The former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Mr. M. Karunanidhi, was arrested at the Oliver Road residence of his second wife during the early hours of Saturday, 30-6-2001 on charges of corruption. Selectively edited video footage of the arrest were telecast over Mr. Murasoli Maran's TV channel, Sun TV, within minutes of the arrest. The channel repeatedly played a three-minute edited version of the three-hour drama and alleged that the police, when enforcing the arrest, had exceeded their brief and even assaulted the former Chief Minister in total disregard of his stature and age. They went a step further and virtually incited violence in the State by calling upon viewers to register their protest. This by itself violates the Cable TV Act and Sun TV is liable to have its licence cancelled. But I believe in the freedom of the press. And as such, I have refrained from taking such precipitous action against Sun TV, only in the larger interest of a free press, which is one of the pillars of a working democracy.
That most of the news purveyed by Sun TV in this connection was false and motivated is clear from the fact that they even repeatedly aired a story claiming that Mr. Karunanidhi's first wife, Mrs. Dayalu Ammal, and daughter, Ms. Selvi, had been arrested, which is far from the truth.
The official footage of the arrest drama, released to the media on Sunday by the Chennai City Commissioner of Police, told a different story altogether from the version put out by Sun TV. Quite naturally, these contradictions have raised a lot of questions in the minds of the people and the media. I shall now try to pose some of these questions myself and give you the answers to the same:
You are trying to stifle press freedom in the State judging by the confrontationist stand you have chosen to take.
On the contrary, I have the highest regard for the media. I would rather say that for some reason, it is the Press that has chosen to take a confrontationist stand. I would like to elaborate on this subject.
The media themselves appear to be a little confused about what press freedom really means. For example, when Mr. Suresh, a reporter of Sun TV, accompanied Mr. Ponmudi to a Civil Supplies godown in Villupuram where they effected an illegal entry into the premises by breaking open the lock, he was arrested by the local police and kept in custody for interrogation. The offence is one of criminal tresspass. And this was not being done by the reporter concerned in the course of his duties as an investigative reporter. On the contrary, he was an accomplice and a witness to an illegal activity of a political person and as such there was no justification to raise the banner of press freedom.
The following day, at the Secretariat, when I was told that representatives of the Reporters' Guild wanted to meet me personally and present a memorandum, I readily agreed. But before that, press persons assembled at the Secretariat chose to stage an ugly demonstration, waylay my convoy and conduct a road block agitation, totally impervious to the difficulties and hardship it might cause to the public.
Is this press freedom, if I may ask? On the day I assumed power, the police, in the interest of security, stopped the traffic for a few minutes for my convoy to pass. The same press persons raised hell when they met me and I immediately instructed the Commissioner of Police that there was to be no more stoppage of traffic for my sake. This is being followed to this day. Such being the case, how do these same mediapersons condone the difficulties they have caused to the public by their own road block agitation? Why these double standard?
You say that I am anti-press. Yet, within days of my assuming power, my Government opened the doors of the State Assembly wide open to the media. Today, Tamil Nadu can boast of being perhaps the only State where the people can see first-hand what their elected representatives are saying and doing in the Assembly. Unfortunately, no journalist, media house or media organisation has thought it necessary to compliment my Government for such openness and transparency and for giving such a big boost to press freedom!
Why, even in the Karunanidhi arrest, I am sure you will appreciate the fact that the camera crew of Sun TV were freely allowed to film the entire sequence. The police were well within their rights to have prevented the camera crew from entering the place. Even after the event, they could well have confiscated the recorded tape on the grounds that it was material evidence. Yet none of these acts was done. This is a clear indication that my government is committed to a free press.
What is the justification for the arrest of Mr. Karunanidhi?
