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In hotseat, after brush with Tada

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M.R. VENKATESH Chennai Published 23.05.04, 12:00 AM

Chennai, May 23: Subbulakshmi Jegadeesan became a Union minister of state yesterday in a political career that was nearly snuffed out by the Terrorists and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act in the 1990s.

An unassuming school teacher-turned-politician, Subbulakshmi was arrested in 1992 in connection with the murder of Padmanabha, the leader of the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front, a Sri Lanka-based militant outfit.

Padmanabha had taken shelter in Tamil Nadu and was gunned down in June 1990 in an internecine fight in a flat at Kodambakkam, Chennai, by his outfit’s arch rival, the LTTE.

The arrest came as a near mortal blow to the low-profile but politically keen DMK leader from the Kongu Velalar community, also known as the Goundars, a dominant backward group in western Tamil Nadu.

The action followed speeded-up investigations into the murder during Jayalalithaa’s first regime in 1991-96. Padmanabha’s slaying had preceded Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination by an LTTE suicide bomber at Sriperumbudur in May 1991.

Among the core concern of investigators was the daring manner of Padmanabha’s murder — during M. Karunanidhi’s regime — and the way the assailants were “allowed to escape” from the state.

The DMK government was shortly after dismissed, in January 1991, by the Chandra Sekhar government in Delhi for allegedly passing on “sensitive information” to the LTTE in northern Sri Lanka.

Also drawing sharp criticism was the role of then state home secretary R. Nagarajan in handling the crisis following Padmanabha’s murder.

Among those arrested in the course of investigations by the Jayalalithaa government was Subbulakshmi.

Implicated in the alleged larger nexus between local political workers and the LTTE, Subbulakshmi was charged with being part of a network of LTTE sympathisers who supplied uniforms to the militants in northern Lanka.

The former minister for small and cottage industries — in the Karunanidhi cabinet of 1989-91 — was also accused of harbouring one of Padmanabha’s killers.

Arrested and jailed for several months under Tada, the predecessor of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, Subbulakshmi rubbished the charges as “politically motivated”.

She appealed to the Supreme Court, which first set her free on bail and, in 1998-99, discharged her from the case.

Subsequently, Subbulakshmi’s career took a turn for the better. She was appointed a deputy general secretary of the DMK around 1999, before youth wing leader and Karunanidhi’s son M.K. Stalin was elevated to that post last year.

Sources close to the DMK said the party leadership recommended Subbulakshmi to the Congress high command for inclusion in the Union ministry only after carefully verifying all the case papers relating to her.

Subbulakshmi is a first-time MP from Tiruchengode constituency.

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