There have been signs of renewed support for the cause of the Sri Lankan Tamils across the political spectrum in Tamil Nadu, except from the Congress (I), which continues to adopt an ambivalent attitude. This support has come not only from the traditional supporters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), but also from other parties such as the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) of M.Karunanidhi and J.Jayalalitha of the Anna DMK, the main opposition party. Even the Tamil Nadu branch of the Communist Party of India (CPI) has come out in support of the Sri Lankan Tamils.
2.Karunanidhi, who is generally not given to using strong or emotional language, has given emotional expression to his anguish over what he perceives as the continuing policy of the Government of Mahinda Rajapaksa of suppressing the Tamils. He has conveyed his concerns to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and stressed upon him the need to take up the matter strongly with Rajapaksa in order to stress upon him the importance of finding a political solution to the problems of the Tamils. He has convened an all-party meeting in Chennai on October 14,2008, to work out a common political approach to the Government of India.Jayalalitha has expressed her support to the right of self-determination of the Sri Lankan Tamils, but made it clear at the same time that her support to the Tamil cause should not be misconstrued to mean any change in her policy of strong opposition to the LTTE as a terrorist organisation.
3. It would be incorrect to view this renewed support as dictated by electoral considerations in view of the elections to the Lok Sabha which are expected in the next few months. Despite the increasing concern in Tamil Nadu over what is perceived as the anti-Tamil policies of the Rajapaksa Government, the Sri Lankan Tamil issue is unlikely to play any role in influencing the voters. Economic and internal security issues are likely to play a predominant role in the elections .
4. It would be equally incorrect for the LTTE leadership to view this as indicating a softening of the hostility to the LTTE after its role in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in May,1991. The attitude towards an LTTE led by Prabhakaran continues to be as negative as it has always been since 1991. Any wishful-thinking by Prabhakaran that he and others who were responsible for the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi are likely to be rehabilitated in the eyes of vast sections of the people of Tamil Nadu, who are now hostile to them, will be belied. All political leaders except some die-hard supporters of the LTTE, who have taken up the cause of the Sri Lankan Tamils with the Government of India, have made it clear that their support is for the cause of the Sri Lankan Tamils and not for the LTTE headed by Prabhakaran.
5. The LTTE has been gratified by this renewed support for the Tamil cause and has been playing it up. However, there is no evidence to show that either the LTTE or its supporters in Tamil Nadu, who are in a small minority, had any role in this renewed support. This support has been triggered off spontaneously by heightened concerns over the policies of the Rajapaksa Government and by the statements of some officials serving under him such as Lt.Gen.Sarath Fonseka, the Chief of the Sri Lankan Army, Gothbaya Rajapakse, his brother, who is also the Defence Secretary, and Rohitha Bogollagama, the Foreign Minister, as well as by sorrow over what is perceived in Tamil Nadu as the double-faced policy of the Government of India on the plight of the Sri Lankan Tamils and over the lack of interest shown by Manmohan Singh in taking up the issue more vigorously with the Rajapaksa Government.
6. The continuing use of indiscriminate air strikes by the Rajapaksa Government against the Tamil civilian population in order to intimidate it into stop supporting the LTTE has come in for strong criticism. The closing of the doors by it for a political solution reached through talks with the LTTE has added to the anger in Tamil Nadu against the Rajapaksa Government. As the Sri Lankan Army presses its offensive to re-capture the territory still under the control of the LTTE in the Northern Province, increasingly disturbing statements have been coming from officials such as Fonseka highlighting the rights of the Sinhalese majority and playing down the legitimate rights of the Tamil minority. All these developments have caused concern in Tamil Nadu that under the pretext of crushing the LTTE as a terrorist organisation, the Rajapaksa Government, whose policies are seen as largely influenced by Sinhalese hawks, is seeking to crush the Tamils as a community by exploiting the favourable ground situation and the lack of interest in the international community in the developments in Sri Lanka. Very few in Tamil Nadu take seriously the assurances of Rajapaksa that after neutralising the LTTE as a terrorist organisation, his Government will initiate political measures for meeting the legitimate aspirations of the Tamil people.
7. At the same time, there has been a perceptible disenchantment in Tamil Nadu over what is seen as the lack of interest shown by Manmohan Singh in the problems of the Sri Lankan Tamils. He is being compared unfavourably with Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, who took a keen interest in the problems of the Tamils and did not hesitate to take up the matter strongly with the Governments then in power in Colombo. This disenchantment has turned into shock following reports of two Indian radar technicians being injured when two planes of the LTTE's air wing bombed on September 9, 2008, a Sri Lankan military base in Vavuniya, which has been co-ordinating the military operations against the LTTE.
8. The Government of India had repeatedly assured the Government of Tamil Nadu that it would give only non-lethal military equipment to the Sri Lankan Armed Forces, which could not be used in offensive operations against the LTTE. It had justified its supply of radars to the Sri Lankan Air Force on the ground that these radars were meant for use to protect strategic targets in Colombo against LTTE air strikes. There was initial opposition in Tamil Nadu's political circles to the supply of even the radars, but ultimately they were reconciled to it.
9. The information that the radars supplied by the Government of India were actually being used in the frontline areas and that two Indian technicians were helping the SLAF in their maintenance added to the concerns in Tamil Nadu and created a suspicion that New Delhi was not telling the truth to the Government of Tamil Nadu about the extent of the Indian assistance to the Sri Lankan Armed Forces in their operations against the LTTE.
10. The fact that despite the entreaties of Karunanidhi, who has been a loyal supporter of the Manmohan Singh Government, the Prime Minister did not directly take up the concerns of the people and the political leaders of Tamil Nadu with the Rajapaksa Government and that he left it to M.K.Narayanan, his National Security Adviser, to handle the matter has further damaged the image of Manmohan Singh in the eyes of sections of the political class of Tamil Nadu.
11. The revival of support for the cause of the Sri Lankan Tamils is still largely confined to the political class. This has not yet found vigorous articulation among large sections of the public. It would be unwise to interpret this as indicating that public support for the Sri Lankan Tamil cause remains limited and can be managed.
12. Any fresh humanitarian disaster consequent upon the military offensive in the Northern Province could create in Tamil Nadu a situation similar to what had prevailed in the 1980s when Tamil Nadu became a rear base for supporting the struggle of the Sri Lankan Tamils against the Sinhalese. If this happens, any success of the Sri Lankan Army in its current operations to crush the LTTE might see only the end of one phase of the Tamil struggle and the beginning of another.
13. It is important for the Government of India to show a more visible and vigorous interest in working for ending at least the ruthless air strikes against the Tamils and for ensuring that the Tamil cause is not lost sight of. The Sri Lankan Government has every right to press ahead with its counter-insurgency operations in order to restore the Government writ in the areas now under the control of the LTTE, but its use of air strikes and its perceived indifference to the legitimate concerns of India and other members of the international community should not be accepted. (10-10-08)
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com )