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October 12, 1999


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The Rediff Interview/ P Nedumaran

'They are innocent. We'll do everything to free them'

He is known as Madurai Nedumaran.

An upcoming leader during Indira Gandhi's days, he took many blows, literally, to protect the then prime minister when a Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-sponsored black flag demonstration turned violent in Madurai. He walked out of the Congress to form a regional outfit, the Tamil Desiya Ekkam, which does not contest elections.

After Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, Nedumaran, known for his strong commitment, was in the news for collecting funds to defend the 26 accused in the case. He spoke to A G Nadar in Madras:

How long were you in the Congress?

I joined in 1964 and left in 1979.

What actually happened in Madurai when Indira Gandhi visited the city?

The DMK showed black flags to Indira Gandhi. It turned violent. They tried to attack her. I protected her. Not a single blow fell on her.

But after that incident they sidelined you in the Congress.

It is not a question of sidelining or broadlining. I did not like the way the Congress was functioning. Everything was being decided in Delhi. Even for important decisions the TNCC [Tamil Nadu Congress Committee] was not consulted. They announced everything from Delhi. I objected. They threw me out. They had no legal right to remove me. I was a member of the All India Congress Committee. The president or secretary cannot remove me. Only the AICC could remove me.

So the high command culture started them. It was not there before.

Yes. At that time my friends [G K] Moopanar and [P] Chidambaram did not support my decision. They said, "Who is Nedumaran to question a decision of the high command?" Fifteen years later they too revolted when Delhi decided to align with the AIADMK.

For the very same reason.

I praised them then. I am happy they realised the truth at least after 15 years.

You were in the Congress. From there you started a regional party. When did you change your outlook from a national one to a regional one? Why?

All India parties, whether they are the Janata Dal, Congress or BJP, do not accept federalism in its true spirit. They deny that we are a country comprising different nations. They are trying to create a country, an India which was never there. Secondly, the powers of the Centre are increasing everyday. It doesn't matter who is ruling at the Centre. Unitary form of government, a strong centre is their intention. My point is that India should be a federal state. One nation's people cannot subjugate another nation's people.

You are differentiating nations based on language?

Yes. Language is the only criteria. How else will we have a national identity? It's the same around the world. 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.

So because the Centre has a lot of powers, you started a regional outfit.

Our language, our culture, our country, we are being discriminated against. That is our stand. A lot of national leaders have come out of Delhi for the same reason. Haryana, Bansi Lal, Maharashtra, Sharad Pawar -- they all came out for the same principle. They came out to protect their nation's interest. Moopanar, Mamata Banerjee all started regional outfits. Sharad Pawar may have national aspirations, but his base is only in Maharashtra.

Since when have you been involved with the Sri Lankan Tamil issue?

We left the Congress in 1979. We started the Tamil Nadu Kamaraj Congress. When the Indian army killed Tamils in Sri Lanka in 1987 our general body met. We decided we did not need 'Congress' in our name. We changed our name to Tamil Desiya Ekkam. We are involved with Tamil Eelam from the beginning. In 1983 I led a Sacrifice Yatra from Madurai to Kanyakumari supporting the Tamils in Lanka. There were 5,000 volunteers.

They say you collected Rs 3, 4 crore [30-40 million] to defend the accused in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination? Is it true?

From where have I supposed to have collected that much money?

But you collected that much money. You have a reputation as an honest politician. How come you were able to collect so much money?

3, 4 crores is not easy.

Particularly for you. There are other politicians who could easily do it.

We collected from the people. We did not approach industrialists or rich people. The funds are from the common people. There are bank accounts. We have maintained accounts. Anybody can see it. If I had gathered money illegally you think the government would have let me alone? They have a strict vigil on us.

As a politician who never took money, how come you went on collecting money?

I didn't take money under the table. It was collected with everybody's knowledge. We have accounts for every naya paisa.

You are still collecting funds?

If anybody gives, we will take. There are a lot of cases like this.

The accused not only killed Rajiv Gandhi but 17 others. Is it justified to defend such people?

The Delhi court has released 19 saying that they have not done anything wrong and you are still insisting. The question is wrong. They are not involved in the conspiracy or the killing.

You mean not directly involved.

Directly or indirectly, they are not involved.

What about the four?

We believe they are innocent. We will do everything to free them.

There is a rumour that the LTTE is targeting Sonia Gandhi.

These are lies. The LTTE need not have any such intentions. They need the support of all parties, all the people in India. Because of the Supreme Court decision a few newspapers are writing this in frustration.

What about the Rajiv Gandhi case?

The Jain Commission had pointed at an outside power, Chandra Swami and Subramanian Swamy. Why did the CBI not question them? They should look at it from every angle. They looked at it from only one angle. The LTTE angle. They are hiding some people.

Whoever was in the background, the LTTE was in the front.

On what basis are you saying that?

Nalini, Murugan, Sivarasan, Dhanu, what were they doing there?

There were thousands at that spot.

The Indians were there for Rajiv's election campaign. What were the Lankans doing there?

Have they used only the Lankans in this case?

I didn't say that. But were they also involved?

Who is Nalini? She is an Indian. Why don't you release her?

If the LTTE wasn't involved, what were they doing there? At a V P Singh meeting, Sivarasan was walking around.

You are repeating the CBI stories. Kittu denied the LTTE involvement the very next day. He said he was ready to co-operate with the CBI. The CBI. refused to meet him. He collected a suitcase full of information. They are said to have lost that suitcase at the airport. All stories. They are not interested in the truth.

Even now Ranganath has his own stories to tell.

He has already told [those to] the CBI. The same facts were given to the court in petition no 313. An affidavit was given to the Jain Commission. [D R] Karthikeyan [head of the Special Investigation Team] is lying when he says, "Ranganath didn't tell us anything." How come you press people haven't accused Karthikeyan of lying? You have published only his statement. You haven't verified it. Ranganath's affidavit appeared in The Indian Express. It took half a page.

What will happen in Sri Lanka next?

The Tamils will get their own country in two years. They are controlling 70 per cent of the territory now.

You expect a political settlement.

Yes, in two years.

You never stood for elections when you were in the Congress?

I stood when I was in the Congress. I also stood immediately after I left Congress. After that I have not.

You think this country will survive with the present set of politicians?

The Janata Dal broke up. The Congress is breaking up. Next the BJP will face the same situation. The country will survive only if it is made a proper federal state. The politicians should make a conscious effort to bring this about. Otherwise, we will go the Soviet way in five years.


Equal powers with the right of self-determination. See Britain. Scotland and Wales have their own parliament.

But Europe is one union.

Only for certain trade issues. Not all.

Anything else you would like to tell us?

Not really.

'I have to defend the innocent.'

'The conclusion was a belt-bomb carried by a woman'

The Jain Commission controversy

The Rediff Specials

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