'The government is not honest'

Published : Nov 11, 2000 00:00 IST

'Cho' S. Ramaswamy, the outspoken editor of the Tamil magazine Thuglak, has been highly critical of the manner in which the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka governments have handled the abduction. He has especially criticised Chief Minister M. Karu nanidhi for agreeing to Veerappan's demand that Tamil Nationalist Movement founder P. Nedumaran be sent to the forests to negotiate the release of Rajkumar. T.S. Subramanian met 'Cho' Ramaswamy for an interview. Excerpts:

How do you see the handling by the governments of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka of Veerappan's abduction of Rajkumar?

Veerappan has been made the Chief Minister of both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The Karnataka and Tamil Nadu Chief Ministers are his PAs (personal assistants). Whatever he orders, they... get it done as good, faithful, obedient PAs. Where is the handling of this?

I have no complaints about negotiations having been started. The State governments have every right to negotiate instead of trying some commando action because if something happens to Rajkumar, there can be problems for Tamils in Karnataka. I concede all that. But the way they started the negotiations, they created history.

They said every demand will be conceded. That was the beginning of the negotiations. Is this negotiation or surrender? There have been many hostage crises. Governments have negotiated and States have bargained. But nobody has started negotiations saying that whatever you ask for will be given. At that moment, the two State governments lost all credibility, and whatever little bargaining power they had was lost.

All of Veerappan's demands have not been conceded - for instance, those relating to an immediate solution to the problems of the Manjolai tea estate workers and the victims of the Chinnampatti incidents, and the payment of minimum wages to workers in tea estates in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu...

You are trying to be not only charitable but liberal because the two State governments themselves have claimed that all demands have been conceded. In interviews the two Chief Ministers have said that there is nothing left to be conceded. The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister in particular has said it.

What happened in secret I do not know. They have not taken the people of the State into confidence. Not all the cassettes that Veerappan produced have been released. And I refuse to believe that money has not been paid to him. The Hindu initially reported, the day after the kidnapping, that Veerappan had demanded Rs.50 crores. From the next day, there was no word about it. Veerappan must have told these governments that his demand for money should not be publicised because he is trying to have an image now, the image of a fighter for Tamil causes.

The Supreme Court stayed the release of 51 associates of Veerappan jailed in Mysore under TADA. There are reports that they are not really associates of Veerappan.

They may not be associates of Veerappan but are they guilty of offences punishable under the law or not? The State government has to apply for the court's permission for the withdrawal of the cases. It has been done earlier also. But the court has got ev ery right to say whether the withdrawal is for the public good, whether it is the best course available to meet the ends of justice. The law gives the court not only the right but the duty to ensure that the withdrawal is for public good.

I had written initially in Thuglak, disagreeing with the Supreme Court when it criticised the government of Karnataka, particularly the court's observation that the government should either govern or quit. I said it was not the business or the pre rogrative of the court to do that. The State government may either decide to negotiate or take some commando action in such a situation and people will judge it when the opportunity arises. If the people disagree with the decision, they will throw out th e government. But the court cannot do it, it cannot advise the people to do it. At the same time, I said the court has got every right to go into the question of whether the withdrawal of the cases will be for the public good or not. Although I was initi ally critical of the Supreme Court's strictures in the course of its hearings against the Karnataka government and then the Tamil Nadu government, I now feel that there is one forum there where the voice of the public is heard.

What are your views on Nedumaran being sent to negotiate with Veerappan?

It is common knowledge and even admitted by Veerappan's group that Tamil extremists trained by the LTTE are with him in the forests. Nedumaran is a great champion of the LTTE and its activities. Now the demand of those in the forests, that is, the Tamil extremists, is that some of the detainees in Tamil Nadu prisons should be released. Again, the detainees have LTTE sympathies or links with the LTTE. LTTE sympathisers and trainees are sitting in the forests, they are demanding the release of LTTE sympat hisers in prisons, and an LTTE sympathiser and an advocate is sent to talk to them!

The State government is sponsoring a meeting of LTTE sympathisers, trainees and activists in the forests. There cannot be a more irresponsible act on the part of the government. The LTTE is a banned organisation, the killers of a former Prime Minister of India. They have nasty designs.

Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi said that Veerappan insisted on Nedumaran being sent.

The Chief Minister is not at all clear in what he said about Nedumaran. He said that Nedumaran is not an official emissary. In the same breath, he said Nedumaran has become an emissary because he has accompanied the emissary. And then the Chief Minister said that the government sent Nedumaran as an emissary because Veerappan demanded it. Do you want me to take this gentleman's words seriously? Veerappan will demand so many things. Supposing Veerapan demands that Stalin (Karunanidhi's son and a legislato r who is the Mayor of Chennai) should be sent, will he be sent? Supposing Veerappan demands that Karunanidhi should resign and quit politics, and that he will release Rajkumar the next moment, will that demand be met? What is this, conceding demands and sending emissaries?

The appointment of the second emissary (Nedumaran) looks like a burlesque. When Sonia Gandhi said that Nedumaran was not the choice of the Karnataka government, Karunanidhi denied it, Krishna obfuscated it and the emissary declared that he was not an emi ssary at all! Why all these contradictions?

In the first instance itself, Veerappan did not ask for any particular emissary. When was this emissary decided upon? Because he is a friend of Veerappan? Who represents the State then? Who is the friend of the State then? Mr. Gopal has openly said even earlier that he will not help the police in locating Veerappan though he was very much in the know of things. So you know his sympathies. I say that for him his word of honour to Veerappan is much more important than all the lives taken by Veerappan, and he (Gopal) is sent to negotiate. He says that unless everything is conceded, Veerappan will not budge. The Chief Minister repeats it. He says he is waiting for the "signal" (from Veerappan). I have heard these words only in Tamil movies, the assistants waiting for the "signal"from the boss.

Veerappan is supposed to be deep inside the forests... 40 km inside. But everyone walks in and walks out of the forests. When somebody becomes the emissary of the government, the forests somehow clear themselves and make way. Truth is the casualty. I am waiting for the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister to utter one truthful statement on this issue.

Do you think that in sending Nedumaran Karunanidhi did not foresee the political consequences?

Did he not foresee the consequences when he appreciated Veerappan for his Tamil extremism? He congratulated him on that. Why did he make that statement? Because he has got a lurking sympathy for extremism in various forms. It comes out openly when he is in the Opposition. He corks it in a bottle when he is in power. The same thing has happened with regard to his sending Nedumaran. For all you know, Veerappan may have asked for Nedumaran. But the State need not have conceded it. Did Veerappan assure the government that if Nedumaran was sent, Rajkumar would be sent back along with him? Or has Veerappan gone back on that word? If that was why Nedumaran was sent, why did the government first say that he was not a government emissary and then said that he w as a government emissary? Because they are not honest about it, particularly the Chief Minister.

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