The arrest of former Tamil Nadu chief minister Muthuvel Karunanidhi in Chennai drew widespread condemnation yesterday with newspapers calling it an act of political revenge.

"An outrageous act of vendetta," said the Hindu newspaper in a front-page editorial which blasted the state government headed by Karunanidhi's arch-rival and present Chief Minister Jayaram Jayalalitha for the "crude manner" of the arrests.

"The arrest of... M. Karunanidhi, effected in a post-midnight operation... brought back memories of the dark days of the emergency," the Hindu said referring to the draconion rule imposed during the suspension of democracy between 1975 and 1977. "Jaya (Jayalalitha) strikes, unleashes reign of terror on DMK," said the headline in the Sunday Times of India.

Karunanidhi's arrest is widely seen as a move by Jayalalitha to settle old scores. She blames his previous government for foisting corruption charges against her. She has been convicted for misuse of power while in office and is appealing against the conviction which is being heard by the Supreme Court.

Television channels showed the 78-year-old veteran politician being bundled up and dragged like a common criminal by policemen in the middle of the night. He was forced into a police van and detained on corruption charges linked to contracts for the construction of 10 road flyovers awarded while he was the state's Chief Minister.

Later, police also arrested two federal ministers, Trade Minister Murasoli Maran and Environment Minister T.R. Baalu, for trying to prevent police while they were arresting Karunanidhi. The federal coalition government led by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee condemned the arrests. There is pressure mounting on the federal government to dismiss the state government, some newspapers said.

The ruling National Democratic Alliance has sent a three-member team of federal politicians led by former defence minister George Fernandes to Tamil Nadu to investigate the arrests and sumbit a report. Separately, the home ministry also sent a team of officials to the state.