8th March 1998
Tamil question knocking on the doors of Delhi
It appears almost certain that the BJP will come to power in India. And it is possible that the party might run a stable government for a full term in the Indian Parliament, contrary to predictions that the subcontinent is headed for another round of elections in an year or two.
The UF government was dependent on the Congress party for its survival. But there is no need for the BJP to depend on either the Congress or the UF. It has only to placate some small parties to survive its full term, the way the PA has survived so far in our Parliament with pre-polls allies like the SLMC, LSSP, and the CP.
The BJP’s main pre-poll ally today is the AIADMK and its partners from Tamil Nadu. AIADMK’s chief associates today are Dr. Ramdoss’ PMK and V. Gopalasamy’s MDMK which have secured seven out of the thirty nine Parliament seats in Tamil Nadu.
(V. Gopalasamy won in the Sivakaasy electorate by a massive majority of hundred and forty thousand votes).
The PMK and the MDMK officially hold the position that the only viable solution to the Tamil question in Sri Lanka is the establishment of the separate state of Tamil Eelam.
V. Gopalasamy, speaking to the press soon after the results became known, said one of the reasons for the DMK’s defeat was Karunanidhi’s failure to wipe the tears of blood shed by the Eelam Tamils. Dr. Ramdoss, the leader of the PMK expressed similar sentiments to the Paris-based Tamil paper ‘Eelamurasu’. He pointed out that the Sonia’s campaign had no impact on the Tamils.
In the same issue of the paper the secretary and a top rung leader of the BJP, Govindachcharya said the BJP government will not support a military policy by the Sri Lankan government to solve the conflict in the northeast and that his party would approach the Tamil question in Sri Lanka with sympathy.
The success of the BJP’s alliance with the AIDMK, PMK and the MDMK will mean that Tamil Nadu will again play a key role in the event of the BJP forming the government at the centre. The main external component of the BJP’s 251 seats is from Tamil Nadu.
This was the case in the outgoing United Front government as well, in which Tamil Nadu chief minister Muthtuvel Karunanidhi and the leader of the Thamilaha Maanila Congress, G.K Moopanar were powerful players. Both parties took key ministries in the central government. Karunanidhi’s nephew Murasoli Maran was the minister of Industries and P. Chidambaram was minister of Finance. And Tamil Nadu was on the verge of having one of its own as the prime minister of India for the first time when Moopanar emerged as the compromise candidate of the United Front after Deve Gowda was forced to step down as prime minister.
The DMK-TMC alliance made it a point to drive this home during their campaign for the Parliamentary elections.
Today, (the Indian Parliament) cannot decide anything without the approval of Tamil Nadu MPs. Even at the international level, Tamil ministers represent the country. While I met US President Bill Clinton, Anna Maran met British Prime minister Tony Blair. So you must vote for me to form our (Tamil) government at the centre, P. Chidambaram told voters in the run up to the polls.
The Tamil Nadu factor will be important in the BJP government as well.
In the UF government it did not translate into anything positive for the Eelam cause mainly because the DMK, aware of the UF government’s dependence on the precarious support of the Congress, generally stuck to the Sri Lankan policy determined mostly by the Delhi bureaucrats.
This might not be the case if the BJP forms a stable government with the support of small parties. V. Gopalasamy, for example, may not have to look over his shoulder every time he has to speak in support of the Eelam cause in the Indian Parliament.
There are two important developments which we have to take note of here.
The Congress party has been completely routed in Tamil Nadu.
Sonia’s campaign did not have any impact on the Tamils - in Sriperumpudur, where Rajiv was killed, the AIDMK won despite its alliance with the PMK and the MDMK which support the LTTE which is accused of killing her husband.
Reviving the fortunes of the Congress in the state, as it was possible in Maharashtra or Karnataka, is extremely remote now. Valappaady Ramamoorthy, the last local leader of the party with some mass appeal, has formed his own minor regional outfit which is essentially a one-man show, looking up to the AIDMK for survival.
The Congress has had deep historical political roots in Tamil Nadu.
As such, it was the sole all India level challenge to the Tamil nationalists of Tamil Nadu, providing an alternative to the emergence of strong regionalism in the state.
In fact, the MDMK and the PMK joined hands with the BJP, which stands for everything that is ideologically anathema to them, for the tactical purpose of ‘hammering in the last nail on the Congress party’s coffin in Tamil Nadu.’
This they appear to have achieved by teaming up with the AIDMK and the BJP.
The other, national level alternative, the BJP is a complete new comer to the state and has a long way to go even to make a minor dent in the Tamil polity.
The overall trend which one discerns today in Tamil Nadu is that the two national level parties- the BJP and the Congress- have to depend almost totally on local parties - the big ones as well as the small ones. (The BJP had separate discussions with Dr. Ramdoss soon after the results of the elections were announced.)
This is what one should consider geopolitically significant to the future of the Sri Lankan polity. But PA government has been patently worried that the BJP might follow a policy on Sri Lanka that could favour the Liberation Tigers .
Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, who has time and again demonstrated his personal determination to crush the Eelam cause at whatever the cost, made it a point to meet BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Atal Bihari Vajpayee to supposedly get an assurance from him that the BJP will not bring about any changes to Delhi’s current line on the Sri Lankan Tamil question. Mr. Kadirgamar was obviously prompted to make the move following reports that representatives of the Liberation Tigers had met leaders of the Shiv Sena, the BJP’s other face in Maharashtra, and secured their support for the Eelam cause. Mr. Kadirgamar got it wrong here.
The Liberation Tigers are playing a more subtle game.
They appear to think that it is enough if a BJP government were to restrain some Delhi officials whom they consider to be overzealously supportive of the PA’s military drive in the north. There can be no doubt that Dr. Ramdoss and V. Gopalasamy will deliver on this expectation to some degree. Prabhakaran might be content to leave all else in the long term to the consolidation of a strong regionalist trend in Tamil Nadu which might continue to have an impact on the power politics of Delhi.
Mr. Kadirgamar, being a suave Colombo based lawyer, cannot, of course, be held responsible for failing to mark the long term trajectory of the Tamil political mind on either side of the Palk Straits and in the Diaspora.