Gestures of goodwill

Published : Sep 16, 2000 00:00 IST


SINCE the abduction of Rajkumar, Karnataka Chief Minister S.M. Krishna has visited Chennai with his entourage four times to hold talks with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, M. Karunanidhi, the government emissary R.R. Gopal and officials. On September 8, it wa s the turn of Karunanidhi to go to Bangalore. Krishna, who is facing arguably the sternest test of his political career, could take some consolation from the fact that he could convince Karunanidhi that it was time for him to do so.

On the two previous occasions on which Gopal went into the forests and returned with audio and/or video cassettes he had handed them over to Karunanidhi, who in turn telephonically informed Krishna of the development. Thereupon Krishna reached Chennai to be briefed about Gopal's missions.

Whenever there was criticism in Karnataka about this pattern, Krishna and Home Minister M. Mallikarjun Kharge chose to explain it as being but "natural", for the abduction had taken place on Tamil Nadu territory and the hostages were also being held in T amil Nadu. There have been many people in the Opposition parties who would love to cash in on the issue, some of Veerappan's demands (such as the sharing of the Cauvery waters and the status of Tamil) being even otherwise highly emotive issues. After an all-party meeting on September 4, some Opposition leaders expressed the opinion that it would only be "fair" to expect Karunanidhi also to display the same degree of concern for the abducted actor by making a trip to Bangalore. They said that such a visi t would send the "right signals to the people of Karnataka". Krishna was blamed by these leaders "for playing second fiddle to Karunanidhi" and letting the latter dictate the strategy, be it choosing the emissary or the venue for inter-governmental discu ssions. Soon after his return from his latest foray into the forest, Gopal paid a visit to Bangalore on September 6. And the Karnataka-born Tamil matinee idol Rajnikant made a statement that Karunanidhi was concerned about the well-being of the abducted Kannada actor as much as any Kannadiga. It was then logical that the fifth meeting between Karunanidhi and Krishna since the abduction would take place at Bangalore on September 8.

Karunanidhi's trip to Bangalore went off with clock-work precision and helped Krishna blunt the barbs from his political critics and also sent the right signals to the man on the street. Karunanidhi hit the nail on the head when after meeting Krishna he said that the purpose of his visit was to "infuse confidence and to foster brotherhood and fraternal feelings between the peoples of the two States". "Otherwise," he said, "I would have met your Chief Minister in Chennai itself."

After a 45-minute, closed-door meeting between Krishna and Karunanidhi, which was attended also by Kharge and Tamil Nadu Health Minister Arcot Veerasamy, there was another meeting between the two Chief Ministers in which officials of both States were pre sent. Representatives of a few Bangalore-based Tamil organisations met Karunanidhi and requested him to secure the early release of Rajkumar. A 11-member delegation from the film industry had a 15-minute meeting with the two Chief Ministers, and presente d a memorandum to Karunanidhi. Prior to his departure for Chennai Karunanidhi spent five minutes at Rajkumar's residence where he explained to Rajkumar's wife Parvathamma the steps that the governments were taking for the actor's release.

The only discordant note came at a joint press conference by the Chief Ministers. When Krishna was asked why he was not speaking in Kannada (since Karunanidhi spoke in Tamil at the Chennai briefings) Krishna replied, pointing to his counterpart, "he has to understand". Karunanidhi, however, chose to speak in chaste Tamil although the questions were in English. Tamil Nadu Law Minister Aladi Aruna translated into English the gist of Karunanidhi's replies.

Krishna politely intervened when Karunanidhi faced a volley of questions, some of which had the imputation that the Tamil Nadu government was not cooperating with Karnataka or doing enough over the past few years to apprehend Veerappan. Karunanidhi turne d defensive and asked: "What do you want us do ?" Krishna ended the exchange with the remark: "Let us confine ourselves to securing the release of Rajkumar".

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