July 3, 2001


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The Rediff Interview/ M Venkaiah Naidu

'Jayalalithaa is afraid of  herself'

Union Minister for Rural Development M Venkaiah Naidu discusses the Tamil Nadu crisis with Senior Editor Sheela Bhatt.

Why did the Tamil Nadu government arrest former chief minister M Karunanidhi and other DMK leaders after midnight on June 30?

She (TN Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa) is seething with anger. She wanted to take revenge. She does not care for public opinion. She does not care for the media. She thinks she should do all these things before her six month tenure (Jayalalithaa has to be elected an MLA within six months) expires. She is not sure about her continuance. She is not sure about the future of her cases in court.

According to me, there is a wider message in what she has done. This is not just the case of Karunanidhi or (Union Commerce Minister Murasoli) Maran. Of course, she wanted to insult them, harass them… that is one message she has given. Simultaneously, she has given another message, 'whoever threatens me, whether it is the media, advocates, public prosecutors… this is the treatment.' Otherwise, I fail to understand how any administration can stoop to such a level.

After all, you have just come to power. You have to focus on development. Then, nothing prevents you from going through the previous government's corruption and failures. Study it, investigate it. Nobody can prevent you from filing the cases.

You have just come to power, and from day one you are harassing people. The former deputy speaker has been arrested. A former minister was arrested when he went to check the quality of rice in the godown. Is this democracy?

What about the alleged Flyover scam?

There are methods to deal with irregularities. She asked the corporation commissioner to file the chargesheet. He refused. She transferred him, got somebody who was earlier suspended on corruption charges. That man simply obeys and issues orders. On the basis of that, an FIR (First Information Report) is filed without anyone's knowledge. The same night the former CM is arrested at 1.30 am. You ill-treat central ministers who had gone there, beat them, arrest them. You make central minister (T R) Baalu wait on the road for four hours. All this shows she wants to take revenge and threaten others.

Is she disappointed with the Centre's stand on her cases before the Supreme Court?

She has to fight it there. The Centre will not and cannot interfere in the cases. The state CM cannot dictate to the Centre to take a certain stand. She has no locus standi vis-ŕ-vis the attorney general.

Is it true she wanted good relations with the National Democratic Alliance government after she returned to power in May, but her attempt failed?

So you arrest people, you violate the law, you arrest ministers?

What will the fallout be on Centre-state relations?

Centre-state relations are definitely strained. There is no doubt about it. The chief minister has gone to the extent of attacking the prime minister. In her statement, she called the Union ministers "street rowdies" and "goondas." This is the respect she has shown the Centre.

She said the prime minister did not call her; the PMO spokesman said he did. What is the truth?

I can't speak about it because I was not present. The point is very simple -- she can go to any length. She calls everybody names. I don't think there is need to comment. Her government's behaviour speaks for itself. 25,000 political workers have been arrested, this was never heard even during the Emergency. I am informed there is no space in the jails. People are kept in open places. They are not given food. At night some of them had no shelter from the rain.

Is this the way a democratically elected government behaves? She has been convicted. She is on bail. Still, she wants to behave like this and settle political scores. She is not allowing the law to take its own course. I am not saying Karunanidhi or the central ministers cannot be prosecuted. But she is threatening everybody. She has done something not done by any government.

There is a procedure to arrest central ministers. The same thing can be repeated anywhere in the country. Tomorrow, the Tamil Nadu CM could be arrested by the Delhi police. How do you ensure the federal structure of governance? How do you ensure the proper functioning of the Constitution? This is a violation of the Constitution by the state administration. Forget about the police or minister's behaviour .The very act of arresting them is unacceptable.

She did not told the Centre. She did not complain against them. She simply thinks she has a right to do whatever she wants. Does she expect us to keep quiet? We are concerned about the manner in which the state police has been used. Our ministers have been arrested by a provincial government. This is the message we are giving to the state government: This has never happened; This cannot be allowed to happen.

What are the Centre's options?

There are many options. The Centre can give directions to the state. If the Constitution breaks down, the Centre can intervene. Under Article 355, the option is available to send directives. This has a very devastating effect on the federal structure of the country. A provincial government has arrested central ministers without proper application of law. The chief minister has not informed the prime minister. One of the ministers had a pacemaker. People thought he was gone (dead), but he survived.

You treat them in a way even killers are not treated. His body was lifted up. His dhoti was torn. It all happened after midnight. A new dimension has been added which the creators of the Constitution never visualised. Nobody realised before that a state government could go to such an extent.

Tomorrow, a state government can arrest India's home minister. They can go further. Our judges can be arrested. A ruler must have the spirit of the Constitution in mind. I am not surprised by the Congress' views on the subject. If a Congress CM goes to a non-Congress-ruled state and if he is arrested there, are they going to keep quiet? The Congress should rise above its narrow thinking.

The Congress thinks then governor Fatima Beevi should not have been made a scapegoat.

Are they suggesting action against Jayalalithaa? They don't have the courage to condemn her. The governor is duty bound to inform the Centre. S/he is appointed by the Centre. Two central ministers are arrested and the governor did not bother to inform the Centre.

Do you agree the Centre has limited options since the NDA does not have a majority in Parliament?

So what? Wait and see. What can be done and what we can do. The country is watching how the Congress behaves now. If the Congress does not want to safeguard the Constitution, it is their outlook.

Remember, Maran was left alone when he fell down. The police ran away thinking he was gone (died). Something had happened to him. The ambulance was called. He was taken to hospital. He was arrested much later. After that they concocted a story and informed him about his arrest.

Why should the prime minister not speak to the chief minister?

Why should we explain? Jayalalithaa should explain. Why did she not come forward? She should have explained to the prime minister and President: 'Sir, this has happened. Ministers have been arrested. These are the circumstances under which they were arrested.' The courtesy calls were expected. It is her responsibility.

In her press release...

Nobody believes her statements. Nobody. She is totally isolated. What happened to Karunanidhi, to the ministers and to the system has pained the prime minister. She knows what she has done. She is convicted. There are other cases pending against her. The way advocates and prosecutors resigned, all these speak for itself. She must be getting agitated about those issues.

If Karunanidhi had been arrested after a thorough inquiry, they would not have been this much reaction. The way this government has behaved, no one has supported it except one man -- Mani Shankar Aiyar! They have no option, but to release the ministers. The fact is, Jayalalithaa is afraid of herself.

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