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Lankan Tamil issue causes crisis

 | March 22, 2013

With the DMK out of the federal coalition government, the UPA may not fall, but can face a rocky year with the polls due in 2014.


Sri Lanka must have heaved a sigh of relief when Vellupillai Prabhakaran was killed in 2009, a death which signalled the end of a 30-year-old civil war between the majority Sinhala community and the minority Tamils.

The Tamils – led by Prabhakaran and his Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) — unable to bear years of discrimination, had fought for a separate homeland in the northern and eastern regions of the tiny island nation. Human bombs (one of the first along with Hamas) and child soldiers were used by Prabhakaran’s forces in a desperate attempt to beat the Sri Lankan army.

All this was in vain. Eelam or separate homeland never happened.

Now, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), a political party in India’s Tamil Nadu, contends that soon after the guns fell silent in Sri Lanka, the country’s Sinhala dominated government began a systematic and revengeful “genocide” of the Tamils on the island – which is separated from India by a 22-km stretch of the Indian Ocean called Palk Strait.

Indian Tamils share a special relationship with their Lankan counterparts, the common language, though dialectically different, forging a strong bond between the two. The DMK, whose Tamil chauvinism is well known, had supported Prabhakaran’s war, till India’s former Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, was assassinated by the LTTE in 1989.

Obviously, no Indian political organisation could dare ignore the popular anger at the murder. Prabhakaran, who once moved around freely in Tamil Nadu, became a persona non-grata. Nay, a sworn enemy of India.

Despite this, the DMK and other Tamil political outfits’ sympathy for the Sri Lankan Tamils continued to linger, albeit on a low key.

Post 2009, this sympathy grew with Colombo reportedly ill-treating the Tamils. Widespread atrocities on the race were also alleged.

In recent days, the DMK’s support for the Sri Lankan Tamils is beginning to create a storm in India. Two days ago, the party’s supremo, 88-year-old M.K. Karunanidhi, withdrew support for the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in New Delhi – pushing the administration into deep waters.

The DMK was upset over the federal government’s unwillingness to declare the post-2009 killings of Tamils (by Sri Lankan Sinhala forces) “genocide”.

“The DMK wants India to add strong language to the UN Human Rights Council resolution to accuse Sri Lanka of ‘genocide’ and demand an international inquiry into possible war crimes. The party also wants a similar resolution to be passed by India’s Parliament before the UN vote on Sri Lanka later this week in Geneva”, according to a report.

However, the UN resolution was passed without the word “genocide” being used. There was not even a call in it for an international probe into rights abuses in Sri Lanka.

The immediate repercussion to such a declaration, had one been made, could have been strained relations between Colombo and New Delhi – which Beijing is all set to take advantage of, keen as it is on getting a foothold in Sri Lanka and, thereby the Indian Ocean.

Sadly, India’s ties with all its neighbours – Pakistan (but of course), Nepal and Bangladesh – have been tenuous with China making full use of this by slyly worming its way into these small nations.

Sri Lanka had been an exception of sorts, and if New Delhi were to have acceded to the DMK’s demand, the island state could have begun to distance itself from India.

Now with the DMK out of the federal coalition government, the UPA may not fall, but can face a rocky year (the polls are due 2014) with key economic reforms likely to be relegated to the back burner.

But does the DMK care?

Gautaman Bhaskaran is India Editor of FMT, and Chennai-based author, columnist and movie critic. He may be emailed at[email protected]


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