July 01, 2001
1745 IST


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Bandh may see TN govt, opposition clash

Our Correspondent in Madras

Madras is gearing up for the bandh called on Monday by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in protest against the arrest of party president Muthuvel Karunanidhi, Union ministers Murasoli Maran and T R Baalu and others.

With every political outfit worth the name -- including parties in alliance with Jayalalitha Jayaram's AIADMK -- criticising the arrests, the bandh promises to be total.

But with the ruling party equally determined to defeat the general strike, it certainly does not promise to be peaceful.

The DMK has been pulling out all stops to push the emotional advantage home. With the hugely popular Sun TV (estimated viewership in Tamil Nadu 92 per cent) as its main weapon, the party has been making capital of the graphic footage of the arrest of Karunanidhi and the manhandling of Maran and Baalu.

The party got another club to wield when news broke that Karunanidhi's mother-in-law, eighty-five-year-old Sivabakkiyam Ammal, had died of a massive heart attack on Saturday on hearing of his arrest.

Sivabakkiyam Ammal, mother of Karunanidhi's second wife Raajathi, was in the former chief minister's Oliver Road residence at the time of his arrest. Given her frail health, family members had attempted to keep her from being disturbed by the drama surrounding the arrest.

Family sources indicated that though the lady was in medicated sleep at the time of the arrest, a visitor inadvertently informed her about the events. Shortly thereafter she had a fatal heart attack.

The funeral was held on Sunday evening, but contrary to earlier reports, neither Karunanidhi nor his family members sought parole to attend the funeral. Tamil Nadu Director General of Police A Ravindranath said they had not received any parole applications for Karunanidhi.

According to sources, the septuagenarian DMK president, who has been to jail more than 20 times in various political cases, did not favour the idea of coming out on parole for personal reasons. He is said to have refused to seek parole and instructed his relatives to carry out the funeral without waiting for him.

Expecting Karunanidhi to attend the funeral to see his mother-in-law one last time, hundreds of DMK cadres gathered at his Oliver Road residence. But when they were told that their leader would not come, they dispersed peacefully.

Meanwhile, the Bharatiya Janata Party upped the ante when party president Jana Krishnamurthy said in Madras that the central government would be within its rights to impose President's rule, under Article 356 of the Constitution, in the state. "The arrest of two Union ministers, in violation of all constitutional norms, is sufficient for invoking Article 356," Krishnamurthy said.

"Imposition of President's rule need not necessarily be due to a breakdown in law and order," he explained. "The fact that the state government has chosen to flout the Constitution is in itself reason enough to take such a step."

The BJP boss pointed out that as per the Supreme Court judgment in the S R Bommai case, such a proclamation merely needed ratification in both Houses of Parliament. "Even the Congress, the main Opposition party, has condemned the manner in which Karunanidhi and the two Union ministers were arrested, so there is no reason why the Opposition will not extend support for such a move," Krishnamurthy argued.

The condemnation by the Congress, after some initial attempts spearheaded by Mani Shankar Aiyer, MP, to whitewash the incidents and give Jayalalitha Jayaram an out, has created a danger for Jayalalitha. Equally, her allies -- most notably the Tamil Maanila Congress and the Pattali Makkal Katchi -- within Tamil Nadu have been equally quick off the blocks in officially condemning the arrests.

TMC president G Karuppaiah Moopanar, after a period of silence, came out with a statement condemning the police action. "No democratic set-up could accept such actions," Moopanar said, calling the treatment of "one of our seniormost politicians" utterly deplorable.

Jayalalitha's other key ally, Dr S Ramadoss of the PMK, stopped short of condemning the actual arrest, but said, "The police swoop on the residence of the former chief minister, disregarding his advanced years and the office he had occupied, was indefensible. The arrest," he added, "could have been effected smoothly and in a civilised manner."

Condemnation also came from the state unit of the Congress, with TNCC(I) president E V K S Elangovan using the word "deplorable" to describe the incident, and asking, "What was the rush to arrest Karunanidhi in the middle of the night, was there a fear that he was going to run away from Tamil Nadu?"

The political consensus was that the TN police, obviously under instructions from Jayalalitha, had indulged in overkill. Two other influential leaders who echoed the words of Moopanar and Ramadoss were TMC-DF president and former Union minister P Chidambaram, who said that "such incidents had never been witnessed in a democratic nation", and Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham leader V Gopalaswamy (Vaiko), who condemned the police action as ``atrocious and high-handed''.

"This act exposes the political vindictiveness and the jungle raj of the Jayalalitha regime,'' Vaiko said, while demanding the immediate release of Karunanidhi and other arrested leaders.

Janata Party president Dr. Subramanian Swamy, whose love-hate relationship with Jayalalitha Jayaram is the stuff of legend, issued a statement from Boston, USA, in which he said that the arrest and the manner of carrying it out ``violates guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court in the Joginer Singh and D Basu cases and thus constitutes contempt of the Supreme Court."

A further spin was added to the situation when matinee icon Rajnikanth broke his five-year-long silence on political issues and appeared on television to condemn Karunanidhi's arrest.

This assumes significance in light of the fact that it was Rajnikanth who cobbled together the DMK-TMC alliance that swept Jayalalitha's AIADMK out of power in the previous election.

Rajnikanth had prior to the election carried on a one-man crusade against Jayalalitha, helping to build a groundswell of opinion through his fan clubs with a cadre base estimated in millions.

Though there were no public signs of a falling out, Rajnikanth had during the Karunanidhi regime distanced himself from the ruling coalition he had personally cobbled together. Further, he had remained tight-lipped through the campaigning phase of the recent assembly election that saw the landslide victory of the AIADMK and the virtual wipeout of the DMK.

His silence was seen as a token of his disenchantment with the DMK and an easing of his hardline stance against Jayalalitha. With his hard-hitting statement of Saturday evening condemning the arrest of Karunanidhi and the flouting of all human norms by the Jayalalitha government, Rajnikanth appears to have come out of his political isolation and, in the process, swelled the ranks of those opposed to the chief minister.

Given the almost universal condemnation of the arrest and the widespread anger within DMK cadres, coupled with a police force now on the defensive, Monday's bandh promises to be tense, with potential for violence.

Karunanidhi's Arrest: The Complete Coverage

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