Visiting somebody in jail or hospital could be a perfectly disinterested act. But when Mr M. Karunanidhi goes to see Mr Vaiko in Vellore Central Jail and spends almost an hour with him, then it is difficult to regard the event in purely fraternal terms, as claimed by Mr Karunanidhi himself. The gesture could possibly have less apolitical meanings as well. Mr Vaiko — leader of the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, a National Democratic Alliance partner, and a member of parliament — has been in prison now for more than a hundred days. He had been arrested by the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, Ms J. Jayalalithaa, under the new Prevention of Terrorism Act and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, the passing of the former having been expedited by him as part of the NDA. The chief minister was merely keeping up her uncompromising stance against terrorism by putting Mr Vaiko in prison, since the latter had publicly proclaimed his support for the banned Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party had then more or less gone along with the arrest, each for its own reasons, although not without some awkwardness.
But as the leader of the principal opposition party in Tamil Nadu, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Mr Karunanidhi is making a visit which links up with other such visits in recent times to suggest possibilities of a more united opposition to Ms Jayalalithaa in the future. Mr Vaiko had sent one of his party leaders to visit the ailing DMK leader, Mr Murasoli Maran, in hospital. And earlier in 1999, Mr Vaiko himself had met the DMK chief when he had joined the NDA after Ms Jayalalithaa’s withdrawal of support to the Central government. Ms Jayalalithaa’s political opponents now have her ordinance banning conversions to unite them, even if the Pattali Makkal Katchi goes back on its words against the ordinance so as not to annoy the BJP too much. Feelings against the POTA could be another such unifying factor, and Mr Karunanidhi has spoken against it unequivocally. But he still remains equivocal about the political meanings of his visit to Mr Vaiko.