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Attack on Sonia Gandhi not personal, says Jayalalithaa

By J. Venkatesan

NEW DELHI, SEPT. 16. The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa, today sought to play down her criticism of the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, during the parliamentary election campaign on the foreign origin issue saying "there is no question of [any] personal attack against Ms. Sonia."

Addressing a press conference in the capital two years after her last one in August 2002, when she first raised the issue, Ms. Jayalalithaa said: "I must point out to you [that] there is no question of any personalised attack against Ms. Sonia. In the heat of the election, some issues come up. It is natural that parties raise these issues relating to governance in the context of elections. This cannot be interpreted as a personal attack. Why should I attack her on personal grounds?"

Asked about reports that she was trying to patch up with the Congress, she said, "I have not heard anything like this." However, she was a "multi-faceted personality" and many of her new facets would unfold in the days to come.

On whether the reference to her new facets indicated a political realignment in Tamil Nadu, she said: "I am not hinting at anything. However, nothing is static in politics. Any thinking, sensitive, and intelligent person in politics would not be dogmatic."

Throughout the 60-minute press conference, she was relaxed, smiling and articulate on all issues.

Praise for Manmohan

Lauding Ms. Gandhi's decision not to take up the Prime Minister's post, Ms. Jayalalithaa said, "It is a good decision." The Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, also came in for praise from her. "I have always found him to be a perfect gentleman and courteous. He is a man of great learning and he is a fair-minded person."

Asked whether she agreed that there were two power centres, Ms. Jayalalithaa said: "Dr. Manmohan Singh is an independent person. He himself has clarified the position and we have to give a quietus to this issue."

Clarifying that the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam was not part of the National Democratic Alliance, she said her party's representatives were attending NDA meetings only on invitation and that the support "is only issue based."

"Don't repeal POTA"

On the proposed repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, Ms. Jayalalithaa said: "I requested the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, to drop the proposed move to repeal POTA as this would denude State Governments of their powers to combat terrorism."

She said: "I told him any such move will leave States without a viable mechanism to counter the threat and danger from terrorist outfits and subversive elements."

Asked whether she would consider enacting a new law if POTA was repealed as had been decided by the BJP-ruled States, she said that "at present we have the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act. The question of enacting a new law will be considered as and when POTA is repealed. We will study the situation, let us wait and see."

When her attention was drawn to the fact that POTA was being repealed only because it had been misused in Tamil Nadu, particularly against the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader, Vaiko, she said, "[a] totally wrong impression has been created that POTA was misused in our State. We have not misused POTA at all."

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