Ms J. Jayalalithaa believes strongly in working a theme threadbare. The themes she chooses to crucify her enemies with are always carefully selected, usually for their appetizing mix of topicality, emotional appeal and assured scale and intensity of response. She succeeded in incarcerating Mr Vaiko, the leader of the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, under the new anti-terrorism law, for having allegedly supported the banned Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Now the chief minister of Tamil Nadu has fixed her sights on another MDMK heavyweight, Mr M. Kannappan, who is also a member of parliament. Her reasons are the same. Mr Kannappan has allegedly been very open about his support for the LTTE, and therefore should be arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The Tamil Nadu chief minister had apparently asked the Centre to do something about Mr Kannappan, because his presence in Parliament, given his sympathies, is a “threat to national security”. Predictably, these dire warnings went unheeded. The National Democratic Alliance found it difficult to arrest one of its own.
Ms Jayalalithaa has put the Bharatiya Janata Party in a fine fix. To have leaders and members of parties in its own coalition imprisoned under a law which was considered draconian by both friends and rivals when it was passed is embarrassing in the extreme. She has been the most law-abiding of Indian citizens when she put Mr Vaiko into prison, and she has made it clear she intends to do the same to Mr Kannappan soon. Ms Jayalalithaa never aims at only two birds with her stone, there are always a few more she likes to get with the one throw. The MDMK, together with her main rival in the state, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, are both members of the NDA at the Centre. While Ms Jayalalithaa may be certain that the BJP would like to have her support, she has also to make certain that such support would be given only on her own terms. To put the MDMK and the DMK in a spot serves her both in the state and the Centre. At the same time, the more she can embarrass the BJP, the greater her own advantage. But there is, in this particular move, an admirable finesse. Apart from the irony of turning the law round on its promulgators, she has chosen her theme wisely. Open support for the LTTE is a passion-raising issue in Tamil Nadu. By using the law to demarcate the limits of what is acceptable, she can draw attention to her own correctness. And by not using the anti-terror law against minorities, she may have gained a brownie point or two in that vote bank.