for the LTTE in the face of escalating violence in Sri Lanka has spurred
fresh debate on secession from India. It’s time the Centre took
A senior Tamil nationalist
leader, known for his pro-LTTE views, once said during a private conversation:
“The Tigers are hardened soldiers. They have the ability and resources
to fight the Sri Lankan Army without anyone’s help. This is the
situation on the ground and it is not going to change irrespective of
the stand parties in India take towards the LTTE (Liberation Tigers
of Tamil Eelam).” He made these remarks a couple of years ago,
at a time when there were only pro-LTTE and anti-LTTE lobbies in the
Both operated in
distinct styles. While the anti-LTTE lobby subtly manipulated public
opinion through sections of the media, pro-LTTE groups articulated their
feelings in a more blatant fashion, often on the streets in the form
of rallies or demonstrations. Because of the ban on the LTTE in India,
the pro-LTTE parties did not support the Tigers directly. The few like
Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) leader Vaiko, and Tamil
nationalist leader Pazha Nedumaran, who did, were detained under the
Prevention of Terrorist Activities Act (POTA).
The rest opted
for the safer path and said they were fighting for the cause of Eelam
Tamils — which has now become a euphemism for the LTTE. But there
was something common about all the pro-LTTE parties; they offered only
moral support. Their ire was against the Sri Lankan government and the
Sinhala chauvinists. There was no anger against the Indian government.
Nobody threatened to take up arms in support of the Eelam struggle.
However, the escalation
of violence in Sri Lanka and the Mahinda Rajapakse government’s
apparently increasing belief in a military solution to the ethnic conflict
is having its repercussions in Tamil Nadu. The pro-LTTE camp is threatening
to split into moderate and extremist factions.
One is witnessing
an alarming emergence of separatist talk in the state fuelled by the
impression that the Indian government is insensitive to the plight of
Sri Lankan Tamils.
The brutal massacre
of 61 Tamil children in an orphanage in Sencholai during a Sri Lankan
Air Force raid appears to have aroused passions in Tamil Nadu. People
took to the streets all over the state to protest the killings. Members
of the Madras High Court Advocates Association formed a human chain
and burnt Rajapakse’s effigy.
cause: MDMK partyworkers at a rally in Delhi
The DMK is in a predicament.
As violence escalates in Sri Lanka, Karunanidhi could come under
pressure to take up the cause of Eelam Tamils with the Centre
At a protest fast
organised by the Dalit Panthers of India (DPI) in Chennai on August
18, provocative speeches were allegedly made challenging the unity and
sovereignty of the country. The police have registered cases against
two people. Velacheri Manimaran, an MDMK functionary, has been arrested
and remanded to judicial custody. Kadamban, a DPI leader, is reportedly
absconding. According to the police, Manimaran allegedly said: “We
will be forced to even use weapons like ak-47s”, if Tamils continue
to be subjected to attacks in Sri Lanka. He is also reported to have
said an agitation for a separate Tamil Nadu would erupt if action were
not taken to support the suffering Tamils in Sri Lanka. The police claim
Kadamban stated in his speech that “Tamil Nadu would be off the
Indian map”, if no solution was found to the issue.
In another meeting
held a few days later, Vaiko cautioned the Centre against giving any
military assistance to Sri Lanka disregarding the feelings of Tamils.
It would create a Kashmir-like situation in Tamil Nadu, he warned.
The speeches caused
considerable consternation in political circles. Congress members expressed
concern at the ‘secessionist’ speeches in the state Assembly
and demanded action against Vaiko. They were not satisfied till Chief
Minister M. Karunanidhi gave an assurance to the House that the law
would take its course against those who made speeches challenging the
nation’s unity and integrity.
It is not just the
Congress that is upset at the turn of events. Eelam supporters too appear
to have serious misgivings. They feel a situation is emerging in the
state which they fear agencies like the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW),
India’s external intelligence wing, could capitalise on to muster
political support in India against the creation of Eelam.
