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Jaya strikes at Karunanidhi

Chennai, Aug. 16: The Jayalalithaa regime has filed cases against DMK chief M. Karunanidhi and three top Opposition leaders for “instigating” the recent strikes by government employees and teachers through their “statements”.

The leaders have been charged under Section 5 of the Essential Services Maintenance Act for “instigating or inciting” people to join or prolong a strike. Key leaders of trade unions affiliated to the DMK, the CPI and the CPM are also on the hit list.

The Chennai Central Crime Branch police filed FIRs against the four yesterday based on a complaint from the state public secretary. Besides Karunanidhi — who caustically termed it an “Independence Day gift” — others charged are Tamil Nadu Congress Committee president E.V.K.S. Elangovan, CPI secretary R. Nallakannu and CPM secretary . Varadarajan.

None of the leaders has been arrested yet. “They are all known persons and the government may not arrest them now,” a senior police officer said.

Under Section 5 of Esma, a conviction for “instigating or inciting other persons to take part in or otherwise act in furtherance of a strike” could invite imprisonment up to three years or a fine of up to Rs 5,000 or both.

Yesterday, news of the FIRs broke around 4 pm, a few hours after Jayalalithaa declared from the ramparts of Fort St. George that the secretariat was a “temple” whose prime deity was the “people whom we all come to serve”. Any corrective step she took against “erring staff” was based on this “unshakeable belief”, she said.

The FIRs took political circles by surprise and even shock, especially as they have come after the Supreme Court intervention in the government employees’ strike. Sources said they have given a “dramatic twist” to the matter.

Karunanidhi loyalists gathered outside his Gopalapuram home last evening as he was preparing to leave on a two-day fund raising tour of Thanjavur and Tiruchi. Many feared he would be arrested for the third time in recent months. The 79-year-old DMK chief already faces a vigilance probe in the Rajkumar abduction case and a defamation suit for his remarks on the Nagappa kidnap. Elangovan is also charged in a defamation case.

The FIRs come a few days after DMK deputy general secretary M.K. Stalin shared — for the first time — a platform with Congress and Left leaders to condemn the “misdeeds” of the Jayalalithaa regime. This fuelled expectations of a realignment with the chief minister pushing a “pro-BJP, soft Hindutva” line.

Karunanidhi trashed the charges before leaving for Thanjavur last night, saying the state was itself “responsible” for “instigating and prolonging the strike”. The ADMK was “unable to run the administration properly” and was resorting to “Tughlak durbar” antics to divert attention, he said. “I do not wish to strike a warning note, but we will meet it legally,” he said.

Almost all parties condemned the FIRs. CPM secretary Varadarajan said backing the “just demands” of the employees could not be construed as “instigation”.

Elangovan termed the swoop an “irony” and said it showed that freedom of expression was being suppressed in the state.

This would “strengthen the secular/democratic parties against the autocratic forces”.

CPI leader A.M. Gopu said his party would always fight for “protecting the basic democratic rights of the people”. The CPI and CPM have jointly called for peaceful protests state-wide against the “politically vindictive” ADMK.

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