December 7, 2000


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The Rediff Special/ George Iype

Fernandes's flirtation with the LTTE is ominous for Sri Lanka According to home ministry sources, the MDMA will produce a secret report that discloses the alleged links between George Fernandes, other Indian leaders and the LTTE.

It is the secret the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government wants to hide.

Unfortunately, Union Home Minister L K Advani does not think so. Which is why, on November 13, he despatched a high level team of officials from the Multi-Disciplinary Monitoring Agency -- an outfit with officers culled from various intelligence agencies -- to Sri Lanka.

Officially, their brief was to seek the extradition of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam chief V Prabhakaran.

India first put in an official request for Prabhakaran's extradition in 1993, after he was identified as the chief conspirator in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. The request has been pending with the Sri Lankan government since.

Why did Advani suddenly feel the need to despatch MDMA officials to Colombo to press the extradition request?

The home minister told Parliament last week that India wanted to speed up Prabhakaran's extradition.

Prabhakaran That statement, though, is nowhere near the truth. Sri Lanka's Attorney General K C Kamalasabyason pointed out that the Indian team did not make any formal or informal request for Prabhakaran's extradition.

What, then, was the MDMA team doing in Sri Lanka for 10 days?

Officials associated with the Indian mission in Sri Lanka say the team was there, under Advani's orders, to probe the growing links between India's politicians and the LTTE.

Was the mission successful? Yes.

But it has left Advani in a quandary.

The MDMA team gathered evidence on the alleged nexus between India's politicians and the outlawed LTTE. The Sri Lankan government apparently stated that the LTTE's biggest supporter in India is Defence Minister George Fernandes.

Others on the LTTE sympathisers's list include some Tamil Nadu ministers and the Bharatiya Janata Party's partners in the ruling National Democratic Alliance. The Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and Pattali Makkal Katchi, in particular, are said to hobnob with the LTTE.

According to highly-placed sources at the home ministry, the MDMA is in the process of producing a secret report that discloses the alleged links between Fernandes, other Indian leaders and the LTTE.

The Sri Lankan government has apparently said the defence minister may be a hero among the Tamils, but is a villain for the Colombo administration and the majority Sinhalese community.

For many years now, Fernandes has been an LTTE supporter. Before he joined the Vajpayee government in 1997, the Socialist leader organised a controversial public convention of pro-LTTE elements in New Delhi. When the home ministry objected to the meeting, Fernandes changed the venue to his official bungalow, where he hosted LTTE delegates from Sri Lanka, India, Australia and France.

"The basic purpose of this convention is to make the people of India aware of Tamil Eelam and make them part of their struggle. Their cause is just," said Fernandes as he inaugurated the convention. A few months later, he was appointed defence minister by Prime Minister Vajpayee.

In July 1998, he reportedly stopped the Indian Navy from intercepting ships suspected of carrying illegal arms to Tamil guerrilla groups. As a result, three such ships were let off the hook.

Later, he is said to have ordered Indian security forces to downgrade their patrolling of the Palk Straits that separates Sri Lanka from India.

Fernandes was also a patron of the LTTE-backed Fund Raising Committee, set up to help the 26 accused in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.

Home ministry officials claim the Sri Lankan government dislikes Fernandes more than they dislike the Tamil Nadu politicians. Some months ago, Sri Lanka's leading newspaper The Island said most Sinhalese would be happy to see Fernandes sacked from the Vajpayee government.

In an edit page article in the newspaper, former Sri Lankan ambassador Kalyananda Godage said: 'Fernandes's flirtation with the LTTE is ominous for Sri Lanka.' He went on to describe Fernandes as 'St George in love with the dragon.'

Last year, the pro-LTTE Tamil magazine, Thinamurasu, said, unlike Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, who backed out of his commitment to the LTTE after coming to power, Fernandes remains committed to the cause even after becoming defence minister. The magazine referred to him as 'an iron man.'

The home ministry's special report on the alleged links between Indian politicians and the LTTE is expected to be a matter of concern for both Vajpayee and Fernandes.

It begs the question: What prompted Advani to probe Fernandes's alleged LTTE links at this juncture?

There are, apparently, two reasons. First, some alliance partners have occasionally hinted that Fernandes can be a contender for the prime minister's chair if and when Vajpayee leaves office. Second, the defence chiefs are reportedly upset that the minister's official residence continues to be a hub for Myanmarese and other rebels and their sympathisers.

Officials say the government's decision to despatch the MDMA team to Colombo was linked to the kidnapping of Kannada superstar Dr Rajakumar by Veerappan with the help of Tamil militants.

There are reports with the government which say militant groups have revived in Tamil Nadu, thanks to the legitimacy granted to them by some political parties. Prominent among them are the MDMK and PMK -- both parties have listed demands similar to the extremist groups's call for a Tamil homeland.

Headed by Vaiko -- V Gopalaswamy -- and Dr S Ramdoss respectively, both the MDMK and PMK are part of Vajpayee's coalition government. What sets them apart from other NDA partners, though, is their ideological thesis of Tamil nationhood, their subdued demand for the secession of Tamil Nadu and their vociferous call for a separate Tamil nation for Sri Lankan Tamils.

"The government is unable to curb the LTTE's activities in India because some of its members are powerful pro-LTTE supporters," says an official. "The Congress governments -- led by both Indira and Rajiv Gandhi -- supported the LTTE openly. But the Vajpayee government does not want any of its ministers and partners to be LTTE sympathisers."

Which is why, to begin with, the home minister wants the defence minister to hoist a 'No Entry' board in front of his home to pro-LTTE Tamil nationalist leader P Nedumaran, who successfully negotiated Dr Rajakumar's release from Veerappan's custody. Nedumaran stays with Fernandes whenever he comes to New Delhi.

In the meanwhile, fireworks are expected between Advani and Fernandes after the home ministry finalises the report on the defence minister's alleged LTTE activities and submits it to the Prime Minister's Office.

The Rajakumar kidnapping
'I am not protecting Veerappan': Nedumaran
'I am helpless. After all, I am anti-national': Nedumaran
Nedumaran enacted drama to get me freed: Rajakumar
A call for Partition

The Rediff Specials

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