He stood by me

Print edition : February 12, 2010

With M. Karunanidhi, at the steering committee meeting of the United Front in New Delhi on May 31, 1996.-V. SUDERSHAN

He had a fund of goodwill for the DMK. M. Karunanidhi, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister.

ON January 30, 1991, the Centre dismissed the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government in Tamil Nadu, citing the DMKs support to Sri Lankan Tamils. That was an allegation made by the then Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar, and Jyoti Basu, who was the Chief Minister of West Bengal, issued a statement demanding the resignation of President R. Venkataraman for illegally dismissing the DMK government and for targeting Tamil Nadu where peace reigned.

Not only that. Jyoti Basu ordered that a hartal be observed all over West Bengal on February 6, 1991. That is, the Chief Minister himself called for a hartal! His fund of goodwill for the DMK was such. Besides, he was firm in his viewpoint that the dismissal of a State government was unacceptable.

In 1991, when news leaked out that the DMK government would be dismissed for its support to Sri Lankan Tamils, I informed Jyoti Basu, V.P. Singh and N.T. Rama Rao about it. Even today, I remember all of them counselling me to be courageous.

Towards the end of November 1989, I went to New Delhi and held discussions with political leaders on who should be chosen as the Prime Minister. I met Jyoti Basu on November 30, 1989. There was a difficulty in choosing the Prime Minister because of the bickering in the National Front.

When a meeting was held on December 1, 1989, to choose a person for the prime ministership, V.P. Singh rose and proposed the name of Devi Lal, and Chandra Shekhar seconded it. This greatly disappointed those who expected that V.P. Singh would be chosen as the Prime Minister.

But the disappointment did not last long. Devi Lal got up and declared that he would like to be like the elder brother of the family [of the National Front] and then proposed V.P. Singhs name for the prime ministership. Jyoti Basu played a great role in bringing about an amicable atmosphere at that time.

A public meeting was organised in 1989 near Panagal Park, Chennai, to explain the reasons for the National Front calling an all-India bandh. Jyoti Basu, N.T. Rama Rao, V.P. Singh, Ramakrishna Hegde and C. Rajeswara Rao addressed the public meeting. My conversations with them at that time remain in my memory.

When a National Integration Council meeting was held in New Delhi, I suggested that such meetings should be held in State capitals, too, instead of only in New Delhi. V.P. Singh and Jyoti Basu supported that suggestion.

The next National Integration Council meeting, therefore, was held in Chennai on September 22, 1990. Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, who was then the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, and Jyoti Basu, who was West Bengal Chief Minister, came to Chennai and took part in that meeting.

I organised a meeting on June 19, 1990, at the residence of the then Prime Minister V.P. Singh, after consulting V.P. Singh, to remove the confusion that existed among the then leaders on the Sri Lankan Tamil issue. Jyoti Basu, then West Bengal Chief Minister, Kerala Chief Minister E.K. Nayanar, Orissa Chief Minister Biju Patnaik, Rajasthan Chief Minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad, Assam Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Shanta Kumar, Puducherry Chief Minister D. Ramachandran, Sikkim Chief Minister Nar Bahadur Bhandari, and Union Ministers Arun Nehru, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, Murasoli Maran, M.S. Gurupadaswamy, Dinesh Goswami, K.P. Unnikrishnnan and P. Upendra took part in that meeting. Other all-India leaders who participated included [A.B.] Vajpayee, [L.K.] Advani, [E.M.S.] Namboodiripad, Indrajit Gupta, M. Farooqui, Jaswant Singh and Chitta Basu.

In that meeting, Murasoli Maran and I explained to them for more than an hour the nuances of the Sri Lankan Tamil problem, and how to solve it. All these leaders understood the truth of what I told them and gave an assurance that they would provide support to protect Sri Lankan Tamils rights and freedom. I accepted their assurances. But before I could return to Chennai, I received the news that 10 Tamil militants, including Padmanabha (all belonging to the Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Liberation Front), had been murdered by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

I then wondered whether a stumbling block had been created for the decisions that the leaders had taken at the meeting. I told V.P. Singh and Jyoti Basu about the sad incident, and consulted them [about the Sri Lankan Tamil issue], appealed to them for their continued support and returned to Chennai.

Jyoti Basu and I had mutual affection. After I organised a National Front meeting in Chennai, Basu organised another at Kolkata, in which I took part. After the meeting was over, when Basu and I met separately, he told me many things that generated a lot of laughter and happiness.

After I became the Chief Minister in 1969, I went to New Delhi in July to take part in a National Development Council meeting. Ajoy Mukherjee was West Bengal Chief Minister then and Jyoti Basu was Deputy Chief Minister. When I made a forceful plea in my speech for the nationalisation of banks, newspapers in North India highlighted it in a big way. Morarji Desai, who was then Deputy Prime Minister and Union Finance Minister, opposed my viewpoint.

I still vividly remember how, on the second day of the meeting, Jyoti Basu went to a great extent to forcefully back my views. Even though Indira Gandhi, who was then Prime Minister, kept quiet when we spoke, she announced the nationalisation of banks a few months later. That also remains in my memory.

T.S. Subramanian

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