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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2704

Sri Lanka: Double Speak In Tamil Nadu

By Col R Hariharan (retd.)

The sudden passion exhibited by the political leaders of Tamil Nadu, while mourning the death of SP Thamilchelvan, the political head and chief negotiator of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), is typical of the double speak most of the politicians of the state have been practising on issues relating to the LTTE. Perhaps the Chief Minister M Karunanidhi's ode paying tribute to the "courage and valour" of the slain LTTE leader on the occasion, particularly when the state is supposed to be carrying out a crackdown on the LTTE militants operating in the state, is a prime example of this.

In recent times, the chief minister has repeatedly said that his policy on Sri Lanka was the same as that of the government of India. His response to the strong objections of to the Chief Minister's response to Thamilchelvan's death when his bête noire Jayalalithaa, the leader of All India Anna DMK, showed how he has mastered the art of doublespeak. He said that he had only made a 'humanitarian gesture' towards a fellow Tamil. "The person who was killed in Sri Lanka was a Tamil. And the blood that runs in me is Tamil too. So, I extended my condolence," he added.

Of course, conveniently he did not remember that the leaders brutally killed by the LTTE like Amirthalingam, Ranjan Padmanabha, and Neelan Thiruchelvam also had Tamil blood running in their vein. Nor did he think of his close friend of early days of Eelam militancy, Sri Sabaratnam, leader of Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO), massacred by the LTTE. But then, Tamil Nadu politics had always considered some Tamils are more 'Tamil' than some others; after all this had been the cornerstone of Tamil Nadu politics.

The comments of Cho Ramaswamy, editor of 'Tuglak' known for airing his views freely, on the chief minister's approach to the Eelam Tamil issue is interesting. In an interview with www.rediff.com on May 16, 2000 Cho succinctly summed it up thus: "Karunanidhi always takes great pride in being hailed as a leader of Tamils wherever they live, and there is no Tamil issue as such in India now. Earlier, you had this anti-Hindi platform; then came the anti-north Indian platform. Now, none of those issues are relevant. So, what is the only Tamil issue available now? It is the Sri Lankan issue. If he doesn't occupy that platform, it will become the monopoly of Ramadoss (leader of the Pattali Makkal Katchi and partner of the ruling coalition at Delhi) and Vaiko (leader of the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and a vocal supporter of the LTTE). He is not able to digest the situation. That is why he wants to go on record as having made some noise about this." One can only hope that Cho's comments are still hold good.

Almost all the political leaders of Tamil Nadu, including the Communists, were quick to come out passionate messages of condolence on Thamilchelvan's death. Perhaps, the Communists had a nagging guilt feeling when they joined the condolence bandwagon remembering the entire leadership of the only Leftist Tamil insurgent group Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Front (EPRLF), who had close contact with them, was wiped out in Chennai by the LTTE in Tamil Nadu. Their wording of the condolence message was appropriately carefully worded.

The Congress party was one exception. It had no choice in any case. However, compulsions coalition politics perhaps made the senior Congress leader M Veerappa Moily, to brush aside the chief minister's remarks as "personal views." However, the Union Minister of State G.K. Vasan, the leading light of the party in the state, was more forthright. He said the Congress has "neither forgotten the gruesome murder of its leader Rajiv Gandhi nor forgiven the perpetrators of the crime." It was in an earlier spell of Karunanidhi's regime that a LTTE suicide bomber had killed the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. A few months before Rajiv's killing, the same killers gunned down the EPRLF leaders while the Tamil Nadu police conveniently stepped aside.

There is some confusion in understanding among non-Tamils of the Tamil mindset (including Indians and Sri Lankans) about their support to the LTTE. This confusion is understandable as it prevails even among some people in Tamil Nadu also .The people of Tamil Nadu, like most of the Tamils all over the world, have always supported the struggle of Sri Lanka Tamils for their democratic rights. They will continue to do so till the Tamil aspirations are satisfied. Tamil Nadu extended passionate support when the Tamil struggle turned into militancy in 1982. The support to militants gained legitimacy in after the Sri Lanka government inspired Black July pogrom against Tamils was carried out. Different Tamil political parties patronised different Tamil groups. While TELO had Karunanidhi as a patron, his political rival MG Ramachandran naturally favoured the LTTE, which was contending with TELO for leadership of Tamil militancy. At the Centre, Mrs Indira Gandhi, the prime minister of India, during the crucial years of the growth of Tamil militancy found it politically expedient to provide sanctuary and lend support to the Tamil militancy.

However, two developments split this support base for militants in Tamil Nadu in 1987: the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord, and the induction of the Indian Peace Keeping Force. The military involvement of the IPKF against the LTTE was not accepted by most of the Tamil people, who had romantic notions about it. But this notion was shattered when the LTTE carried out the killing of Rajiv Gandhi after meticulous planning. And after Vaiko, then a popular leader of the DMK, fell out with Karunanidhi over his overt support to the LTTE (among many other internal issues), there had been a change in Karunanidhi's attitude. He had studiously distanced himself from the LTTE, when the people of the state adversely came out against the LTTE when Rajiv Gandhi was killed. Though the LTTE had been trying to cultivate him for sometime now, he had been careful in talking about them on the subject.

Commenting on the aspects of Tamil Nadu's attitudes, I had commented in an article (SAAG Sri Lanka update 97 of July 30, 2006 'Engaging Sri Lanka: India's potpourri' available at http://www.saag.org)last year: "The Sri Lanka Tamil issue is no more in the centre stage of Tamilnadu public or political agenda. However, if war breaks out in full scale and the refugee inflows increase it will make reappearance as the bread and butter issue of minor political partners in the central coalition. In principle the DMK is unlikely to change its stand in such circumstances. However, political compulsions will compel it to toe the same line. LTTE has probably enough 'sleepers' who will become active in such a situation. This could not only prove embarrassing to GOI, but also affect national security, as LTTE could make silent inroads to establish its support facilities in Tamilnadu as it did in 1987-90. It would reflect poorly on the GOI's ability to fight against terrorism and insurgency in its own backyard. And that would not be in the larger interest of India-Sri Lanka relations either." This is still valid.

The Tamil Nadu chief minister simply cannot afford to have a 'personal view' different from the Union government's policy prescription when it comes to issues of national security. One can see the signs of Tamil Nadu politicians trying to use the death of Thamilchelvan to gather some mass support, perhaps for their own gain and the Congress party trying to soft pedal the issue for political reasons. The LTTE fighting with its back to the wall, needs Tamil Nadu's political, financial and material support now, more than the people of Tamil Nadu need the LTTE. In this ambience, mollycoddling the LTTE is a dangerous game not only for Tamil Nadu leaders, but also for the state and the nation. In the past many have paid their price for such attempts. It is good to remember that the LTTE always has its self interests first and last. Right now it has one and only priority – fighting it out with the Sri Lanka government; all other issues including Tamil leaders and people come after that, if at all the organisation has any space to spare.

Col. R Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia, served as the head of intelligence of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka 1987-90.

- Asian Tribune -

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