| A file picture of Vaiko
Vellore, Nov. 15: “Yasin Malik and several others arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act in Kashmir have been released. The government had justified bringing in the anti-terror law to control terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir.
“But now even chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has said he would not invoke the law in the state. Where does that leave the anti-terror Act today' Is it there only for this lady (Jayalalithaa) to misuse'” Vaiko asks sitting on a wooden chair in the jailer’s office at Vellore jail.
Vaiko looks impeccable in his dazzling white dhoti, white shirt and his trademark black angavastram with a red border. At peace with himself, he smiles and says: “Thank you for taking the trouble to visit me. As you can see, I am quite happy here. I have refused any special treatment in the jail such as the offer of a pedestal fan in my cell and non-vegetarian food. I have been reading a lot. I used to play volleyball in my college days. After 35 years, I am playing volleyball again with the other prisoners.”
Vaiko, leader of the Marumalarchi (Renaissance) DMK, a member of Parliament and a partner in the National Democratic Alliance coalition, has already spent four months in Vellore jail. Vaiko is accused of speaking in favour of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) at a public meeting.
While Vaiko supports the Sri Lankan Tamil cause, he does not support some methods employed by the LTTE, especially political assassinations. The LTTE, however, is a banned terrorist organisation in India and expressing support for a terrorist organisation is a criminal offence under the Act.
“If we can talk of the Palestinian struggle and support anti-colonial struggles, then what is wrong in supporting the Tamil cause in Sri Lanka' I have not said that the LTTE should operate in India or that Indians should join it. I only give moral and political support to the cause it espouses. What is wrong with that' What has happened to freedom of speech in this great country'” he asks.
Welcoming the Sri Lanka-LTTE peace talks in Thailand, Vaiko says: “If the LTTE thinks that the needs of the Tamils of Sri Lanka are met with a greater devolution of powers and autonomy within Sri Lanka, then I support that.”
Vaiko, however, argues that India must not lose interest in Sri Lankan developments. He says that at a time when the US, Canada, Germany, Japan and Australia are supporting the Norwegian-sponsored peace process, India cannot keep aloof.
“India has geo-political interests in the region which it must pursue. So what if we have burnt our fingers once' This often happens in international politics. That does not mean that we give up our strategic interests,” he argues.
As of now, however, Vaiko is awaiting a formal chargesheet. The state government has up to six months to do so and Vaiko believes that charges will be filed nearer to the deadline.
He believes that Jayalalithaa is trying to “fabricate” evidence to show that he had received funds from the LTTE. “How can I take money from people fighting for the self-respect and pride of the Tamils of Sri Lanka' It would be worse than prostitution to do so,” he says.
Up to now, Vaiko has refused to apply for bail. However, once formal charges are filed, he may do so. As of now, however, he is content with moving the Supreme Court against the misuse of the anti-terror Act.
Vaiko realises that having voted for the law in Parliament, he cannot challenge the Act in its entirety. He has, therefore, decided to challenge only its Section 21, under which addressing public meetings in support of terrorist organisations is an offence.
It would seem that Vaiko was a reluctant supporter of the law. He points out that he had discussed each section of the law threadbare at the meeting of the NDA on the subject. He claims that he was opposed to many provisions of the Act, including Section 21.
“Then L.K. Advani called me and said I should support Pota because it was meant to curb cross-border terrorism and other terrorist activities in Jammu and Kashmir. In coalition politics, you have to go with the majority. But despite Arun Jaitley (the then law minister) pressing me to speak in favour of the law in Parliament, I refused to do so,” he recalls.
Vaiko seems saddened by the fact that people like Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Advani, who went to jail under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act during the Emergency, are today the biggest votaries of the anti-terror Act.