Fallout in Tamil Nadu

Print edition : August 15, 1998

THE Action Taken Report (ATR) is not so much an engagement with the Jain Commission of Inquiry's findings; it is a two-pronged political weapon. But there is reason to believe that both these prongs have already been twisted to point backwards. The first was to enable the BJP's coalition partner, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), to use the Jain Commission's Report to attack the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) Government in Tamil Nadu. The second was to drive a wedge between Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy and AIADMK supremo Jayalalitha, thus bringing to an end the former's efforts to bring down the BJP-led Government. But Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and DMK president M. Karunanidhi has so far wrested the political initiative, attacking the ATR as a "fraud". Even worse for the BJP, public opinion has been unmoved by the ATR, and media opinion has generally condemned its recommendations.

Karunanidhi was among the first to react to the ATR. His central point was that there was nothing in the Interim Report or the Final Report that attributed to either him or the DMK a role in Rajiv Gandhi's assassination. He pointed out that his name did not figure among the 21 individuals against whom Justice M.C. Jain had recommended further investigation. The sole reference to Karunanidhi is the observation that he, along with former Prime Ministers Chandra Shekhar and P.V. Narasimha Rao, former Chief Election Commissioner T.N. Seshan, Subramanian Swamy and Jayalalitha, "was also not interrogated" by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) that investigated the assassination. "On many matters," the ambiguous second sentence referring to Karunanidhi reads, "his interrogation was quite relevant."

But the ATR nonetheless recommended that Karunanidhi be investigated by the MDMA the Government has established, by means of a simple ruse. It points to observations made by Justice Jain in his controversial Interim Report. Volume VII of that Report had concluded that "the conclusion is irresistible that there was tacit support to the LTTE by Shri M. Karunanidhi and his Government, and law enforcing agencies" (Volume VII, page 944, paragraph 73.32). "Taking such observations in the Interim Report into consideration together with the misgivings expressed by the Commission in its Final Report," the ATR records, "the Government have decided to entrust the Multi-Disciplinary Monitoring Agency with the responsibility to decide how to proceed further in the matter." Reading the ATR as the vanguard of an effort to dismiss his Government, Karunanidhi "warned" the BJP that if it "in any way tried to disturb the DMK Government, it will be akin to stirring a hornet's nest."

The next day, Karunanidhi escalated his attack on the ATR and the BJP. In an obvious reference to Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) general secretary Vaiko, the Chief Minister complained that the Jain Report exonerated a person who had links with the LTTE by making a distinction between "support for the LTTE leader Prabakaran and the LTTE's cause" and the "conspiracy" to kill Rajiv Gandhi. Karunanidhi added: "If one goes by their present test, the Kapur Commission on Mahatma Gandhi's assassination should have traced the events since the birth of the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha." Karunanidhi also found it "ridiculous" that out of 21 suspects, only one person other than DMK legislator Subbulakshmi Jagadeesan was to be probed by the MDMA. SubbulakshmiJagadeesan, he said, had been acquitted in Court for the offence to be investigated now.

FOR the Congress(I), the ATR involved a painful negotiation with its own record on the issue. Having used Justice Jain's Interim Report to topple the second United Front Ministry headed by I.K. Gujral last year on the basis of the Interim Report's observations that the DMK Government had, between 1989 and 1991, lent "tacit support" to the LTTE, now it was not in any position to reject Jain's Final Report outright. But political compulsions dictated that the party maintain a functional relationship with the DMK. After a meeting, the CWC said it accepted the findings of the Jain Commission Report but rejected the ATR. This formula was by any standard of reasoning unsatisfactory, but it was perhaps the best that could be expected under the circumstances.

Perhaps paradoxically, elements of the ATR also served to embarrass the AIADMK. The attacks on Subramanian Swamy forced his one-time ally Jayalalitha to drop the politician like a hot potato. "It is for Swamy to face the allegations against him and defend himself," she said. At least this part of the BJP's objectives had been met. Subramanian Swamy has filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking the quashing of the "adverse remarks" made against him in the Final Report.

Informed political sources told Frontline that when the Union Cabinet discussed the draft ATR, the AIADMK Ministers present insisted that the Final Report's observations were enough to bring Karunanidhi within the ambit of the proposed MDMA. Leaders of the BJP proved only too willing to heed the voice of Jayalalitha's proxies. One reason for their eagerness was that their allies were unhappy at the earlier official rejection of Jayalalitha's demand that the DMK Government be dismissed. Senior BJP strategists believe that the ATR has bought them time from the worst-case scenario of Jayalalitha entering the orbit of Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi.

Jayalalitha duly deployed the gift offered to her by the BJP as a weapon of war. She pointed to "serious allegations" made in the Interim Report against Karunanidhi, including the charge that he and his associates had a "deep nexus" with the LTTE. The Jain Commission had said that the LTTE had converted Tamil Nadu into a "rear base" when Karunanidhi was the Chief Minister between 1989 and 1991. The MDMA, Jayalalitha demanded, should investigate Karunanidhi on the basis of the "serious observations" in the Interim Report and the "misgivings" in the Final Report. She also called for a First Information Report to be filed immediately against Karunanidhi, and for his resignation from office.

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