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August 9, 2000
TN parties divided on amnesty for Veerappan
N Sathiya Moorthy in Madras
The Vanniar-backed Pattali Makkal Katchi and the dalit-backed Puthiya Thamizhagam want amnesty for Veerappan, so does the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, though the party is less forceful this time.
The Tamil Maanila Congress will not interfere in the crisis. While Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy has threatened to move court against any amnesty move, the Congress is also against it. However, the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the rival All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam are maintaining a stoic silence. The Communists do not know how to react and the Bharatiya Janata Party is divided on the issue.
The PMK came under the media glare after Karnataka Chief Minister S M Krishna telephoned party founder Dr S Ramadoss on Monday night seeking his help in securing the release of Dr Rajakumar. While this caused several eyebrows to rise, Ramadoss denied any involvement with Veerappan.
Ramadoss appealed for Dr Rajakumar's release even while reiterating his suggestion for amnesty to Veerappan. PT leader Dr K Krishnaswamy was even more categorical. He wanted to take out a procession in Madras on Wednesday, to press for amnesty. However, the city police refused permission fearing a fearing law and order problem, more so in Karnataka, where anti-Tamil feelings are still simmering.
"What has the government got to say?" said TMC founder G K Moopanar on the amnesty question. "I do not want to say anything that may jeopardise efforts to solve the present crisis. We want Dr Rajakumar's freedom and the safety of Tamils in Karnataka."
Tamil Nadu Congress Committee president E V K S Elangovan is more forthright. He says he is against amnesty. As is Swamy. He sees the hand of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which he says has shifted base from Tamil Nadu to Karnataka, and wants army action to end the stalemate.
The Communists are confused. They agree that Veerappan is an outlaw and should be punished. But those behind Veerappan have identified themselves with larger political issues involving the state's downtrodden. That's a political constituency that Communists of all hues are attracted to.
Naturally, the ruling DMK is maintaining a stoic silence. The intricacies of Dravidian politics ensure that.
Even the rival AIADMK is silent. Other than issuing an early statement from Hyderabad, AIADMK supremo Jayalalitha has not reacted. In the initial statement, she came down on the DMK government for the kidnapping, and charged it with complacency, if not complicity. She wanted a Central Bureau of Investigation probe into the episode, listing the measures taken by her erstwhile government to check the Veerappan menace.
But insiders concede that the AIADMK silence is based on three factors: one, the jail term ordered for the party's erstwhile transport minister K A Sengottiyan in a scam case. Two, the upcoming cases against Jayalalitha have reached a crucial stage. And three, the fact that the then AIADMK government had facilitated ransom payment for obtaining the release of a state police official and his relative kidnapped by Veerappan. There is also the party's concern for the Tamils in Karnataka, who suffered the worst when Jayalalitha, as chief minister, went on a fast, seeking the release of Cauvery waters, without giving much thought to the repercussions.
The BJP state unit is divided on the issue. While the old guard, under the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, are opposed to granting amnesty, new entrants like Union Energy Minister Rangarajan Kumaramangalam sees no harm. "If Phoolan Devi could contest elections and lead a new life, why not Veerappan?" he said.
However, the very day Kumaramangalam was saying this, state BJP general secretary H Raja said that he would have none of the amnesty talk. And Raja, like many other state BJP leaders, comes from the RSS stock. "It's this contradiction that used to be the hallmark of the Congress once, now it has afflicted the BJP as well. Hence no one has taken the party seriously as yet," says a party leader.
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