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Bogus ‘Tamil’ politics

By Kalyani Shankar

(May 01, New Delhi, Sri Lanka Guardian) If Tamil Nadu’s politicians have any sympathy for the Tamils in Sri Lanka, then they should force New Delhi to convince Colombo about the need to rehabilitate Tamil civilians affected by the war on the LTTE and institutionalise the devolution of political power

Who says that Tamil Nadu politicians of all hues cannot enact a soap opera? They can sit in dharna, pretend to resign on cue, go on fast at will and suffer from amnesia when they want. In fact most of them have some filmy background. The latest issue that is rocking the state is the Sri Lankan Tamil issue. They have no qualms in using this sensitive and emotional issue for their poll campaign. They also believe that all is fair in love and war and also polls.

Past month had seen several interesting statements and counter statements even as the Sri Lankan Government is trying to box in Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam supremo Velupillai Pirabhakaran. The Lankan Government is losing patience. It has been using a military offensive for the past many months and the end is almost in sight. For Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa finishing the LTTE and Pirabhakaran will be a big political bonanza which will ensure his re-election.

But why should the Lankan Tamil cause become a poll issue in Tamil Nadu? Six crore people of Tamil Nadu are India’s lever in Sri Lanka as they have the ethnic links with the minority Tamils in Sri Lanka. The plight of Sri Lankan Tamils is agitating the minds of the people of Tamil Nadu for long.

History apart, what is happening in Tamil Nadu is total political opportunism. The Lankan Tamil issue has been brewing in the political scene of Tamil Nadu for a while. It reached a boiling point last year when DMK chief and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi took up the cause of Lankan Tamils and in October DMK Ministers and party Members of Parliament went to the extend of resigning but ironically they gave it to Mr Karunanidhi and not to the Speaker. Blackmailed by the main ally, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh deputed External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee to Sri Lanka to persuade the Rajapaksa Government to go for a political solution. What was Mr Mukherjee’s brief? It is the stated Indian position that the situation called for a negotiated political settlement and the Lanka Government should respect and grant the human rights of minorities.

The war of words between the two main rivals — the DMK and the AIADMK is reaching its peak. The two Dravidian parties are adopting all kinds of tactics to catch the public attention. For Tamil Nadu politicians fasts, self immolations and bandhs are common methods of expressing their protests. The Chief Minister's latest remark “Pirabhakaran is my good friend, not a terrorist” is clearly to deny any political advantage to his foes, particularly the AIADMK, PMK and MDMK who have snatched the Tamil issue as their key poll plank. AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa had said that she would strive for a separate country if there was no devolution of power. To counter that, Mr Karunanidhi suddenly claimed Pirabhakaran was a friend. Why did he say things about Pirabhakaran and why did he retract? He said it to match Ms Jayalalithaa. The AIADMK supremo blamed the UPA regime and the DMK for having no genuine concern for the sufferings of the Sri Lankan Tamils. Ms Jayalalithaa took on UPA chief Sonia Gandhi choosing a national television channel to ask her to explain. “Why is Sonia Gandhi silent on Karunanidhi’s statement on LTTE? She is the chair person of the ruling UPA, she is the Congress chief and she is Rajiv Gandhi’s widow. She should give a clear explicit answer to the nation on what she feels about Karunanidhi’s statement on LTTE.” An embarrassed Congress is on the defensive while Ms Gandhi refused to be drawn into a debate with Ms Jayalalithaa.

More puzzling was that for the first time Ms Jayalalithaa endorsed the LTTE demand for separatism. She had obviously forgotten that she had jailed her current ally Vaiko of the MDMK for his pro-LTTE utterances when she was the Chief Minister and kept him in jail for more than a year. If Ms Jayalalithaa went on a one day fast to sympathise with the Tamils of Sri Lanka last month Mr Karunanidhi surprised everyone by sitting on an indefinite fast which ended in six hours this week. The DMK hopes to blunt the AIADMK onslaught by publicising Ms Jayalalithaa’s past deeds against the LTTE when she was the Chief Minister.

Look at the other Tamil Nadu political parties. Mr Vaiko had never felt shy of expressing his sympathies openly and is alleged to have crossed the sea to meet Pirabhakaran secretly. PMK chief S Ramdoss also is not far behind in his support to the LTTE chief. Other smaller party leaders like Tirumavalavan, DMDK leader and other minor political parties also sympathise with the Tamil cause.

The long and short of it that all these political gimmicks are meant to get votes. The rulers of Tamil Nadu have also to deal with the slow trickle of refugees from Sri Lanka. There are already 115 camps spread all over the State. If the influx grows further, there will be difficulty to deal with the situation.

The real dilemma is faced by the Congress. Pirabhakaran is accused of assassinating former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. The LTTE is banned in India. The DMK is a major ally of the Congress. How far can Congress go in dealing with this issue? The political leaders of Tamil Nadu very well know that India cannot go beyond a certain limit as Sri Lanka is a sovereign country and no one can interfere in its internal affairs. At the same time, the international pressure on the Lankan Government is also making it difficult for a military solution. If they have any sympathy for their Tamil brethren, the Tamil Nadu parties should make sure that New Delhi ensures that whether Pirabhakaran or LTTE is finished or not, the Lankan Government should think of future of the Tamils in the riot-torn areas and think of proper devolution of power. The root cause of the problem is their insecurity and demand for development which has to be addressed by the Lankan Government. India can do a lot in ensuring this and the Tamil Nadu parties should press for this rather than taking short-term political advantage of the emotional issue.
-Sri Lanka Guardian

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