July 22, 2002


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The Rediff Interview/Cho Ramaswamy

'Can a person go on mocking the sovereignty of the nation?'

A longstanding critic of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, political analyst Cho Ramaswamy has advocated the use of tough measures against those supporting separatist organisations.

In an interview with Shobha Warrier, he speaks about Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader and National Democratic Alliance partner Vaiko's arrest under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, and the ensuing embarrassment faced by the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Do you support POTA?

Yes, of course. In fact, when TADA (Terrorist and Disruptive Activities [prevention] Act) lapsed, I criticised the government and the opposition for allowing it to lapse. I said some such law is required. In my opinion, POTA is definitely required, given the circumstances prevailing in the country.

Some political parties opposed POTA, and politicians like Mulayam Singh Yadav were of the opinion that there are loopholes in the law, and that was the reason why it resulted in the arrest of Vaiko.

The arrest of Vaiko does not prove that there is a loophole. It only proves that the law is effective because his arrest was warranted. He went on supporting the LTTE. He made a mockery of the statute and the state government by saying that they couldn't do anything to him. He said he supported the LTTE yesterday, he supports it today and he would support it tomorrow.

Can a person be allowed to go on mocking the sovereignty of the nation like that?

He said he was only supporting an organisation, and not indulging in any violence.

Well, POTA clearly states that when a person gives his support to a terrorist organisation, one which is so named under the Act, he commits an offence and is liable for punishment -- to up to ten years of imprisonment. Knowing fully well that POTA says it is an offence to support a terrorist organisation, he continued to support it.

I don't understand the argument that a verbal support to an organisation would not become an offence, and only a terrorist act will become an offence. I am surprised with the interpretation of the Act. The Act quite clearly says that support given to a terrorist organisation, which is so declared under the Act, is an offence.

Well, there are about eight Muslim fundamentalist organisations, which are named under the Act. Supposing people all over the country, various organisations and political parties start supporting these terrorist organisations saying that they are ideologically oriented and they are there to do good to Islam and bring great reputation to Islam... supposing this happened systematically, what happens then?

The Sri Lankan government is trying to engage the LTTE in peace talks by making them the representative of the Sri Lankan Tamils....

Pakistan is friendly to the organisations named under POTA. There are certain other Arab countries who are friendly to them. Does it mean that they should be supported here, and the law will not take any notice of that? Then, why should there be a law at all if there are going to be campaigns in support of terrorist organisations?

Some newspapers wrote about the loopholes in the law by stating that Chandrababu Naidu violates Section 21 of POTA and can be arrested when he holds talks with the PWG because it is also banned under POTA. Section 21 imposes imprisonment up to 10 years on anybody found guilty of arranging a meeting to be addressed by a person who belongs or professes to belong to a terrorist group. Can't the court interpret it that way?

He is not rendering support to the organisation. And, the court will not interpret it that way. The court will never interpret an Act in such a way as to make it absurd. It is a legal principle that a statute should not be interpreted in such a way as to make it absurd. A newspaper columnist may interpret it that way but not a court.

The Constitution says ours is a socialist, secular, sovereign democratic republic. Now, there is no socialism in the country. The government privatises and liberalises everything and it has not done anything for the distribution of wealth. Does that mean the government is functioning in an unconstitutional manner?

If some statutes are interpreted that way, they will become meaningless.

When some other party comes to power and decides to ban organisations like the VHP, Bajrang Dal, etc, what will happen?

Yes, any organisation could be declared a terrorist organisation by a government. You can be hauled up for murder tomorrow under the IPC. Supposing somebody totally unconnected with you gets killed, the government if so disposed can arrest you for murder, and can try you. You may ultimately be acquitted by the court. But what prevents the government from arresting you and trying you when the Act allows it? But, will the government do it?

That way, every Act can be misused. Every law could be misused. If you say that a law that is capable of being misused should not be there in the statute book, then, there will be no law in the country.

Is it not ironical that Vaiko, the first person to support POTA became its first major victim?

It is ironical that being a Member of Parliament and a member of the ruling alliance, he should behave in such a fashion after having supported POTA and after knowing its provisions. But I am not surprised because two years back he declared in one of his party conclaves: "Our ministers are there in the central government only to do good to the Eelam Tamils and ensure their well being."

