Factoring in Tamil Nadu

Chennai, 10 June 2011:  Two State Assembly resolutions in as many days and Tamil Nadu is back in the news in matters relating to India-Sri Lanka relations. The benign contributions and pressures from the south Indian State on the Union of India throughout  ‘Eelam War IV’ and later is being replaced by tough and legitimate posturing with legal consequences.

AIADMK Chief Minister Jayalalithaa moved the two motions. In the one on ‘war crimes’, rehabilitation and political solution to the ethnic issue, the resolution reflects the prevailing mood of the ‘international community’, influenced as the latter has been by the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora. On the Kachchativu front, the Assembly resolution has called upon the State Government to implead itself in a case already before the Supreme Court. Jayalalithaa, while not in power, was the original petitioner, and remains so, as yet.

Both are issues that are germane to bilateral relations between India and Sri Lanka. Like many other political and so-called apolitical voices that are often flagged against India in Sri Lanka, these resolutions have the potential to pressure respective Governments on the issues involved. Independent of politics and politicians, international community and the Diaspora, the ethnic issue and the fishermen’s lives and livelihood are of immediate and/or long-term concern to Tamil Nadu.

Tamil Nadu needs peace in Sri Lanka, and in the shared waters. This concern is behind the spirit of the two resolutions, in the overall context.

If Chief Minister Jayalalithaa could claim credit for it, she would not shy away from taking credit. If it identifies as the pan-Tamil leader, a title that had rested on other shoulders earlier, so be it.

Tamil Nadu’s concerns in the matter go beyond the dynamics of ‘competitive Dravidian politics’ in the State. Methodologies go with the personalities involved motives need not have to be attributed. If anything, ‘competitive Dravidian politics’ is only as good or as bad as ‘competitive Sinhala politics’. If you acknowledge or under-write one, you would understand the other – and could not complain about it.

The blatant political and media criticism of India over the joint statement issues when the two External Affairs Ministers (G L Peiris of Sri Lanka and S M Krishna, India) met in New Delhi recently is reflective of a mood. If that is so, similar moods prevail in Tamil Nadu, too. The Tamil Nadu Assembly resolutions are not in response to any Sri Lankan moods and methods – the ignorance in the matter has to be felt to be believed. They are stand-alone initiatives addressing the Indian system, deploying Indian dynamics.

At the core of the Tamil Nadu resolution on the ethnic issue is the safety and security of the Sri Lankan Tamils in Sri Lanka, and a political solution that was promised throughout the three long decades of the ethnic war. Like much of the rest of the world, the Tamil Nadu resolution too seems to link ‘war crimes’ to a political resolution and power devolution. Perceptions differ between Colombo and Chennai, or even Chennai and New Delhi, but the concerns are real and common.

The Indian Government’s interest in the ethnic issue germinated only after tens of thousands of Sri Lankan Tamils, victims of Pogrom-83 crossed over to Tamil Nadu, and not earlier. Linking Indian involvement in the ethnic issue thus to perceptions of Indian hegemony or Indian self-interests were/are faulty, ab initio. They are linked to concerns in Tamil Nadu, concerns about Tamil Nadu – and in Tamil Nadu, too. Political Colombo needs to understand it, appreciate it.

In the post-war situation, sections within Sri Lanka, particularly in the Establishment, have been flagging sovereignty and territorial integrity in relation to the fishermen’s issue. Some even justify the Sri Lanka Navy’s intervention in similar terms. They go on to argue that some of the actions are aimed at checking future security threats of the ‘Sea Tigers’ variety. If that argument holds, every other argument too should hold. That should include the concerns in Tamil Nadu, too.

The ‘Kachchativu issue’ is now before the Supreme Court in New Delhi. Whatever the verdict of the court, as and when it comes, Sri Lanka cannot argue against it in a limited way. There may be arguments over the legitimacy of bilateral/international relations, enforceable elsewhere. After all, the Supreme Court in Colombo had handled the ‘merger issue’ likewise, without reference to the bilateral agreement with India. The Sri Lankan judgment, as also the Indian petition (by Jayalalithaa) point to procedural inadequacies, and the Supreme Court in Colombo may have set a precedent.

The Sri Lankan Government may have addressed the LTTE problem. As the Diaspora Talk in recent months and the results of their efforts have shown, it has not addressed the issues that are at the core. It’s not about the Diaspora. It is about the Tamils back home who have faced the war and its after-shocks, their issues and concerns, aspirations and acceptance-levels.

Opinions differ within, and neither India, nor Sri Lanka is an exception. As was only to be expected, the US State Department, for instance, has since distanced itself from the views expressed by their Defence Attache, Lt Col Lawrence Smith, on the ‘white flag’ incident at the Defence Conference in Sri Lanka. It has been described as his personal opinion.

In another country, the episode might have been denied. Conflict of perceptions between various arms of the same Government does exist, elsewhere, too. They are often conditioned by institutional priorities. In Sri Lanka, at the height of ‘Eelam War IV’, then army commander Sarath Fonseka was talking about the Tamil minorities having to learn to live with the majority Sinhala-Buddhists. At the time, the political leadership and the diplomatic corps were out to convince the world that was not the case.

Living within a glass tower, Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans cannot blame India and Indians alone, in the current context. They did not discourage anti-India elements from within from going off handle. The domestic politics of the two countries are not inter-linked after all. Their external dynamics thus should not be influenced by internal politics, either!

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