Running with the hares...
Tamil Nadu CM M Karunanidhi likes to think he is a protector of Tamils and does everything he can to secure that reputation. But when it comes to the crunch, and particularly on an issue like the Sri Lankan Tamils, which is riddled with political landmines, he gives the impression of running with the hares and hunting with the hounds. It’s happened in the past, most recently in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections when every political party tried to get electoral mileage out of the endgame in Sri Lanka (that saw the annihilation of the LTTE) but Karunanidhi found his hands tied because of his alliance with the Congress. We know that for the Congress, the LTTE and particularly its slain leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was a pariah because of his role in the assassination of former PM Rajiv Gandhi at Sriperumbudur on May 21, 1991. After frustratedly watching all other political parties raise the Sri Lankan Tamil issue to hysterical heights, Kalaignar jumped in and enacted the spurious fast – breakfast to lunch – to get back in the game. That the Sri Lankan Tamil issue was not a primary electoral issue was borne out by the results of the Lok Sabha elections, although many Congress candidates including our home minister P. Chidambaram suffered a serious erosion of votes because of a campaign against the party by pro-Tamil outfits. That’s another story, this one is about Karunanidhi trying political callisthenics and failing because he knows electoral arithmetic (read an alliance with the Congress) is what keeps him ahead in the poll sweepstakes.
Recently the Chief Minister tied himself up in knots over the Nalini issue. After 19 years in prison, her question was that if the CM had liberated other prisoners who had done 14 years' time as his gift for Anna’s centenary, surely she qualified as well. But Nalini is no ordinary prisoner and that’s something Karunanidhi could not say out loud even if his government’s probation officer certified that the 44-year-old woman was fit for premature release. Nalini had earlier caught a lucky break because her act of becoming a mother in prison led to the widow of the slain PM, Sonia Gandhi, seeking and getting her death sentence commuted to life. Luckily for the CM although earlier he said he could not take a “unilateral” decision on Nalini’s plea, he did not have to deal with this hot potato of an issue as the Prison Advisory Board (PAB) -- ordered by the high court after Nalini approached it two years after the first PAB rejected her plea for freedom -- stepped in and said that with no regret from her about being involved in such a heinous crime, she could forget about a life outside the four walls of Vellore prison where Priyanka Gandhi met her two years ago.
A wrong number
Now even on Nalini’s latest petition, questioning the legality of the PAB’s decision to reject her premature release plea, officials of the Special Prison for Women say they recovered an active mobile phone from a toilet in Nalini’s cell. They claim international calls were made to London and Canada where many LTTE sympathizers live. The superintendent of the prison, R Rajalakshmi, and other staff claim they recovered the active mobile during a surprise check around 6 a.m. this week. Nalini reportedly threw the mobile into the toilet and even tried to flush it with a bucket of water, but it was recovered from the sewage junction box.
“We will take action against Nalini for violating prison rules,” says additional director general of prisons Dr K.R. Shyam Sundar. Mobile phones are banned in prisons and like drugs it’s no secret that they find their way to inmates. But Nalini’s counsel, Mr P. Pugalenthi, says the whole episode was a drama staged by Karunanidhi’s government so that the public will forget the callous way LTTE’s late leader V Prabhakaran’s sick and old mother Parvathiammal was treated. “It was also staged to strengthen the case against Nalini’s premature release,” he says. According to him, “They brought the phone from outside the prison and planted it there so that they could implicate her and add a bad remark to her prison record.” According to the lawyer, Nalini had never violated any prison rules since she was incarcerated 19 years ago.
He says that the staff’s motive was revenge because Nalini had earlier complained to K.R. Shyamsundar that she had been facing harassment from the prison staff over the past few months and therefore wanted to be shifted to Puzhal prison. Cynics wonder whether Karunanindhi has found an alibi to extricate himself from a political minefield and made the Nalini issue go away.
Intelligent or intelligence
When LTTE’s late chief Prabhakaran’s 81-year-old mother Parvathiammal headed to Chennai last Friday for treatment after suffering a paralytic stroke and the stretcher carrying her was sent back to Malaysia, the CM claimed he had no idea, “because the Centre had not informed my government.” The CM accused MDMK general secretary Vaiko and Tamil National Movement leader Nedumaran, both of whom had “secretly” gone to the airport, of gaining political mileage. But it does not say much for the Intelligence apparatus that the CM of a state does not know when such a crucial episode takes place. It says even less when important opposition leaders – one of whom was a charismatic leader in the DMK 16 years ago till he left to found his own party – head to the airport and the CM is in the dark. Nedumaran’s version was: “The lady has been struck by paralysis. She was granted a six-month medical visa and was to stay in my house while being treated. How could they send back an ailing elderly lady after granting her a medical visa? What danger could she have caused here?”
Incidentally, Parvathy’s daughter Vinodhini was expected to come from Canada to help her mother and then take her back to that country. But as it turned out, the authorities did not allow Parvathy to get off and she had to return by the same plane a couple of hours later. No surprise that opposition parties labelled it an “inhuman and merciless act”. Now the CM, claiming that he got to know of Parvathy’s plight only after she took to the skies on the return journey, says: “If Parvathiammal wishes to take treatment here, we shall write to the Centre.”
And when the heat is on, he has done what he normally does – blame his bête noire, AIADMK chief Jayalalitha. His defence is that Jayalalitha’s government had on May 5, 2003 written to the Centre to put the names of Prabhakaran’s parents Velupillai and Parvathy on the ‘blacklist/prior approval category list because their entry into the country may not be desirable” as they were linked to the banned LTTE and Nedumaran. What he does not say is that he had almost five years to undo what Jayalalitha had done, but did not. After all she has never claimed to have any pretensions about her role vis-à-vis Tamils.
Speaking of Tamil, Karunanidhi’s son Azhagiri took off to Maldives this week ostensibly because he could not speak in Tamil in Parliament. He has been ducking meetings with Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar although she has called him for a discussion. He has incurred the displeasure of the PM because he did not take permission before absenting himself. He had another reason to throw a tantrum, this time against his father who has ordered that no one in his party should rush to the media with interviews and statements concerning party affairs or alliances.
It must seem like a déjà vu for Azhagiri who was given a similar gag order at the behest of his father 10 years ago when his actions and statements were harming his party. This time his statements making it clear that he would never accept Stalin as a leader, although the latter has all but been anointed by his father. Karunanidhi has now issued his “firm and final warning”. Azhagiri has not said anything but they say actions speak louder than words. The next step would be to remove him as a cabinet minister and put his step-sister Kanimozhi in his place. But the disgrace – unless he’s given a compensatory sop in TN – will only make him lash out and that is something Karunanidhi would like to avoid. Talk of being between a rock and a hard place.