Mr. Stalin, as Mayor of the Corporation of Chennai, has committed grave irregularities in the construction of 9 fly-overs in Chennai city at a cost of Rs. 193 crores. Documentary evidence exists to the effect that over Rs. 12 crores have been swindled by Mr. Stalin and his associates. There could possibly be much more undocumented siphoning of funds. Corruption of this scale in a single deal was possible only because the State Government headed by Mr. Stalin's father, Mr. M. Karunanidhi, colluded to give the Mayor unlimited financial powers.
In the first place, the concept of constructing fly-overs had emanated from the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority as part of their Traffic Action Plan. This plan had been prepared by a private team at a total outlay of Rs. 366.05 crores and included the construction of 12 fly-overs and the widening of Napier bridge. A High-Level Traffic Improvement Committee was constituted under the Member Secretary of the CMDA to oversee the implementation of this project. When Mr. Stalin took over as Mayor, he was confronted by two problems. First, the construction of fly-overs was not under his purview. Secondly, under the MCMC Act, 1919, the Mayor had to refer any financial transaction over Rs. 7.5 lakhs to the State Government for approval.
With great speed, an Ordinance was promulgated in December, 1996, amending the MCMC Act, and prescribing a monetary limit of Rs. 50 lakhs for sanctioning estimates and award of contracts by the Mayor. In the same amendment, a provision was made for prescribing rules for approval of contracts beyond Rs. 50 lakhs. This Ordinance became Act 22 of 1996. Subsequently, rules were framed prescribing that contracts exceeding Rs. 50 lakhs shall be approved by the Government.
Later, through GO Ms No. 301 of the Housing and Urban Development department dated September 4, 1997, piloted at the behest of the then Minister for Transport, Mr. Ponmudi, and approved by the then Chief Minister, Mr. Karunanidhi, the Mayor, in other words, Mr. Karunanidhi's son, Mr. Stalin, was made the chairman of the Traffic Improvement Committee. As such, the construction of fly- overs, which the CMDA had proposed, was brought directly under his control. Thereafter, in March 1998, an amendment was made to the MCMC Act by which the clause relating to the Mayor's financial powers was deleted altogether. As a result, the Mayor was given unbridled control over financial transactions without the necessity for clearances from the State Government, even if it was his father's! What followed were kickbacks in the awarding of contracts, over-invoicing of materials cost, etc., resulting in documented siphoning of funds to the tune of Rs. 12 crores and undocumented corruption of several more.
This was Mr. Karunanidhi's role - that of a facilitator in the corrupt activities of his son. All these facilities were extended to the Chennai Mayor, Mr. Stalin, only because he happened to be Karunanidhi's son. The Mayors of Madurai, Coimbatore, etc., do not enjoy such powers. And it was for making inquiries into this that Mr. Karunanidhi was arrested.
When officials of the CB-CID came to arrest Mr. Karunanidhi at the residence of Mrs. Rajathi Ammal, did they exceed limits of decency and decorum?
The police team headed by DIG Mohammad Ali followed all norms of decency. They made a polite entry into the ground floor of the house. They patiently explained the purpose of their visit to the servants who opened the door. They tried to communicate with Mr. Karunanidhi or his family members who were upstairs over the intercom. Only after eliciting no reply, did they go up upstairs. Again, they spent nearly ten minutes knocking at the door which leads to the hall upstairs. Only after eliciting no reply did they enter the hall. Thereafter, they knocked at the bedroom door of Mr. Karunanidhi and Mrs. Rajathi Ammal. They communicated with Mrs. Rajathi Ammal through the closed door. They waited till the door was opened. They waited further till Mr. Karunanidhi summoned them inside the room. Even here, the women police preceded the men. Thereafter, they made clear in Tamil, the grounds of the arrest. Mr. Karunanidhi readily agreed to accompany them to the offices of the CB-CID. All this comes out very clearly in the police video. When Karunanidhi claimed at his press meet that he was not informed about the reason for his arrest, he was lying.
