Chennai checkmated

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  1. arnabmit

    arnabmit Homo Communis Indus Senior Member

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    Chennai checkmated | OPEN Magazine

    Twelve days before the swearing in of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India’s Home Office issued a routine notification.

    On the ho-hum surface of things, it was one that appears every two years, updating India’s longstanding ban on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the armed separatists who used child soldiers, suicide bombers and civilian shields in a three decade-long civil war for a separate state in north and east Sri Lanka. But, here’s the crunch.

    ‘The LTTE’s objective for a separate homeland (Tamil Eelam),’ reads one paragraph, ‘threatens the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India, and amounts to cession and secession of a part of the territory of India from the Union and thus falls within the ambit of unlawful activities’.

    Three weeks later, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa flew into Delhi to meet Modi and handed him a long list of demands. One of them reads: ‘I request that India should sponsor a resolution in the United Nations... The resolution should... provide for holding a referendum amongst Tamils in Sri Lanka and displaced Sri Lankan Tamils across the world for formation of a separate Tamil Eelam.’

    A mirthful senior Sri Lankan foreign ministry source in Colombo pointed out that therewith, Jayalalithaa is effectively demanding that Modi commit an act of secession, one which will shatter the territorial integrity of his own country.

    It is not only the Sri Lankan government that is smirking. Sri Lankan Tamils themselves have been laughing for long, but with irritation at the exploits of those in Chennai—ranging from going on hunger strike to beating up visiting Sinhala Buddhist monks—all ostensibly in the name of their ‘blood brothers’ across the Palk Straits.

    “It is natural for our friends in Tamil Nadu to show emotions,” the new, democratically elected Chief Minister of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province, CV Wigneswaran of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), told this correspondent. “But please allow us to work out our own solutions to our own problems within a united Sri Lanka.”

    Call it autonomy, devolution or, the full implementation of the thirteenth amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution, which was authored by Rajiv Gandhi to ensure greater self-rule for the Northern Province. One thing is certain: Sri Lankan Tamils in their war-battered but fast developing provinces in Sri Lanka want to have nothing to do with a separate state called Tamil Eelam.

    Most importantly for Indians themselves, the notification also calls attention to a danger that has been brewing since the end of the Sri Lankan Civil War in 2009: an influx of armed LTTE fighters into Tamil Nadu.

    Late last year, the Sri Lankan Army’s Major General Udaya Perera had told this correspondent that in the last weeks of the war, hundreds of LTTE cadres had deserted their chief, Velupillai Prabhakaran, and made their escape. “They used small, undetectable boats and headed to Tamil Nadu. Later, many joined their relatives in other parts of the world.” But what happened to the rest?

    A careful perusal of previous versions of the Home Ministry’s notifications from May 2010 to May 2014—the text of which is always carried forward with updates based on the latest inputs from India’s intelligence agencies—leaves no more room for doubt:

    ‘Though [the] LTTE has been decimated in Sri Lanka... remnant cadres are regrouping in Tamil Nadu in pursuance of their avowed objective of establishing a separate… Eelam. Possibilities of these [cadres] using India, especially... Tamil Nadu, as a rear base... cannot be ruled out as some LTTE cadres interdicted recently had come by clandestine sailing. Their entering India through sea route and [with] genuine documents in the guise of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees cannot be ruled out.’

    Last month’s version of the same notification sustained the warning, though in slightly altered language, of a very clear and present danger:

    ‘The LTTE is an association based in Sri Lanka but having its supporters, sympathizers and agents in the territory of India... Separatist Tamil chauvinist groups and pro-LTTE groups continue to foster a separatist tendency... and enhance the support base for the LTTE in India and particularly in Tamil Nadu.... the LTTE, even after its military defeat in May 2009 in Sri Lanka... has been clandestinely working towards the ‘Eelam’ cause by undertaking fund-raising and propaganda activities.’

    A highly-ranked North Block source warns: “The threat perception is very much there, those LTTE cadres are here too.”

    But to be fair to Jayalalithaa, no matter how absurd her demand— and indeed, the demand of all her state’s politicians—how does the creation of ‘Eelam’ in another country translate into ‘secession’ for India?

    “I will not comment on individual political leaders,” said the source. “But please re-play the drumbeats emanating out of Tamil Nadu for more than three decades very carefully. There has been repeated, and open, talk of a “Tamil homeland” which encompasses Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu and even the Maldives. A Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka could lead to this ‘Greater Eelam’. If that is not secession, what is?”

    Like the drumbeats, the essential message of these notifications may be nothing new. But in the hands of a limp, terrified ruling UPA coalition in New Delhi, they were of little use.

    Modi, however, is free of the kinds of pressures from Tamil Nadu coalition partners that had paralysed the UPA. Also, new External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is known for her no- nonsense efficiency.

    To both leaders, the sophisticated wording of other crucial passages in the new notification, will be of great significance in both forging a new relationship with Colombo as well as in their dealings with the international community over Sri Lanka:

    ‘The remnant LTTE leaders or cadres have also initiated efforts to regroup the scattered activists and resurrect the outfit locally and internationally... The [Tamil] diaspora continues to spread, through articles in the Internet, anti-India feeling... by holding the government of India responsible for the defeat of the LTTE.’

    The Home Ministry notification ought to help India bring its bilateral relationship with Sri Lanka out of the deep freeze and to compete robustly with China, which in the interim, has made tremendous political, strategic and investment inroads into Sri Lanka and further consolidated its ‘string of pearls’ strategy in the Indian Ocean.

    Equally importantly, it will lend India a firmer platform in the international arena, where New Delhi is always under pressure to vote against the democratically-elected government of Mahinda Rajapaksa, for his army’s alleged ‘human rights abuses’ during the last phase of war. But never to condemn the influential, still active sections of the 950,000-strong global Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora who funded and armed the cyanide- capsule-wearing LTTE and continue to espouse separatism in Sri Lanka.

    But, all is not lost for Jayalalithaa. Colombo’s foreign office source said he was “99.9 per cent certain that the Tamil Nadu CM did not once mention Eelam in her actual conversation with Modi.”

    There are more surprises in store for the Iron Lady of Tamil Nadu. The majority of officials in Colombo not only welcomed Modi’s election victory but also that of Jayalalithaa. She is considered the best bet for India-Sri Lanka relations and her dislike for the LTTE is well-known. Consequently, her ‘seccessional’ demands of Eelam are seen as pure posturing; merely an attempt to keep up with the Karunanidhis and the Vaikos of the world.

    Colombo also knows that whether the Congress goes or the BJP comes in, India’s hatred for the LTTE and all its remnants around the world will remain unchanged. No matter how strident a Congress hater or how passionate a BJP voter, no Indian will ever forgive or forget the brutal and heartless assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi at the hands of an LTTE suicide bomber on Indian soil, in 1991.

    It follows that New Delhi’s key message on any resurgence of Eelam and in whichever forum, will be: don’t even think about it.

    (Padma Rao Sundarji is a senior freelance foreign correspondent and a frequent commentator on Sri Lankan affairs.)
     
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