By Dilhani Peiris
Predictability is not a virtue in politics, particularly in sub-continental politics. Jayalalithaa Jayaram is an exception. An honourable exception, one may like to say despite reservations on her brand of politics. Her survival in the hurly-burly world of Dravidian politics with a preponderance of Subramanian Swamys and Andimuthu Rajas is as much a testimony to her courage as to her tenacity and perseverance. So her return to Fort St. George (historically, White Town, founded in 1639) in Chennai to begin her third innings as Tamilnadu Chief Minister will spice up relations between India and Sri Lanka. There can be very little doubt.
Theoretically, no provincial government can influence, much less, dictate foreign policy, which is the exclusive domain of the federal government under the Indian constitution. But, politics is not theory. India being a functional democracy amidst chaos where every day is an election day somewhere, New Delhi cannot ride roughshod over any state capital, certainly, Chennai. More so, when the lady of Poes Gardens, as Jayalalithaa is known, has humbled the ageing Dravidian patriarch, and her betenoire Muthavel Karunanidhi at the hustings, and has been offering a tie-up with the Congress.
So far the Grand Old Party (GOP) has publicly spurned the offer but once the expected break -up with the DMK takes place over the next fortnight, the Congress will have no reason to shy away from AIADMK. And that will be perfectly in sync with the Dravidian tradition of either of the two main-line Dravidian parties being in the Congress camp at any given time.
Anyhow, in the context of the talk about an early Parliamentary election – early next year, according to some crystal gazers, Congress will be more than happy to have the AIADMK on its side.
Viewed against these contours of emerging Indian politics, the India-Lanka relations can
be said to be entering a new phase. Whether it will be an exciting phase or turbulent
phase depends much on Colombo and its reading of the geo-political and strategic scene.
If section to the Lanka media rule the roost, the forth coming monsoon will inevitably see the
sea that links the two countries turn rough and make navigation difficult.
Section to the lanka media believe India needs Sri Lanka as its strategic partner in the southern flank, and, therefore, must go the extra mile to keep Colombo happy. For them, India’s duty in the context of Darusman Report is to throw its full force behind Sri Lanka as it did in May 2009 at the UNHRC and worked together to defeat the EU-sponsored resolution against Sri Lanka. Since nothing of the sort is visible to the eye, they are given to fresh bouts of a myopic mania that propels them to see India as a “strategic partner” in America’s global agenda, and to terming as “immoral and unacceptable” their own perception of India joining hands with America to point a finger at Sri Lanka.
There is a problem with patriotic fervour particularly of these self-anointed champions in
the service of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. And it is that every word, every coma and
every hyphen becomes a bogey of ‘vilification’ by ‘the Gang of Three’ (Indian High
Commission, American Embassy and the NGOs) to ‘penetrate the armour’ of ‘the sole
defender of sovereignty and territorial integrity of the nation’. It is difficult to engage such persons in a meaningful exchange) of views. Anyhow the scope of this article is not a debate on or about some Journalists, who are doing disservice to their own cause by their own temerity, nay, tendency to see phantoms everywhere. Not to remind them the time tested adage that every country must strive to solve its own problems and that their ethnic Tamil imbroglio is very much a self-inflicted wound which was caused by majoritarian politics. Not even to remind them of what Bernard Shaw had said long years ago that ‘If the lessons of history teach us anything, it is that nobody learns the lessons that history teaches us’ but to examine the India-Sri Lanka relations after Amma has ascended the Chennai throne once again.
The examination has some urgency since a section of the Lanka media appears to believe that the new Chief Minister of Tamilnadu, ‘sitting comfortably on a thumping majority in the elections’ is ‘making noises’ about the Tamils in Sri Lanka’.
I began this article saying that there is an element of predictability to Jayalalithaa’s politics. She made these noises about the Tamils in Sri Lanka during the election campaign too. Yes, Velupillai Prabhakaran was not an issue in the Tamilnadu election. No party made the UN report an issue either. But the AIADMK leader voiced concern over the plight of ethnic Tamil minorities in Sri Lanka. In fact, her forceful advocacy of the issue even compelled the GOP leadership to pick up the theme during their campaign lest Jayalalithaa alone cornered the ‘glory’.
Jayalalithaa has more or less repeated herself after the election when she spoke of the need for accountability in Eelam War IV. She was not condoning the Prabhakaran’s and their megalomania, which has brought untold suffering to the people of Northern Sri Lanka. Anyhow her anti-LTTE plank needs no new certificate of appreciation just as V. Gopalasamy (Vaiko), her ally needs no fresh certificate of registration for his LTTE plank.
Her observation that it was India’s responsibility to ensure a dignified and honourable existence for the Tamils in Sri Lanka is not exceptionable either, certainly, after the visit of External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris to New Delhi. Pertinent to point out here is that a joint statement at the end of the visit said, “India and Sri Lanka have agreed that the end of the armed conflict in Sri Lanka has created a historic opportunity to address all outstanding issues in a spirit of understanding and mutual accommodation imbued with political vision to work towards genuine national reconciliation”. The key word is “Genuine”.
Some journalist will do well to break out of the shackles of the past, and begin de novo on the gigantic task of building a united Sri Lanka, where no section is made a hostage to a pathetic life of subjugation but, as Rabindra Nath Tagore says in his immortal Gitanjali (1912), leads a life with their head held high, where the mind is without fear, where knowledge is free and where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way.
Unfortunately, there is neither progress nor speed in rehabilitation of war ravaged Tamil families. Adding to their woes is what may be termed as Sinhalisation (also Chinaisation, according to some) of North-east coast in Jaffna and Mullaiththeevu. Kat-koava’lam in Point Pedro to Mullaiththeevu is encroached by hundreds of Sinhala fishermen.
Whether they enjoyed official or army patronage is not germane to the discussion. The point is their movement was not stopped. Fish, sea cucumber and Chank (conch shells) might have brought them to these shores but it has triggered tensions in the area, which are avoidable. Jayalalithaa’s concern articulated by Tamilnadu governor Surjit Singh Barnala in his address to the first session of new Tamilnadu assembly is rooted in this ground reality.
It is sad, indeed, that Sri Lanka is still bogged down on the rehabilitation and encroachment issue when it is time to leave the past aside and move forward to be able to hold Sri Lanka up as an example to the rest of South Asia.