Mr. Karunanidhi and Mrs. Rajathi Ammal were given enough time to freshen up and they emerged a few minutes later smiling and in good humour. As such, there was never any question of the police having exceeded their limits or misbehaved in any way. It is to be noted that the police entered Mr. Karunanidhi's room only at his invitation. There was no question of their breaking open the door and barging into the room. Therefore, to say that the police broke open the bedroom door, barged into the room, beat up Mr. Karunanidhi and forcibly dragged him away is a total falsehood - but Karunanidhi himself has uttered this shameful lie and almost all newspapers and TV channels in the country have reported this lie. The police video tapes clearly show that Mr. Karunanidhi, Mr. Maran, Mr. Baalu and Sun TV are deliberately propagating despicable lies.
Sun TV accuses the police of having assaulted Mr. Karunanidhi while the police accuse the Union Minister, Mr. Murasoli Maran, of having assaulted DIG Mohammad Ali. Which is true? What is the justification for the arrest of Mr. Murasoli Maran, a Cabinet Minister in the Union Government?
The video footage taken on two separate cameras of the police clearly shows that the amiable scenario in the residence of Mrs. Rajathi Ammal was vitiated only after the entry of the Union Minister, Mr. Murasoli Maran, and the Sun TV camera crew. Thereafter a drama was enacted entirely for the benefit of the cameras. Mr. Maran and his son, Mr. Dayanidhi showered abuses on the police personnel. As DIG Mohammad Ali tried to guide Mr. Karunanidhi away from the melee, Mr. Maran physically assaulted Mr. Mohamad Ali in the eye forcing the police officer to stagger in pain. Mrs. Rajathi Ammal's driver, Mr. Sanjeevi took advantage of this confusion to push Mr. Karunanidhi into a chair. As Mr. Karunanidhi lost his balance, he was supported from behind by a uniformed police officer, who thereafter gently helped him away from the scene of confusion to the waiting car outside.
Despite grave provocation by Mr. Murasoli Maran and his family members, the police acted with utmost restraint. While Mr. Maran and his family members were going amuck preventing police officials from discharging their duty and even physically assaulting them, women police officials guided Mrs. Rajathi Ammal away from the thick of action to prevent her from sustaining any injury, just as Mr. Karunanidhi was guided away by male officials.
Thereafter, Mr. Murasoli Maran along with another Central Minister, Mr. T. R. Baalu, barged into the offices of the Crime Branch CID by ramming his car against the closed iron gates, impervious to the danger to the life of police guards standing at the gate.
Still later, when the police were escorting Mr. Karunanidhi to a waiting car to produce him before the Sessions Judge, Mr. Maran jumped into the back seat and refused to get out in total violation of all norms. Finally, he had to be bodily removed from the vehicle. In the process, the Union Minister rained blows on the heads of the policemen who were carrying him, and kicked them violently.
The repeated acts of defiance and open violence against policemen discharging their duties, by a Union Minister is not only unbecoming of a person of his stature but also an open invitation to criminals and anti-social elements to openly attack police officials. Under these circumstances, the arrest of Mr. Murasoli Maran is perfectly justified and warranted.
What is the justification for the arrest of yet another Union Minister, Mr. T. R. Baalu?
If Mr. Maran's behaviour was uncouth, Mr. T. R. Baalu's was worse. At the office of the CB CID, Mr. T. R. Baalu abused police officials in the filthiest possible terms. He threatened police officers on duty with dire consequences if they did allow him inside. He also orchestrated Mr. Maran's gate-crash. He broke glass panes inside the office. Later, as police officials went to Mr. Maran's Gopalapuram residence in search of the absconding Stalin, Mr. T. R. Baalu reached there and went about abusing the officials again. He assaulted the police officials and when they charged him with preventing them from discharging their duties, he, along with Triplicane MLA, Mr. Hussein, fell on the ground on their own and then both started raising a cry that they had been assaulted by policemen.
Mr. Baalu's behaviour was not befitting his status as a Union Minister. Assaulting policemen during the discharge of their duty is a cognisable offence and the police have a legal right to arrest such a person without a warrant.
