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Perceptions and realities

Print edition : May 18, 2012 T+T-
Members of Parliament(from left) N.S.V. Chithan, Sushma Swaraj, Balbir Punj and T.K. Rangarajan talking to internally displaced persons at the Manik Farm camp on April 18. Ashok K. Kantha (second from left), Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, is also seen.-R.K. RADHAKRISHNAN

Members of Parliament(from left) N.S.V. Chithan, Sushma Swaraj, Balbir Punj and T.K. Rangarajan talking to internally displaced persons at the Manik Farm camp on April 18. Ashok K. Kantha (second from left), Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, is also seen.-R.K. RADHAKRISHNAN

FOR the Members of Parliament from Tamil Nadu in the delegation to Sri Lanka, the visit to the island nation was not an easy one. An earlier delegation had been ridiculed; the main Dravidian parties, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), had pulled out their delegates this time; and the leaders of both these parties had written off the trip as useless even before the delegation boarded its flight out of New Delhi.

Five of the 12 MPs in the delegation were from Tamil Nadu. All got down to their work in right earnest. In fact, some had begun preparations ahead of the trip to the extent that they were well aware of the ground situation even before they landed in Sri Lanka. And at each stop Manik Farm Welfare Camp, Jaffna, Hatton, Batticaloa and elsewhere the MPs from Tamil Nadu concentrated more on talking to people than being in photo sessions with the leader of the delegation, Sushma Swaraj.

The four Congress MPs, Sudarsana Nachiappan, M. Krishnaswamy, N.S.V. Chithan and Manicka Tagore, and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) representative, T.K. Rangarajan, came to identical conclusions after talking to a cross section of people in the Northern Province. At least one MP noted the appalling gaps in the perceptions of leaderships at all levels and said that this perhaps was the result of the 30-year war.

The conditions have certainly improved, said Sudarsana Nachiappan, who had visited Sri Lanka as part of delegations in 2009 and 2010. A few months ago, in New Delhi, he had organised a meet of Tamil parties in Sri Lanka on the ethnic question. But a lot more needs to be done, he said.

Rangarajan pointed out that issues such as the Army interfering in civil life, the existence of massive high-security zones three years after the conflict, and the reluctance to issue land titles when Tamils lay claim to their lands were among the main problems that people had pointed out to the delegation. On Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa's disparaging comments about the trip, he said: This is no picnic. Unless you come here, you will not know what the problems of the people are. It is one thing to sit in Chennai and pass comments and another to actually rough it out for over 15 hours a day and study people's issues, he said.

Later in Chennai, reacting to DMK president M. Karunanidhi's demand for a United Nations intervention and referendum for the formation of a Tamil Eelam on the lines of East Timor, Kosovo and Montenegro, Rangarajan said the team had interacted with almost every Tamil leader and none of them, including representatives of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), pressed for Eelam. At the citizens' meeting at Jaffna and also in a session with the Sri Lankan MPs, TNA leader R. Sampanthan stressed the need for a political solution within the united Sri Lanka and never talked about Eelam, he said.

Krishnaswamy said that unless the government took into consideration the emotions of the Tamils, there would be no peace in the island. The sooner Sri Lanka realised this, the better it would be for the country, he said. Quoting specific instances, Chithan said that it was impossible for people to accept soldiers in and near places of worship, and when some private family functions were taking place.

Young Manicka Tagore, who registered an upset win in Virudhunagar over Vaiko, one of the most vocal champions of the Sri Lankan Tamil cause, used the opportunity to drive home the need for direct people-to-people contact between Sri Lanka and his region. He asked Neomal Perera, the Sri Lankan Deputy Foreign Minister who accompanied the delegation, if he could use his good offices to start a Colombo-Madurai flight. Perera conveyed the MP's desire to the President's office. When the MPs met President Rajapaksa on April 21, he remembered to tell Manicka Tagore that his request was being processed.

The Tamil MPs met representatives of all Tamils in Sri Lanka Colombo Tamils, Eastern Tamils, Northern Tamils, and Hill Tamils. They carried back a fact that is not palatable in Tamil Nadu: that Tamil in Sri Lanka is a language; nothing more, nothing less. Tamils are not a race in Sri Lanka.

R.K. Radhakrishnan