Contradictions and doublespeak

Published : Jul 08, 2000 00:00 IST

The doublespeak of the Tamil Nadu parties in the National Democratic Alliance on the Sri Lanka issue came sharply into focus once again at a conference of the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, one of its constituents.

THE deep-seated contradictions among the constituents of the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) at the Centre over the Sri Lankan Tamils issue were fully evident at the "Tamil Nadu awakening conference" organised by the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnet ra Kazhagam (MDMK) at Erode in Tamil Nadu on July 1 and 2. Even as Union Home Minister L.K. Advani of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which heads the NDA Government, firmly told the conference on July 2 that "...we should do nothing that will promote s ecessionism in any country, especially a friendly neighbouring country", the leaders of the MDMK and the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), both constituents of the NDA, who spoke after Advani, stuck to their guns that the founding of Tamil Eelam alone was the solution to the Tamils issue.

There was a slight change in the stand of MDMK general secretary Vaiko, who has "consistently" supported the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). He said in his valedictory address: "We are not asking the Vajpayee government to balkanise S ri Lanka. I measure my words. If that country is divided because of the genocidal policy of the government there, India is not responsible (for it)."

But PMK founder Dr. S. Ramadoss was far more aggressive. He asserted three times for effect that "Tamil Eelam is the only solution" to the Tamil problem on the island. He said, "The Tamils and the Sinhalese cannot certainly live together in future. That is why we say that Tamil Eelam is the solution. What is wrong in this?" Only minutes earlier Advani had categorically stated that the Government of India was against any vivisection of Sri Lanka. "Even as we are concerned about the Sri Lankan Tamils and feel that they should live in peace and get justice, we also feel that nothing should be done that will promote secessionism in any country, especially in a friendly neighbouring country," Advani said.

Caught between these two positions was the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), which rules Tamil Nadu and is an important constituent of the NDA Government. DMK president and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, who spoke at the conference on the previ ous day, did not refer to the Sri Lankan Tamil issue at all. This perhaps was not surprising because Karunanidhi had done a series of flip-flops on the issue during the last two months (Frontline, July 7). In contradictory and misleading statement s, he lambasted the LTTE's liquidation of leaders of other Tamil groups, advocated a "Czech-type division" of Sri Lanka, then accused the media of giving "undue publicity" to his "suggestion", and then claimed that the "suggestion" was only meant for Col ombo and was neither a view placed before the NDA nor a demand made on the Centre.

Surprisingly, Defence Minister George Fernandes, who also spoke at the conference, struck a low profile. While asserting that the Vajpayee government "will not make the mistake of 1987-88" of sending the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF) to the island, h e said, "It is only when both sides (the Sri Lankan Government and the Tamils) ask for humanitarian help, we will consider it."

It was not only the schisms within the NDA on the Tamil issue that came to the fore at the conference. The proceedings underscored again the doublespeak of both the MDMK and the PMK on the issue. Even while loudly supporting the LTTE cause of Tamil Eelam , the two parties have been claiming that they accepted the Government of India's policy on the issue, which is, in fact, against a division of Sri Lanka. The Centre's stated policy has been a commitment to find "a negotiated political settlement within the framework of Sri Lanka's unity and integrity".

Although Vaiko breathed fire and brimstone on the issue, giving a graphic account of the Sri Lankan Army's atrocities against Tamil civilians, especially women, the conference resolution on the subject was tame. Although the Centre's stand ran counter to the MDMK's, the resolution claimed that the Centre had taken a "correct stand". The resolution, which went into the history of the Tamil problem, said that after the developments in the "theatre of war" from November 1999 and particularly after April 20 00 (when the Army's Elephant Pass camp fell to the LTTE), Colombo bought weapons from many countries, particularly Pakistan, and also sought military assistance from India with the aim of finding a military solution.

It added: "But with genuine concern for the suffering Tamils, the Indian Government rejected the pleas of Colombo for military assistance and for a physical intervention and categorically said that India would neither supply nor sell arms to Sri Lanka." Under these circumstances, "it is our sincere duty to wholeheartedly thank" Vajpayee and the Union Government "for their correct stand on the ongoing tragedy in Sri Lanka".

Ramadoss also proved that he was no less adept in running with the hare and hunting with the hound. After having asserted repeatedly that the creation of a separate Tamil Eelam alone was a solution to the issue, he said at the conference: "Vajpayee is ad opting a clear and unhurried approach to this problem. We will not trouble Vajpayee on this issue."

