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The doublespeak in Tamil Nadu

Print edition : Jun 24, 2000 T+T-

Some major allies of the BJP in Tamil Nadu resort to political doublespeak: they claim to support the Centre's policy, and at the same time try to whip up pro-Eelam sentiments.

THE National Democratic Alliance Government at the Centre continues to be hamstrung by the obstructionist tactics of three of its Tamil Nadu-based constituents in acting decisively on the Sri Lanka issue. It has been hesitant in taking proactive steps to help resolve the crisis in the island nation in accordance with its well-defined and nationally accepted policy. Although it has stated that it is against the establishment of an independent Tamil state (Tamil Eelam) and that it is committed to "a negot iated political settlement within the framework of Sri Lanka's territorial unity and integrity", these NDA constituents from Tamil Nadu are trying to sabotage government policy. These parties, with known sympathies for Tamil Eelam, have been doing so by making misleading statements, misrepresenting facts and putting pressure on the Government against taking any action that, in their perception, will undermine the interests of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), whose agenda is to cre ate a Tamil Eelam.

The Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) and the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), two of these parties, are conducting campaigns in support of a Tamil Eelam in contravention of India's policy. They are trying to whip up Tamil chauvinism in the State , where the public mood, however, continues to be overwhelmingly against the LTTE, which is banned in India.

However, the most curious positions were adopted by M. Karunanidhi, Chief Minister and president of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the most important constituent of the NDA in Tamil Nadu. In the past one month, he has swung from one position to ano ther with surprising speed, obviously to suit his political needs. Right from the beginning of the current phase of the Sri Lankan crisis, he has been making confusing, contradictory and misleading statements.

Even as the three parties resort to competitive chauvinism, they claim that they are in full agreement with the Centre's policy and that there is no contradiction within the NDA. Their doublespeak and pressure tactics and the unreliable nature of the DMK 's support have kept NDA leaders on tenterhooks. After all, hanging on to power is the priority item on their agenda.

THE DMK leadership presents a picture of confusion. During the current phase of the Sri Lankan crisis, Karunanidhi made a series of shifts in his stand, often coming out with additions, amendments and clarifications to his previous statement.

Karunanidhi's stand on Sri Lankan Tamils in the period after Rajiv Gandhi's assassination in 1991 was summed up somewhat like this: "We will be happy if the LTTE gets Tamil Eelam, whether through talks or through armed struggle. We will also be happy eve n if they settle for anything less than Tamil Eelam through talks." However, on May 12, he said in the State Assembly that "we will be happy if they (the LTTE) get Tamil Eelam either through negotiations or through armed struggle", leaving out the refere nce to any negotiated settlement other than "Tamil Eelam". He, however, said there was no question of the DMK supporting any move by the LTTE on Indian soil. The State government would not allow the LTTE to use Tamil Nadu as a base to conduct its activit ies, he said.

The next day, at a press conference, he made a clarification that there was no contradiction between his stand on a Tamil Eelam and the Centre's reiteration that India was not in favour of a Tamil Eelam. He said all that he had said was that the Sri Lank an crisis should end and an atmosphere should be created to enable the Tamils to live in peace. On May 15, he claimed that the DMK had long since distanced itself from the LTTE. He recalled that the LTTE had liquidated dissidents within the organisation and also leaders of other Tamil groups; he also referred to its violent activities on Indian soil.

The vacillation continued, and on June 3 Karunanidhi mooted a "Czech-type division" of Sri Lanka. (He likened it to the separation of a man "from an unwilling wife.") He affirmed that it would be "a negotiated political" settlement as required by India b ut appeared to ignore the fact that it did not conform to the other, more important, condition that any settlement should be "within the framework of Sri Lanka's territorial unity and integrity". The suggestion drew instant protests. It was described var iously by other political parties - including the BJP and some of its allies - and newspapers as "vague", "irresponsible", "irrelevant", "inappropriate", "dangerous" and "violative of the declared policy of India".

Five days later, on June 8, DMK leader and Union Minister for Commerce and Industry Murasoli Maran blamed the media for "blowing it out of proportion". However, interestingly, Karunanidhi had no complaints against the media when he issued a four-page sta tement on June 6, elaborating his earlier suggestion and defending it as "a right medicine, even if it is bitter". (That he made another somersault a week later and faulted the media for giving "undue publicity" to the suggestion is another matter.) Besi des, Tamil Nadu Law Minister Aladi Aruna defended the Chief Minister's suggestion in a statement on June 7.

