Saharan, Prabhakaran, Vaiko and sedition | Daily News

Saharan, Prabhakaran, Vaiko and sedition

Vaiko-Arundhati Roy
Vaiko-Arundhati Roy

A decade has passed since the death of dreaded terrorist leader Velupillai Prabhakaran but his name as well as the ruthless movement founded by him; the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) continue to figure not only in Sri Lanka but also in neighbouring India.

Tamil Nadu maverick politician V. Gopalaswamy, better known as Vaiko, was sentenced to a year in jail by a Chennai court which had convicted him for sedition. The court also stayed the execution of the sentence for a month on his application. Vaiko was held guilty of sedition over his comments in 2009 at the launch of his book.

“India will not remain one country if the war against the LTTE in Sri Lanka is not stopped,” the firebrand Tamil leader had said during the launch of his book “Naan Kuttram Saatugiren... (I accuse...).” He was charged with speaking against India’s sovereignty. The case was filed by the DMK, which is ironic because Vaiko was named as a Rajya Sabha, upper house of Indian Parliament candidate by Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) alliance in Tamil Nadu and was all set to file his nomination. This would mark his return to parliament after a 15-year absence.

While, the Indian courts had taken legal action against Vaiko for supporting the LTTE, a proscribed organisation, no action has been taken against anybody talking in favour of this ruthless organisation. Last week former Agriculture Minister of Northern Province, P Aingaranesan said that he considered Velupillai Prabhakaran as the leader of the Tamil people.

‘War’ against the state

Earlier Minister Vijayakala Maheswaran was removed from the ministerial portfolio for her utterances in favour of the LTTE. However, she is back as a minister after her clarifications were accepted by the United National Party (UNP).

Saharan and his gang of Islamist terrorists killed over 250 persons including several foreigners in their ‘war’ against the state. There is sufficient evidence that many people including several political figures have directly or covertly assisted the Islamist militants. These are clear acts of sedition.

Sedition is overt conduct, such as speech and organisation, that tends toward insurrection against the established order. Sedition often includes subversion of a constitution and incitement of discontent towards or resistance against established authority.

In India, several were charged on sedition. In 2010, Pulitzer-award-winning-writer Arundhati Roy was sought to be charged with sedition for her comments on Kashmir and Maoists. Two individuals have been charged with sedition since 2007. The most recent Indian sedition case was the one in January 2019, filed against well-known Cambridge Scholar and Assamese Intellectual Dr. Hiren Gohain and two others for their remarks against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. Dr. Gohain called the move “a desperate attempt by a cornered government”.

Let us examine the conviction of Vaiko on sedition charges. Vaiko was a popular orator of DMK. He left the DMK to form Malamartchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK). He served as a Rajya Sabha member three times when he was with the DMK. He was elected twice from Sivakasi. His last tenure was from 1999 to 2004.

Though the MDMK has no legislators to elect a Rajya Sabha member, it was offered one seat by the DMK as part of their alliance deal for the Lok Sabha polls in which the DMK swept the polls, winning 37 of the 38 Parliamentary seats in Tamil Nadu.

Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA)

Vaiko, an advocate and a powerful speaker in English and Tamil, was arrested by the J. Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK government in 2002 under the anti-terror Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) for a controversial speech in support of the banned LTTE. He spent close to a year in the Vellore prison. In 2014, the case against him was withdrawn.

In 1977 Vaiko has been at the forefront of black flag demonstrations in Tamil Nadu against the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her policies. Similarly, in 2019, he held black flag demonstrations in Tamil Nadu against the Centre and its policies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. A champion of the Eelam Tamil cause, his meeting with LTTE Chief Prabhakaran in the jungles of Sri Lanka in 1989 was no secret. He took a boat ride to Sri Lanka illegally and spent 40 days in the LTTE held territory in Vanni jungles. Vaiko, a fiery orator, his speeches, especially in relation to the Sri Lankan war, have landed him in jail on several occasions including a 19-month stint between 2002 and 2004. In fact, as per MDMK’s webpage, Vaiko has the dubious distinction of spending four years in prison – the most by any Dravidian politician.

While the politicians in India will think twice before expressing open support to LTTE or Prabhakaran, Sri Lankan Tamil politicians have not shown such restraint. The former Chief Minister of Sri Lanka’s Tamil-majority Northern Province, CV Wigneswaran, praised Velupillai Prabhakaran, for “bringing about Tamil unity” by making several mutually antagonistic Tamil political parties come together to form the Tamil National Alliance (TNA).

Speaking at a Jaffna-Kilinochchi district conference of the Eelam Peoples’ Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRF), Wigneswaran said that the unity of all Tamil parties is the need of the hour and that they should take the cue from “younger brother” (Thambi) Prabhakaran and forge a united front to fight for Tamil rights. However, he was careful enough to say that the struggle should be waged in a non-violent manner, making it clear that he is no believer in an armed struggle.

Calling upon Tamil parties to shed their differences and join forces to fight for Tamils’ rights, Wigneswaran recalled how Prabhakaran had set aside his conflict with other militant groups and got them to join the TNA. Wigneswaran pointed out that Prabhakaran had considered the EPRLF to be one of his principal enemies and yet he held out a hand of friendship when the situation called for understanding.

However, Vigneswaran seems to have forgotten how Prabhakaran ruthlessly killed the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO) leader Tall-Sri Sabarathnam and 300 TELO cadres in the North. DMK leader Muthuvel Karunanidhi personally appealed to spare the life of TELO leader, but Prabhakaran refused to show any mercy to the Tamil militant fighters of other organisations.

Sedition Act

Many western countries including the US have enacted legislation (the Smith Act) against Sedition; even Australia has laws relating to sedition to meet their own particular needs. There is, therefore, no reason why we should, in the interest of the security of our country, not enact stringent laws against subversion and sedition.

Sri Lanka needs a clear and precise Sedition Act. The law on Sedition should be similar to and based on the Sedition Act of Malaysia, which is also similar to the Sedition Act of Singapore. Any word or action which is deemed to encourage separatism or expression of covert or overt support to terrorism must be made a criminal offence and any political party deemed to support Separatism should be banned.

The Sedition Act in Malaysia is a law prohibiting discourse deemed as seditious. We must add to this ‘any words or actions direct or indirect that could be interpreted by the authorities as being deemed to affect the unity and territorial integrity of the State’ and encourage separatism, terrorism and even ill feelings among the different communities in our country. The law must suit local circumstances. The encouragement of Seditious tendencies must be made punishable with a minimum of ten years of rigorous imprisonment. Parliament must impose restrictions on the western concept of freedom of speech as has been done in India, Malaysia and Singapore and many other countries.

 


 

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