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|October 7, 1997||
Assam CM incensed by Jethmalani's letter backing Tatas
Eminent lawyer and Rajya Sabha member Ram Jethmalani castigated Assam Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta for launching a tirade against Tata Tea.
In a letter to Mahanta, he referred to reaction of the chief minister to reports published in a section of the press and held that the latter had "grossly misunderstood" the message of the tape quoted by the press.
He wondered how the chief minister of a state could use "illegitimate" material publicly to claim that his stand was vindicated by the startling revelations of conversations between Tata Tea Chairman Ratan Tata and his associates.
Describing the six-page letter as an attempt to "correct" Mahanta as regards the notion that the Tatas were jeopardising the security and integrity of the country by funding the militants, Jethmalani dismissed the statement as "recklessly false."
Jethmalani contended that difference lay between providing medical assistance through cheque payments and funding war-like operations of the United Liberation Front of Asom.
The Assam government deposed before the Jain tribunal that activities of ULFA, including killing, acts of extortion, kidnapping and intimidations, were continuing and the influence of ULFA had spread all over the Brahmaputra valley and it had the capability to strike at will, he pointed out.
It was represented to the tribunal by the Assam government that if their demands were not met, the threat of death was held out to the persons concerned, he added.
Jethmalani said that under the circumstances any government should be ashamed of prosecuting unfortunate citizens who under compulsion and threats parted with money or committed some crimes. ''It is somewhat incongruous that an incompetent state which cannot protect its own citizens should have the hardyhood to prosecute anybody for paying ransom,'' he observed.
Jethmalani questioned the moral and legal sanction to the government act of arresting Tata executives, keeping them in prolonged custody evading judicial orders.
As regards the attempts of Tata Tea executive Brojen Gogoi to avoid arrest, he said that Gogoi surrendered before the police within two days of receipt of a communication asking the deputy general manager to present himself before the police. He suggested Mahanta to put himself in the position of Gogoi and asserted that Mahanta would also do perfectly what Gogoi did for a while.
Jethmalani concluded his letter by asking Mahanta the reason of singling out Tata Tea only when a regular first information report had been filed by a responsible military officer that other companies had been actually making payments to ULFA.
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