TAMIL NADU

Vaiko left to fight his own case?

CHENNAI March 30. If the Centre's counter-affidavit in the Supreme Court in the Vaiko case is its final submission on the matter, the MDMK leader and MP may be left to fight his own legal battle in the special court trying the Prevention of Terrorism Act cases.

While eight of his party colleagues have already filed discharge petitions in the special court, Mr. Vaiko chose not to do so for now, pending the outcome of his petition in the apex court, challenging Section 21 of the act. He has also taken a policy decision not to move for bail.

Under these circumstances, there appears little room for either his release from prison or discharge from the case. The special court, in any case, is likely to wait for a Supreme Court decision on Vaiko's petition before considering the discharge petitions.

Police and legal sources say that the evidence against Mr. Vaiko and the other MDMK functionaries may not be enough to secure a conviction under the POTA. But the trial is likely to drag for some time and it is already nine months since he was arrested - in July last.

More than the legal angle, Mr. Vaiko's case may be taking a political turn in the coming days and weeks. With the DMK taking a hard line on the POTA and many of the National Democratic Alliance constituents in Tamil Nadu - the PMK and the MDMK - determined to fight to the finish, demanding the release of Vaiko, a parallel political drama is expected to unfold as the trial may commence after the Supreme Court's verdict.

All along, the BJP leaders, both at the State and national-levels, had taken the line that no abuse of the POTA could be allowed, though there was no going back on the Act itself. Starting from the BJP president, Venkaiah Naidu, most of the leaders coming to Tamil Nadu had taken this line and extended moral support to the incarcerated MDMK founder.

But now, the Centre's counter-affidavit, MDMK sources say, takes an altogether opposite line and dubs Mr. Vaiko's speech as being an `act of terrorism'. This, in effect, provides a dichotomy between the public utterances of the BJP leaders made earlier and the Union Government's view.

According to legal sources, the Centre could not have given any other affidavit to the apex court, as it was ``duty-bound'' to defend the legislation. ``The POTA is very clear and what constitutes an offence under Section 21 has also been stipulated. Having empowered the States to use the Act, there is no going back on this. The problem now is that the POTA was meant to counter terrorists and terrorism. When it has been used against a leading politician and over 40 persons in Tamil Nadu have been charged under the Act till now, there is a need for a public debate and review'', says a former Advocate-General.

He feels that the review committee announced by the Union Home Minister should provide some guidelines to check the `abuse' or `misuse' of POTA. It is now up to the special court to decide whether the evidence already produced against the MDMK functionaries is enough to secure them a conviction. Of course, there can also be an appeal against the special court's ruling, when it comes.

On the political side, the DMK has already vowed to intensify the agitation programme demanding the release of Mr. Vaiko and may even convert it into a movement against the POTA itself.

More friction likely

This could create more friction within the NDA, though there does not seem to be such an alliance in the State anymore. But it could have repercussions at the national-level too.

The DK general secretary, K. Veeramani, in a statement, described the Centre's affidavit as a sample of the BJP's `double speak' and wondered why parties in Tamil Nadu should still continue in the NDA after this.

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