Vaiko detention leaves cadres dispirited

CHENNAI Nov. 10. With over four months gone since the MDMK general secretary, Vaiko's incarceration, the party finds it increasingly difficult to maintain its public presence and keep up its mass contact programme.

In the initial months of Mr. Vaiko's stay in prison, the party organised a series of mass contact programmes and meetings, with the second line comprising Union Ministers, Gingee Ramachandran and M. Kannappan, and the presidium chairman, L. Ganesan, taking an active part. Cycle rallies, street-corner meets and other protest activities marked the first two months. The period also saw a series of high-level meetings at the party headquarters to firm up an agenda and chalk out a course of action, based on the directions of Mr. Vaiko.

But some party leaders said they did not expect Mr. Vaiko would be jailed for a long period of time. They had reckoned the period of imprisonment would be short, but with Mr. Vaiko himself saying he would not approach the court for bail, they do not hope for an early release. The Union Ministers too could not keep up their presence in the State beyond a reasonable timeframe as they have commitments in New Delhi. Though some sections within the party itself have not viewed this kindly, one leader said the presence of the Ministers in the capital was also essential.

But insiders are quick to point out that even now, it is not as if all party activities have come to a standstill. One leader said it organised a protest meeting even last Saturday at Ekattuthangal, despite the rains. Also, last month, it organised meetings at Valparai and Kudiyatham, among other places. Meetings have also been planned to be held in various parts of Chennai during the course of the month. The party also organised demonstrations against the AIADMK Government's ``anti-people'' policies on October 18, in front of collectorates.

But the earlier intensity is conspicuous by its absence. The party derives a lot of its strength from Mr. Vaiko's contact with the grass roots. He made it an essential part of his party's strategy to reach out to and stay in touch with partymen and people every nook and corner of the State. ``I tour for more than 20 days of the month in Tamil Nadu,'' he said before he was held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act in July. His strategy has been in line with that of the DMK president, M. Karunanidhi and, before him, the former Chief Minister, C.N. Annadurai, during their initial decades in politics. DMK leaders proudly point out that there is no village in the State that both Mr. Karunanidhi and Annadurai, had not visited and addressed.

Many in the MDMK say it was largely because of Mr. Vaiko's efforts and his knowledge of the nuances of the State that the party had managed to put up a relatively good show in the Parliamentary, and later, the local bodies election.

Though the party wants him out of prison now, it seems a difficult proposition given that a 1984 election-related case is also being pursued now. This also indicates that the State Government would want to keep Mr. Vaiko in jail using all means available to it, says an MDMK leader.

Mr. Vaiko, who was with the DMK then, reportedly attacked a then AIADMK leader, Thamaraikani (now with the DMK), and also caused damage to public property near Mayiladuthuri on May 19, 1984. The case is being heard now. The next hearing has been posted for November 20. The POTA case too is some distance away from getting on to the trial stage.

For now, the party believes that there are two courses open to it. One is to convince the leader to seek bail and move the higher judiciary. Or, take orders from the leader and keep the show going, till their leader is out. Either way, the erosion the party has already suffered during the period would prove difficult for it to undo.

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