If it was the ousted Chief Minister of the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu last week, then it was the turn of the incumbent Chief Minister to kick the ‘Sri Lanka Tamil’ football this week. We will not see the end of this charade for many months, what with the Indian elections due in [...]

Editorial

A Pan-Tamil axis in the making?

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If it was the ousted Chief Minister of the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu last week, then it was the turn of the incumbent Chief Minister to kick the ‘Sri Lanka Tamil’ football this week. We will not see the end of this charade for many months, what with the Indian elections due in the next 12-14 months.

For more than a year, we have urged the Sri Lankan Government not to let Sri Lanka-Tamil Nadu ties plunge to the depths they have now. Alas, it has fallen on deaf ears. Not since the immediate aftermath of the 1983 anti-Tamil riots in Sri Lanka has the agitation in Tamil Nadu reached such levels.

Tamil Nadu’s political leaders are playing with fire. Corrupt to the core, they are rousing the sentiments of their voter base taking the anti-Lanka card to a new high when their Chief Minister says they cannot provide security to the Sri Lankan cricketers playing in a domestic tournament in their capital.

In the process, the Chief Minister, like her political opponents, is making a fool of herself through utterances that display how conveniently unenlightened she is. She accused her opponents of agreeing to cede the islet of Kachchativu wedged between India and Sri Lanka in the Palk Strait to Sri Lanka in a 1974 agreement between the two countries. In the first place, India never ceded the islet,it only agreed that the islet rightfully belonged to Sri Lanka.

It was the exploitation of the pearl fishery that attracted colonial powers to these waters. The first challenge to the sovereignty of the islet goes back to 1903 when the Madras High Court made an order that the waters around the islet “were an integral part of His Majesty’s Dominions”. This became the basis for a demand by the Madras Government for jurisdiction over Kachchativu in 1921, but the claim was fully examined with the authority of survey maps and dismissed by the British who ruled over the two countries then. During World War II the Royal Navy established a naval bombardment range over the islet with the permission of the Government of Ceylon.

In the 1970s, both independent India and Sri Lanka agreed on the need to demarcate the maritime boundary between the two countries due to a combination of factors ranging from a claim by some quarters in Tamil Nadu for the islet, to illicit immigration (from India to Sri Lanka), smuggling, the extension of territorial seas and developments in international maritime law as an outcome of the UN Law of the Sea Conference. The 1974 Agreement merely sealed the deal recognising Sri Lanka’s sovereignty over Kachchativu. The Chief Minister would do well to brush up on her history; but more dangerous is the fact that she is even challenging New Delhi’s sovereign agreements with other countries and making Tamil Nadu fishermen believe that these waters are “theirs to fish”.

All this sympathy for Sri Lankan Tamils is a mere fašade when Tamil Nadu politicians encourage their voters to steal the fish and deprive thousands of Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen now eking out an existence of their livelihood, after 30 years of ‘civil war’ that was instigated by India and fanned by Tamil Nadu.

The on-going Tamil Nadu ‘uprising’ is no doubt a matter of concern to the Central Government in New Delhi. If it is not, it should be.
It is the political leaders of India who are squarely culpable for the acts of terrorism in Sri Lanka through the separatist insurgency. They were the agent provocateurs who ought to be brought before a tribunal for crimes against humanity, including Sri Lankan Tamils who were massacred by the LTTE in its quest to be the sole spokesman for Sri Lankan Tamils.

India has had its own bitter experience of secessionist campaigns, though they were not as bloody as the one in Sri Lanka. In the 1960s, it was the state of Tamil Nadu that wished to break away from the union of India. The Federal Party in Sri Lanka began its own breakaway campaign in Sri Lanka around that time. Though they (Tamils) felt far superior to their Tamil Nadu (Tamilians) brethren who were considered “coolies” in their own peculiar social hierarchy, the FP and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in Tamil Nadu exchanged orators who would glorify the Tamil race on either side of the Palk Strait.

The seeds for the disintegration of India were sown then, and they continue to be sown. These are fertile grounds for external elements to exploit; but that is a matter for India.

All this commotion has another lesson to be learnt, for Sri Lanka. Whatever the rabble-rousing politics of Tamil Nadu, it can incite people here to react. Fortunately, there is no racial element. Provocative words – and deeds to fuel racial disharmony have been taken as the words of an ignoramus leadership and deeds of misguided masses. It also displays the thread by which the Central Government hangs due to the theatrics of a state Government in their federal structure of administration that India wants for Sri Lanka.

This has a direct co-relation and bearing to the Provincial Council system that India forced on this country back in 1987. We have long argued that the Provincial Councils in Sri Lanka are of no use to man or beast. Ironically, the very political parties that vehemently opposed this system of devolution are the ones now profiting from it, politically. This Government vacillated without revamping the PC system purely to shore up its image. It didn’t have the political guts to change the system and will surely rue this inaction.

Are we to proceed with elections to the Provincial Council when we see, just across our shores, the problems of a federal structure; where a state can hold a central government to ransom and dictate foreign policy on its terms? Are we to do so merely because India is insisting on it and got a reference to these elections in the recent UNHRC resolution passed against Sri Lanka?

India’s insistence on these elections is not for the love of Sri Lanka. The fact that the slavishly pro-Indian Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is the likely victor in such an election will require the Government to take a geo-political strategic national security re-think. That is paramount in the national interest and the future stability of this country.

Having Tamil Nadu breathing down your neck is bad enough. To have the Northern Province and Tamil Nadu in some form of pan-Tamil axis is worse. India might think it is getting the better of Sri Lanka through this linkage, a modern-day political Adam’s bridge, but Tamil Nadu’s secessionist tendencies might want it to think again.




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