to dismiss the Jayalalithaa Government. Anyway, there is no real breakdown of law and order in Tamil Nadu.

Having said that, Ms Jayalalithaa's action and the unseemly hurry to settle scores with her political foes need to be condemned strongly. The manner in which she has gone about the task of settling scores with the last regime, instituting inquiries and a rresting people at the drop of a hat, could get her the title of Lady Hitler.

What surprises one the most is that even after such an unpleasant public display of carrying out her vow to settle scores, the AIADMK supremo still has voices of support, however feeble these might be. It is time she stops harassing bureaucrats to do her bidding, legal and illegal, stops treating the media as her foes and leaves them alone to do their work, and turns her administration's attention to solving the people's problems.

If only she takes the trouble to look, she will find enough to do. How about beginning with Chennai's water problem?

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