A senior leader
of the Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam said: “There is already a theory,
however wrong it might be, that formation of Eelam would lead to the
secession of Tamil Nadu from the Indian Union. Any remarks inciting
violence or asking the people of Tamil Nadu to take up arms in support
of Eelam Tamils would only reinforce this theory. Such belligerent talk
is unwarranted and it would only affect the Eelam struggle. It would
be playing right into the hands of the anti-Eelam forces.”
He fears these speeches
would give a fresh lease of life to the ‘Greater Tamil Eelam’
canard. A theory was floated some years ago that the LTTE’s ultimate
aim was to ‘liberate’ Tamil Nadu from India and carve out
a Tamil nation comprising parts of Sri Lanka and India. At that time,
RAW’s hand was suspected in promoting the idea. The LTTE denied
it had any such goal. But given the fact that there had been a movement
for a ‘separate Tamil Nadu,’ the seed of doubt had already
been sown in the mind of the nation.
Till 1963, the DMK
had demanded a separate Dravida Nadu. It was forced to drop its demand
following an amendment to the Constitution which insisted that members
of state legislatures and Parliament should take a pledge “to
uphold the Constitution and to preserve the integrity and sovereignty”
of the nation.
Though the LTTE
was banned in India in 1992, about a year after the assassination of
former PM Rajiv Gandhi, the reasons stated for the ban had nothing to
do with the incident. On the contrary, the ministry of home affairs
observed in its notification: “LTTE’s objective for a homeland
for all Tamils disrupts the sovereignty and territorial integrity of
India and thus appears to fall within the ambit of an unlawful activity.”
What was left unsaid was that LTTE aimed at creating a Tamil nation
that includes Tamil Nadu in India. LTTE was also accused of creating
the Tamil Nadu Retrieval Troops (tnrt) and encouraging its members to
undertake unlawful activities in India. It is not clear what kind of
links the tnrt had with the LTTE. What is known though is that some
of its members had links with forest brigand Veerappan. The tnrt-Veerappan
links came to light during Kannada actor Rajkumar’s abduction.
One of the brigand’s conditions for freeing the actor was the
release of some jailed tnrt activists.
The DMK finds itself
in a predicament on the Eelam issue. As violence escalates in Sri Lanka,
Karunanidhi could come under immense pressure to take up the cause of
the Sri Lankan Tamils with the Centre. Though the party claims it would
toe the Centre’s line on relations with Sri Lanka, its leaders
say in private that the party is exerting its influence with the Central
government to adopt a policy favourable to the Eelam Tamils. The Tamil
Nadu Assembly recently passed a unanimous resolution condemning the
Sencholai orphanage massacre by the Sri Lankan air force. The resolution
described the killings as “uncivilised, barbaric, and inhumane.”
It is a tightrope
walk for Karunanidhi. When a controversy arose over some Sri Lankan
police personnel receiving training at a Central Reserve Police Force
(CRPF) facility in Coimbatore, parties in the state registered their
protest. The state government took up the matter with the Centre and
had the Lankan policemen transferred to a CRPF camp in Karnataka.
The events of the
past and present have clearly established that developments in Sri Lanka
continue to impact Tamil Nadu. It is in the interests of the Indian
government to find an early solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka.
And if at all the Indian government wishes to find a settlement to the
ethnic crisis, it should first get its basics right. India should realise
that talking to Colombo alone will not suffice. There cannot be any
settlement without involving the LTTE. India has to shed the baggage
of the past if it wants to move forward. It should remember that the
Indo-Sri Lanka agreement of 1987 was doomed to fail since it was signed
between Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan President JR Jayawardene
sans the LTTE. Only the parties to the conflict can come to a settlement.
India could at best be a facilitator in the peace process.
There is an urgent
need to review India’s policy towards Sri Lanka before things
get messier. For a start, the Indian government could consider the suggestions
of Pattali Makkal Katchi leader S. Ramadoss and Vaiko. The two have
been demanding that an all-party parliamentary delegation be sent to
Sri Lanka to assess the situation there. The team could visit Tamil
areas and make a first-hand assessment. India could also consider the
demand that Tamil mps from Sri Lanka be allowed to meet Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh to explain their position and aspirations.
These are not tall
orders for the Central government to consider in the larger interests
of the country.