The dilemma in Tamil Nadu

Print edition : June 10, 2000
T.S. SUBRAMANIAN

IN what is seen as a shift in his stand on the subject, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi has come out with the view that "separation sans bloodshed" could be the only alternative to any continued denial of rights to Tamils in Sri Lanka. At a rally in Chennai on June 3, he said the government in Colombo should concede Tamils their rights or agree to separation in a similar way as Czechoslovakia divided itself into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

The Sri Lankan issue formed the main thrust of the speech of Karunanidhi, who is also the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) president, at the rally, organised to felicitate him on his 77th birthday. He said: "Times have changed. Nobody wants blood to be shed. Czechoslovakia split into two nations without any blood being spilled or a bomb exploded." He went on: "Why this hesitation in granting them (the Tamil people) their rights? How long can you live with a wife who does not want to live with you?" Karunanidhi said that if Sri Lanka could not safeguard its independence and sought help from others to protect its independence, there could not be a worse insult to its self-respect. "I cannot use harsher words than this," he said.

Interestingly, this "shift" synchronised with some plain- speaking that Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee did to Colombo. Addressing a public meeting at Keylong in Himachal Pradesh, Vajpayee reiterated that India would not send its Army to Sri Lanka and said that Colombo should change its policy towards the Tamils on the island.

Karunanidhi had discussed the Tamils' problem with Vajpayee earlier in the day. The Chief Minister made a mention of the discussion at the rally.

Karunanidhi said the situation in which Sri Lanka found itself now was not caused by any external aggression and suggested that the island government analyse why it faced so much opposition from its own people. The majority of the 60,000 people who were killed in the ethnic conflict were Tamils, the Chief Minister said.

Karunanidhi said that if Sri Lanka were to say that it would not grant Tamils their rights but invite the Indian Army to protect it, "we have the right to tell the Centre not to send the Indian Army to Sri Lanka".

"When the Prime Minister had on an earlier occasion discussed the problem with me, I told him that even if Sri Lanka asked for it, we should not send our Army there. I am not saying this for the sake of the Liberation Tigers (of Tamil Eelam) who are fighting there. I said this for the Tamils who are getting killed there every day... We cannot forget the experience we had when we sent our Army earlier there," Karunanidhi said.

The Chief Minister said that the problem should be solved peacefully. There should be peace in the backyard of India. The echo of the events in Sri Lanka should not be felt in Tamil Nadu in the form of violence or arrival of refugees, he added.

MEANWHILE, in a surprise move, Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) general secretary Vaiko postponed his party's rally slated for June 5 in Chennai in support of "Eelam Tamils". The postponement, he said, was in response to an appeal from the Chief Minister, which came in the form of a "birthday message". Vaiko had announced that the rally's objectives were "to protect the interests of the Eelam Tamils and to press the Government of India to continue its present approach (towards the Sri Lankan crisis)."

Two other parties in the State, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), another constituent of the ruling coalition at the Centre, and Puthiya Thamizhagam (P.T.) organised mass fasting on May 30 and May 31 respectively in different parts of the State to express their solidarity with "Eelam Tamils". The PMK demanded that the Sri Lanka Air Force stop bombing Tamil areas.

If the DMK government had ignored the protest action organised by the PMK, the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) led by G.K. Moopanar forced it to take note of the rally planned by the MDMK. This put the DMK in a spot. With the Union Government ruling out any support for Eelam and expressing its commitment to the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka, the DMK, a partner of the BJP in the government at the Centre and also the party ruling the State, had to be cautious in its approach. The party did not wish to be seen as outspoken as the MDMK or the PMK on the Tamils issue. Karunanidhi even spoke disapprovingly of the LTTE's action in eliminating a string of top Tamil leaders. With Assembly elections less than a year away, the DMK leadership is evidently worried that anything that it says in support of Eelam could be exploited by the Opposition.

It was this apprehension of the DMK leadership that the TMC, which supports the Centre's stand on the Sri Lankan issue, used to drive a wedge between the DMK and its allies, the MDMK and the PMK. Demanding a ban on the MDMK rally, TMC legislator K.S. Alagiri said: "Vaiko is trying to gather support for the Tigers under the pretext of holding a rally in support of the Tamils." He argued that since LTTE leader V. Prabakaran was the first accused in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case and the LTTE had been banned in India, "it is a crime to speak in support of it".

Informed sources said the top brass in the DMK government felt that if India were ultimately to intervene in the Tamil ethnic issue, it had to maintain an appearance of neutrality. That neutrality would come under a cloud if parties such as the MDMK, another constituent of the Central coalition, were to take out a rally for the Tamils' cause. The Indian government would then appear partisan and that would preclude any intervention by it on the island. A climate had to be created for a new kind of intervention, the sources said. The DMK leadership is believed to have told Vaiko that its government would not deny the MDMK its political right to organise a rally, but it (the DMK) would be happy if the rally was called off. Vaiko was reportedly given the assurance that the DMK government would not allow the Centre to take any unilateral or anti-Tamil stand.

While announcing the postponement of the rally, Vaiko said that there was, however, no change in the approach of the MDMK to the "Eelam Tamils" issue.

Even as they spoke in favour of a Tamil Eelam, Vaiko and Ramadoss did not fail to declare their "loyalty" to the Indian Union. Vaiko said, "When our soldiers were killed in Kargil, we raised our voice. We are proud of India. It should become a superpower, an economic power and an information technology power." Ramadoss said: "Our position will not threaten the integrity of India. We condemn people whose actions threaten the unity of our country."

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