Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Tamils Hurt by Army Commander's Remarks

by T. Sabaratnam, The Bottom Line, Colombo, October 8, 2008

The Prime Minister telephoned Karunanidhi at 11:30 a.m. on October 6, Monday and discussed the issue. Karunanidhi insisted that what was going on was genocide and asked him to take steps to stop it, which the Prime Minister agreed to do.

'As I See It'

I wish to highlight today, two matters on which Tamils have evinced interest. The first was Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka’s comments that “this country belongs to the Sinhalese” and that the minority communities should not try to “demand undue things.” The other was the developments in Tamil Nadu, to which I drew attention last week.

General Fonseka’s remarks were made to Stewart Bell of the National Post of Canada and were published on September 23. He had expressed a similar view earlier to the ‘Daily News.’ He said, “I don’t think the people in the North and East are subjected to any injustice…This country will be ruled by the Sinhalese community which is the majority representing 74 percent of the population.”

I will just record that they had hurt the feelings of the Tamils and the Muslims. Muslims reacted fast and then the Tamils joined. Now, there are moves for both communities to join hands and voice their disapproval, General Fonseka’s remarks have raised the fear that the Sinhalese are returning to the Mahawamsa claim that Sri Lanka belongs to Sinhala Buddhists and have instilled the feeling that efforts are on to deny the minorities the advance won since June 5, 1956 Galle Face satyagraha, the first protest against Sinhala domination.

More important developments are taking place across the Palk Strait. Tamil emotion is on the boil there, forcing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan to summon on Monday morning Sri Lankan Deputy High Commissioner, Palitha Ganegoda, and express India’s  “grave concern and unhappiness” over the growing casualties of Tamil civilians, as a result of military action in northern Sri Lanka. He also highlighted the need to revive the political process in Sri Lanka.

“It was pointed out that there was need for the Sri Lankan Government to act with greater restraint and address the growing feeling of insecurity among the minority community,” a statement by Indian Ministry of External Affairs said.

Manmohan Singh followed up with telephoning Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi at 11.30 a.m. that day and assuring him that “all steps will be taken to save the Tamils.”

Karunanidhi told the Prime Minister during the telephone conversation that what was happening in Sri Lanka was ‘genocide’ and requested him to take four measures to safeguard the Tamil people. He asked him to tell Sri Lanka: that India regards its military operation as genocide; such genocidal acts should stop; steps should be taken to work out a peaceful solution and attacks on Indian fishermen should cease. The Prime Minister agreed to take those measures.

Let me reconstruct the story from where I left last week. The Communist Party of India held its token hunger strike on October 2, where Manmohan Singh and Karunanidhi were targeted for attack. The charge against the Prime Minister was that his government was assisting Sri Lanka to kill the Tamils “by supplying arms, providing radars and training the island’s armed forces.” The charge against Karunanidhi was that he was keeping silent. The request made to Karunanidhi was to break his silence.

On October 4, Tamil Nadu Leader of the Opposition J. Jayalaitha issued a hard hitting statement against Manmohan Singh and Karunanidhi. She charged Manmohan Singh of being ‘an active collaborator’ of the killings of the Tamils by the Sri Lankan Government. She substantiated her charge with the expose that India was giving advanced one-month training for 100 Sri Lankan military officials at Hariyana.

She charged that Karunanidhi could have forced Manmohan Singh to take a stronger stand against Colombo by threatening to withdraw his support if Parliament was not doing so.

The venomous sting of her statement is in this paragraph: “The threat of withdrawal has been successfully used by Mr. Karunanidhi only to secure plum ministerial posts.  When it comes to the safety, security and well being of the Tamil people he becomes speechless.’’

Karunanidhi was forced stung. He held a marathon session with his senior leaders at the party headquarters on the morning of August 5 and decided to capture the initiative. He issued a statement in the evening calling the people to send lakhs and lakhs of telegrams to Prime Minister  with the wording, “Intervene immediately and stop the genocide of Tamils in Sri Lanka.’’

Karunanidhi said in that statement that the war in Sri Lanka was genocidal and that only ceasefire could bring some relief to the Tamils. Karunanidhi urged the central government not be deterred by the undesirable events of the past, but to take action to prevent racial killings. In it he told the Prime Minister to treat the statement as an SOS alert, as a matter of extreme urgency and act accordingly.

Thousands of people thronged the post offices in all parts of Tamil Nadu and sent the Prime Minister telegrams urging him to take action to bring about a ceasefire in Sri Lanka. Karunanidhi had thus turned what had hitherto been an agitation by pro-LTTE groups into a mass movement.

The Prime Minister telephoned Karunanidhi at 11:30 a.m. on October 6, Monday and discussed the issue. Karunanidhi insisted that what was going on was genocide and asked him to take steps to stop it, which the Prime Minister agreed to do.

The Congress Party also broke its silence on Monday. Its president of the Tamil Nadu branch, K.V. Thangabalu, told the media that the central government should ensure the Sri Lankan Tamils the right to live. Tamil refugees in the Wanni should be provided safety and food.

Addressing a massive meeting at Chennai on Monday evening, Karunanidhi issued a veiled threat to Manmohan Singh. He said, “We may have to consider the next step if the central government fails to take immediate action. If the central government fails to find a solution to the problems of the Tamil people, we may be forced to consider whether this government is necessary.”

Karunanidhi’s declaration that his party is prepared to get on to the streets and he was prepared to resign from the post of Chief Minister, was greeted with prolonged acclamation. Indications are that Karunanidhi will not be allowed to rest with mere rhetoric. Vaiko, leader of the Marumalarchi Dravida Kazhagam, a staunch supporter of the Tamils and LTTE, has announced a protest demonstration in Chennai on October 10 and the AIADMK has offered its support to the agitation.