A non-issue turned potent poll issue
by B R Haran on 23 Apr 2009 0 Comment

The LTTE, which had the fullest support of the people of Tamil Nadu up to the mid-1980s, started losing its support base as it indulged in liquidating other Sri Lankan Tamil leaders and destroying their organizations. With the back-stabbing of the IPKF and later the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, it lost Tamil Nadu’s sympathy totally. The DMK, a strong and vociferous supporter of LTTE, lost its government due to its LTTE connections, and later changed tactics on this volatile issue, pursuing a middle path. 

The LTTE, which wanted to keep its stock alive in Tamil Nadu, had to depend on a section of political parties and hence kept the parties like MDMK, PMK and VCK and outfits like DK, PDK and TNM in good humour. All these parties preferred to espouse the cause of LTTE in the name of Sri Lankan Tamils, as they felt it advantageous in ‘many ways,’ including running their parties and playing politics in the state. 

When LTTE used the ceasefire period to recruit cadres and acquire arms and ammunition, these parties would pay attention to local issues; and when LTTE fought with the Sri Lankan Army, these parties would play Lankan politics in Tamil Nadu.

While this was going on for years, Jayalalithaa maintained a consistent anti-LTTE stand. Though DMK deviated from its original position vis-à-vis the LTTE, the Jain Commission of enquiry remained a permanent thorn in its flesh, until Sonia brazenly compromised for political convenience and struck an alliance in 2004 with DMK, the party she once hated enough to bring down the I.K. Gujral government. Congress had an alliance not only with DMK, but also with other pro-LTTE parties such as PMK and MDMK, causing immense damage to the credibility and image of TNCC. 

With the advent of the DMK government in 2006, there has been resurgence in LTTE activities in the state, particularly in coastal areas. Emboldened by the silence of the DMK government over increased LTTE presence in the state, the pro-LTTE parties began openly and vociferously speaking in its support. The Chief Minister composed an elegy for LTTE leader Tamilarasan when he was killed in a Sri Lankan air raid, indicating ‘covert’ support to the terror outfit.

Though the TNCC strongly objected to the Chief Minister’s action, the AICC preferred to keep quiet after passing a ‘formal’ resolution against it. The nation also witnessed a mysterious meeting between Priyanka Vadra and Rajiv-assassin Nalini at Vellore, indicating a tacit understanding between Sonia Gandhi and Karunanidhi over the LTTE issue, much to the chagrin of the Tamil Nadu Congress. 

As the Sri Lankan army inched close to vanquish the LTTE, support for LTTE in the guise of support for Sri Lankan Tamils grew louder, and DMK was forced to take some steps by its allies, VCK and PMK. DMK organized various forms of protest ‘dramas’ such as sending telegrams to the Centre, taking resignation letters from its MPs, forming human chain, and conducting public meetings, etc. The open support to LTTE and strong condemnation of the Central Government made some Congress leaders put pressure on the DMK government to act. It arrested two pro-LTTE cinema directors, PDK (Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam) president Kolaththru Mani and MDMK leaders Vaiko and Nanjil Sampath, but refrained from arresting its ally Tirumavalavan, president of VCK. 

After withdrawal of support to the UPA by the Left Front, the state too witnessed changing political equations - DMK is now left with only Congress and VCK, while the PMK and Left joined the AIADMK-led alliance. As LTTE-controlled territory was reduced to just 20 sq. kms., and as the Tamil civilian population caught in the crossfire bore the brunt of the war, the Sri Lankan Tamil issue became the central point of politics in the State.

The gullible masses and even the student community were instigated to involve themselves in protests in am emotionally surcharged atmosphere. The media, particularly the Dravidianist and Leftist-dominated vernacular print media, demonized the Rajapaksa government and projected LTTE as the last saviour of Sri Lankan Tamils. They sensationalized unauthentic sad and horror stories to create frenzy in the minds of readers. As a result, scores of people committed self-immolation. 

The defensive approach of the DMK on the Eelam issue encouraged the opposition, particularly the PMK, CPI and MDMK, to intensify its propaganda. AIADMK supremo Jayalalithaa changed her stand on the issue and publicly conducted a day-long protest-fast. The combined opposition onslaught made Karunanidhi’s life more miserable and due to the presence of Congress as an ally, he couldn’t play the Sri Lankan card to his advantage, but had to satisfy himself with taming VCK, another pro-LTTE party, and keeping it within his fold. 

