Karunanidhi hits back

Print edition : November 29, 1997

The DMK president and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister dismisses the Jain Commission's allegations and says that the Congress' attempt to make gains by blowing up the allegations has boomeranged.

DMK president and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi was in New Delhi from November 18 to 21 during the political turmoil immediately following the Congress(I) demand that the DMK Ministers be dropped from the United Front Government in the light of the Jain Commission's Interim Report. Special Correspondent T.S. Subramanian and Editor N. Ram met a cool and in-form Chief Minister at his office in Fort St. George in Chennai on November 23. Excerpts from the interview:

You have rejected the findings of the Jain Commission. The United Front has stood by you and endorsed your standpoint. Has the U.F. decision of November 21 vindicated your stand?

It is not my standpoint alone. All the constituents together took that stand. The leaders of all political parties in the United Front realised that there was no justification for slandering the DMK - which is completely guiltless in this case - or expelling it from the Front. This is the unanimous view of the parties in the United Front.

T.A. HAFEEZ

Who do you think has gained from the allegations in the report?

By blowing up the Jain Commission issue, the Congress expected that it would gain from it. But quite contrary to that, it boomeranged.

Can you sum up your objections to the Interim Report of the Jain Commission? You have emphasised that it has "indicted" not only the DMK but the entire population of Tamil Nadu.

Jain has found fault with an entire party. He has slandered the people of Tamil Nadu. In the charge-sheet submitted by the Special Investigation Team headed by D.R. Karthikeyan (in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case), which listed 41 accused, no member of the DMK has been named as an accused.

The people of this country have realised this. Only the Congress and the AIADMK try to link the DMK with the Rajiv Gandhi assassination, by saying that the DMK extended support to the LTTE. But even Jain has not levelled any such allegation against the DMK anywhere. The DMK is a democratic movement. It is not a fascist movement.

Hostilities broke out on October 10, 1987 between the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF) and the LTTE . The Jain Commission's thesis is that whoever supported the LTTE until then was not "anti-national".

Yes. That is, the LTTE cadres were not anti-national forces when Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi set up training camps for the LTTE in more than 30 places including Dehra Dun and R.K. Puram in Delhi, supplied them with deadly weapons, gave them money liberally and trained them militarily. But when the DMK supported the LTTE and other militant groups, they became anti-national!

That is, the LTTE became anti-national.

The Jain Commission's argument is that the LTTE became anti-national. Does this not appear to be self-contradictory?

Jain says that the arms were given for self-defence. He says: "The evidence available before the Commission indicates that the training was essentially for self-defence and not for launching military operations, or for encouraging internecine conflicts among the Sri Lankan militant groups." What is your opinion on this?

If it was for protection, they should have been given shields. How can providing them with assault rifles and missiles be self-defence? How can arms given to vanquish the enemy become weapons for self-protection?

Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister when the LTTE was fighting the IPKF. Why did Rajiv Gandhi not ban it then?

I raised the same question at Chennai airport on November 21. At one stage, for argument's sake, let us say that Rajiv Gandhi supported the LTTE. But when the LTTE fiercely fought the IPKF in Sri Lanka, the LTTE in India was not banned.

What is evident from this is that Rajiv Gandhi harboured the expectation of reaching a compromise with the LTTE. An instance of this is the meeting between Rajiv Gandhi and LTTE Polit Bureau member Kasi Anandan at Rajiv Gandhi's residence in New Delhi on March 5, 1991. During that meeting, Kasi Anandan gave a letter to Rajiv. It is also with the Jain Commission. That letter, which has been mentioned in the Jain Commission report, begins thus: "I present to you the greetings of Mr. V. Prabakaran, our leader." It adds: "It is my hope that this meeting will mark the beginning of a cordial and friendly relationship between you and our movement." The letter also says: "At this juncture, it is necessary as an immediate step that the communication gap between the Government of India and the LTTE be effectively bridged and links properly established."

