May 29, 2001


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Jaya government targets Stalin for starters

N Sathiya Moorthy in Madras

With Madras Mayor M K Stalin's name figuring in a police complaint by a works contractor, and Chief Minister Jayalalitha herself declaring her intention to get Central Bureau of Investigation cases against predecessor M Karunanidhi based on the Sarkaria commission reports of the seventies, the ruling AIADMK in Tamil Nadu has begun a collision course that could put the rival DMK on the defensive at the legal level, but on the offensive, politically.

While forming part of the AIADMK electoral promise, the court cases could put the DMK in the same credibility predicament that rocked the Jayalalitha leadership at the end of the 1996 polls, particularly on the eve of local bodies polls due in October, with Stalin topping the list of alleged offenders under the Karunanidhi dispensation.

The case against Stalin is based on a complaint by a civil works contractor, who says that money was paid to the city mayor and then state transport minister T Kirrutinan, through a middle man.

The Madras police has arrested former DMK parliamentarian Parasuraman, on charges under the Prevention of Corruption Act and the Indian Penal Code, for abduction and assault of the contractor, D G Deivasigamani.

According to the police complaint, Stalin and Kiruttinan had been paid Rs 75 lakh in bribes, or five per cent of the contractual value of Rs 15 crore, road-laying work for which was allotted to him by the Madras Corporation under Stalin's stewardship.

The money, it is claimed, was paid through Ramesh, supposed to be a friend of Stalin's, who is purported to have obtained the work contract for Deivasigamani.

While Parasuraman, who according to the complaint had claimed to have helped Deivasigamani, was arrested after he allegedly abducted the contractor, seeking his share of the 'cut', investigations against Stalin and Kiruttinan are said to be under way.

Simultaneously, Jayalalitha also revived her forgotten demand for reopening the CBI cases against Karunanidhi, based on the report of Justice R S Sarkaria, who probed the misdemeanours of the DMK regime of 1971-76, based on a complaint by AIADMK founder, the late M G Ramachandran.

By urging Prime Minister A B Vajpayee to order reopening of the probe, based on a memo presented by her when the AIADMK shared power with the BJP at the Centre in 1998-99, Jayalalitha also seems to be putting the leadership of the National Democratic Alliance on the offensive.

Jayalalitha made the demand in the state assembly on Monday, and followed it up with a charge that the prime minister did not initiate action on her request earlier, purely for political reasons, as the BJP was keen on jettisoning the AIADMK in favour of the DMK for an ally at the Centre.

With Jayalalitha facing at least four cases involving the Centre from her earlier innings as chief minister -- including a tax-related prosecution at the personal level -- the BJP would have some explaining to do when she storms the national media in the coming weeks, when she promises to call on Vajpayee at Delhi.

Coming as they do after two criminal assault cases involving DMK legislator Paruthi Ilamvazhuthi and N Devarajan, the brother of former electricity minister and party treasurer Arcot N Veerasamy, the case against Stalin and Kiruttinan is believed to be a step towards the Jayalalitha government moving up the ladder of the DMK hierarchy in matters of criminal prosecution.

However, all three cases are based on private complaints, where preliminary investigations seem to have been shoddy, against the thorough probe launched into most cases earlier preferred by the Karunanidhi government against the AIADMK leadership.

Where no substantial evidence could be gathered, the DMK government thought it wise not to proceed with the cases. For his part, Arcot Veerasamy has defended his brother, whose name used to be mentioned in relation to violation of hoarding rules in Madras city whenever the DMK has been in power in the past decade and more.

Devarajan's name was more recently mentioned in relation to land-grabbing, and for obtaining an illegal patta in his favour, for land owned by the Madras Corporation. His name also used to be mentioned with relation to cases of criminal assault and threat, the like of which is now the subject matter of the criminal case against him.

Devarajan and Parasuraman -- the latter involved in the Stalin case -- have since been arrested, while fresh charges have been added against Paruthi Ilamvazhuthi, in what once was seen as a murderous assault-attempt on him, on the day of polling.

In the original case, AIADMK front nominee for Paruthi's Egmore seat, John Pandian, better known across the state for his muscle-man tactics, was arrested, but once the poll results were known, Paruthi too was booked.

The DMK has called the arrests and police complaints as political vindictiveness.

Arcot Veerasamy has taken up the gauntlet on the DMK's behalf, and has said that the party would face the criminal prosecution without fear.

According to DMK sources, the state government seems to be counting on 'unsubstantiated allegations and alleged confessions' of purported co-conspirators to nail party leaders who are otherwise above board.

In contrast, they say, the cases against the erstwhile AIADMK ministers, including Jayalalitha, were based mostly on direct police or government complaints, where substantive proof came from official documents that could not be doctored.

Against this, AIADMK leaders refer to the Sarkaria commission dubbing the earlier Karunanidhi government's acts of corruption 'scientific'. Over the past three decades, "the DMK has fine-tuned the method even better, with the result, you have to count on the good sense of a co-conspirator to come out with the whole truth and nothing but the truth," said a leader.

In this context, he referred to Jayalalitha's electoral promise of 'exposing the corrupt practices of the Karunanidhi family that cost the exchequer Rs 5000 crore and more, and expects the DMK cadre to stay away from the controversy as they were carefully kept out of such fruits of office by those in power.

With the threat of court cases against DMK leaders becoming real, and pending court cases against Jayalalitha's chief ministership expected to come up for hearing after the Supreme Court and Madras High Court reopen next week after the summer vacation, the party executive is meeting in Madras next Monday, to take stock of the situation and work out its strategy.

Ahead of it, the DMK is celebrating Karunanidhi's 78th birthday on Saturday, for which the Madras police has denied the party permission to hold a public rally at Panagal Park.

Citing a pending court case, which did not seem to have come in the way of holding election rallies, the police have instead asked the DMK to choose Marina. While the DMK hopes to revive the morale of the cadres, who are down after the assembly polls -- but may not be out -- through such public displays, the AIADMK seems keen on 'exposing' the DMK at it, by offering it a venue where even a substantial crowd -- if at all -- would look small in comparison.

And with local body polls round the corner, the DMK will have a tough time to revive its electoral hopes, that too in strongholds like Madras if its futuristic leader and city mayor himself is tied down to court cases that could sap his energy and challenge his integrity.

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