Justice Jain's sweeping censure

Print edition : December 27, 1997

Justice Jain's censure of "the Tamils in Tamil Nadu" for "the deep nexus" they had with the LTTE is nothing short of group libel on communities.

A.G. NOORANI

BY now Justice Milap Chand Jain's sweeping censure of "the Tamils in Tamil Nadu" have won him undying fame in the gallery of judges who have used judicial office to make ex-cathedra remarks that are little short of group libel on communities. We heard in 1984 sweeping censures of journalists ("wretched") by a judge of the Delhi High Court who was elevated to the Supreme Court, Justice Yogeshwar Dayal, and recently of politicians by some Special Judges trying cases of corruption.

Jain's is the first comment of its kind on a whole community and throws us back to the days of the Raj, when such utterances were not uncommon. Once, two English Judges of the Allahabad High Court wrote, in their judgment, of "the slight value placed upon truth in this country." It drew this severe condemnation by Gandhiji: "What legal basis had these two judges for the sweeping statement made by them as to the character of a whole nation?" What he proceeded to add is very relevant to an appraisal of the "Interim" report that Jain gave as a commission of inquiry set up to probe into a specific aspect of the tragedy of Rajiv Gandhi's assassination - whether it was done pursuant to a conspiracy. Gandhiji pointed out that when such observations "are made by Judges they vitiate their Judgments..." The judges had "proved their incapacity to hold responsible positions... who knows in how many cases this bias of theirs has resulted in defeating justice?" (Harijan, April 2, 1940).

The Judges wrote as they did while assessing the credibility of five eyewitnesses. That assessment was part of their duty; the group libel was not. In Jain's case, he was not called upon to assess the character of Tamils. He made disparaging remarks about them, all the same. Having done so, silence - if not, indeed, an apology - would have been a wise option. But as we have seen ever since Jain began performing in public over the last five years on the Commission and in very many press interviews, he is not the one to leave a mess half done. The Commission has been leaking like a sieve. On December 7, the Press Trust of India (PTI) put out a report quoting "Commission sources". Since Jain has not contradicted it one can safely assure that he is the source or, in any event, he approved of it. "Clarifying its positions (sic.) on the above issues (aspersions on Tamils and on the Nepalese Royal family) the Jain panel has sent a letter to the Union Home Minister, Mr. Indrajit Gupta," a week earlier. Since the Interim Report is a public document, the clarification should have been addressed to the public.

What has been provided to the public, through PTI, is an explanation that is factually false and serves only to invite closer scrutiny of the Interim Report and, not least, its object and timing. He was asked, in the main, to ascertain "(b) whether any person or persons or agencies were responsible for conceiving, preparing and planning the assassination and whether there was any conspiracy in this behalf and, if so, all its ramifications." There was, of course, another term of reference prefatory to this in the usual form; "(a) the sequence of events leading to, and all the facts and circumstances relating to, the assassination of Shri Rajiv Gandhi at Sriperumbudur (other than the matters covered by the terms of reference for the Commission of Inquiry headed by Shri Justice J. S. Verma)."

Justice M.C. Jain.-V.S. RAMANATHAN

Never before has any Commission of Inquiry given an Interim Report confined solely to this prefatory remit delinked from its main task. Jain did worse than that. He split the prefatory term (a) itself. He has set out only "the sequence of events" leaving "the facts and circumstances" for discussion in the final report along with the remit on conspiracy. And for setting out this "sequence" he needed eight volumes plus 9 volumes of Annexures.

Two questions arise. Why the tearing hurry to provide us with a mere "sequence of events"? Next, how can comments on Tamils and censures of V.P. Singh, Chandra Shekhar and P. Chidambaram form part of any statement of "sequence of events"? Flouting the terms of reference, he has devoted a whole volume (Vol. IV) to the aspect of security, which Justice Verma's report has covered. Even the Thakkar Report on Indira Gandhi's assassination devoted a mere 15 pages (Chapter 2) to setting out the "sequence of events".

On another aspect the approaches of Justice Jain and Justice Thakkar coincide and for the same reason, too. Both were out to please the powers that be. The Thakkar report reflected distrust of the Sikhs (pp.44 and 59). The Jain report denigrates Tamils. The PTI report only makes matters worse for its author. References to Tamils, Commission sources claimed, were aimed at - note the direct quotes - "an absolutely minuscule section" of the people of Tamil Nadu, who aided and abetted the LTTE. No such qualifying words occur in the entire report.

PTI added: "The references made to Tamils, which invited the wrath of politicians, could never have meant the Tamil population," sources said. On reports about the panel indicting the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam or any party or individual, they said these were without basis as this was only an Interim Report.

"Investigation into the facts and circumstances immediately before the assassination and the conspiracy aspect were yet to be completed. Hence, the question of indictment would arise only in the final report, sources said."

The Jain report, however, is replete with "indictment". The DMK is very much one of its targets. Volume XIV contains 139 Annexures on the "Growth of Sri Lankan Tamil Militancy in Tamil Nadu", a topic covered in Vols. V to VII of the report. The Annexures are listed and briefly described by the Commission in the Index. M-86, an intelligence report of July 2, 1990, is described as "views of chauvinistic groups in Tamil Nadu." The Intelligence Bureau's (I.B.) report itself bore no such heading. That is the Commission's gloss on it. The I.B. reported the views of P. Nedumaran, president of the Tamil National Movement and of "M. Karunanidhi, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister" - in that order - and moves by the LTTE leader V. Prabakaran.