The reply that Rajiv Gandhi gave after reading this letter has also been mentioned in the Jain Commision report: "Rajiv Gandhi appreciated the stand of the LTTE and admitted that a wrong approach had been made in the past to solve the Tamil problem. He wanted the LTTE to continue the struggle and assured it help. Nevertheless, he asked Kasi Anandan to get a letter from Prabakaran as to what the LTTE chief expected of him."

V.P. Singh noted in a press conference that the meaning of this was that sending the IPKF itself to Sri Lanka was a mistake.

After this, Arjuna Sittampalam, an LTTE emissary based in London, met Rajiv Gandhi on March 15, 1991 in New Delhi.

N.Ram: T.S.Subramanian interviewed him in London. He spoke in detail to Frontline about the LTTE's motives and this meeting.

In the same Jain Commission report, it is mentioned that in April 1991, "Raghuvaran, a member of the Black Tigers of the LTTE, who was involved in the massacre of the EPRLF cadres in Madras on June 19, 1990" - Raghuvaran took part in the murder of Padmanabha - "had been reported to have been sighted at Anna Nagar, a suburb of Madras city. The Madras city police were alerted and all efforts made to locate and arrest him but to no avail. The said Raghuvaran is now learnt to be identical with Sivarajan, a prime accused in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case."

Is that correct?

It has all been written by Jain. I will quote for you something more from the Jain Commission report: "As per the IB (Intelligence Bureau) reports, Sivarajan was sighted in April 1991 by the IB on 13th April, 1991 at Anna Nagar, Madras. The local police were alerted but neither the IB nor the local police succeeded in nabbing him... Sivarajan (had) returned to Madras during the middle of March 1991."

That is, he fled after killing Padmanabha. Then "Sivarajan returned to Madras during the middle of March 1991. On this occasion, he brought gold to be used for financing the operation."

As far as Jain is concerned, if he wants to write something and if an Intelligence Bureau report suits what he wants to write, he accepts it gladly (laughs). But if the I.B. contradicts his viewpoint, he does not use it at all. That is a major fault of the Jain report.

(At this point, Chief Minister Karunanidhi reads out from a letter written in hand by former Tamil Nadu Home Secretary R. Nagarajan on November 30, 1991 to Chief Minister Jayalalitha: "Respected Madam Chief Minister, I have done my duty and I will stand by it all the time to come. I feel that I have unloaded a heavy weight from my heart. Once again, I am greatful (sic) for your noble and kind gestre (sic). Awaiting for your further orders and instructions. My respectful regards. Yours sincerely.")

This is handwritten. I submitted this to the Commission. But Jain rejected our application, which said that if he doubted the authenticity of this letter, he could have it verified by hand-writing experts. After rejecting the application, Jain wrote in the report that he had written to both Jayalalitha and Nagarajan. And according to Jain, Nagarajan said he did not write any such letter. Having said this, Jain gave a "reason" for rejecting our application: there was a spelling mistake in Nagarajan's letter! Jain said that an IAS officer would not make a mistake in spelling - Nagarajan had written "greatful" instead of "grateful."

I argued that an IAS officer had made that mistake. The mistake could have occurred in haste; he could have been proficient in English.

Jain himself said: "On behalf of Karunanidhi, an application No.90/97 dated 10.3.97 was moved to call for sample documents in the hand of Shri Nagarajan and thereafter, to send the letter for examination by handwriting and document experts." Without bothering about our application, he rejected it because Jayalalitha and Nagarajan denied the existence of such a letter and he used the mistake in spelling as a pretext to reject our application (laughs).

(Yasser) Arafat, who was recently in India, said he had already warned Rajiv Gandhi about a plot to kill him and that he had informed Chandra Shekhar about it. Arafat said this to reporters. Jain sent a questionnaire to Arafat seeking an explanation about what he said. Why did he not show the same concern with regard to Nagarajan's letter?

