When Sri Lanka's army commander General Sarath Fonseka claimed some four months ago that they had "defeated" the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), I had my doubts. Now I believe him because of the antics by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi. He threatens to withdraw the DMK support of 14 Lok Sabha members from the Manmohan Singh government if it does not step in to "stop the genocide" against the Tamils in Sri Lanka.
The cat is out of the bag when he asks for a ceasefire against the LTTE. Karunanidhi's threat works because the Manmohan Singh government panics. It does not want to be reduced to a minority government. Hence it summons Sri Lankan envoy at New Delhi to the Foreign Office to express its concern over the Tamils's plight. The Prime Minister himself calls on the phone Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and follows it up with the announcement that Foreign Minister Pranab Mukhaerjee would visit Colombo to sort out things.
|DMK supporters participating at a human chain demo on Friday in support of Sri Lankan Tamils.
I do not know how things would work out in the end. Militarily, the Sri Lankan army is in the mopping-up process. The LTTE's last stronghold, Kilinochchi, has been pierced through. Will Colombo or, for that matter, the military agree to have a ceasefire when the LTTE has been roundly defeated? And what does it mean in political terms because Sri Lanka itself concedes that the problem is political and cannot be solved militarily? My questions are directed towards New Delhi.
How can it interfere in the internal affairs of Sri Lanka? What is our business to protect the LTTE against the Sri Lankan military? How can we ask or even make a hint to a sovereign nation to do or not to do certain things? We are setting a precedent which we would regret one day.
Asking an independent country not to march against the forces it considers rebels amounts to belittling its sovereignty. Our act is palpably wrong, morally, ethically and politically. Whether the Manmohan Singh government stays or falls without the DMK support is not the concern of the nation. But putting the weight of its authority to undermine a country's sovereignty is very much our concern. We should be discreet enough when and where to draw the line.
This does not mean that we should not be concerned over the violation of Tamils' human rights. That Tamils in Tamil Nadu are anxious about them is all the more reason for our sympathy. But there are ways and means of doing so. Calling a country's envoy to the Foreign Office is certainly not one of them. I can understand the centre supporting Karunanidhi's demand to stop the "genocide against Tamils."
I can also understand that human rights violations create a situation which can be volatile for Tamil Nadu or even beyond. But I cannot understand how the LTTE represents the Tamils. It is a banned organisation in India and it has been proved beyond doubt that LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran was personally responsible for the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
Tamils in Sri Lanka are justifiably angry that they do not get their due. I heard endless complaints when I was at Colombo some time ago. Extortions were many and the police would not even register a report by Tamils. Still, the Tamils in Sri Lanka are not disloyal to the country. Nor do they want to secede from Sri Lanka. They want to be treated at par with the Sinhalese, the majority in the country.
The LTTE is a band of Tamil terrorists. They cannot be allowed to hijack the Tamil community which feels that it has no equal opportunities and that its language, Tamil, does not enjoy the same status as the Sinhala. True, Sri Lanka is a unitary state but it should administer in a federal way so that Tamils feel they are part and parcel of the country's ethos. However, the eyes of the Manmohan Singh government are fixed on how to save it. The last time when it sought a vote of confidence in the Lok Sabha, it had to bribe a few MPs to garner a majority.
Today, the government is doing the same thing, giving in to Karunanidhi's threats. This may be all right with the Congress party, but it is not acceptable to the nation. The real fault is ours because we created the LTTE, gave it training and weapons. It developed its own ambition which was bound to happen when our foreign office foolishly thought that the LTTE would come in handy to needle of the Sri Lankan government to get a better deal for Tamils. The end was right but the means were wrong. As Mahatma Gandhi said, "If means are vitiated the ends are bound to be vitiated."
(The writer, a pre-Independence freedom fighter, is a veteran political commentator and one time diplomat and Rajya Sabha member of India.)