Playing politics with Tamil lives in Sri Lanka (Comment)

May 4th, 2009 - 9:28 am ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh By M.R. Narayan Swamy
Sri Lanka’s beleaguered Tamil community deserved better from Tamil Nadu. As the West gets hyper to know what it can do to end the killings of innocent civilians in the conflict and assist their flight from the war zone, election-bound Tamil Nadu is obsessed with street protests.

A political class leading a state of 70 million Tamils, more than three times the population of Sri Lanka, seems to be crippled, unable to think beyond the mundane denunciations and name calling.

The once formidable Tamil Tigers, who for long enjoyed sanctuary in Tamil Nadu, are now left with a just sandy coastal strip in Mullaitivu district.

Colombo has vowed to crush the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and net, dead or alive, its elusive leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, who has had longstanding links with many political players in Tamil Nadu.

Beyond blaming the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi for the LTTE’s predicament, none of these players has done anything to minimize the Tamil suffering.

While New Delhi has set up a hospital to treat the civilian wounded and ferried large quantities of relief material, Tamil Nadu’s politicians have been busy giving emotive speeches and threatening to break up Sri Lanka.

The latest has come from AIADMK leader Jayalalitha who, after being opposed to the LTTE for years, has now pledged to send the Indian Army to Sri Lanka to do a Bangladesh - if she gets to rule the country.

When she was chief minister, Jayalalitha had in December 2005 refused to meet Mahinda Rajapaksa when he came to India on his first visit abroad as Sri Lanka’s newly elected president.

The last minute ‘no’ embarrassed the Indian external affairs ministry, which scrambled to arrange a face-saving trip for the president to Kerala.

That was when Prabhakaran called the shots in Sri Lanka’s northeast. It was also when Rajapaksa was settling down and toying with the idea of meeting some Tamil Nadu leaders, including those rabidly pro-LTTE, to see if they could contribute to peace in Sri Lanka.

On a later occasion, the president publicly urged Tamil Nadu’s top political leaders to visit Sri Lanka and persuade the LTTE to give up violence.

Not one leading political leader in Tamil Nadu has gone to Sri Lanka to understand the complexities of the conflict rather than view everything from the LTTE’s narrow prism.

Yet a few have quietly visited the LTTE zone to meet Tamils. Imagine if a Pakistani politician were to make a similar clandestine trip to India and meet members of, say, the Muslim community!

Contrary to what many may think, no political player from Tamil Nadu has had any real influence over Prabhakaran with probably one single exception — P. Nedumaran, the LTTE chief’s oldest and most loyal ally in India.

But it is doubtful if Prabhakaran would have lent an ear even to Nedumaran if he had urged him to drop the cause of Tamil Eelam. Nedumaran has been a consistent supporter of Prabhakaran since he first met the rebel way back in the early 1980s and he is open about it.

But at least the two main parties in Tamil Nadu should have intervened when Tamils began killing Tamils in Sri Lanka a long time ago, resulting in fratricidal clashes that ultimately weakened the LTTE.

Had they done it, it is possible the LTTE may not have landed in the terrible mess it is in today. Instead, the Tamil Nadu leadership quietly oversaw a quarter century of bloodshed without making any meaningful contributions towards a political settlement and for the ordinary Tamil people’s betterment.

Even in this dark hour, there is duplicity.

A politician who now threatens to create Tamil Eelam earlier jailed another over a pro-Eelam speech. A political party accusing the Congress of betraying the Tamils was one of its key allies for four and a half years. And a political veteran lauds Prabhakaran one day, backtracks the next day.

To the Tamil folk in Sri Lanka, will any of this make any sense?

(The writer has closely followed the Sri Lankan conflict. He is also the author of two books on the Tamil guerrillas.)

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