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Vaiko episode shows POTA is a political weapon

New Delhi: A key ally of the ruling National Democratic Alliance and member of Parliament, Mr Vaiko, is the first leading Indian politician to be charged under the anti-terrorist law (POTA) passed early this year. Tamil Nadu state government, led by a rival party, has seized Vaiko's support to the LTTE to take action against him much to the chagrin of the central government. 

Both the minister of state for home affairs, ID Swamy, and BJP spokesman, Arun Jaitley, former minister of law, came out openly Friday, June 5, to claim that there is no case against their ally. The LTTE, which had assassinated the former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991, is banned in India. Under POTA, even support to a banned organisation is a crime.

“I have asked my ministry to give a report. But it’s a matter concerning the State Government. What can I say?” said Deputy PM and Home Minister LK Advani. 

A central government official said here that Vaiko’s booking under POTA by Tamil Nadu police was “expected” but “will not lead anywhere…POTA cannot be used to settle political scores. This is a classic case of its misuse. Vaiko’s stand on LTTE is well-known, so why book him now for making speeches,” he said on the condition of anonymity.

The police in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu Thursday, July 4, registered a case against the MDMK general secretary and member of Parliament under various sections of POTA and the Indian Penal Code. Along seven other members of his party, Vaiko has been charged for making a pro-LTTE speech on June 29 this year.

Vaiko represents Sivakasi constituency in the Indian Parliament. He is a known supporter of a Sri Lanka terrorist organisation Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Reports of Vaiko being charged under POTA immediately sparked tension in parts of his parliamentary constituency in Virudhunagar district.

LTTE had been fighting for a sovereign Tamil Eelam, a separate homeland for Sri Lankan Tamil community to be carved out of the island-nation of Sri Lanka. LTTE had been fighting a protracted guerrilla war with the Sri Lankan government for the past two decades.

LTTE was banned in India after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. LTTE accused India of helping the Sri Lanka government in its fight against the Tamils. It alleges that ethnic Sinhalese were dominant in Sri Lanka and the Tamils were compelled to live under their subjugation. Rajiv Gandhi, during his tenure as prime minister, had sent the ill-fated Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka to help the government fight the LTTE.

This is for the first time that POTA has been invoked in the southern state of Tamil Nadu which is inhabited by Tamils. The move came barely two days after the state chief minister Jayalalitha had declared her government’s resolve to arrest Vaiko for his pro-LTTE utterances.

Vaiko made a speech at a meeting organised in Tirumnagalam on June 29 in which he is alleged to have said that “I was, I am and I will continue to be a supporter of the LTTE.” He is also accused of having claimed that the LTTE was not promoting terrorism and its sole cause was the liberation of the Tamils in Sri Lanka.

A police report submitted to the state government said, “The speech of the above said persons instigates the public, that it is not wrong to support an organisation which has been banned and exhorts the public to go against the law by supporting an outlawed organisation…The speeches are likely to endanger nation’s security and integrity as per the provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967.”

The invoked POTA provisions say that a person commits an offence if he arranges, manages or assists in arranging or managing a meeting which he knows is (a) to support a terrorist organisation, (b) to further the activities of a terrorist organisation, and that a person commits an offence if he addresses a meeting for the purpose of encouraging support for a terrorist organisation or to further its activities. Anybody found guilty under either of these provisions is liable to be sentenced up to 10 years.

According to police officials, steps have been initiated by Intelligence officials to collect the audio and video cassettes of the speeches made by the MDMK leader and his party colleagues during the past one year at various places. A top police official said that Vaiko not only made pro-LTTE speeches in public meetings, but also in meetings organised by various Tamil fora, literary societies and pro-LTTE organisations.

Vaiko is presently in Chicago, and is likely to be arrested when he lands in state capital Chennai on July 12.

Speaking to Star News TV channel from Chicago, Vaiko said that he would not be browbeaten by the “fascist” government’s action. He alleged that the chief minister Jayalalitha was keen on putting her political opponents behind bars. Dismissing Jayalalitha’s threat as vindictive and politically motivated, Vaiko argued that he and his MDMK party had always spoken in support of the LTTE as the Lankan Tamil outfit had made many “sacrifices” in its war against the “oppressive” Sinhala regimes in Sri Lanka. He accused Jayalalitha of indirectly helping the Sri Lankan president, Chandrika Kumaratunga, who was bent on sabotaging the peace initiative with the Tamil Tigers. “I am prepared to face any eventuality,” Vaiko told.

The MDMK has two ministers in the NDA government at the Centre. Vaiko had vocally supported POTA when it was debated in Lok Sabha, the lower house of Indian Parliament.

Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa’s action against Vaiko has put the NDA government in a spot. On one hand MDMK is an ally of the central government and has two ministers in it, while on the other AIADMK of Jayalalitha is giving "issue-based support" to the central government which, as a result, finds itself in a piquant situation. The opposition parties stand vindicated since POTA seems to be misused to settle “political” scores with opponents. It may also be recalled that POTA was especially brought to clamp down on the terrorists after December 13 attack on the Indian Parliament amid very strong popular and political opposition.
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