Much water has flowed under the bridge since that day in May 1991 when Congress leader Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated at an election rally in Sriperumbudur near Chennai, and the role of the DMK government in the state came under a cloud.
The Jain commission report on the assassination said that the M Karunanidhi-led government gave “tacit support” to the LTTE, which carried out the killing, sending in its men across the porous border with Sri Lanka.
While the many probes into the “larger conspiracy” behind the killing ground on interminably, the Congress and DMK put it behind them 18 years ago when Sonia Gandhi tied up with Karunanidhi to form the UPA government at the Centre.
Now, as the six remaining convicts in the case are released, it is to a much-altered political arena. Karunanidhi is long deceased, as is AIADMK leader J Jayalalithaa whose government first sought their release, the Congress is a shadow of itself, dependent on the DMK to be of any consequence in Tamil Nadu, while the Sri Lankan Tamil issue is no longer the litmus test for Tamil Nadu politics.
At this time, the contrasting stands taken by the Congress and DMK on the matter of the release of the Rajiv case convicts is not likely to cause any ruffled feathers on either side. With the Gandhi family having expressed itself in favour of a pardon long before the courts did so, the Congress opposition to the move is more for form than anything else.
A senior Congress leader from Tamil Nadu said the party could not have kept silent on the issue. “Not reacting would have raised a political controversy,” the leader said.
BJP leader Khushbu Sundar, who has been previously in both the DMK and Congress, said that after the Supreme Court had agreed to release the convicts, “why does the Congress officially disagree with that?”. “Why would they maintain an alliance with the DMK, which called for the release of the convicts?” she added.
D Ravikumar MP, the general secretary of VCK, a DMK ally, said it is wrong to see the different stands taken by the Congress and the Gandhi family as a contradiction. “When the BJP makes a big deal of terrorism and similar issues in Indian politics, Rahul can be a kind son but the Congress as a party cannot. Thus, it only makes sense that they reiterate their stance against separatist and terrorist forces,” Ravikumar said.
He also pointed out that the BJP has no stakes in the matter, and that the Union government earlier this year disbanded the Multi-Disciplinary Monitoring Agency still probing the larger conspiracy behind the assassination. “Perhaps the BJP was hesitant to support the release too strongly out of concern that it would strengthen Tamil nationalism. However, there are no longer any signs of Tamil nationalism (in the state), with no celebrations or fireworks marking the release of the convicts. Even at last month’s United Nations Human Rights Council meeting, there were no Tamil groups demanding that India intervene in the proceedings in the Sri Lankan war trial (which are usually routine),” Ravikumar said.
Ramu Manivannan, a former head of political sciences at the University of Madras, said that in the complex nature of the Lankan conflict, the hands of the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre are not clean either, and that it had helped the Sri Lankan government at a crucial juncture when the civil war in the country could have been ended. “Can we hold them also accountable for the genocide (that the Lankan government is accused of in the final battle to end the LTTE)?”
DMK Rajya Sabha MP P Wilson said differing views, be it on Rajiv case convicts, can’t be the sole basis of predicting the doom for an alliance. “We need not agree on everything. If we were totally similar, then why not become a single party? Each party has its own independent position.”
Wilson added that the stand on the release was not as much the DMK-led government’s position but that of Tamil Nadu. On this matter, bitter rivals DMK and AIADMK hold the same position, he pointed out.