When ministers take oath under the Indian Constitution to render service to the people of the country, this is what he says? And, the central government has no qualms about having those ministers. This is the kind of loyalty he has to the Constitution and sovereignty of this nation.

Are you saying he is more loyal to Eelam Tamils than the people of India?

Yes, he once declared in Parliament that he would be proud to call himself a citizen of Eelam. That is the kind of person you are dealing with. He has to be put in his place, and I am glad Jayalalithaa did it. Ultimately, I do not know how the courts are going to interpret this statute. According to me, this statute is clear. As I said, if support given to an organisation is not going to be an offence, then everybody can run campaigns in the country in support of terrorist organisations. Then, POTA will become meaningless.

If that is the intention of the central government, well, let them go ahead and do it.

Do you feel the arrest of Vaiko has put the NDA government in a fix?

They are embarrassed, of course. They are exposed.

Arun Jaitley said his arrest was unwarranted...

Yes, yes. They are embarrassed, and they want to somehow get him out of the clutches of POTA.

Can they?

It all depends on how the court is going to view the statute. But the statute is very clear, that anyone who supports a terrorist organisation is liable for punishment.

Now, Jayalalithaa says the MDMK itself can be banned.

That I am very doubtful about. First of all, she has not said that she will ban it. She just said that she will initiate steps which means she will inform the Centre about the activities of the party and ask them to ban it. The Centre is authorised to ban an organisation. But the sections concerned are so worded that unless an organisation indulges in acts of terrorism, it cannot be banned. So, rendering support to an organisation verbally is an offence but the organisation to which he belongs cannot be banned.

With this arrest, do you think Vaiko will emerge as a strong leader in Tamil Nadu?

Not at all. What is the kind of protest his arrest has created? For that to happen, a man should have more support for himself. He is a person who loses [his] deposit [in elections] everywhere. The party, if it is not in alliance with some other party, is not capable of winning a single assembly seat by itself. That is the kind of support he has.

Because the national media is always interested in persons who talk in such a highly objectionable fashion, he is in the news. They make news easily. That is all they need. He may have an image in the media but not with the people.

You mean the people of Tamil Nadu will not have anything to do with a person who supports the LTTE?

Yes, the people of Tamil Nadu have had enough of the LTTE association. There will be fringe groups which will be supporting the LTTE like [Tamil National Movement] Nedumaran's group but otherwise, the organisation will have no support.

The DMK is quite weak now. Karunanidhi's health is failing and Stalin could not get mass support. In this backdrop, do you think Vaiko can emerge as a strong leader here if he sheds his LTTE support?

He must disown the LTTE and start working from the grassroots level to build his party. It cannot happen overnight. But he will have an opportunity later. Perhaps people lose confidence in other parties. As long as he is a supporter of the LTTE, I don't think he will make any impact.

Vaiko has been one of the loyal allies of the BJP. How will his arrest change the relationship between him and the BJP?

You know the BJP is prepared to sleep with anybody! They are doing it all the time. Their only aim is survival in power. That's all. They have been doing business with everybody.

So, you feel they may even dump Vaiko for Jayalalithaa's support?

It will depend on the political necessities. There's no principle involved in it. And, it is going to be like that for any other party in India for some more time to come because there is no party which has an appeal in all states across caste, community and creed. So, naturally, they will have to do business with all kinds of elements.

You expect a lot of noises from the Congress and the Samajwadi Party in Parliament against POTA?

Mulayam Singh and even Vaiko's men may create some noises in Parliament. But the Congress will not be able to render vehement support to it because they like what Jayalalithaa did. They have to like [it]! But they can only object to the use of POTA.

I also think the BJP will make noises. Ultimately, wiser counsel will prevail and they will not make any amendments.

What will happen to Vaiko then? Will he remain isolated?

It will be a good thing if it happens. As long as he supports the LTTE, if he is isolated in India, it is a good thing.

You don't expect the BJP -- with whom he has remained a friend for quite a few years, even when others had dumped the party -- to come to his rescue?

How can they rescue him? In what fashion? Arrange a raid of the prison and get him out of it? Otherwise, Arun Jaitley could become his lawyer as he is a very capable lawyer, one of the topmost lawyers in the country. He can lend a service that way!

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