August 2, 2002


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The Rediff Interview/P Nedumaran

'POTA will be used to crush political opponents'

Less than a month after the arrest of Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader Vaiko under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, Tamil Nationalist Movement leader Pazha Nedumaran became the second politician to be imprisoned for his pro-LTTE leanings.

Nedumaran was arrested on August 1 by the Tamil Nadu police for convening a conference in support of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Chennai on April 13.

At another conference organised by him on July 20-21, Nedumaran was cautious enough not to name the LTTE or Prabhakaran. He had said: 'A courageous Tamil youth just 20 miles away from Tamil Nadu has lent a face and identity to Tamils across the world.'

Just as he was taken away by the police, Nedumaran -- a keen supporter of the LTTE for the last 20 years -- said he was proud to be arrested under POTA and would continue to support the LTTE. Excerpts from an interview with Shobha Warrier conducted a couple of days before his arrest:

Chief Minister Jayalalithaa has said the state government is going through videotapes of the World Tamil Federation Conference, and there is a possibility of initiating action against you and Dalit Panthers of India leader Thirumalvalavan. What is your reaction to this statement?

When POTA was brought in Parliament for discussion, we opposed it. We knew POTA would be used against human rights activists and persons who are fighting for the rights of linguistic minorities.

What happened in Gujarat? Thousands of people were killed in broad daylight, but nobody has been arrested under POTA till now. The government is not prepared to arrest communal people, but it is being used against us. We knew this would happen.

When the discussion on POTA was taking place in Parliament, M Karunanidhi also expressed his doubts and said it would be used against political opponents.

In Tamil Nadu, anything can happen to anybody. The police banned the world Tamil meet, but the high court gave us permission. In the same way, if we are arrested under POTA, we will move the court and the court will release us. I am sure about that.

Are you prepared for your arrest?

Yes, we are. When TADA was enforced, I was the first person who was arrested in Tamil Nadu, but the court released me. Let them take action. We are ready to face any eventuality.

So you feel that even in Vaiko's case, the government's arguments will not stand?

Certainly! POTA is not made for this purpose. It is not to arrest political opponents. On the floor of Parliament, Home Minister L K Advani gave an assurance that POTA would not be used politically, that is, to take revenge on political opponents. But what is going on here?

The state government says it has the authority to arrest anyone who supports a banned terrorist organisation.

Okay. Then, the first person who must be arrested is our prime minister because he held talks with the banned organisations of the Northeast in Tokyo. K Padmanabhaiah has been deputed to conduct talks with the banned organisations. How are they allowing this?

Also, the RSS was banned thrice. The present prime minister, home minister and other RSS and BJP leaders went through the breadth and length of this country and criticised the ban. They said the ban must be removed. They conducted rallies and conferences all over India. Just like that, we say that the ban on the LTTE is illegal. We have been asking for withdrawal of the ban. What they have done in the RSS's case, we are doing in the LTTE's case.

But LTTE is an organisation that is functioning in another country...

Then why are you banning it? Yes, it is functioning in another country. It is not functioning in India. Tell me, why are you banning it?

They are accused of assassinating former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.

I am saying this again and again. For three years, the Special Investigation Team of the CBI conducted investigations and arrested 26 persons and charged them in the lower court. They were sentenced to death. Then, we appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court released 19 of them as they were found innocent. What does that mean? The case has almost collapsed.

The government formed the Jain Commission. The commission in its report has given that the investigation conducted by the special team is not enough. It said that another thorough investigation must be conducted. This is the recommendation of the Jain Commission. A special team has been formed, and the investigation is still going on. In the meanwhile, how can you charge that the LTTE is behind the assassination? What does that mean? The truth has not yet come out. It will but.

What kind of support do you give to the LTTE? Can we compare it to the support offered by many Muslims to the Palestinian cause?