The Chief Minister's bizarre suggestion embarrassed the NDA Government whose hands had already been tied by the words and deeds of the MDMK and the PMK. It evoked protests from almost all political parties and drew adverse comments in Colombo. Prime Mini ster A.B. Vajpayee and his ministerial colleagues were quick to denounce and disown the formula. In a cryptic reaction, Sri Lanka's Media Minister and government spokesperson Mangala Samaraweera said: "The balkanisation of Sri Lanka will be the beginning of the balkanisation of India." Murasoli Maran had to do some fire-fighting at an urgently summoned meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security. He had been specially asked to attend the meeting to clear the "misconception" arising out of Karunanidhi's pronouncement. Maran said that the "Czech model" solution was only one of the three or four alternatives suggested by the Chief Minister but it was "blown out of proportion" by the media.

However, Karunanidhi's controversial suggestion had one positive outcome: it made the Vajpayee government come out of its inertia. External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh visited Colombo on June 11 and held discussions with Sri Lankan government leaders and others.

Differences surfaced within the NDA once again, this time over the $100-million credit offered by India to Sri Lanka during Jaswant Singh's visit. MDMK leader Vaiko feared that the credit might be diverted by the Sri Lankan Government to purchase arms. H e had to be "convinced" by the Prime Minister that there was no such possibility. PMK founder S. Ramadoss, who had also expressed similar apprehensions, insisted on the credit offer being withdrawn. He described the outcome of Jaswant Singh's talks as "u tterly disappointing".

BARRING the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) led by Jayalalitha, the Dravidian parties by and large find it rather difficult to leave their past behind. Most of them have their origins in the DMK. The Dravidar Kazhagam (D.K.), founded by E.V. Ramasamy, and the DMK, which the late Chief Minister C.N. Annadurai founded after a split within the D.K., had their roots in the pre-Independence Dravidian movement. The Dravidian-Tamil nationalist sentiments aroused by the anti-Hindi agitation in the Madras Province (1937-39) sowed the seeds of separatism in the minds of the followers of this movement, which was until then basically a non-Brahmin movement. Proponents of the movement demanded an independent Dravida Nadu (Dravidian-Tamil land, cor responding to the then Madras Province). The demand was, however, given up by the principal Dravidian party, the DMK, in the 1960s owing to several factors. The anti-Hindi agitation of 1965 revived Tamil sentiments and greatly helped the DMK capture powe r in the State in 1967. The sentiments were kept alive by the Dravidian parties, which came to power later, in order to subserve their interest while dealing with the Union Government and the governments of neighbouring States. When the ethnic crisis eru pted in Sri Lanka in the early 1980s, the leaders of these parties were swayed more by the Tamil nationalist sentiment in Sri Lanka than by the sufferings of the minority Tamil people at the hands of a discriminatory state machinery. The separatists' dem and for an independent Tamil Eelam had an emotional appeal for them. This situation lasted until the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi by an LTTE suicide bomber.

Driven by the same kind of Tamil nationalism, the pro-LTTE elements are now trying to regroup after a gap of about 10 years. Following the ban on the LTTE and in view of the overwhelming public opinion against the organisation, a number of pro-Eelam grou ps in Tamil Nadu had maintained a tactical silence, but the award of death sentence to some of the accused in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case threw up an opportunity for them to surface in the guise of petitioners against the death penalty (Frontl ine, June 9). According to observers, the presence of pro-Eelam parties such as the MDMK and the PMK in the BJP-led ruling coalition since 1998 and the DMK's electoral compulsions to keep its Tamil constituency in the State intact could have enabled groups sympathetic to the LTTE to propagate their views freely in the State.

However, when the question of extending the ban on the LTTE came up in mid-May, the DMK Government in Tamil Nadu insisted that it be extended and the MDMK and the PMK, which opposed the move initially, dropped their opposition, perhaps sensing the people 's mood. The Union Government officially notified a two-year extension of the ban.

THE euphoria over the LTTE's capture of the Elephant Pass military camp on April 21-22 and its subsequent advance in the Jaffna peninsula enabled the pro-Eelam groups to stoke chauvinist feelings once again. Vaiko and Ramadoss were once again articulatin g the LTTE's standpoint. Even as they did this, they kept on claiming that they supported the Centre's stand. They said they welcomed the decision that the Army would not be sent to Sri Lanka, as if that decision formed the crux of the Centre's Sri Lanka policy. They either tried to hide from the people that their stand on a Tamil Eelam was contrary to that of the NDA government, or explained away the contradiction by stating that they were only airing their own or their parties' views. Vaiko and Ramado ss were also critical of the offer of "humanitarian" assistance to Sri Lanka and opposed any move to "evacuate" the beleaguered Sri Lankan forces in Jaffna. In their perception, such measures would "only go against the interests of the Tamil people, who are being butchered by the Sri Lanka Army".

