October 16, 2000


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The Rediff Special/ George Iype

Nedumaran: The negotiator

Hostage crisis brings together strange bedfellows. It is indeed bizarre, and ironic, that Pazha Nedumaran has emerged as the chief negotiator to unravel the Rajakumar hostage crisis that has put the governments of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka on tenterhooks for nearly three months.

A firebrand separatist, pro-Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam leader, hardcore Tamil nationalist, Nedumaran has instantly become a negotiator par excellence. But as soon as the Kannada matinee idol is released from Veerappan and the militant gang, the Tamil Nadu government will surely come under fire for engaging Nedumaran in the rescue mission.

For, the Tamil Desiya Iyakkam leader makes news every six months thanks to his strong links with extremists and terrorists. When the LTTE fought the Sri Lankan army to seize Jaffna in May, the M Karunanidhi government barred Nedumaran from conducting a pro-LTTE rally in Madras. And last year, when the Supreme Court awarded death sentences to four condemned prisoners in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, it was Nedumaran who immediately filed a review petition in the court.

The court dismissed the petition, but Nedumaran collected hundreds of signatures in mercy petitions and sent them to President K R Narayanan.

So what forced the Karunanidhi government to handpick Nedumaran to negotiate with Veerappan? Of course, the TDI chief passed the credibility test to become a government emissary because of his friendship with the Tamil extremist groups -- the Tamil Nadu Liberation Army and the Tamil Nadu Retrieval Force.

"The Tamil Nadu government thinks Veerappan, the smuggler-turned-nationalist can be won over by only extreme nationalists like Nedumaran," says human rights activist K M Venkataswamy.

For many years, Nedumaran has thrived on Tamil nationalism. The Rajakumar release mission is perhaps the first instance to prove the TDI leader's negotiation skills.

But critics say Nedumaran -- who keeps a photograph of the LTTE chief V Prabhakaran in his wallet -- is the wrong choice. "He is the LTTE representative in Madras. It is curious that the government deployed Nedumaran to negotiate with Veerappan. It proves that the law of the state has crumbled. It means that the state's administrative and police officials have made to look like fools," adds Venkataswamy.

But criticism or not, over the years Nedumaran has deftly mixed Tamil nationalism with his LTTE links to inculcate a strong language identity which he claims separates Tamil Nadu from the rest of India.

"Nations should be made out of languages. Language is the only criteria. How else will we have a national identity? It's the same around the world. In Ireland, Serbia -- the problem is the same. Yugoslavia never existed. If it had been a reality those countries within it would not have broken away. Our language, our culture, our country, we are being discriminated against," he had told early this year.

For Nedumaran, the LTTE is not a terrorist outfit but a freedom movement because Tamils are treated as secondary citizens in Sri Lanka. So he has been whipping up nationalistic passions across Tamil Nadu through his pro-LTTE slogans. He is today convenor of the Tamil Eelam Supporters Co-ordination Committee that organises occasional pro-LTTE conferences across the state. But the government has often barred him from conducting the conferences.

Any anti-LTTE action stirs up Nedumaran. So when the central government reimposed the ban on the LTTE in May this year, the TDI chief distributed a leaflet across Madras terming it as illegal. "We do not bother about the ban on the LTTE. We have the duty to support the cause of our brothers and sisters who are fighting for their motherland," the leaflet said.

If Nedumaran is called divisive, he derives mileage and support from a few political quarters across Tamil Nadu. Nedumaran's supporters include Pattali Makkal Katchi and the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leaders Dr S Ramdoss and V Gopalaswamy respectively.

But like Ramdoss and Vaiko, Nedumaran too has had a chequered political career. It is because of his political life that he is called Madurai Nedumaran. He started his political career with the Congress party in 1964. Nedumaran was close to Kamaraj and met Indira Gandhi a couple of times in his company. On one of those days, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam organised a black flag rally against Gandhi when she visited Madurai. When the DMK demonstration turned violent, it was Nedumaran who is credited with having protected Gandhi. Since then, the people of that city call him Madurai Nedumaran.

After Kamaraj's death, Nedumaran felt disillusioned with the Congress and that it was not functioning ethically. He questioned the party high command, and got thrown out in 1979. Nedumaran soon formed the Tamil Nadu Kamaraj Congress, a regional outfit that promised to work for Tamils but pledged not to contest elections.

His pro-LTTE leanings took shape after what he claims killing of Tamils in Sri Lanka in 1987 by the Indian Peace Keeping Force. Nedumaran hated the word Congress, as it was Rajiv Gandhi who signed the India-Sri Lanka accord. Thus he rechristened his party as the Tamil Desiya Iyakkam. In 1993, Nedumaran led a yatra from Madurai to Kanyakumari to support the Tamil cause in Sri Lanka.

These days, Nedumaran's TDI claims to have more than 10,000 members and thousands of supporters across Tamil Nadu. He took up the defence of the 26 accused in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case and is alleged to have amassed Rs 4 crore through pro-LTTE donors.

But Nedumaran denies the charge and claims to be an honest politician. His party believes that the Tamils in Sri Lanka will get their own country in two years which, he says, will be the beginning of consolidation of Tamils across the world.

Nedumaran's ideology is centred on just one word: Tamil. He wants Tamil as the official language in Tamil Nadu. He wants Tamil to be taught in schools. He wants Tamil in temples.

The joke doing the rounds is that Nedumaran may rescue Dr Rajakumar under one condition: the Tamil Nadu-born Kannada actor should agree to become a Tamilian and live in Madras, not in Bangalore.

ALSO SEE:A call for partition

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