Sri Lankan pilgrims travelling through the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu and sports teams may get set upon by ‘goondas’ (goons) from political parties and the state government wants Sri Lankan military personnel not to train on Tamil Nadu soil. Not to be outdone, Indian spectators at a recent T-20 cricket international between the [...]


Reaching out to Vanuatu but not Tamil Nadu


Sri Lankan pilgrims travelling through the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu and sports teams may get set upon by ‘goondas’ (goons) from political parties and the state government wants Sri Lankan military personnel not to train on Tamil Nadu soil. Not to be outdone, Indian spectators at a recent T-20 cricket international between the two countries on Sri Lankan soil were at the receiving end of hostile jeers and gesticulations.

A new cold wave has hit bilateral relations between India and Sri Lanka (Pls. see Political commentary). More so after India supported an anti-Sri Lanka resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva earlier this year.

A few days ago, the President warned — significantly at a military parade — that ‘Project Eelam’ was not over. He was probably alluding to last Sunday’s Tamil Eelam Solidarity conference in Tamil Nadu organised by the state’s former Chief Minister, M. Karunanidhi, whose dying declaration is to see ‘Eelam’ established; of course, not in his state, but in Sri Lanka.

The Indian Constitution precludes him from asking for a separate state of Eelam on his soil. A previous attempt at secession by the Dravidian movements in the state (in the 1960s) was put down by New Delhi and a constitutional ban was invoked on making such demands. Mr. Karunanidhi does not have the courage of his conviction to make his dream a reality on his own state, so he fans communal passions in other countries.

The fact that Indian government permitted this conference is bad neighbourliness. It would have reacted strongly if a similar conference was held in Colombo calling for solidarity with the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front which is seeking Kashmir’s independence from India.

It was only in May this year that the Government of India extended the ban on the LTTE as a terrorist organisation. Yet, it gives the nod for a conference on Eelam in Sri Lanka, provided there were no declarations or resolutions passed.
The Indian ban of the LTTE came only after the assassination of India’s one-time Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Otherwise, it was a historical fact that India provided military, financial and moral support for the secessionist movement in Sri Lanka. It would appear that India would like to keep this issue alive, nagging and bothering Sri Lanka as long as it does not backfire on India as it did with the assassination of Mr. Gandhi.

Sri Lanka can hardly afford to complain that India has allowed a conference that calls for ‘Eelam’, when it permits political parties to be recognised at home with the name Eelam. One such party belongs to the Government’s own coalition.
On the other hand, Sri Lanka has moved at snail’s pace in bringing about even a semblance of normalcy with the state of Tamil Nadu, permitting the wound to fester. The visit of an all-party delegation from Tamil Nadu soon after the military defeat of the LTTE in 2009 has not been reciprocated by Sri Lankan parliamentarians to the South Indian state. An Indian all-party parliamentary delegation visited Sri Lanka in the first part of this year, but there appear no plans for a reciprocal visit. So, the misunderstandings continue unabated.

There is, however, a concerted drive to open diplomatic relations with Vanuatu and Nauru in the Pacific; with Guatamala and Honduras in Latin America; with Swaziland and Burkina Farso in Africa, but we cannot reach out next door to Tamil Nadu.
Successive Sri Lankan governments are to blame for letting this wound fester. The principle seems to be that Colombo will deal only with New Delhi. What happens when relations with New Delhi also take a tumble, as they have right now.
The China factor – Sri Lanka’s increasing indebtedness to Beijing — is clearly one of the reasons for deteriorating ties with India. The Sri Lankan Government is patently using the ‘China card’ to fend continuous Indian pressure on the domestic affairs of Sri Lanka, a game that has long-term repercussions for both India and Sri Lanka should the situation turn nasty.
For Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayaram Jayalalithaa and her predecessor, a bit of advice from their longtime critic, one-time cabinet minister and member of the opposition coalition, Subramaniam Swamy, might stand in good stead. He told a defence seminar in Colombo last week that research had shown that the DNA of the Sinhala and Tamil people is the same; there are common linguistic links to Sanskrit, and so too religious co-relations between Hinduism and Buddhism. He praised the Sri Lankan military for defeating the LTTE and said a majority of Indians were the better off for it.

Surely, the situation is not as bad as they imagine just across the Palk Strait. But the Tamil political leaders will not stop imagining. That is because the very platform from which they have long hitched their political stars to the ‘save Sri Lankan Tamils’ wagon, and the very platform on which they have based their parochial politics, will collapse.
The bustling trade that takes place between Colombo and Chennai belittles the hostility, sabre rattling and vituperative politics generated in Tamil Nadu against Sri Lanka. It is business as usual, in fact better than ever, as traders ply their goods over and under the Customs radar. Flights to and fro are full as sarong clad ‘businessmen’ with friends in high places in both cities engage in an unofficial Free Trade Agreement between the two countries.

India as a nation, and the Indian Government in New Delhi, must know that they are losing out by adopting a Tamil Nadu-centric foreign policy towards Sri Lanka, however much they may say it is not the policy they are following. India will need to ask itself if it is squandering opportunities. If you take the politics out of Indo-Lanka relations, the historical, religious, linguistic, social and economic bonhomie of the two peoples, from time immemorial, shall prevail. That is Satya, the truth.

Share This Post

comments powered by Disqus

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.