New Delhi/Chennai, Nov. 10: Atal Bihari Vajpayee has assured Tamil Nadu opposition leaders that he will seek a report from the governor over the arrest warrants issued by the Assembly against six senior journalists on Friday. The Supreme Court today stayed execution of the warrants.
In Chennai, Jayalalithaa went into a huddle with Speaker K. Kalimuthu and top legal officers even as the media and the opposition greeted the court order with relief and jubilation.
But the chief minister signalled that her onslaught against The Hindu would continue. A civil court in the Tamil Nadu capital tonight issued a notice to the newspaper in a fresh defamation case relating to an article written in April by its chief of bureau, V. Jayanth. This article was one of the items referred to the Assembly’s privilege committee during the last budget session.
A 57-member delegation met the Prime Minister and submitted a 23-page memorandum on the political situation in Tamil Nadu. The team included Union ministers from the DMK, the MDMK and the PMK as well as members from the Congress, the CPI, the Dalit Panthers of India, the MGR (Kazhagam) and the Congress Democratic Front led by former Union minister P. Chidambaram.
The delegation led by leader of the Tamil Nadu opposition and DMK general secretary K. Anbazhagan sought Vajpayee’s “immediate intervention” for restoring the rule of law in the state.
Anbazhagan said he had asked the Prime Minister to “stop the dictatorship and put an end to the abuse of power by the ADMK government in Tamil Nadu”. He said the delegation had not demanded President’s rule in the state, but said the “activities” of the Jayalalithaa regime could not be justified.
Sources said the leaders apprised Vajpayee about the chief minister’s “despotic behaviour” and the “gross misuse of power”. The memorandum detailed the attempt to arrest DMK chief M. Karunanidhi, Union ministers Murasoli Maran and T.R. Baalu, the misuse of the anti-terror law and the way MDMK chief Vaiko has been languishing in jail since July 2002 after being charged under the law. It also mentioned that she had arrested and dismissed over 200,000 government employees last July.
The delegation had earlier called on deputy Prime Minis- ter L.K. Advani, who described the court move as “good for democracy”.
In Chennai, . Ram, editor-in-chief of The Hindu, thanked the media for their instant “reaction and interest” in ensuring that the matter received publicity. He added: “We stand humble before the higher judiciary. I had full faith in our judiciary and was confident that we will get justice.”
However, he declined to give any “advice” to chief minister Jayalalithaa.
Ram contested Speaker Kalimuthu’s statement of yesterday that the legislature is supreme. He said it is the Constitution that is “supreme”.
The courts have stated that the Constitution is the ultimate arbiter, particularly in matters relating to freedom of expression and of the press, the editor-in-chief added.
Ram referred to the example of Balasubramaniam, editor of Tamil weekly Ananda Vikatan, who was sentenced to jail by a previous ADMK regime in the late 1980s for having published a “cartoon” that the Assembly found offensive.
A Madras High Court division bench had quashed the House resolution and ordered that a Rs 1,000 compensation be paid to Balasubramaniam, he said.
Ram said The Hindu’s editor . Ravi was not given the chance to appear before the Assembly’s Privilege Committee, thus violating natural justice. The Speaker’s statement last evening was “deafeningly silent on this vital aspect,” he said.
Soon after news of the order trickled in, employees of the newspaper burst crackers and distributed sweets. Police pickets outside The Hindu office moved away.
Kalimuthu was not available for his reaction. But DMK chief M. Karunanidhi was a relieved man.
“The freedom of the press has been protected and upheld,” he said. The DMK chief added that plans for a statewide human chain, to be formed on Wednesday, remained unchanged.