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Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
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Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Selected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki)

Whispers of conspiracy find hot market

2 May 1999

There was a time when the LTTE was considered the biggest threat to south India's security and stability. A section of the press in Tamil Nadu consistently portrayed the organisation as such until recently.

Some of the issues stirred up in Tamil Nadu by the fall of the BJP government, however, might make the LTTE the lesser villain, overshadowed by others accused of sinister international conspiracies to destabilise India itself.

Addressing the press following the crisis brought about by the AIADMK's decision to pull out its 19 MPs from the coalition, Venkaiah Naidu of the Telegu Desam Party said that Jayalalitha had an ulterior motive in demanding the removal of George Fernandes and that it would be soon exposed.

Less than a week later, the Junior Vikatan, a popular weekly in Tamil Nadu, wrote a story about what Venkaiah Naidu had in mind, quoting BJP sources. The weekly said that Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga had made a deal with Jayalalitha to have Fernandes removed from Vajpayee's cabinet. BJP sources had told the Tamil weekly (April 11) that Sri Lanka is worried that the Sethusamudram scheme, started and expedited by Fernandes is a great threat to its economic well being. And that Colombo, therefore, is all out to scuttle the scheme. The Sri Lankan government had got in touch with Jayalalitha to achieve its aim, promising her "maximum assistance" the Vikatan said.

Meanwhile, Dr. Ramdoss, the leader of the PMK broke ranks with Jayalalitha and accused her of receiving funds from the US consulate in Chennai which, according to him was acting in collusion with Sri Lankan diplomats in the city.

Sections of the press in Tamil Nadu picked up this conspiracy theory, accusing Jayalalitha of taking bribes from the US through Subramaniam Swamy to bring down the BJP government.

The Thinamurasu, the Tamil weekly with the largest circulation here, expanded on this theme in its latest issue. The paper corroborated its case with the fact that Clinton will send a special envoy to open a hospital in Chicago named after Jayalalitha on May 15.

According to the conspiracy theorists, the US had been increasingly concerned that the BJP was making India a stronger regional power, resisting and withstanding pressure from the west. The BJP, therefore, had to go. Jayalalitha was found to be the ideal instrument, according to the simple logic of the theory.

The campaign for the elections to the Indian Parliament in Tamil Nadu will see the AIADMK's opponent's drumming up the conspiracy theory.

Things could be worse if she is convicted in any of the cases pending against her.

Corruption charges were ordered by the High Court in Tamil Nadu this week against Jayalalitha. And she could face prison and a ban from public office if convicted.

The prosecution says the case against her is so strong that a trial could be completed in a matter of weeks. The charges relate to the alleged sale of state government land to firms owned by Ms Jayalalitha and her confidante, Sasikala, at a price below market rates.

The deal allegedly took place in 1991, when Jayalalitha was in power.

Her case will now be heard by one of the special courts set up to deliver faster trials, which is expected to produce a quick verdict.

If she were to appeal against conviction in India's Supreme Court, Jayalalitha will have a tough time with the elections.

V. Baskaran, a pollster based in Chennai told Reuters last week, "For someone who set out triumphant in her pursuit to topple the Vajpayee government and usher in an alternative, she certainly seems to have got her arithmetic wrong,''.

Many political analysts in Tamil Nadu predict that Jayalalitha could be one of the biggest losers in the political turmoil she had set off. "She has only ended up acting against her own interests,'' said Cho Ramaswami, a veteran political commentator.

But Tamil Nadu chief minister Karunanidhi, appears to have outsmarted his opponent as he allied his Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party with the BJP in the crucial trust vote, signalling a possible new tie-up.

And Jayalalitha who had appeared set to revive a decades-old traditional alliance with the Congress party could find her plans foundering after she voiced a preference for a centre-left coalition to be backed by Congress over the weekend.

"She has definitely become unpopular with a sizeable section of her voters and will find it very difficult to make a political impact in this election...even the Congress will definitely have a rethink on a possible alliance after her remarks," Cho said.

The Congress in Tamil Nadu is in tatters. The AIADMK can hope to achieve little by aligning itself with the Congress to face elections in September.

The PMK and MDMK which formed an alliance with the AIADMK for the last general elections are backing the BJP. It remains to be seen whether they are going to contest as part of a BJP led alliance in Tamil Nadu or come to some broad understanding with the DMK for the elections.

The MDMK leader Y. Gopalasamy has been banking on the success of the Sethusamudram project to enhance his popularity in the southern parts of Tamil Nadu. He was one of the leading MPs in the Indian Parliament to stoutly defend Fernandes against Jayalalitha's accusations. The BJP and its allies in Tamil Nadu such as Gopalasamy and Dr.Ramdoss are already promoting the whisper campaign that Jayalalitha was bought over by the US and Sri Lankan government's to destabilise India. The story seems to sell because its logic is simple.

The LTTE, meanwhile, keeps an extremely low profile in Tamil Nadu, letting time and the unpredictable turns of Tamil Nadu politics throw up new villains, portrayed as posing a greater and real threat to India's security.

It will be foolish on the part of our policy makers to work on the assumption that the LTTE's image in India as a public enemy is a permanent fixture.



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