On November 26, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for stronger ties with SAARC countries at its summit in Nepal and thanked Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa for releasing five Indian fishermen detained in Lanka, MDMK chief Vaiko launched a citywide celebration of slain LTTE chief V Prabakaran’s 60th birthday in Chennai, complete with public meetings, cake cutting at the party office and organised prayers at places of religious worship at different venues in the city.
The LTTE’s status has been prescribed as a terrorist organisation by 32 countries after it was held responsible for the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and outlawed in 1992. However the MDMK chief has always maintained his full-fledged loyalty to the cause of Tamil Eelam and Prabakaran, often calling him a ‘freedom fighter’ and a ‘hero for Tamil hardliners’. Many feel this year, the celebrations had reached a new high, as compared to the previous years.
Vaiko has in fact previously gotten himself arrested a few times for delivering inflammatory speeches in support of the LTTE, and attempting to picket the Sri Lankan High Commission in Chennai, demanding a probe against the island government over alleged war crimes. The arrests so far have been made under many acts including POTA (which was later repealed), and sections of the IPC and Unlawful Prevention Act. Interestingly, in 2002, Arun Jaitley, who was then the party spokesman of the BJP, pointed out that Vaiko’s remarks had to be seen in the appropriate context and wondered if they warranted action under POTA.
What’s more interesting is that MDMK is now an alliance partner of the BJP-led NDA in Tamil Nadu and as of today, several BJP leaders including Subramaniam Swamy and H Raja have warned Vaiko to mend his ways, after he sharply criticised Prime Minister Modi for greeting Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa at the SAARC Summit.
LTTE is an outlawed terrorist organisation in India, and the legal ramifications of openly supporting it are varied. “You can talk about a banned organisation, even celebrate the birthday of its founder. But offering financial support, forming organised groups and recruiting people or collecting donations for its cause amount to sedition; typically any activity the organisation would have done to expand, if it were legal,” says GR Ravichandran, advocate, with a self-proclaimed AIADMK lenience. “But under the NSA, Vaiko can be arrested over several grounds,” he adds.
Advocate V Ilangovan who has also been following this case closely, says “Expressing affection and loyalty to the leader of a banned terrorist organisation, or even having his photograph garlanded publicly, is not illegal under the Unlawful Assembly Act. Only when such a gathering spills over to threaten the sovereignty of India, it becomes illegal.”
However, Vaiko’s stand on the LTTE and the Tamil cause seems to have little or no steam as an electoral issue among Tamil Nadu’s general public, as he has been seen consistently losing the elections, even in 2009 when he was in alliance with AIADMK – a massive regional party, and most recently in his own constituency of Virudhunagar.
Popularly, other pro-Tamil parties who are frequently seen supporting the LTTE and its Tamil cause are Thol Thirumavalavan’s Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi, S Ramadoss’ Pattali Makkal Katchi (also an NDA ally) and Naam Tamilar Katchi – started by actor-turned politician Sebastian Seeman.