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March 25, 1999


DMK cautious as Tamaraikkani row takes new turn

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N Sathiya Moorthy in Madras

The 'Tamaraikkani row' involving the Tamil Nadu assembly and the Madras high court took a new turn on Wednesday, with the former ordering the re-arrest of the controversial All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazagham legislator, and a division bench reiterating its suspension of the 'arrest warrant' issued by Speaker P T R Palanivel Rajan on Monday.

"Let them first follow the court's directions, and then do the needful," Justices T Jayarama Chouta and S Thangaraj told the government counsel. The judges were responding to the contempt plea of Thamaraikkani's advocate against the superintendent of central prison, Madras. The counsel submitted that the court's order, suspending the speaker's warrant, issued on Tuesday, had not been implemented.

The MLA has been lodged in the central prison since his arrest for assaulting Agriculture Minister Veeerapandi S Arumugam inside the house on Monday. Arumugam, a senior Dravida Munnetra Kazagham leader, sustained severe bleeding injuries on the nose, and had to be hospitalised.

Earlier, the state government counsel argued that two orders had been issued by the speaker, against Thamaraikkani, one for his arrest, and the other for his detention for 15 days.

The first one was issued on the day of incident, on Monday, where the speaker had also mentioned a seven-day term. But it was enhanced to 15 days, through a separate assembly resolution, and consequent warrant by the speaker, both on Tuesday.

While the court had 'suspended' the operation of the first order, the second one still remained in force, hence there was no need for releasing the legislator, the government counsel argued.

Simultaneously in the assembly, the members unanimously passed a resolution, directing the speaker to uphold the 'sovereignty of the house' (against judicial interventions).

The speaker appealed to the members, who were speaking on a special call attention motion on the issue, not to create any controversy or collision between the legislature and the judiciary.

But once the court's decision was known, the assembly passed another resolution, signed by the speaker in the open house, directing Thamaraikkani's re-arrest.

While the speaker, as also representatives of most political parties have been saying that the house was supreme, the high court has re-asserted its position on Wednesday.

Counsel for petitioner, O S Manian, an AIADMK member of Parliament, cited the high court verdict in the 'Ananda Vikatan case' involving the 'sky-high power' speaker P H Pandian during the MGR days. He argued that the speaker cannot arrogate to himself the powers of the criminal court in deciding on alleged criminal offences committed inside the house.

But the house referred to an earlier instance, when V R Nedunchezhiyan, now a senior AIADMK leader, had ruled that the speaker need not obey court orders, or accept court notices.

The confrontation that's building up between the legislature and the judiciary is both legal and political. The court seems to be vague about its 'order of suspension' issued against the arrest warrant issued by the speaker.

Says a senior advocate, "Either you can release someone, or let him out on bail. There is nothing called suspending an arrest warrant.'' But says another, "Peculiar circumstances demand peculiar solutions, and this is one."

While a section of the lawyers say that the speaker had not followed the laws of natural justice in not giving the MLA a chance to be heard before handing down punishment, others point out that the court too had erred in this respect.

"Knowing full well it's treading on controversial territory, the court has 'suspended the warrant' without hearing the speaker and the legislature," says an advocate. "If the court was so concerned, it could have asked the speaker to file his reply within hours, if not days. Anyway, the judges too would have considered the possibility of the legislature taking its own decision, upsetting their order. Anyway, Thamaraikkani was not released at the end of the day on Tuesday, and the court order could have awaited the speaker's reply."

Jurists refer to the 'Manipur case', where the speaker was summoned to the bar of the Supreme Court under similar circumstances, though in a case relating to the anti-defection law.

"The Tamil Nadu assembly and the speaker, personally, want to avoid such a confrontation, but we cannot help it if things boiled down to that," says a senior DMK source.

The DMK leadership of Chief Minister M Karunanidhi does not want to give the detractors of the party at the Centre a chance to berate it.

"We would not be surprised if there was a controversy, similar to the one enacted in the seventies and the eighties, to belittle our government, and to confuse the nation that there is no order in the DMK-ruled state," says the party source.

While ruling DMK had its deputy speaker P Sreenivasan forcibly replace its own speaker K A Mathialagan in the first case, in the second, party minister Duraimurgan was charged with pulling at the saree pallu of AIADMK chief J Jayalalitha inside the house, when she tried to obstruct Karunanidhi from presenting the 1990 budget. "We would not be provoked now," says the party leader.

"We are riding on twin horses, and have to ride carefully," says he. "On the one hand, we as legislators and partymen cannot allow individuals and their parties to obstruct assembly proceedings continuously, and assault senior leaders like Arumugam, without any provocation. Nor can we allow such individuals and their parties to use the magnanimity of the judiciary as a cover. At the same time, we do not want to be seen as wrong-doers in government, and provide a case for the likes of Jayalalitha, who keeps demanding its dismissal as a price for her continued support to the Atal Bihari Vajpayee regime at the Centre."

This report was written before Thursday's high court order

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