Following this sort of behaviour, sufficient grounds exist for both these Union Ministers being dismissed on the basis of a complaint from the affected policemen.
Was it necessary to arrest a 78-year-old person in the dead of the night?
Police Manual Rules filed under the Indian Police Act, 1861 clearly stipulate that a political leader with a mass following has necessarily to be arrested only after midnight, so as to prevent untoward public incidents and law-and-order problems from supporters and assorted hooligans.
Similarly there is a charge that it was illegal to arrest a person without a warrant. The law is very clear on this. The police have every right to make an arrest without a warrant in cases like this. No arrest warrant or search warrant is required when the police are dealing with a cognisable offence under Section 41 of Cr.PC. And Mr. Karunanidhi, who has been Chief Minister four times, each time holding the Home portfolio, is well aware of this.
Yet Mr. Karunanidhi was decent enough to arrest you during the daytime...
He had no other alternative. The laws of this land are very clear that no woman should be arrested and kept in police custody between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.
You claim that your police behaved in a dignified manner. Yet Mr. Karunanidhi claims to have been manhandled and he has subsequently been hospitalised.
Mr. Karunanidhi was not manhandled at any stage. If he had been, he would not have come out of his bedroom smiling at everyone. Today he claims that he suffers shoulder pains because he was manhandled by the police and that he could not even lift his hand to write a letter to the Chief Secretary while in jail. In an interview to Outlook, published in the magazine's latest issue, Mr. Karunanidhi's daughter, Ms. Kanimozhi says she was worried about her father's shoulder pain at the time of his arrest. In an interview given to Junior Vikatan at the time of elections, Ms. Kanimozhi has spoken about Karunanidhi's inability to wave his hand due to shoulder pain. This clearly means the shoulder pain existed even before the arrest and his family members were well aware of it. To attribute this now to police manhandling is a blatant lie being told to evoke public sympathy. Mr. Karunanidhi was in good health when interned in jail. He was in good health when discharged from jail. Well enough to drive almost directly to the party office and address an hour-long press meet! Two days later, he gets himself admitted in hospital! The people are not gullible to believe all these theatrics.
Why has Mr. Karunanidhi decided to boycott the Justice Raman Commission of inquiry?
The Justice Raman Commission of Inquiry has been appointed to arrive at the truth in view of the conflicting versions of what happened at the time of Mr. Karunanidhi's arrest. If Mr. Karunanidhi decides to cooperate with this Commission of Inquiry, it will become binding on Sun TV to produce all their raw footage of the incident just as the police video would be submitted. Then the truth will come out that Sun TV had cleverly managed to evoke public sympathy through selective editing and clever manipulation of visuals as a ploy to create a law and order problem in the State and to divert the attention of the people. It is because they know fully well that their version is wrong that they are not willing to cooperate with the Commission of Inquiry.
Earlier, Mr. Karunanidhi had appointed Justice A. Raman as a one- man-commission to inquire into the fire accident in the Tirupattur Forest Department sandalwood godown. The Commission held that the DMK MLA concerned had no connection with the alleged incident. When Mr. Karunanidhi could accept this finding, why does he oppose the appointment of the same Justice Raman to inquire into this case?
Mr. Karunanidhi has always been a man of two faces. He keeps harping publicly that he is willing to face any inquiry against him. But when an inquiry commission is instituted, he always runs away from it. Mr. Karunanidhi tried to run away from the Justice Sarkaria Commission constituted to inquire into corruption charges against him. Another example is the case where the Justice Paul Commission report was stolen. A case was registered and in this connection in the Madras High Court his attitude of non-cooperation was heard by Justice Singaravelu. Karunanidhi, the fourth accused in the case, refused to cooperate. In fact, the learned Judge observed that ``Even if the 4th accused is brought to Court through some coercive steps, it would be futile and the proposed remedy would only aggravate the malady...''
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