India's minister for industries, Murasoli Maran, was interviewed recently(July 11) by Maalan, the editor of Kumudham, the weekly magazine with the largest circulation in Tamil Nadu.
In a significant departure, either by design or by accident, from the Indian central government's long iterated position on the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, Mr. Maran who is Karunanidhi's nephew, said, Our only worry is that our Tamil brothers there (in Sri Lanka) should live with rights. If they think that they can achieve those rights only through Tamil Eelam and if they are prepared to make sacrifices for it , O. K. (let them) do it : Or if they think that they can secure their objectives by getting greater regional autonomy through federalism (here Maran uses the word Ò Kootatchi which can also mean confederation), right.
Therefore, it is they who have to decide. Our duty is to support whatever they decide is correct but the Indian Tamils who live abroad do not have the right to tell them what they (the Indian Tamils) think is good for them (the Sri Lankan Tamils). This is the DMK's thought. My sympathy - not only my sympathy but the sympathy of the Tamils in Tamil Nadu is that the Tamils there (in Sri Lanka) should live with their rights. That goodwill is there. That is all.
However, in the interview Mr. Maran emphasised that the DMK has nothing to do with the Tigers. We have said that not only once but several times he said.
In this context the Kumudham editor asked him Are we in a helpless situation where we cannot do anything ( for the Sri Lankan Tamils)? To this Mr. Maran said, Yes. We are certainly in that position. He pointed out that they (he does not specify the Tigers by name) had antagonised India but are now saying that India should intervene. I do not see that there is necessity for that ....... this is a problem for which they have to find a solution. India is not in a position to intervene and do anything India has Ò burnt its fingers once he said.
India's official line on Sri Lanka since the time it started showing interest in the Tamil problem since the early eighties has consistently been that it is committed to the unity, territorial integrity and sovereignty of Sri Lanka. This, the Indian central government has clearly emphasised even while supplying large quantities of weapons to hammer the Sri Lankan government in the northeast, in Colombo and elsewhere. Here we have a key cabinet minister of the Indian central government saying that if the desire and goal of the Tamils in Sri Lanka is a separate state of their own and if they achieve that goal it is Our duty to support it. (Here, when he says our he means the Tamils of Tamil Nadu and the DMK).
Meanwhile, the Paris Eelanadu,' a Tamil paper published in France said in a recent issue (4.7. 96) that the chief minister of Tamil Nadu had, at a press conference in his office, denied what Lakshman Kadirgamar had stated about his meeting with Murasoli Maran while he was in Delhi recently.
The PMK , MDMK and other Tamil nationalist groups in the state have, according to some sources, protested against the meeting that Mr. Maran had with Mr. Kadirgamar in Delhi. They had threatened to block the entry of the Sri Lankan foreign minister at the Madras airport if he were to come to call on Mr. Karunanidhi or anyone in the state government. True, the PMK was able to secure only four seats in the Tamil Nadu legislative assembly but it is, in recent weeks, being wooed by the DMK. Mr. Karunanidhi's decision to withdraw the law suits filed against the PMK is seen by some political analysts in Tamil Nadu as a prelude to a possible alliance which Mr. Karunanidhi is desirous to form with that party to contest the local government elections which are due soon. In the Pondichery legislature the PMK has extended its support to the DMK- TMC alliance which has formed the government in that region. Mr. Karunanidhi was on the verge of forming an alliance with the PMK before the elections in May. It fell through because the PMK decided, on the eleventh hour, to pull out of the negotiations on a lame pretext.
I need not comment on the PMK's strident pro-LTTE stand. Therefore, if there is a PMK - DMK alliance to contest the local government elections in Tamil Nadu, one may find the emphasis on Eelam somewhat stronger than what Maran had to tell Kumudham, though the DMK is certain to keep its distance from the LTTE.
But in all this, what is important is the general political trend which, at least in the past few years, seems to be reshaping the grounds on which the Indian union has been politically sustained since the British relinquished the Raj. It is in the context of this trend, which many analysts of Indian affairs have commented upon substantially in the aftermath of the Indian polls in May, that one has to locate and view the comments of Mr. Maran and the future of the Sri Lankan Tamil question vis-a-vis India. The trend which we are speaking about here is of course the loosening up' of the Indian union with the regional parties playing a key role in establishing power at the centre. Mr. Maran makes a very interesting point about this. He says:
There is a tendency to think of only the DMK and the Telugu Desam as regional parties. Vajpayee won in the Hindi belt called the Cow belt. The communists were elected in West Bengal and Kerala. The Congress was returned in a few states. Therefore, we can only speak in terms of a regional party in the Andamans or one in Tamil Nadu;
we can speak of small regional parties and big regional parties but the (idea of a) pan Indian party as in Nehru's time and Gandhi's time - that era is finished.
