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Tamil Nadu at the Crossroads

The support 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 heed

PC Vinoj Kumar

PC Vinoj Kumar
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 state.

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.

Just 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
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.

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.

Sep 23 , 2006

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