Jain could have asked Arafat when he was in Delhi. He would have given a reply immediately.

He could have called him and asked him about the issue.

I wanted Jain to employ a handwriting expert to verify the letter. Why did he not do that? Has not Nagarajan given affidavits that are contradictory?

At another place Jain says: "It appears to be a personal letter written by Mr. R. Nagarajan. It is inconceivable that such a personal letter would have remained in the official records. Jayalalitha is not such an unintelligent lady so as to leave the letter in the file. Her natural conduct would have been either she would have destroyed it or would have put it in her own brief case or in her own private records."

This could easily have been investigated. You could have provided a handwriting expert to give an opinion.

We asked for it. I know his (Nagarajan's) handwriting, don't I? When I was Chief Minister, he was Home Secretary under me.

Has not Jain glossed over Kasi Anandan's meeting with Rajiv Gandhi except to use it to "rebut" what you said?

Yes.

The text you read out said: "Rajiv Gandhi appreciated the stand taken..." But it seems that Jain has not analysed the significance of that statement.

Sivarajan and others went back to Sri Lanka, returned to Chennai and roamed around. At this point of time, then Tamil Nadu Governor Bhishma Narain Singh said at Tiruchi on March 12, 1991, "LTTE activities have been controlled." Here, this was published in The Hindu of March 13, 1991. Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated on May 21, 1991 at about 10 p.m. Earlier in the evening the same day, Malai Murasu (a Tamil evening newspaper) published an interview given by Bhishma Narain Singh. The Malai Murasu headline read: "We have put down the militants in three months: Governor." He said this at the end of discussions with police officers at the Secretariat.

For eight months, V.P. Singh was not in power. For four months, the DMK was not in power. At that time, Chandra Shekhar was the Prime Minister at the Centre. There was Governor's rule here. During this period, who should have controlled the militants? That is why I told Outlook magazine in an interview that if, I, as a writer, were asked to write a story on this assassination case, I would write it as follows. Some stories introduce a hero and a heroine, they go forward and finally end in a conclusion. Some stories begin with the climax and are then narrated in flashback. As far as this story is concerned, it is one that should begin with the climax.

How should it begin? How did the human bomb Dhanu, charge-sheeted in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, come to Tamil Nadu? Who came with her? Where did she stay and with whom did she stay? Who took her to Sriperumbudur? Who arranged the programme of Rajiv Gandhi? Who suddenly made changes in the programme? To what places did Sivarajan go in Tamil Nadu? Why could Sivarajan not be apprehended till he went to Bangalore? It is said that the place where Sivarajan stayed and was cornered in Bangalore belongs to a Congressman. What are the details?

At the place where Rajiv Gandhi died, no Congressman was injured. The persons who died there were police officers who provided him security. At this point of time, there was an alliance between Rajiv Gandhi's party, the Congress(I), and the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu. Why did no candidate belonging to that alliance go to the public meeting addressed by Rajiv Gandhi? After his death, why was no effort made to see the body at the airport? Not only that. When Rajiv Gandhi travelled from the airport to Chennai, though Jayalalitha was not then in town, did any AIADMK candidate who contested with Congress(I) support, or any AIADMK worker, receive him?

I am not the only one to raise these questions. Here, Subramanian Swamy himself has given an affidavit and raised these questions before the Jain Commission. Swamy has raised these questions about not going to the airport or seeing the body after Rajiv Gandhi's death.

V.P. Singh has stood by you. He has said that there is no connection between the DMK and the Rajiv Gandhi assassination. Besides, he said that you were only implementing the policy of Rajiv Gandhi on the Sri Lankan Tamil issue.

