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Sunday, 1 July, 2001, 15:45 GMT 16:45 UK
Rival's revenge in Tamil Nadu
Ms Jayalalitha and her political foe Mr Karunanidhi
The animosity between them goes way back
By Satish Jacob in Delhi

Revenge is a dish best eaten cold, which is why many Indians have been shocked to see the haste with which Jayaram Jayalalitha, the chief minister of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, arrested her long-time adversary, opposition leader Muthuvel Karunanidhi.

Television footage of the arrest showed police storming Mr Karunanidhi's bedroom at midnight, dragging him out of bed, violently manhandling him amidst grotesque scuffles and bundling him into a police van like a petty thief.


I vow to make sure that he eats off the same prison plate that I did

Jayaram Jayalilitha speaking during the election campaign
Ever since she was voted into office two months ago, Ms Jayalalitha had promised that she would have her revenge against the 78-year-old former chief minister.

No one imagined it would be so brutal.

But then Tamil politics is known for its theatrics and personal animosities.

Cockroaches

When Mr Karunanidhi himself was chief minister and Ms Jayalalitha was in the opposition five years ago, he had done something similar to her, although not so ruthlessly.

Ms Jayalalitha had been arrested on charges of corruption and thrown into jail for a few days.

She later complained her cell had been squalid and infested with cockroaches.

Her vow since then has been "to make sure that he eats off the same prison plate that I did".

She said this openly during her election campaign and clearly decided that voters had given her a mandate to go ahead.

Ms Jayalalitha's revenge has a perfect symmetry about it.

Mr Karunanidhi being seized by police on Saturday
The former chief minister's detention has provoked a storm of protest
Her reason for arresting Mr Karunanidhi is alleged corruption.

So was his.

Mr Karunanidhi had her detained on a Saturday so that she could not apply for bail until Monday.

So she did the same.

No doubt she has ensured that his prison cell is as unpleasant as hers was.

In fact, Ms Jayalalitha is having her revenge in phases.

Vendetta politics

Despite being convicted of some of the corruption charges that Mr Karunanidhi had accused her of, she still won a landslide victory in the recent polls.

Then she had the satisfaction of being sworn in as chief minister despite her criminal record.

Now she is enjoying her turn to heap indignities on him in what observers are saying is vendetta politics.

Jayalalitha poster
Ms Jayalalitha vowed to get even during her election campaign
Their animosity goes back a long way.

In fact, the script of Mr Karunanidhi's arrest and the high drama that accompanied it could have come straight from a Tamil film set where they first met.

Both worked as a team in the 1970s on a film called 'Our Gold'.

But when the next film was being planned, Ms Jayalalitha was dropped.

She blamed Mr Karunanidhi and the seeds of hatred were sown.

Loathing

When they both entered politics, the animus deepened.

On one occasion, Mr Karunanidhi's supporters clashed with Ms Jayalalitha in the local assembly.

They apparently tore her sari and shouted vulgar epithets at her.

She swore vengeance then too.

Mr Karunanidhi seen in a 1996 photo
Happier days for the former chief minister
Since then, Tamil politics has been dominated - some would say disfigured - by their loathing for each other. It is not only ordinary Indians who were dumbstruck at the sight of an elderly man being arrested as he struggled and screamed "they are trying to murder me".

Violence feared

The central government in Delhi is concerned at the mess and arrests, and the law and order situation in Tamil Nadu.

The reason is that political supporters in the state can exhibit pathologically irrational behaviour.

They are known to immolate themselves if their leader's dignity is violated.

One Karunanidhi supporter has already killed himself.

Observers fear violent protests will erupt.

Another reason why the government in New Delhi is concerned is that two ministers in Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's cabinet have also been arrested.

They happen to be from Mr Karunanidhi's party, the DMK.

This alone guarantees that the repercussions of Ms Jayalalitha's extraordinary and unprecedented behaviour will continue to be felt for some time.

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See also:

01 Jul 01 | South Asia
Tamil Nadu crisis reaches Delhi
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14 Apr 99 | South Asia
Jayalalitha: Actress-turned-politician
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Convicted star leads Tamil Nadu
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Jayalalitha's enduring appeal
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