It was extremely irresponsible of a political leader like Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam General Secretary Vaiko to make a speech with barely concealed secessionist overtones and warn the Government of India that its help to protect the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka would jeopardise the unity and integrity of India itself. Speaking from the same platform, his party chairman M. Kannappan was more explicit in warning the Centre not to force the Tamils in the Sta te to launch a struggle for a separate Tamil Nadu. The Tamil Nadu government has moved swiftly to arrest them and charge them with sedition under the Indian Penal Code and with unlawful activity. Sedition involves speech that would “bring into hatred or contempt or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law in India.” To make it compatible with the right to freedom of speech under the Constitution, the Supreme Court has set the bar high on any prosecution for sedition, limiting it to “activities involving incitement to violence or intention or tendency to create public disorder or cause disturbance of public peace.” Under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, any activity that amounts to advocacy of secession is an offence. Mr. Vaiko’s speech will be tested in the courts under both these provisions as the law takes its course.
What is clear, however, is that speeches and activities such as his are wholly unacceptable and politically dangerous. As this newspaper had spelt out in an editorial on October 18, the response of the Government of India and the people of Tamil Nadu needs to take into account certain imperatives in approaching the Sri Lankan situation. In the first place, no comfort should be given to the LTTE, which is a terrorist organisation banned in 30 countries including India. Secondly, the Indian commitment must be to finding a solution that envisages devolution of powers to the Tamil regions within a united Sri Lanka, which would mean giving no quarter to the demand for an independent Eelam. Thirdly, mainstream political parties in Tamil Nadu need to make a sharp distinction between the current military plight of the LTTE and the displacement and suffering caused by the conflict, affecting an estimated 230,000 Sri Lankan Tamils. The right response for the Government of India and the people of Tamil Nadu would be to offer food, clothing, medicines, fuel and other essential goods as well as the logistical facilities required to reach them to the people through the Sri Lankan government whose President Mahinda Rajapakse has declared his commitment to bring their hardship to an end “in a short time.” Meanwhile, there is cause for concern over the activities of some fringe groups in Tamil Nadu who have let their sympathy for a foreign terrorist organisation overwhelm their commitment to India’s own integrity and have indulged in violent acts including against the Sri Lankan Deputy High Commission and the railways. The action against Mr. Vaiko will send a message to these groups that the State government is firm in its resolve to contain such dangerous tendencies.