Conviction may be a setback for Vaiko but a ‘gain’ for MDMK
Vaiko was slated to file his nomination for the Rajya Sabha election on Saturday. It is unclear whether he will be able to contest the elections after the conviction.
The sentencing of 75-year old Vaiko, the founder and general secretary of the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), on sedition charges could halt his chances to enter Rajya Sabha as a member in the ensuing elections this month. A special Chennai court sentenced Vaiko to one year in jail and Rs 10,000 fine on Friday.
He was slated to be a candidate from the coming Rajya Sabha election from Tamil Nadu with the support of the state’s main opposition party and MDMK ally DMK. It is not yet clear if he would be allowed to file his nomination. Sedition is not listed as one of the offences under the Representation of People's Act, 1951, for which disqualification is attracted regardless of the prison term. As per the rule for all the other crimes, if one is convicted to imprisonment for two years or more, the person is disqualified from contesting elections for six years after release.
Vaiko, officially V Gopalaswamy, was sentenced by the court over his comments in 2009 on the occasion of a book launch. While the conviction is surely a setback for the Tamil leader, experts say the instance could also be a long-term gain for his party, which was sliding in popularity over time. The MDMK leader was also arrested in the year 2002 under the anti-terror Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) for a speech favoring the banned Sri-Lankan terrorist organisation LTTE.
"India will not remain one country if the war against the LTTE in Sri Lanka is not stopped," Mr Vaiko had famously said during a book launch when the Sri Lankan Army was in the middle of its ‘final operation’ to flush out Tamil LTTE rebels from Northern Sri Lanka.
“It could be a setback for Vaiko or maybe he will decide not to contest the Rajya Sabha elections but in the long run his party MDMK which has lost its base may gain favour across Tamil Nadu for his pro-Tamalian stand. His party will go to town with the message that their leader has sacrificed his post for a pro-Tamil cause,” Sathiya Moorthy, political expert and writer, told Asiaville.
It is also not clear if DMK would give another MDMK candidate the chance to replace him because DMK’s promise was more or less to make Vaiko re-enter Parliament as per the alliance conditions, he adds.
Vaiko has served as a Rajya Sabha member for 18 years between 1978 and 1996. He was elected twice to the Lok Sabha from Sivakasi and had a tenure in the lower house from 1999 to 2004. He was attempting to come back to Parliament after a gap of 15 years through the Rajya Sabha elections this time.
The 75-year-old Tamil leader has also been granted suspension of sentence for 30 days to allow him an appeal in a higher court. The case was registered at the Thousand Lights police station in Chennai under charges of sedition and promoting enmity. Vaiko was arrested in the case in 2017 but granted bail after a month. The Rajya Sabha election is set to take place on July 18 in Tamil Nadu. Vaiko, whose party does not have a single MLA in the Tamil Nadu Assembly, will be elected to the Upper House with the support of DMK. The DMK had agreed to nominate Vaiko as part of a pre-poll agreement ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.