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March 28, 1998

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AIADMK caught in the web of its own making?

N Sathiya Moorthy in Madras

By conceding the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazagham's demand for the law portfolio at the Centre, has the Bharatiya Janata Party has let the former get caught in a web of its own making, as far as 'Tamil Nadu's interests' are concerned.

Though that might not have been the BJP leadership's intention, the appointment of AIADMK nominee S Thambidurai as the law minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government seems to be having that effect.

Thambidurai is already at the centre of a controversy with his first statement at Madras last week. Arriving in the city after assuming office, he told the media that he would review all the cases 'foisted' against AIADMK supremo Jayalalitha by the Dravida Munnetra Kazagham state government.

The DMK and its allies have been quick to retort, and have pointed out that it is not up to the Union law ministry to 'review' cases filed by a state government. And that Thambidurai, by saying what he had said, has exposed his 'bias' and purpose.

Efforts are already on by some individuals to challenge the appointment of another AIADMK nominee 'Sedapatti' R Muthiah as an AIADMK minister at the Centre. Muthiah, who was former Tamil Nadu assembly speaker during J Jayalalitha's tenure, is possibly the first chargesheeted person to become a minister at the Centre, or anywhere else in the country.

He, along with his wife and family members, have been chargesheeted by the state vigilance department for 'acquiring wealth disproportionate to their known sources of income'.

One petition has since been filed in the Madras high court, and another is being sought to be filed in the Supreme Court by another party. ''The latter effort is to ensure speedy disposal,'' said a source. ''For, there is no clear-cut law on the non-inclusion of 'charge-sheeted persons' in a ministry, though there are laws on suspension of 'chargsheeted' government employees from a peon upwards.''

When the case comes up for hearing, the law ministry and its law officers like the attorney-general and the solicitor-general will be asked for an opinion. And, thus, it is the minister of state for law who will have himself to blame if the case goes against his AIADMK colleagues.

''Whatever the legal opinion, or the court observations in this regard, it will be for the law ministry to implement it for the government,'' said the source. ''As such, there will be no bias if the opinion -- either of the law officers or of the judges -- goes against the appointment of 'Sedapatti' Muthiah. No one can blame either the BJP or the prime minister.''

In this context, the sources also refer to the purported AIADMK demand for the dismissal of the DMK government. ''There, too, the law of the land is very clear,'' he said. ''The Supreme Court has more or less re-defined and re-drafted the scope of Article 356 of the Constitution, dealing with the dismissal of state governments by the Centre. There is little that a prime minister can do about it. And this, too, the AIADMK leadership will soon come to learn through the good offices of Thambidurai.''

That way, even the AIADMK's much-touted demands covering 'Tamil Nadu interests', will have to be reviewed by the law minister at the Centre.

The Cauvery waters issue has been hanging fire for long. After upholding the Centre's order on the tribunal's interim award, allocating 205 tmcft of waters to Tamil Nadu, the apex court itself went on to ask then prime minister P V Narasimha Rao to find a political solution to the dispute by holding talks with the two chief ministers.

''The Tamil Nadu government has been demanding the implementation of the interim award, and Karnataka has sought to scuttle the issue by proposing the formulation of a national water policy.

The latter has since been endorsed by the BJP-led coalition's national agenda. ''It will now be up to Thambidurai to choose between the two, or suggest a workable legal framework for the interim award's implementation, when none really is in sight.''

Likewise, even the 69 per cent reservations issue needs the law ministry's intervention, if it has to make any headway. Though the Centre has incorporated a Tamil Nadu law in this regard in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution, making it non-justiciable, the apex court is seized of the matter. It has been passing interim orders, enforcing the 50-per-cent upper-limit fixed by the court, on an annual, interim basis, without addressing the larger issues involved.

''Now it will be up to Thambidurai to instruct the law officers of the Union to approach the apex court for fixing an early hearing and disposal of the pending case, by a nine-member Constitution Bench, as directed earlier,'' said the source. ''An 'adverse verdict' can embarrass the DMK state government, no doubt, but it can embarrass the AIADMK and its allies more.''

For all this, however, the AIADMK has still walked away with some coveted portfolios, particularly those that had been held by its DMK-TMC rivals in the erstwhile United Front governments. Muthiah is the surface transport minister in the place of DMK's T G Venkataraman, AIADMK's alliance-partner Vazhappadi K Ramamurthy is the petroleum minister with a Cabinet rank against DMK's T R Baalu, who was a minister of state. Against Tamil Maanila Congess's P Chidambaram, who was the finance minister, the AIADMK has R K Kumar holding the banking and revenue portfolios as a minister of state.

''This will give the AIADMK and its allies a chance to dig into the past, and unearth the the DMK-TMC ministers's 'wrong-doings','' he said. ''That way, the AIADMK would have been happier with a nominee in the industry ministry, held earlier by the DMK's 'Murasoli' Maran, nephew of party supremo M Karunanidhi.

The AIADMK also hopes to dig into the 'Indian Bank scam', allegedly involving some TMC leaders, as it has its nominee in the banking ministry. So does it hope to go into some of the CBI cases of interest, now that party's 'Kadambur' R Janarthanam is the minister of state for personnel and pensions, with whose office the CBI is now attached.

''But it may not be all that easy,'' said the source. ''For one thing, Kumar will still require the 'say-so' from his BJP Cabinet Minister Yashwant Sinha. Maybe, there will be some embarrassing moments for the TMC leadership, but all that may not translate into precipitate action.''

Likewise, even the CBI may soon come to be attached to the Union home ministry, headed by BJP president and Home Minister Lal Kishinchand Advani. ''It is not just to increase Advani's own importance in the government. It actually flows from the Supreme Court directions in the recent case challenging the extension of service granted to then CBI director R K Sharma, by the Inder Kumar Gujral government. And as law minister, it will be up to Thambidurai to explain the legal position to his party leadership, if it has questions.''

Elections '98

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