Millennium Post

Tamil Nadu’s isolation on Lanka

Even as the inboxes of Internet users are flooded with messages from Tamil activists favouring the cause of a separate homeland for Tamils in Sri Lanka, it has become obvious that the rest of India has little interest in Eelam.

As much is evident from the fact that the Sri Lankan cricketers have faced no problems playing at the various Indian Premium League (IPL) venues outside Chennai. Only in Chennai are the encounters between teams with Sri Lankan players banned. As a result, the matches that were scheduled to be played there have been shifted to Delhi and Kolkata. The losers, arguably, are the spectators in Chennai.

If Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa thought that by upping the ante against the Sri Lankan players, she would be able to strengthen her political position in the state by compelling the Indian government to come out more forcefully in support of the Tamil line on Eelam, she must have realised her mistake by now. In fact, what the ruling AIADMK and the opposition DMK, which, for once, are united on this issue, have done is to show Colombo their virtual isolation on the subject.

It will be extremely unfortunate if this revelation makes the Sri Lankan government even more intransigent on the matter of devolution of power to the Sri Lankan Tamils who have suffered for years under both the government and the LTTE during the civil conflict, and especially in the closing stages of the war when the Sri Lankan army had the upper hand and are alleged to have indulged in a virtual genocide. It is the atrocities committed during this period which has caused widespread anger in Tamil Nadu, giving rise to pro-Eelam sentiments which were not aired so vociferously till recently.

Seeing how feelings of the ordinary people have been inflamed by the brutal revelations of the last few weeks of the war, the Jayalalithaa government probably had no option but to ask the BCCI to keep out the Sri Lankan players from Chennai. The state government’s case was that it might not be able to provide adequate protection to them. However, this argument lost some of its force from the fact that only a few days earlier, the government was unable to allow the screening of Kamal Hasan’s film Vishwaroopam for some time because of objections from Muslims activists.

For all her no-nonsense image, therefore, it is clear that Jayalalithaa is as vulnerable to public pressure as any other chief minister. Her response to the film’s release was no different from the similar weak-kneed attitude of both the former Left Front government and the present Mamata Banerjee government in West Bengal to the question of allowing Taslima Nasreen to stay in Kolkata. As is known, the Leftists as well as their arch-opponents, the Trinamool Congress, are afraid of antagonising the Muslim fundamentalists by letting the controversial Bangladeshi author make Kolkata her permanent home.

Behind their genuflection to the Islamists is the desire to win the community’s votes. In Tamil Nadu, too, the AIADMK’s and the DMK’s stridency on the Sri Lankan issue is motivated by the same compulsion. But, the difference is that while nearly all the ‘secular’ parties in the country are united in the care they take not to offend the Muslims – even the Hindu nationalist BJP says it has the welfare of the minorities at heart – the stance of the Tamil Nadu parties has no resonance in any other part of India.

The contrast with what happened during the Bangladesh war is obvious. At that time, the whole country was outraged by the massacres committed by the Pakistan army in the then East Pakistan, and assistance poured in for the thousands of refugees who came to West Bengal and Tripura. But, if a similar response was missing with regard to the situation in Sri Lanka, the reason was not so much that the civil strife was the outcome of a simmering Sinhala-Tamil political feud which could have been easily defused as that the LTTE was not quite the dedicated Mukti Bahini of Bangladesh, as the latter was seen fighting a ‘just war’ for the liberation of their country, albeit with the Indian army’s help, according to the London Times.

The LTTE, on the other hand, earned notoriety as a terrorist organisation, which was one of the inventors of the suicide bomber, and which targeted not only Sri Lankans but also moderate Tamils who rejected its militancy and extremism. The LTTE was also responsible for the assassination of an Indian prime minister and for fighting a pitched battle with the Indian army, which had gone to the island to restore peace. Sympathy for the LTTE, therefore, was always limited to Tamil Nadu, which also harbours extremist organisations recalling the DMKs separatism of the 1950s.

Having been a victim of externally induced separatism, India is wary of partitions since they are not a solution of ethnic or religious differences. Hence, its support for a united Sri Lanka, a policy which has the support of a vast majority of Indians, as the success of the IPL matches shows. (IPA)
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