DMK & the Lankan blackmail
Tridivesh S Maini says UPA must rein in allies hijacking policy matters for petty gains
THE CONGRESS has grown used to dealing with threats of withdrawal of support by its constituents in the United Progressive Alliance 2 (UPA), on both domestic and foreign policy matters.
While its other allies are opposing UPA on matters such as overtures towards Dhaka and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in retail, the DMK in Tamil Nadu is full advantage of its numerical relevance to the coalition, by influencing New Delhi’s Sri Lanka policy.
The DMK’s assertive stance on issues pertaining to the Tamils in Sri Lanka was reiterated again in a letter by former Tamil Nadu chief minister and DMK supremo Karunanidhi to Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh. The letter presented to the Prime Minister by DMK parliamentary party chief TR Baalu on 21 August, urges New Delhi to be pro-active on issues pertaining to Tamils in Sri Lanka and hints at withdrawing support if the demands are not given adequate attention.
Among the issues flagged by Karunanidhi in the letter, is that of greater rights to Tamils for deciding their own fate. The DMK supremo wants New Delhi to pass a resolution to this effect in the UN Human Rights Council. Interestingly in March this year, India had voted against Sri Lanka in the UNHRC seeking credible investigations into allegations of violations during the war against Tamil Tiger separatists in 2009. Though there is enough evidence it was under pressure from the DMK and the AIADMK, the government wants us to believe it wasn’t so.
In his letter, Karunanidhi asks New Delhi for a more aggressive stance on the attacks on fishermen by the Sri Lankan navy. The letter states that in two decades from 1991 to 2011 over 700 fishermen have been killed.
The former CM has also demanded an end to all defence cooperation with Sri Lanka. Only last month both the DMK and ruling AIADMK, which agree on very few issues, resented the presence of Sri Lankan army personnel in the Defence Staff College in Coonoor. A few days before this, Sri Lankan airmen under training in Tamil Nadu had to be shifted to Bangalore. Finally, Karunanidhi has also spoken about granting asylum to Sri Lankans of Tamil origin.
It is important to mention here that the letter to the PM was handed over only two days after Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha made some hard-hitting remarks against the central government, stating that the latter was being soft on Colombo. Coming soon after Jayalalitha’s volly, Karunanidhi’s warning to the UPA Government seem aimed not so much at addressing the concerns of Tamils in Sri Lanka as they are at countering his political rival.
It also raises a number of questions. First, while Karunanidhi’s demands about safeguarding the rights of Tamils are legitimate, what gives him the right to pressurise New Delhi to take a firm stand against a neighbouring country as a whole? If Rajapaksa regime’s record on human rights is not particularly great, no country in South Asia, including India, has a perfect record on human rights and New Delhi wouldn’t be particularly happy if a leader from another country turned around asking his/her country to snap ties with us.
His demands to pass UN resolutions which impinge on the sovereignty of Sri Lanka may not be the solution. Putting forward legitimate demands to Colombo would be a better way of dealing with the issue at hand. As a responsible leader, Karunanidhi should also be cautious not to paint the whole of Sri Lanka with the same brush, but specify that his problems are with the present regime. It is important to remember that senior politicians like Chandrika Kumaratunga have criticised the current regime for its excesses.
Second, Karunanidhi has demanded asylum to Tamilians since they are being persecuted. While there is no harm in standing up for the oppressed communities in any part of the world, there are other communities too which face persecution not only in neighbouring countries, but in India itself and do not receive adequate attention, because there is no political constituency to stand up for them in our country. A perfect example is the Northeast population. Karunanidhi as a Tamil leader has full right to request Delhi to ensure the safety of Tamils, but this cannot be done by flexing muscles and blackmail, especially at a time when the country is dealing with problems of its own in the political and economic sphere.
WHILE PARTICIPATION of states in foreign policy only strengthens our federal character, it is also important to bear in mind that this should not turn into blackmail by regional satraps, who raise issues only for political benefits and not out of any genuine concern for a community. New Delhi should rein in allies who are hijacking economic and foreign policies for their petty gains. Coalition Dharma is not just meant for the Congress which leads the coalition, but also for the constituents who so far have only looked at their rights while forgetting their duties towards the people of the country.
Tridivesh Singh Maini is a New Delhi-based writer and independent foreign policy analyst