Hot on the heels of the death of a true friend of Sri Lanka in Cuba’s Fidel Castro came the passing away of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa Jayaram (JJ) — by no means a friend of Sri Lanka. A populist to the core, who distributed cash, gold, sewing machines, mobile phones and various other [...]


After JJ, Lanka must build better ties with Tamil Nadu


Hot on the heels of the death of a true friend of Sri Lanka in Cuba’s Fidel Castro came the passing away of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa Jayaram (JJ) — by no means a friend of Sri Lanka.

A populist to the core, who distributed cash, gold, sewing machines, mobile phones and various other items at election time and had several welfare programmes for the poor, and enriching herself in the process, the Chief Minister may have been beloved in her southern Indian state but she also had her detractors and corruption cases in court.

Granted she was the champion of the Tamilians — the Tamils who live in Tamil Nadu — but she could not lay a claim to being the champions of all Tamils given that when it came to the acid test of choosing between the Tamilian fishermen illegally poaching in Sri Lankan waters, depriving the Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen of their catch and their livelihood – she had no hesitation in choosing her own constituents at the expense of the Sri Lankan Tamils. That is why one can say without contradiction that hers were mere crocodile tears for the Sri Lankan Tamils and her seemingly vociferous concern for their plight during the several military campaigns to defeat the LTTE had a direct bearing on her own political campaigns domestically.

It is not to say she did not care for the Sri Lankan Tamils. Born in the state of Karnataka though of Tamil origin, she made it to fame through the silver screen. Quite like former Chief Minister — film idol turned politician M.G. Ramachandran at whose feet she mentored, and who was born in Sri Lanka, the two ‘outsiders’ became icons in the state of Tamil Nadu.

MGR flagrantly promoted the LTTE, bankrolling it while the terrorist organisation was wreaking bloody mayhem in neighbouring Sri Lanka. His state was the safe haven for the LTTE — to hit at targets in the island-nation and run to for refuge. ‘JJ’ followed her mentor’s footsteps, but the assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi by the LTTE changed the equation. The open support for the LTTE turned into tacit support for the organisation and the re-branding of support for the ‘oppressed Sri Lankan Tamils’. The poaching issue however, gave the show away that all this sympathy was mere political expediency at home.

No doubt, the Tamil Nadu Government looked after the flood of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees who went across the Palk Strait after the 1983 pogroms. One may argue that the refugees the state had to accommodate were a direct result of the state’s own sponsorship of terrorism in Sri Lanka; they were only reaping the whirlwind they had sowed. Not that the Sri Lankan Tamil refugees were not discriminated against in Tamil Nadu. They were given schooling but couldn’t find jobs. One refugee when asked by an investigative reporter of an Indian magazine if it was not better to live with whatever shortcomings in the Indian state rather than in danger to his life in Sri Lanka, famously said; “it is better to die in Sri Lanka than live like this in Tamil Nadu”.

After the MGR era, ‘JJ’ had to compete with their arch political rival, M. Karunanidhi for championing the cause of the Sri Lankan Tamils. They pressurised the Centre in New Delhi due to the matrix of India’s coalition politics to breathe down the Sri Lanka Government’s neck at every turn. More recently, ‘JJ’ kept writing to the Centre complaining against the Sri Lanka Government whenever Tamil Nadu fishermen were arrested for poaching even if it was at the expense of the local Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen. The irony of it all was that she ended up blaming the Sri Lanka Navy which was protecting the Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen.

Sri Lankan political leaders have sent the customary condolence messages on her demise as protocol demands. All types of compliments have been showered on the late Chief Minister: De mortuis nihil nisi bonum (Nothing but the good about the dead).

They did fall short though of the fawning by some of the Tamil Nadu politicians who would prostrate themselves before the ‘Iron Lady’ of Tamil Nadu, but are now sharpening their knives in the succession stakes of her party, the AIADMK.

Successive Sri Lankan Governments failed to reach out to Tamil Nadu’s political leaders, opting instead to deal directly with New Delhi which itself was forced to dance to the tune of the regional parties. This did India a great disservice in the greater good of Indo-Lanka bilateral relations. Sri Lanka was a genuine friend of India for millennia, but these relations soured due to Tamil Nadu’s parochial interventions – and India nearly lost a steadfast ally in Sri Lanka. Others in Asia took advantage of this scenario.

Bombs were thrown at Sri Lankan pilgrim centres and those passing through the state’s capital, Chennai to holy Buddhist sites of India were physically harmed; sports teams from Sri Lanka were prevented from participating in the state – all under ‘JJ’s’ watch. Neither she nor Mr. Karunanidhi has been Sri Lanka’s friend.

One can only hope this is the end of an era and a new beginning has dawned in Tamil Nadu-Sri Lanka relations. It can even get worse. The Sri Lankan Government cannot watch passively and allow developments to take their course. Its foreign policy must reach out, as never before, to the closest hot-spot to Sri Lanka.

Corruption; walk the talk
It was interesting, if somewhat amusing to hear the President speak at an Anti-Corruption event on Friday. This was arranged by the President’s Office to coincide with World Anti-Corruption Day and as a follow-up to the President’s own attendance at a global gathering of leaders in London earlier this year prior to British PM David Cameron’s exit. The Prime Minister wisely avoided the event. The President waxed eloquent on the subject at hand, but if only he – and his PM, could walk the talk.

With the stink of the Central Bank bond scandal still pervading, unresolved, as the Government dithers on how to sweep the muck under the carpet once and for all; with Ministers past, being hauled up for petty crimes in the name of serious crimes, and Ministers present, refusing to give statements to the Bribery and Corruption Commission for misdeeds they committed under the previous Government; with the inability to reach the foreign bank accounts of previous leaders; arms merchants, money launderers, and those involved in the infamous ‘pump and dump’ racket and insider dealing in the Stock Market of yesteryear still scot free – and with the nexus between local agents engaged in mega economic development projects with current high profile Ministers, this Government’s Anti-Corruption Drive has become one big joke — a mockery in the eyes of the public.

The telephone call to the IGP from a mysterious “Sir” last week was the icing on the cake, so to say, in this big hoax of corruption-busting yarn perpetrated on the people. Long years ago, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike told the State Council while speaking on the subject that everything is done to protect those with influence while others are thrown to ravenous wolves. Nothing seems to have changed. It was only his daughter, former President Chandrika Kumaratunga who was found guilty of corruption and abuse of power and fined by the Supreme Court in the Water’s Edge case and that too not in a case prosecuted by the State, but by public-spirited citizens.

This country signed the UN Anti-Corruption Convention in 2003 and the worst corruption has taken place ever since. The less talk about the subject the better, and probably the less written as well.


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