Ramadoss, however, denied that he was indulging in doublespeak. He launched an attack on The Hindu for alleging that the PMK and the MDMK indulged in "doublespeak" and used "pressure tactics" on the Centre. The PMK leader said, "The MDMK and the P MK speak with one tongue on this issue. But Dinamalar (a Tamil daily) and The Hindu allege that we speak with a double-tongue and resort to pressure tactics. They say that we take one stand there (at New Delhi) and another stand here (in Ta mil Nadu). But we speak with one voice." Ramadoss, however, did not explain how there was no doublespeak in their pronouncements. Vaiko was also critical of The Hindu's stand on the Sri Lanka issue.

A highlight of the conference was a big rally taken out by MDMK cadres on July 1. Although Vaiko promised "a level of restraint", his youthful cadres threw a spanner in the works. They held aloft banners that proclaimed that "Tamil Eelam is the only solu tion to the genocide of the Tamils"; "Eelam Tamils are our brothers"; "The blood shed by the Eelam Tamils is our blood" and so forth. There was "tiger" imagery in the conference banners, wall graffiti and Vaiko's speech. Graffiti had the legend Vaiko pai nted in huge letters, with two ferocious tigers drawn across them. Another wall slogan called Vaiko a "Parliamentary Tiger". A banner said: "As the tigers pounce forward, the ethnic strife will vanish." Vaiko began his nearly two-hour speech by describin g the "tiger flag" of the Cholas, "the bow and arrow flag of the Cheras" and "the fish flag of the Pandyas".

In the rally, many youth wore on their shirts laminated photographs of LTTE supremo V. Prabakaran. (The LTTE is a banned organisation in India.) They proudly posed for the media cameramen, flourishing Prabakaran's photographs. An MDMK functionary later s eized Prabakaran's photographs from a person selling them at the place where the rally began.

The theme of the conference was changed from "Tamil Race Awakening Conference" to "Tamil Nadu Awakening Conference" after the former theme fuelled fears that the Sri Lankan Tamil issue would dominate the conference. There was speculation in the media whe ther Advani would attend the conference because the BJP had set its face against the creation of Eelam. Vazhapadi K. Ramamurthi, founder of the Tamilaga Rajiv Congress (TRC), another constituent of the NDA, which has been uncompromising in his oppositio n to the LTTE and its cause of Eelam, wanted the PMK and the MDMK to be banned. He said that the MDMK showed its true colours by resorting to strong "pro-LTTE and pro-Eelam" overtones at the conference. He said Advani should be aware of the double role o f the PMK and the MDMK on the issue.

E.V.K.S. Ilangovan, president, Tamil Nadu Congress Committee, and a few hundred Congressmen were arrested when they attempted to show black flags to Advani for attending the conference.

While the conference showed up the sharp differences among NDA partners on the Tamils issue, the alliance leaders asserted that their opponents would not succeed in splitting the NDA. Advani said, "Our political opponents, who thought that the issue of S ri Lankan Tamils would split the NDA, were totally disappointed that the DMK, the MDMK and the PMK unreservedly supported the Government of India's policy on Sri Lanka. This conference will intensify their disappointment." Union Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha and Power Minister Rangarajan Kumaramangalam endorsed this view.

L. Ganesan, chairman of the MDMK presidium, and M. Kannappan, MDMK treasurer and Union Minister of State for Non-Conventional Energy Sources, ridiculed the efforts of the Opposition to dissuade Advani from attending the conference. Gingee N. Ramachandran , MDMK deputy general secretary and Union Minister of State for Textiles, said the MDMK would never advocate the secession of Tamil Nadu.

OTHER topics that figured at the conference included state autonomy, review of the Constitution, advantages of having a coalition government at the Centre, economic reforms, the recent attacks on Christians and the need to protect minorities and fight c asteism.

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah, who delivered an elegant speech, said autonomy did not mean secession. He made it clear that Jammu and Kashmir was part of India and "Insha Allah, we will remain part of India." He said that whatever auto nomy his National Conference (N.C.) asked for was within the Constitution of India and not outside it. The N.C. had been making the demand for State autonomy for a long time, he said. "We want strong States and a strong Centre," Abdullah said. "We have t o continue fighting to make a strong, beautiful, secular and federal India."

George Fernandes said that federalism was the basis of the Constitution of India. Whether it had been implemented or not was a different question. He attacked the Congress for making a mockery of the country's federalism by causing, as the ruling party a t the Centre, the dismissal of State governments run by the DMK, the N.C. and other non-Congress parties. He also stressed that there should be decentralisation of power not only from the Centre to the States but from the States to the village level, whi ch would accelerate the implementation of welfare programmes in villages.

Punjab Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal said that a review of the Constitution was essential to improve Centre-State relations. "The Constitution is not a static structure," he said.

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu said the Constitution suffered distortions because of single-party rule at the Centre. His Telugu Desam Party wanted decentralisation of power in such a manner that the Centre and the States became equal partners.

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