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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 1590

Tamil Nadu a drag on India’s ascent as an Asian powerhouse

Critical commentary by Philip Fernando

India’s relentless move to be a powerhouse in Asia to counter the growing sphere of influence Philip_Fernando_0.jpgwielded by China got a kick in the teeth by Tamil Nadu’s demeaning posture cuddling with separatist sentiments during the recent terror war in Sri Lanka.

Tamil Nadu’s uninspiring poise often seemed to conflate its identity with narrow skewed ethnic interests that tend to diminish India’s enormous outreach in areas of economic cooperation and enveloping diplomacy: the pivotal dynamic to ensure India’s national security. Indian assistance to neighboring countries in the form of soft loans and credit lines and many other ways constitute a multi-pronged policy path.

Tamil Nadu’s bigoted parochialism yanked the need for a cohesive front in that arena of international affairs, dampening the stakes of most states in the union wagering on India’s rise. It was no lightning rod but a wet blanket. It deterred more than it endorsed.

Reckless posture

Besides the obvious impediment to Indian diplomacy, Tamil Nadu stance defied even the deep-seated sturdier humanistic goals it had traditionally cherished. Tamil Nadu’s reckless posture seemed at odds with the traditional Dravidian ethos made whole by elders: a shift away from enlightenment of “Iyers’ “Samiyars” and scholars of repute who had nurtured the South for ages.

Furthermore, the separatist liberation role foisted on Tamil Nadu by the Tigers was a clear usurpation of the Federal government’s sole constitutional authority over international affairs. It would be unthinkable even to talk of California, for example, dabbling in the internal political affairs of Canada across the northern border. That is taboo in a federal state.

Threat of separatism state for India

It would not be a heresy to deduce that Indian government viewed a separate state across Palk Strait as a potential threat to India’s territorial integrity. Underming central government’s authority put Tamil Nadu in a pickle and justified India’s favorable disposition towards Sri Lanka’s war against the LTTE. India threw in the weight behind anti-terror war—at least towards the end.

However, the affirmation of a new Tamil Nadu identity provided potent political fodder and a windfall for electoral success for Tamil Nadu parties. Welcoming such a notion of extended ethnic affinity reaching beyond Tamil Nadu boundaries seemed hard to discard come election time.

Accentuating such intrinsic elements of chauvinism even in the mildest form, often meant stoking and soothing the festering worries the electoral dynamics usually connote. The snow-ball effect by the two Tamil Nadu parties vying for power was obvious. The result was the inclusion of, and anxiety about various “others” in contemporary, cosmopolitan world. Sri Lanka had been at the receiving end to these high jinks.

Periodically, as India’s election season dawns, Tamil Nadu leaders seemed trapped in a demographic and ethnic cul-de-sac; a mind-set that extends beyond their shores to all parts of the world where Tamils reside. Looking for imaginary enemies-Sri Lanka is the nearest--seemed over-blown. To think that Tamil Nadu is the self-anointed sentinel of Tamils in Jaffna, Toronto, Kuala Lumpur, London, New York and any other place on earth is rather far-far-fetched.

Keeping the resentful aggrieved

The way Tamil Nadu politicians navigate their unmitigated activism could be ignored as long as it is kept within their boundaries. However, any attempt by leaders to fantasize about adversarial confrontations abroad is mere tilting at windmills--just a pretext to create moral havoc. It is wedge-driven hyperbole, blatantly condescending. To assert such wanton anxiety is to denigrate Sri Lankans as degenerates in order to keep the resentful in Tamil Nadu resentful.

Tamil Nadu leaders have failed to grasp that there may not be enough shrinking violets in Sri Lanka despite a protracted war. It would have been more productive to foster the growing community awareness among most Sri Lankan Northerners which seemed surprisingly sustainable with peace. There are areas that may still need urgent action but the horizon is by no means foggy. Things are getting coherently wholesome.

Tamil Nadu leaders would very well reap the maximum political payoff not by discordant-driven politics but by a more serious acclamation of Sri Lanka Tamils’ desire to participate in the political process. The path may be strewn with many obstacles but the trend towards better understanding seemed looming.

Tamil Diaspora’s allegiance

The Tamil Diaspora is a demographic group of people of Indian origin who had settled in other parts of the world. Significant Tamil Diaspora populations can be found in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, the Middle East, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Seychelles, Fiji, Guyana, Burma, Trinidad, Tobago, the French West Indies, Europe, Australia, Canada and the United States. The Tamil citizens of those countries owe sole allegiance to the sovereign states they call their home and are fully capable of coming to terms with their governments.

Tamil Nadu does not have the moral capacity or the right to interfere in their affairs. Inversely, what probability has the Tamil Nadu of interfering in the Tamil Diaspora’s dealings with governments of USA, Canada, Australia or any other state?

It is quite explicable and rewarding for Tamil Nadu residents to be proud of the ideals and goals of Dravidism since their incipience, that once inspired Dravidar Kazhagam, the first fully Dravidian party formed by E. V. Ramaswamy, also called Thanthai Periyar (The Noble Father). He used the term Dravidian primarily as a means of asserting a non-Hindu identity for the distinct ancestral populations of India--Tamil, Telugu, Kannadam and Malayalam speaking peoples as far back as the days of the Madras Presidency under the British.

Cleansing protracted

Velupillai Prabhakaran made Tamil Nadu take a sharp deviation from those ideals by injecting rash separatist sentiments into a Dravidian State, whose leaders first got fired-up and then haunted by it. The cleansing act seemed protracted.

Tamil Nadu had set clear goals such as social reforms to end religious beliefs and caste distinction, seeking the empowerment of women, ending Brahmin dominance in Tamil Nadu educational institutions and government, ending northern domination of the politics and economy of Tamil Nadu, opposition to Hindi as India's official language. The call for Dravida Nadu in the initial days--a "Dravidian state under the British Raj" had been buried for good. Prabhakaran replanted that seed. He injected a new senseless mind-set and Tamil Nadu leaders are now enmeshed in that quagmire.

P.S. Historically it seemed improbable that the battle once led by the legendary leader A C Annadurai, former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu could ever be resurrected today. He once defended his party's demand for Dravida Nadu in his maiden speech in the Rajya Sabha in 1962 making a principled stand against the Sixteenth Amendment to the Indian Constitution or Anti-sectionist amendment. (A far cry from the subsequent illiterate garish invectiveness of Prabhakaran). The Self-respect movement forged initially in the mid-1920s in emulation and in critique of the Gandhian Congress Party, but by the 1930s it was heavily influenced by Leninist socialism, atheism and Bertrand Russell's inspired rationalism. Former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Annadurai, once declared that the DMK (and hence its offshoots) are "genuinely communist by principle.”

Tamil Nadu was considered the most liberal state in India five decades ago.

- Asian Tribune -

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