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Indian Tamils Break Their Silence on the Sri Lankan War

by Satheesan Kumaaran, October 13, 2008

Jayalalithaa called for concrete action from Karunanidhi such as asking the Prime Minister to tell his Sri Lankan counterpart to stop the “killing of innocent Tamils”... She said that her party fully recognized the Eelam Tamils’ right to self-determination... 

In a poem published in the DMK mouthpiece, Murasoli, Karunanidhi said that while Tamils all over the world were “appreciating” his government’s efforts to mitigate the sufferings of Sri Lankan Tamils, why couldn’t political parties set aside their narrow political differences and get on the same platform at least for this cause.  Karunanidhi said that Tamils around the world, through their letters to him, have expressed hope that the latest efforts of the Indian and Tamil Nadu governments would end the sufferings of the Tamils in Sri Lanka...

The opponents of a federal system in Sri Lanka oppose it on the grounds that a Tamil federal state would clandestinely align with Tamil Nadu and invade Sri Lanka, threatening “Sinhala” sovereignty.  It is actually the other way around.  The establishment of a federal state would deflect attempts by Tamil Nadu from stepping in to the affairs of Sri Lanka. 

The southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu has set aside political party differences and come forward in support of Tamils in Sri Lanka who have been fighting militarily for the past three decades to carve out an independent Tamil state.  India was once the home for the Tamil militancy and the ground for the Tamil militants, but that completely changed after Rajiv Gandhi, the former Indian Prime Minister, was assassinated in Tamil Nadu in May 1991 allegedly by an LTTE suicide bomber.  The LTTE was banned in India soon after Rajiv Gandhi was killed, and the ban is still in place.

Since then, the major political parties in Tamil Nadu have hesitated to support the LTTE or Eelam Tamils during the hardships they faced over the past two decades.  However, things have changed and the Indian Tamils have expressed their support for Eelam Tamils’ right to self-determination, as the Sri Lankan ethnic struggle reaches a climax.

DMK leader’s silence

Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leader and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, M. Karunanidhi, wrote a poem praising the LTTE’s political wing leader, S. P. Thamilselvan, last year when he was killed by an aerial attack of the Sri Lankan air force.  Karunanidhi praised him as one who would not be forgotten by Tamils all over the world.  Soon after the release of the poem, the former Chief Minister and All India Drivida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) leader, J. Jayalalithaa, condemned Karunanidhi for the poem since the LTTE was banned in India.  In response, Karunanidhi stated that it was the tradition of Tamils to attend or attribute letters when even an enemy dies.

Jayalalithaa has been a strong opponent of the LTTE since the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. She won the election in 1991, but her victory was considered a sympathetic vote since her political party was allied to the Indian National Congress headed by Rajiv Gandhi.  Jayalalithaa even took Rajiv Gandhi’s cremated ashes collected from New Delhi and scattered them in the waters in the Tamil Nadu.  She threw heavy accusations at Karunanidhi as the one who brought the LTTE cadres living in the jungles into towns and cities in Tamil Nadu.  Jayalalithaa even went so far as to imply that Karunanidhi had masterminded the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi.  As a result of Jayalalithaa’s strategic political propaganda, no DMK nominees won in the 1991 election except its leader Karunanidhi who later resigned.  Jayalalithaa went on to enact strict laws in the state against Eelam Tamils who now live in the state as refugees.  She told landlords not to rent out houses to Eelam Tamils as they would create law and order problems in the state.  Throughout all this, Karunanidhi maintained his silence adding to his already 60 years of political experience.

Karunanidhi is a chief minister in the state and convenor of the United People’s Alliance (UPA) government led by Manmohan Singh of the Indian National Congress.  The widow of Rajiv Gandhi, Italian born Sonia Gandhi, is the chairman of the Congress Party.  If Karunanidhi’s DMK were to withdraw its support from the UPA, the government in Delhi led by Singh would fall.  One has to wonder, though, why Karunanidhi did not raise the issue of the Eelam Tamils dying at the hands of the Sri Lankan military intent on capturing LTTE-held areas until now.

CPI’s token fast protest ignites cause

The Communist Party of India observed a fast in Tamil Nadu on the Eelam Tamil issue on October 2.  Jayalalithaa issued a statement appreciating the CPI’s initiatives in organizing the fast protest.  She even went on to say that she would send a senior member of her party to the protest as she was not able to attend the event herself.  Many other parties such as the Marumalarchchy Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and Liberation Panthers of India (Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi) took part in the protest.  However, the representative of the AIADMK did not attend as the media were looking at Jayalalithaa’s support of the CPI protest as an indication of an alliance between AIADMK and CPI at the next elections.