Yes, it is the same thing. Not only the Muslims but India also supports the cause of the Palestinian Arabs. All parties in India support the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization]. But what does Israel call Yasser Arafat and the PLO? Terrorists! So, India is supporting a terrorist organisation! Will they ban the PLO in India? They won't do it.

Similarly, LTTE is fighting for the Eelam Tamils in Sri Lanka and they are our brothers and sisters. So we have every right to support their struggle. But you have to remember that the LTTE is not functioning anywhere in India.

They banned the LTTE because the LTTE refused to accept the Rajiv-Jayawardene pact. So it is to take vengeance that they banned the LTTE here. Now, what has happened to the Rajiv-Jayawardene pact? It has been disowned by the Sri Lankan government itself.

Unnecessarily, India involved itself in the issue.

Do you feel the attitude of Indian politicians will create a negative impact on the peace process that is going on in Sri Lanka?

Certainly, it will have a negative impact. After 20 years of war, a peace process has been started in Sri Lanka. A European country, Norway, is acting as mediator. India should have been playing the role. At the same time, our prime minister is in full support of Norway's initiative. In other words, India has accepted the role of not only Norway, but also the role of the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government.

The LTTE has been accepted by the Sri Lankan government, Norway, as well as India as the representative of Tamils there. At this juncture, the Tamil Nadu chief minister issues a statement that Prabhakaran must be arrested and brought back to India. I cannot understand the motive behind the statement. This is irresponsible. She is issuing statements to sideline the DMK. She must actually request the Indian government to help the refugees financially when they are ready to go back. If India comes forward and helps them, other countries will also follow suit.

When I interviewed Cho Ramaswamy, he said the people of Tamil Nadu have no sympathy for the LTTE at all, and they would not support the organisation. Your comments.

(Laughs) Cho is a single man here. He has no connection with the masses at all. What he says is not true. The people of Tamil Nadu still support the LTTE. I challenge Cho, if he is ready to come and address a meeting, whether it is organised by him or me, and discuss the problems of Sri Lankan Tamils. Is he ready? He can only do things behind the scenes.

In the World Tamil Federation Conference, which took place immediately after Vaiko's arrest, you talked about supporting the LTTE and Prabhakaran without naming him or the party even once. Why? Was it because you didn't want the state government to use your own words against you?

The World Tamil Conference is not a forum to express support to the LTTE. It is to unite the Tamils all over the world. It has nothing to do with the Sri Lankan issue or the LTTE. We also passed a resolution requesting both the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government to settle the ethnic problem by peaceful means.

I referred to the issue of Malaysian Tamils, South African Tamils, Mauritius Tamils and also the Sri Lankan Tamils. If I had conducted a meeting under our party's banner, we would have talked about the LTTE. There is no doubt about that. Everybody knows my views on the LTTE. For the past 20 years, I am saying the same thing, and there is no need to hide anything.

Do you expect the Centre to make some amendments to POTA?

No, I don't expect it. I am sure they will not do it. They [the BJP] are not bothered about their allies. They don't care about their allies. See, in every election, they change their allies.

Let me ask. If Laloo Prasad Yadav decides to arrest the VHP and BJP leaders, what will they do? Nobody can criticize if other governments also arrest their political opponents. So, POTA will be used all over India to crush political opponents.

The other day, Dr Ramadoss of the PMK said that there should be a separate state for the Vanniyars in Tamil Nadu. Do you support his view?

We oppose it strongly. A similar slogan was first raised by the RSS. They wanted to trifurcate Kashmir. It was echoed by Ramadoss in Tamil Nadu. This will lead to such demands in other states too, which will lead to India being divided on caste lines. It is not good for the country at all. So we oppose Ramadoss's demand totally.

At no time in the 3,000-year history of this place were Tamils divided on caste lines. So, Ramadoss's idea is against the interests of the Tamils. Yes, Ramadoss is a good friend. But what he says now is very dangerous. We cannot tolerate it.

Design: Dominic Xavier; Photograph: Sreeram Selvaraj

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