Rajiv Gandhi visited Tamil Nadu in 1989 during the election campaign. We had an alliance with V.P. Singh at that time. The DMK was a member of the National Front. The DMK was then the ruling party in Tamil Nadu. Rajiv Gandhi came to Tamil Nadu to campaign in the Lok Sabha elections. When he addressed public meetings at Tiruchi and Coimbatore on November 5, 1989, he said that although Karunanidhi was in the National Front and not with him in those elections, Karunanidhi had cooperated with the Centre in a good manner as far as the LTTE problem was concerned. Here, this was published by The Indian Express on November 6, 1989. Rajiv Gandhi also thanked me. The sub-heading in The Indian Express was: "Rajiv thanks Karunanidhi." The news item said: "The Prime Minister also thanked the DMK Government in Tamil Nadu and Chief Minister Mr. Karunanidhi for offering cooperation during the last several months in finding a solution to the Sri Lankan Tamil problem." He said this in Tiruchi. The news item added: "Rajiv Gandhi wondered how the DMK could have truck with other parties in the National Front." The same newspaper says: "Rajiv Gandhi again patted the DMK Government at a public meeting at Coimbatore for extending the fullest cooperation on the Sri Lankan Tamil issue but was sore that the DMK had joined hands with the opposition parties."

Do you then agree with V.P. Singh's assessment that you followed Rajiv Gandhi's policy on the Sri Lankan Tamil issue?

Yes, that is true, and I have already said so. I acted on the basis of Rajiv Gandhi's policy, and the suggestions of V.P. Singh and Chandra Shekhar; and the DMK Government functioned so as not to harm India's foreign policy in any manner.

You already said that the Jain Commission's Interim Report was not an indictment of the DMK but of the entire population of Tamil Nadu. This is in the conclusion of Volume 7, page 925 of the report: "The assassination of Shri Rajiv Gandhi would not have been possible the way it has materialised without the deep nexus of the LTTE operatives with the Tamils in Tamil Nadu." Tamil Nadu Congress Committee president K.V. Thangabalu has denied the existence of any such observation by him and Jayalalitha has said it was quoted out of context. She has acccused you of inciting the people of Tamil Nadu.

I am not saying anything that is not there in the report. You know that yourself. It is clearly stated in the report. (Karunanidhi reads the sentence out again.) This is what Jain says. Both Thangabalu and Jayalalitha know English. If they argue that Jain had not said this at all, are they fooling the people, or am I not stating what is mentioned in the Jain Commission Interim Report?

Do you think your party has gained sympathy from these developments? What is the response of the people?

The Jain Commission Report was tabled in the Lok Sabha on November 20. Local bodies elections were held on November 21. These polls were held because in some places they had not been conducted earlier, or some members had died, or a few had resigned their seats. In these elections, the DMK scored a huge victory.

There is an electorate of 50,000 for each ward in the district panchayat. At Kalasapakkam in Tiruvannamalai district, the DMK won by a margin of more than 4,000 votes. This was 2,000 votes more than what the previous DMK candidate, who died, won last year. The Ammapet ward in Thanjavur district also has 50,000 voters. The DMK won the ward member's post by a margin of 3,600 votes. Although the number of votes polled was low, the DMK won 600 votes more than that won by the previous member, who died, last year.

Besides, byelections were held in different parts of the State for municipal councillors' posts. In the elections held for 11 seats, the DMK won six seats, the AIADMK 2, the BJP one and independents two. Polls were held for 26 seats in town panchayats. Of them, the DMK won 12, the TMC 2, the AIADMK 2 and independents 10. For nine seats to panchayat union councils, the DMK won four, the TMC two, the AIADMK two and independent one. I have issued a statement thanking the people for this.

Will the Congress(I) get anything out of this issue? They think that this is their main chance. What is your assessment at the all-India level?

In Tamil Nadu, they will lose whatever they have. They have nothing more to lose in Tamil Nadu. There is no redemption for the Congress(I) at the all-India level.

What do you think of the TMC's response - or non-response - to the Congress demand for the removal of the DMK Ministers from the Union Cabinet? Has Sonia Gandhi influenced the TMC?

I have no comments.

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