In a total misrepresentation of the situation in Tamil Nadu, Vaiko told the meeting of leaders of parties represented in Parliament, convened by the NDA Government on May 9, that he saw "the emergence of pro-Eelam sentiments throughout Tamil Nadu." He al so tried to mislead the Centre claiming that the youth of Tamil Nadu would "react emotionally" to any attempts to extend even indirect help to Sri Lanka.

The doublespeak of the MDMK and PMK leaders came under severe attack by Vazhapadi K. Ramamurthy, president of the Tamizhaga Rajiv Congress (TRC), another constituent of the NDA. Ramamurthy demanded that the two parties pull out from the NDA government. T amil Maanila Congress (TMC) general secretary K.S. Azhagiri said the two leaders' doublespeak exposed their "ideological confusion" and "political dualism". He demanded that the MDMK and the PMK quit the NDA Government. CPI(M) Polit Bureau member R. Uman ath told Frontline that the two parties were not just resorting to doublespeak but attempting to mobilise the people of Tamil Nadu against the Centre's Sri Lanka policy. He said that these parties, as constituents of the ruling coalition, should h ave rallied the people behind the government in support of its declared stand and pressed for its implementation. Instead they sought to enlist support for Tamil Eelam, he said.

The pro-Eelam parties and organisations held meetings, demonstrations and "mass" fasts across the State, but these appear to have had little impact on the public. An MDMK rally scheduled for June 5 demanding action "to protect the interests of Eelam Tami ls" was "deferred" by Vaiko in deference to the "birthday wish" of Karunanidhi, his former political mentor. Karunanidhi's reasoning was that anything "controversial" should be avoided (Frontline, June 25). Interestingly, his suggestion of a "Czec h-model" solution came in the course of his birthday address at a felicitation rally in Chennai on June 3.

EFFECTIVELY countering the mobilisation efforts of the pro-Eelam parties are the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India and the TMC, which have been putting up a stiff fight against the LTTE sympathisers' activities both inside and outside the State Assembly. After Karunanidhi's June 3 suggestion, the BJP has also started attacking the LTTE sympathisers' moves. The AIADMK broke its long silence on June 12 and declared its support for the Union Government's Sri Lanka policy. Par ty general secretary Jayalalitha called for "a diplomatic solution" based on India's stated policy and said that the LTTE was not the sole representative of Sri Lankan Tamils.

TMC leader and former Union Minister P. Chidambaram said that the Chief Minister's reiteration of his proposal for a "Czech model" solution had made even people who had ignored it earlier now suspect that it was politically motivated. The history of Sri Lanka could not be compared to that of Czechoslovakia, Chi-dambaram said. Unlike Czechoslovakia, Sri Lanka was not created by forcibly uniting the Sinhalese and the Tamils. Moreover, Tamils in Sri Lanka were not confined to "Eelam" but were spread all over the country, including the Sinhalese-majority areas. The LTTE did not represent Tamils living in these areas, he said.

Any suggestion to divide Sri Lanka would only lead to the rise of similar secessionist demands in India, cautioned A. Gopanna, the TMC spokesperson. Chidambaram and TMC president G.K. Moopanar wanted Karunanidhi to withdraw the suggestion.

The State secretary of the BJP, L. Ganesan, told Frontline that a division of Sri Lanka was no solution to the crisis. He said that even Sri Lankan Tamils were not for a separate Eelam. "The interests of the Tamils and success of the LTTE are not synonymous. Success of the LTTE does not mean solving the Tamil problem," he said. He added that Sri Lankan Tamils had suffered equally at the hands of the Sri Lanka Army and the LTTE. "There should be equal rights for the Tamils and the Sinhalese and en suring that through negotiations is the only solution," Ganesan said.

As for the public mood in the State, several political leaders and even sources in the ruling DMK denied that there was any perceptible shift in favour of "Tamil Eelam", as claimed by Vaiko. There is certainly no "emotional upsurge" among people in favou r of the Tamil militants, they averred. Moopanar said he did not see any increased public support to "the small pro-LTTE groups operating in a few places, mostly in some coastal districts". Only their noise level had increased, he remarked.

The first sign of a proactive role by the NDA Government emerged when Jaswant Singh landed in Sri Lanka on June 11 on a two-day visit. The question now is whether the Government will take further action in tune with its policy to help resolve the crisis, resisting pressures from the Tamil Nadu constituents of the NDA.