Extending a ban

Published : Apr 29, 2000 00:00 IST


ANOTHER extension of the ban in India on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam appears to be on the cards, if Union Home Minister L.K. Advani's comments on the subject and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi's response to it are an indication.

The ban, under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, was first clamped on May 17, 1992 after the LTTE was charged with involvement in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. It was extended every two years and is now coming up for renewal.

On April 6, Advani told newspersons in New Delhi that the Centre was awaiting the Tamil Nadu Government's recommendation on the extension. When mediapersons sought Karunanidhi's reaction to this statement, the Chief Minister said: "The extension of the b an has been continuing from the days of the Jayalalitha Government. Our recommendation for an extension is also a continuing story." Karunanidhi's politically loaded remark was perhaps prompted by a perceived need to ensure that his ruling Dravida Munnet ra Kazhagam (DMK) would not singly come in for criticism from pro-LTTE organisations, which were dormant after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi and the ban on the LTTE but have in recent months become active in the State.

There has been an increase in the circulation of Tamil publications that openly support the LTTE's campaign for a Tamil Eelam. Among them are magazines such as Nandhan Vazhi, a three-year-old fortnightly edited by Na. Arunachalam; Then Asia Sei de (South Asia News), a four-year-old fortnightly, edited by P. Nedumaran, a former Congress(I) leader who is an unabashed sympathiser of the LTTE campaign; and Thagam. Twice in the past month Nandhan Vazhi carried pictures of LTTE leader V. P rabakaran on its cover.

Meetings are being organised in Tamil Nadu to drum up support for a Tamil Eelam, and Nedumaran addresses many of these meetings. He led a demonstration in Chennai on March 20, during United States President Bill Clinton's visit to India, to protest the U .S.' supply of arms to Sri Lanka. Nedumaran was among those who addressed a meeting held in Chennai to condole the killing of Kumar Ponnambalam, a pro-LTTE advocate, in Colombo on January 5. It appears that the pro-LTTE organisations in Tamil Nadu have s tepped up their activities following the submission of clemency petitions from Nalini, Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan, who have been sentenced to death for their involvement in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi.

The Karunanidhi Government is in a quandary over whether or not to recommend to Governor M. Fathima Beevi the commutation of the death sentences because this is a politically explosive issue. (The recommendation of the Council of Ministers is a legal req uirement.) If the Council of Ministers recommends the commutation, the DMK will come in for criticism from Opposition parties such as the Congress(I), the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the Tamil Maanila Congress. If the Council of Ministers does not recommend commutation, the DMK's allies such as the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) and the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), which support a Tamil Eelam and have been pressing for the commutation, will be distinctly unhappy. Karunanidhi has said that "legal discussions have not yet been concluded" on the petitions from the four condemned prisoners. The issue has been hanging fire for the past six months, even after the Supreme Court reconfirmed the death sentences.

Following the submission of clemency petitions, the pro-LTTE organisations seized the moment to become active again. A number of them came together to seek "abolition of the death penalty" and took out a procession in Chennai on November 30, 1999 (Frontline, December 24, 1999).

Indeed, the LTTE has not enjoyed such a level of political support in Tamil Nadu for over a decade (although the terrorist organisation itself has not directly stepped up its presence in the State). The support of the MDMK and the PMK is particularly sig nificant, since they are constituents of the National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre. Defence Minister George Fernandes has in the past been seen to be sympathetic to the LTTE cause.

On April 3, MDMK general secretary Vaiko met officials of the United Nations Commission for Human Rights in Geneva and later addressed thousands of Sri Lankan Tamils in the Swiss city. The public meeting was organised by the International Federation of T amils, a front organisation of the LTTE. Vaiko justified the Sri Lankan Tamils' demand for self-determination in the island nation. Pointing to the U.N. intervention in East Timor, he said that if the grant of independence to the former Indonesian provin ce was justified, the formation of a Tamil Eelam was "a thousand times more justified".

Vaiko said he was not supporting terrorism, but added: "(Is it right) to have two yardsticks - to call it a struggle for rights if it takes place in other lands but to call it terrorism if the Tamils demand their rights?"

Meetings, processions and demonstrations apart, a section of the print media in Tamil Nadu openly supports the LTTE cause. Yevukanai (The Missile), a Tamil magazine that supported the Eelam struggle, folded up, but Nandhan Vazhi has stabili sed. It is serialising an account by Nedumaran of his visit to Jaffna in the late 1980s and his stay on the island from 1987 to 1990, when the Indian Peace Keeping Force was active in Sri Lanka. Nandhan Vazhi's March 16-31 issue carried an adulato ry cover story on the Sea Tigers and the LTTE's recent offensive in the Elephant Pass region. The April 16-30 issue carried an article on the LTTE's "victories" in the battlefield in the Jaffna peninsula.

Then Asia Seide, in its April 1 issue, published the text of an interview given by LTTE political idealogue A.S. Balasingham granted to Tamil Guardian on Norway's efforts to mediate between the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE.

Clearly, pro-LTTE organisations and publications are slowly getting their act together in Tamil Nadu, although the LTTE itself remains in the shadows.

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