As far as I am concerned, (India's political) parties, including the Communist Party, should be divided into small regional parties and big regional parties
Here, we have a minister of the Indian central government who asserts categorically that India's future should be shaped in the form of a political coalition of regions.
The regional parties which constitute the UF government at the centre are seeking greater autonomy. They have always grumbled about the manner in which the central government has been undermining the powers of the states since the Congress Party started ruling India as a politically centralised force.
Today, the very champions of the federal cause are the kingmakers at the centre. India is not a comprehensively' federal state. It has strong aspects of a unitary state which the regional parties in the past have accused the Congress government of abusing to further its political interests in states. The issues of contention are Article 356 under which the centre can dissolve duly elected state governments, subjects in the concurrent list such as education and industries which were partly taken over by the centre, financial devolution to the states , the national language (after assuming office Mr. Karunanidhi pledged to make Tamil a national language of India as soon as possible) and reviving the inter-state council.
The Deve Gowda government has appointed a committee to study the Sarkaria Commission report on enhancing some aspects of regional autonomy. And there is pressure to amend Article 356 which had been used 46 times since India's independence mainly by the Congress Party to dissolve regional governments run by other parties.
The Indian Supreme Court, however, took up the matter when two state governments run by the BJP were dismissed by Rao following the Ayodhya crisis. The Supreme Court said it had the right to intervene and consider the grounds on which 356 had been used to dissolve a duly elected state government.
The current move to amend Article 356 of the Indian constitution may involve legislation on the basis of the views expressed by the Indian Supreme Court.
The DMK government was dismissed by the centre in 1990 on the grounds that it had permitted the LTTE to disturb the law and order situation in Tamil Nadu.
What is the relevance of these developments which currently appear to constitute a federalizing' (or even confederalising') trend in the Indian polity to the Sri Lankan Tamil question?
The argument of what I would refer to as the Ò gradualist school of the Eelam movement is worth considering in this connection. The few intellectually oriented members of this school' have argued that the establishment of Eelam or for that matter even the achievement of adequate regional autonomy within a united Sri Lanka is possible under and is essentially linked to the restructuring of the Indian union' along greater federal lines. They said as long as the class which has a vested interest in a politically centralised India runs the government at the centre there would be a strong prejudice against the Tamil movement in Sri Lanka.
This prejudice, the gradualist school said, is historically conditioned and powerfully compelling in this class because of its bitter experience with the Dravidian movement. This class (with a dominant Brahmin element) and the bureaucracy to which it was symbiotically and ideologically linked had to loose their grip on the Indian polity if their vested interest in undermining the Eelam movement is to be removed from the path of the Tamil struggle, argued the gradualist school. This would happen only when regionalism and hence the federalising tendency become the dominant trend in Indian politics over the years or even decades, it was said.
Then, as an intellectual of this school told me in 1989 , Madras will acquire the central position which Delhi now occupies in the regional political perspective of Colombo. (The LTTE may have tried to do its bit to expedite the regionalising' process by killing Rajiv Gandhi.) The gradualist school has been critical of those in the LTTE hierarchy who have in recent times advocated a rapprochement with the Delhi bureaucracy. I would include the majority of the pro-LTTE intellectuals in Tamil Nadu in this school.
Whether the regionalising' trend is inexorable will be decided by the following factors:
a) the ability of the Congress to make a significant comeback in the north as well as the south.
b) the cohesive strength of the bureaucracy to counter and undermine the trend
c) the ability of the BJP to secure a substantial foothold outside the Hindi belt.
And in Tamil Nadu it will be determined by the ability of the DMK to form a Dravidian alliance to preclude the re-emergence of the ADMK and to undermine the TMC and prevent it from regrouping' with the Congress Party.
Nevertheless there is a section of the Indian bureaucracy which seems to hold the view that the federalising trend has no implications for Sri Lanka essentially because the Tamils in Tamil Nadu are no more subject to the sentiments and political compulsions of Pan Tamil nationalism. But Prof. Suryanarayan, the Sri Lanka specialist at the Madras University tells me that in the long term an unresolved conflict in Sri Lanka will have serious repercussions in Tamil Nadu.
One can only remind, while examining such issues, even briefly, that there is more to the Tamil question than reducing the LTTE to a manageable guerrilla force.Go to Guest Column