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‘Cornered’ Jaya lashes out at DMK

Chennai, May 5: Curtains lifted on a new political drama today with Jayalalithaa blaming a DMK attempt to “insult” her as the reason for skipping a function attended by the Prime Minister at the city airport yesterday.

She accused DMK Union minister T.R. Baalu of putting “pressure” on the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to deny her a seat beside Atal Bihari Vajpayee on the dais at the inauguration of a new departure terminal at the Anna International Airport in the city.

“The chief minister of a state not being given a seat next to the Prime Minister on the dais and asked to sit in a corner is something unheard of till now,” Jayalalithaa fumed, accusing Baalu of acting “under instructions” from DMK chief M. Karunanidhi “to insult and harass me”.

“The position (seating arrangement) and the respect due to a chief minister on such occasions was not given. Hence I decided to keep away from the function, though I strictly went by protocol to receive the Prime Minister earlier at the airport on his arrival from Bangalore,” she said, when the issue was brought up during zero hour by All India Forward Bloc member L. Santhanam.

Buttressing her insinuation of backstage intrigue by the DMK, the chief minister narrated the twists and turns the organisation of the function by the Airports Authority of India had seen over the past fortnight.

When Jayalalithaa was invited to the programme, she was told that the terminal, to be named after MGR, would be inaugurated by deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani on April 14, Tamil New Year’s Day.

The programme was postponed, but “I still said ok”, explained the chief minister. Some days later, she received a communication from the public protocol department, informing her that Vajpayee was coming to inaugurate the new terminal and two other facilities on May 4 and protocol required that the chief minister should receive the Prime Minister at the airport.

A confused Jayalalithaa asked whether it meant that she was not invited to the function. The department clarified that it wasn’t so.

The ADMK chief said she received another message from the Union Civil Aviation ministry close to Sunday, “requesting me to participate in the function”. When the invitation reached her on May 2, “I noticed that the Central government had not named the new terminal after MGR as they had originally said”, she regretted. Moreover, flouting all political courtesy, the local ADMK MLA was not invited while a DMK legislator unconnected to the event found a place on the guest list.

Jayalalithaa said despite all this, she had consented to attend. But the last straw came the day before the programme, when she received a fax from the PMO detailing the seating arrangement for the function.

The chief minister was shocked to see that she was told “to take a seat in a corner of the dais” while Governor P.S. Ramamohan would be seated to the left of the Prime Minister and Baalu to his right.

“Though I am not worried where I sit as an individual, to say that I, as chief minister, cannot sit next to the Prime Minister is an insult to my office,” she told the Assembly.

Finally, she took a dig at the DMK, saying that if the party enjoyed such clout with the PMO and Vajpayee, “they could as well use it for more constructive purposes for Tamil Nadu, like getting more funds for the drought”.

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