Nadu blows hot and cold with Tigers
The Sunday Times Insight
CHENNAI: After a sudden flurry of activity on the pro-Liberation
Tigers of Tamil Eelam front, Tamil Nadu political parties have gone
quiet on Sri Lanka as they concentrate more on coalition and seat-sharing
worries confronting them in the coming State Assembly elections.
ground situation in Sri Lanka will determine whether the issue rears
its head again in the run-up to the elections. A return to war and
a consequent flow of refugees across the Palk Straits could make
the Sri Lankan issue a natural talking point for Eelamist politicians
in the State. If that will make it an important matter of interest
for the general public, as in the 1980s, is another matter.
2005 saw two interesting developments relating to Tamil Nadu politicians
and the Sri Lankan issue. First, Vaiko, the leader of the Marumalarchi
Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and a sworn Eelamist and Prabhakaran loyalist,
met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi and placed before
him a long list of alleged atrocities by Sri Lankan forces against
who seems to have good access to Prime Minister Singh, has long
taken credit for New Delhi sending a proposed India-Sri Lanka defence
agreement into deep freeze. After his meeting with Singh a few days
ahead of the visit of President Mahinda Rajapkse to India, Vaiko
once again made this claim.
December 29, several Tamil Nadu parties participated in a pro-LTTE
meeting here that was timed for a day before President Rajapakse's
intended stopover in this city to meet the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister,
Jayalalithaa. The meeting did not materialise and President Rajapakse
scored off Chennai from his itinerary. More about that later.
those at the meeting were Vaiko, and S Ramadoss, leader of the Pattali
Makkal Katchi. Both MDMK and PMK are constituents of the ruling
United Progressive Alliance at the Centre and of the DMK-led seven-party
Democratic Progressive Alliance in Tamil Nadu.
meeting was held under the auspices of the Dravida Kazhagam, led
by K Veeramani. The other notable presence was that of the unswerving
LTTE loyalist P Nedumaran. Pure LTTE rhetoric flowed through the
mikes. Vaiko provided most of the flourishes, praising the LTTE
for its military capabilities, and expressing his desire to see
"the Tamil flag among those fluttering outside the United Nations
Eelam will come. That's a certainty," he said. The meeting
passed a resolution asking the Centre not to give any military assistance
to Colombo, and not to help rebuild Palaly airstrip in Jaffna or
provide any help that would "adversely affect Sri Lankan Tamils".
even warned the Centre that if it failed to heed this call, the
youth of Tamil Nadu "would not remain mere spectators".
He pointed to other instances of Indian youth taking to arms, such
as People's War, the Naxalite group in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh.
the meeting a trial balloon by the LTTE to gauge the atmosphere
for itself in Tamil Nadu? If so, it would have certainly derived
encouragement from two developments that seemed to be a direct consequence
of the pro-LTTE meeting.
was the reluctance of New Delhi to openly blame the LTTE for its
blatant ceasefire violations in the joint statement issued at the
end of Mr. Rajapakse's visit. It said instead that "the President
of Sri Lanka apprised the Prime Minister of India of recent attacks
on Sri Lankan security forces and other ceasefire violations. The
two leaders deplored violations of the ceasefire. Both sides emphasized
the need for the strict observance of the ceasefire and immediate
resumption of talks aimed at strengthening the ceasefire."
UPA coalition could have sent out the message that constituents
cannot dictate on an important issue of foreign policy with implications
for national security but it chose not to, instead fudging the language
of the joint statement.
other significant fallout was that Chief Minister Jayalalithaa avoided
meeting President Rajapakse, forcing him to cancel his visit to
Chennai from his itinerary. That she allowed the meeting to go ahead
was itself something of a surprise. The LTTE is a banned terrorist
group in India since 1992. The Prevention of Terrorism Act has been
repealed, but Jayalalithaa could have even invoked sections of the
Indian Penal Code to prevent the meeting from taking place, had
she so desired.
too long ago, she would have at least launched a verbal tirade against
her political opponents for consorting with the LTTE. Jayalalithaa
makes a show of her anti-LTTE credentials. Indeed, over the last
few days, the State government has increased its vigilance of the
Tamil Nadu coast in anticipation of the LTTE sending its cadres
here in the guise of refugees.
wasn't there even a peep out of her about the pro-LTTE rhetoric
at the meeting? The answer could well lie in the shape of possible
alliances for the coming elections. As the political commentator
Cho Ramaswamy noted at a public meeting last week, the DMK-led DPA
may not be able to hold together for the elections. Seat-sharing
is one issue that could pull it apart.
other more subtle undercurrent is that Vaiko is bound to be a reluctant
player in a project to pitchfork Stalin, the son of ageing DMK leader
M. Karunanidhi, into the chief minister's chair. If Karunanidhi
continues to project his son as his inheritor, there is a good chance
this election may really turn out to be a contest between Jayalalithaa
future hinges on the DMK breaking up and a part of it attaching
itself to him in a post-Karunanidhi scenario. He would rather work
to defeat the DMK than help it win the election because cadres hesitate
to leave a party when it is in power. The AIADMK, currently bereft
of allies and arithmetically weak, is watching this with interest.
Jayalalithaa's silence on the pro-LTTE activity in the state could
be related to this. She would want to avoid taking any step that
could foreclose emerging political opportunities.
pro-LTTE noise in Tamil Nadu could increase if a full-fledged war
breaks out in north-east Sri Lanka, and the trickle of refugees
that has already started turns into a flood. It will hand Eelamist
politicians a handy excuse for bringing it up in the run-up to the
should Tamil Nadu parties make an issue of the war in Sri Lanka
now when they did not through two Assembly elections held between
1995 and 2001, when the Sri Lankan forces and the LTTE fought some
of their fiercest battles?
answer to that is President Chandrika Kumaratunga was perceived
in India and in Tamil Nadu as a leader who was genuine and sincere
about solving the conflict through political concessions to Tamils.
That she ended up waging war instead was blamed on the LTTE.
Rajapakse, elected with the help of the Janatha Vimukhti Peramuna
and the Jathika Hela Urumaya, does not have the same image of a
liberal and progressive leader. It has not helped that he espouses
a unitary state, widely seen as the primary cause of Sri Lanka's
ethnic troubles from the time of its independence from the British
has dismayed committed anti-LTTE Sri Lanka watchers in India that
President Rajapakse rejected the accepted wisdom that solving conflicts
of this nature require governments to dilute powers at the centre
and devolve to the regions.
the LTTE is far from regaining popular support, even though it has
political parties speaking for it. There is still widespread anger
against the LTTE for the killing of Rajiv Gandhi. For people in
Tamil Nadu, the assassination is not just "a tragic event that
happened many years ago", as LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran
famously described it in his 2002 press conference. For them, LTTE
is still a four-letter word.
is why from 1991, even the staunchest Eelamist politicians kept
the Sri Lankan issue out of the election arena and may hesitate
to bring it in even now if they think it is off-putting to voters.
But if parties and politicians project pro-LTTE programmes after
they are elected, the people would certainly be helpless to prevent
them -- at least until the next elections.
(An investigation from a team of Chennai-based Indian reporters,
especially conducted for The Sunday Times)