DMK’s isolation on the Sri Lankan issue emboldened Vaiko, who went on the offensive and thundered that rivers of blood would flow in Tamil Nadu if Prabhakaran was harmed. Feeling compelled to join issue, Karunanidhi drew a parallel with an episode in Greek-Indian history and requested Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa to treat Prabhakaran as a war hero and a king, just as Alexander once reputedly treated the Indian king Porus. This drew flak from the opposition and the lack of remorse from Vaiko made Congress to demand legal action against him, putting Karunanidhi in a dilemma. He ordered the police to register an FIR on various sections against Vaiko, but preferred not to arrest him and make a martyr out of him. 

Meanwhile, an English daily carried a front page story on the plight of civilians caught between the Army and LTTE in the NFZ (No Fire Zone); this caused another death from self-immolation. As parties commenced campaigning, ‘Tamil Eelam’ has been made an electoral issue by all in their respective manifestos. For the first time, taking the state by surprise, Jayalalithaa came out in support of a separate Tamil Eelam, saying her party would strive for its creation!

Again Karunanidhi felt the need to join issue and made a startling revelation: “LTTE chief Prabhakaran is not a terrorist; … Prabhakaran is my friend and I am not a terrorist. So, Prabhakaran cannot be a terrorist. Some of his cadres might have become terrorists, but he cannot be blamed for that.” He added, “the ideals of LTTE like the ‘formation of Tamil Eelam’ were noble and adorable and in their earnestness to achieve their goal, they have become militants. If Prabhakaran gets killed in the war I will deeply mourn it and feel that the lack of unity among the Tamils there has resulted in his death. Their aim is good, but the method they adopted to achieve that aim is wrong.” 

A shocked and embarrassed Congress immediately reacted that Karunanidhi’s remarks were his personal opinion and that the Congress always considered Prabhakaran a terrorist and would ask for his extradition if Sri Lanka captured him. Taken aback by the snubbing, Karunanidhi did a somersault and blamed the concerned TV channel for misinterpretation. He said, “The LTTE started as freedom fighters, but later on turned into militants. I would never forget the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, after all my government sanctioned land at Siriperumbudur for constructing his memorial and we have also named an Old Mahabalipuram Road in his name.” He said any loss of life in the war would deject him. Probably to divert attention and put Congress in a spot, he said, “If Sonia is ready to pardon Nalini, I don’t see any reason why she shouldn’t be pardoned.”   

Again he received flak from the opposition for his somersault; Vaiko exclaimed, “Ada Paavi” (“Oh, Sinner!”). Jayalalithaa took a dig at Sonia, “Why is Sonia remaining silent? Is she not the Congress President? Is she not the widow of Rajiv? Being the chairperson of UPA she must come out and explain Karunanidhi’s statements.” CPI leader Pandian went a step ahead and said Prabhakaran, being a great warrior, could never be a friend of Karunanidhi and it was clear that Karunanidhi is in a confused state of mind.  

Meanwhile, reports are coming of mass exodus of civilian Tamils towards army-controlled areas, aided by the Lankan army. The 24-hour deadline given by President Rajapaksa for the surrender of LTTE over, the Sri Lankan army is set for the final assault. In the event of LTTE’s defeat, the pro-LTTE parties might attempt to create unrest here in Tamil Nadu, instigating cadres to indulge in riots and arson. The state government must be ready to meet any eventuality, and if needed, acquire additional paramilitary forces from the centre. 

The people of Tamil Nadu have a lot of issues like price rise of rice and other essential commodities, deteriorating law and order, power cuts, lack of infrastructures in rural areas, drinking water problems, health issues, corruption, and many others in this election.  It is unfortunate that all parties have placed Sri Lankan Tamils at the top of the chart and are trying to gain people’s support by hoodwinking them by this issue.

While Tamil Nadu people have a deep sympathy for Sri Lankan Tamils, under prevailing circumstances in the island nation there is nothing Indian Tamils can do. Hence they must focus on issues they face in their daily lives and vote for the party/candidate likely to live up to their expectations.

Whatever happens to the LTTE, whose defeat is imminent, the people must observe restraint and not yield to machinations of pro-LTTE elements. Certainly they can ask their elected Members of Parliament to work for peace and a respectable and everlasting solution for Sri Lankan Tamils.  

The author is a senior journalist; he lives in Chennai

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