The word "chauvinist" is used indiscriminately throughout Volume V of the report. The oft-quoted words in para 73 on page 925 of Vol. VII acquire a darker hue when the report is read as a whole. The para itself should be read in its entirety: "I have seen (sic.) the growth of Sri Lankan militancy in Tamil Nadu since 1981. At different periods the nature and levels of militancy varied and a period came when it assumed anti-national character and penetrated into the social fabric of Tamil population and the political parties too were entrenched (sic.) as the ethnic issue was an emotional issue with all the Tamils. The assassination of Shri Rajiv Gandhi would not have been possible the way it has materialised without the deep nexus of LTTE operatives with the Tamils in Tamil Nadu and tacit support from the State authorities and the law enforcement agencies" (emphasis added throughout). This perception explains his ire against Tamils. He clearly holds them responsible "ultimately" - a favourite word - for the tragedy.

Volume IV is on security. However, one finds the same mindset there as well. "LTTE had already spread its network. The Tamil population and the State Government of Tamil Nadu was sympathetic which was reflected in the entire State Administration including the police machinery" (p. 241).

In Volume V this aspect is fully covered and the bias against Tamils bared for all to see. It begins cautiously enough, not with a reference to "an absolutely minuscule section" of the people of Tamil Nadu, as claimed in the PTI report, but to the "identification of a section of Indian Tamils with the chauvinistic pan-Tamil ideals and the emotional and material support extended by them to their Sri Lankan brethren" (p. 1). The caution is abandoned, cosmetic as it was in view of the sweeping reference earlier in Vol. IV, page 241, quoted above.

On page 2 of Vol. V, there is an alarmist note of "the growth of chauvinist, Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu which assumed secessionist overtones. The note further says: "It was the climate created and painstakingly cultivated by a section of Indian Tamil chauvinists in Tamil Nadu which was brazenly exploited by Sri Lankan Tamil groups..."

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi. The DMK is one of the targets of the Interim Report of the Jain Commission.-T.A. HAFEEZ

We are treated to a pop history of the Dravidian movement, which abandoned the demand for an independent Dravida Nadu in 1962. The DMK assumed power in Tamil Nadu in 1967, and acquired a share in power at the Centre in 1977, 1989 and 1996. Its absorption in the mainstream of Indian politics is surely one of the success stories of India's nationalism and its democracy.

As we shall see, Jain casts doubts on the sincerity of the DMK's abandonment of secessionism. "Chauvinistic Tamil elements" in India and Sri Lanka propounded theories "based on pseudo-historical interpretations justifying a separate geographical identity for all Tamils... The fostering of this 'Tamil psyche' led to the emergency of racially conscious socio-political chauvinist forces in India as well as Sri Lanka." This was a "stronger bond" between the two than "common ethnic origin" (Vol. V, p. 64).

The report proceeds: "After the formation of Andhra Pradesh as a State (1953), the Dravidar Kazhagam temporarily abandoned the concept of Dravida Desam in its originally contemplated form and confined itself to removal of (a) Hindi as the official language of India, and (b) Brahmins as the dominant social class in Tamil Nadu" (ibid. p. 64).

Karunanidhi's testimony is quoted: "In the year 1962, this demand (independence) was given up officially by the DMK." Jain's instant comment reads: "The secessionist proclivities of Tamil chauvinists, however, did not abate..." Why was his Ministry sacked during the Emergency in 1976? Because "the Central Government perceived their activities as prejudicial to the Indian Constitution" (p. 66). This suffices to reveal Jain's predilections. But M. G. Ramachandran was different. He "balanced Tamil interests in harmony with the policies of the Central Government and continuously maintained good relations with the Central Government."

A good Tamil is, evidently, one who is pro-Congress. "Regional political parties" in the State are criticised for creating "an anti-Centre atmosphere in general and anti-Rajiv Gandhi sentiments in particular among the impressionable sections of the population of the State, especially youth and students" (Vol. V, Chapter 1, p. 196). This was after the LTTE began to attack the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF). As the narrative proceeds, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) is exempted from criticism while the DMK, the DK, and the Tamil Nadu Kamaraj Congress are specifically mentioned as the ones who nurtured "Tamil chauvinistic sentiments" (ibid. p. 190; see also p. 219).

There was "a revival of Tamil chauvinism" during the 1980s (p. 282). More explicitly, "the activities of Tamil chauvinist and anti-national elements experienced a resurgence during this period" (p. 294). In Volume VI at p. 394, there is a reference to "the blatantly pro-LTTE and anti-IPKF stance taken by majority of the regional parties including DMK..."

The AIADMK is excluded; not because it was not pro-LTTE, but because it was in "harmony" with the Rajiv Gandhi Government. For the rest, anything comes in handy to censure Tamils as a whole. V. P. Singh only described the LTTE's access to the interior in the State and its training under the Indira and Rajiv Gandhi Governments. That was enough for Jain to hold that it showed that the Tigers "had developed their contacts, relations, alliances and liaisons in all walks of life of Tamil population..." (Vol. VI, p. 662).

This was so much so, we are told that, "Tamil chauvinism got a new lease of life in Tamil Nadu after the signing of the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord" (Vol. VII, p. 851). By the end of 1987 "the regional opposition parties" were pursuing a strategy which "led to a situation where these (anti-Centre, pro-LTTE) feelings started bordering on the verge of anti-nationalism" (ibid. pp. 933-934). The implication is obvious - these parties are accused of secessionism.

Those famous remarks on p. 925 of this very Volume (VII) must be read in this context. The Jain Report does not censure "an absolutely minuscule section" of the people of Tamil Nadu. It blames all of them for "the deep nexus" with the LTTE and for thus facilitating Rajiv Gandhi's assassination. They are repeatedly dubbed "chauvinistic." People in one State of the Indian Union are singled out for applying this pejorative epithet. This is group libel and it merits all the censures that Gandhiji delivered in 1940 on group libel by judges.

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