The CPI protest bore results.  Karunanidhi announced that his party would hold a public meeting in Chennai to condemn the killing of Eelam Tamils.  The DMK held a public meeting on October 6 to demonstrate the solidarity between the Indian central government and Eelam Tamils.  Karunanidhi appealed to all Tamil Nadu state government staff and citizens to send telegrams as an emergency appeal for Indian intervention to stop the genocidal war being waged against Eelam Tamils by the Sri Lankan government led by Mahinda Rajapaksa.  At the meeting, Karunanidhi even announced that he would not hesitate to withdraw support from the UPA government if they did not urge the Sri Lankan state to stop the genocidal war against Tamils and enter into genuine peace talks with the LTTE.

The MDMK with the support of the AIADMK held a protest rally in Chennai on October 10.  The MDMK announced it would launch the rally from a school near Nungambakkam in Chennai with the intent of reaching the Sri Lankan deputy high commission office at Sastri Bhavan in Chennai.  The police, under orders from the Tamil Nadu government, stopped the demonstrators near the school and nearly 600 demonstrators including MDMK leader Vaiko were taken away by the police only to be released later on that day. Jayalalithaa condemned the incident, accusing the Tamil Nadu police and Karunanidhi of not allowing the people a democratic means of protest to show their solidarity in support of Eelam Tamils. Karunanidhi countered by saying that MDMK did not obtain permission from the police to hold such protest rally, so the state had to stop them to maintain order.  All these events show that the Eelam issue has taken centre stage in Tamil Nadu.

LTTE and Diaspora Tamils respond

The LTTE’s political division issued a statement which described the plight of the thousands of Tamils evicted from their homes and villages, and having to take shelter under trees from the genocidal war launched by Mahinda Rajapaska’s regime.  The statement asserted that Tamils were being killed through the indiscriminate shelling and aerial bombardment by the Sri Lankan forces, which were being supported by all the Sinhala parties in the south under the assumption that Tamil Nadu would not come forward in support of Eelam Tamils.  It said further that they have been inspired by the solidarity expressed by the people and political leaders of Tamil Nadu.  This solidarity has come at a time when Rajapaksa’s conceited regime, in its military aggression, thought that no one in the world would actively support the Eelam Tamils.  The statement further alleged that countries opposed to India were militarily helping the Sinhala state and that other countries of the world were providing financial support.

Sri Lanka’s Tamil National Alliance (TNA) parliamentarian, Suresh Premachandran, said: “Jayalalithaa’s gesture is a good beginning. She has now understood the struggle. It will send the right message to other parties and central government.”  Norwegian, American, Canadian, Swiss, England and other Diaspora Tamil organizations have been sending letters of thanks to the Tamil Nadu leaders for their support of the Eelam Tamil struggle.  Plans are under way to organize massive protests throughout the Tamil Nadu state while the Indian central government remains silent over Sri Lanka’s ethnic issue.

Jayalalithaa issued a statement on October 9 accusing Karunanidhi of playing political games with the lives of Eelam Tamils with his request that the Tamil Nadu people send telegrams to the Indian Prime Minister to intervene and stop the genocidal war against Eelam Tamils.  She demanded the Indian central government collect food and medicine and send these supplies to Vanni immediately to relieve the suffering of the 250,000 Eelam Tamils living as refugees in Vanni without proper shelter, food and other essential amenities.

Jayalalithaa called for concrete action from Karunanidhi such as asking the Prime Minister to tell his Sri Lankan counterpart to stop the “killing of innocent Tamils”. Referring to the summoning of the Sri Lankan Deputy High Commissioner in Chennai to New Delhi by the National Security Advisor M K Narayanan, she said, “Sending telegrams or reprimanding a low-level official is of no use to these suffering people...I demand that the Government of India mobilise the necessary relief materials for the Sri Lankan Tamil people suffering without food, clothing, shelter or medicines.”

She said that her party fully recognized the Eelam Tamils’ right to self-determination.  She also said that her party recognised the demand for self-governance of the people of the Tamil homeland within a united framework of a Sri Lankan constitution.  At the same time, she denounced the terrorist activities that caused internal strife among the Eelam Tamils and disturbed the rule of law within India.  She emphasized that Eelam Tamil militants had once fought each other for leadership, but that things had changed.  The LTTE is the sole representative of Eelam Tamils and they are the ones who are fighting non-stop for an independent Tamil Eelam.  Jayalalithaa said indirectly that Sri Lanka should recognize the LTTE’s demands at the Thimpu talks in Bhutan in 1984 where the Indian central government served as mediator.  Jayalalithaa has enjoyed the reputation and the distinction of being a resolute politician who is not given to quibbling or dilly dallying, and who says what she means. Jayalalithaa recalled her party’s demands that:

They not be considered second-class citizens: That Eelam Tamils be granted equal rights with all other citizens of Sri Lanka.

They be granted equal rights: We completely support the prolonged struggle of the Sri Lankan Tamils seeking equality in law, and equality in educational and employment opportunities.

That they have the right to self-determination: We totally recognize their righteous struggle for the right of self-determination.

That they be granted self-governance within a united Sri Lanka: We understand and accept the demand of the Tamils that they create a Tamil Homeland where they have the power of self-governance, under the framework of a Sri Lankan Constitution.

In a poem published in the DMK mouthpiece, Murasoli, Karunanidhi said that while Tamils all over the world were “appreciating” his government’s efforts to mitigate the sufferings of Sri Lankan Tamils, why couldn’t political parties set aside their narrow political differences and get on the same platform at least for this cause.  Karunanidhi said that Tamils around the world, through their letters to him, have expressed hope that the latest efforts of the Indian and Tamil Nadu governments would end the sufferings of the Tamils in Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile, a Tamil Nadu government press release said the government had sent out letters to all Tamil Nadu political leaders to attend the All Party Meeting to be held at the Tamil Nadu State Secretariat on October 14.  He said all political parties should unite for the cause of Eelam Tamils.  However, AIADMK, Bhrathiya Janatha Party (BJP), MDMK and the parties led by actors Sarath Kumar and Vijaykanth issued statements saying that the all party meeting is just Karunanidhi’s effort to hoodwink the Tamil Nadu people because this move would not help the Eelam Tamils.

In the meantime, initiatives are being taken in Tamil Nadu for further protests.  The leader of the Tamil Nadu Trade Union, Mr. Velliayan, issued a statement calling upon all the business establishments to shut their businesses on October 17 to show their solidarity with Eelam Tamils.  Furthermore, Tamil cinema industry has urged all of their employees wearing black clothes from October 13 and further they said they would not participate in film shootings for three days starting October 13 as a protest to urge the Indian central government to intervene immediately to solve the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka.

The protests in Tamil Nadu would be a great boon and boost to the Tamils.  Tamils in India once flourished as a great political empire extending their political, military and economic power into south-east Asia and even Europe.  The Romans and Greeks used to receive goods such as gold and spices in the Mediterranean Seas as these Empires were not able to reach the Indian Ocean because their ships were too small to travel in the Indian Ocean.  Their status as great seafaring nation however, changed after the invasion of successive foreign forces such as the Indo-Aryans, the Muslims and then the Europeans.

Tamil Nadu has come forth at a critical juncture in the ethic struggle, and Tamils in Sri Lanka hope that they are on the doorstep of liberation in the light of the LTTE making diplomatic, political and military strategies to win back the international support and correspondingly the recognition for the right to self-determination for Eelam Tamils who have sacrificed tens of thousands of lives in the struggle for an independent Tamil Eelam.  The future of Eelam Tamils has been entrusted to the Indian Tamil political fortunes which it is hoped will have the power to save their brethren and thereby pave way for their liberation in the Indian Ocean, a situation predicted half a century ago and once again let their ancient Tiger emblem flag ply throughout the Oceans and the skies.

The opponents of a federal system in Sri Lanka oppose it on the grounds that a Tamil federal state would clandestinely align with Tamil Nadu and invade Sri Lanka, threatening “Sinhala” sovereignty.  It is actually the other way around.  The establishment of a federal state would deflect attempts by Tamil Nadu from stepping in to the affairs of Sri Lanka.  This short sightedness has brought Tamil Nadu closer to Tamil Eelam.  Now, as to what will happen is anybody’s guess.

(The author can be reached at e-mail: satheesan_kumaaran@yahoo.com)

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