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The urgent political message from Chennai

Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi | October 15, 2008 15:37 IST

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The Sri Lankan army's ongoing war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam is fast becoming a major political issue in India.

In Tamil Nadu, there are CDs in circulation showing the damage done by the Sri Lankan army while recapturing territory held by the LTTE [Images] in the north in the past one year. The plight of two lakh Sri Lankan Tamil refugees is moving public opinion in the state. Recent reports from Colombo that Tamils are being subjected to racial profiling have caused strong reactions, forcing political leaders to act.

At an all-party meet in Chennai on Tuesday chaired by Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, a resolution was adopted that if the central government does not ensure a ceasefire in Sri Lanka [Images] within two weeks, all members of Parliament from the state would resign. Leaders of the Congress, Communist Party of India and CPI-Marxist were also present at the meet. Opposition parties including the J Jayalalitha-led All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Vaiko-led Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Bharatiya Janata Party stayed away from the meet.

On Wednesday, Karunanidhi's daughter and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam Rajya Sabha member Kanimozhi resigned from the Rajya Sabha. Her act is symbolic (she submitted her resignation to the party chief only) but nevertheless it's a strong political gesture.

There are 39 MPs from Tamil Nadu in the Lok Sabha and one from Puducherry. Out of 40 MPs, except two MDMK MPs, the remaining 38 have threatened to resign within two weeks if the issue of human rights of Sri Lankan Tamils is not addressed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [Images].

It is unlikely that the 38 MPs will carry out their threat -- since it would reduce the United Progressive Alliance government to a hopeless minority. But Karunanidhi has sent a strong message from Chennai to New Delhi [Images] that it's no longer possible for India to ignore 'Tamil' sentiments. And that message should be sent to Colombo, immediately.

But Karunanidhi's critics say they may be reasons other than Tamil sentiments for his move. Janata Party President Subramanian Swamy dubbed the all-party meeting on Sri Lankan Tamils as a 'flop' exercise because the principal opposition party, the AIADMK boycotted it.

According to an AIADMK Rajya Sabha MP, "Karunanidhi has made a smart move. He is in a win-win situation. If the central government puts pressure on the Sri Lankan government to go slow in their war against LTTE, he will claim victory and if it carries on with its current policy of clandestine support to finish off the LTTE, Karunanidhi will get an excuse to drift away from the UPA."

A senior Tamil MP, talking off the record, alleges, "Karunanidhi has assessed that the UPA is not strong. As elections are close, Karunanidhi has to do something to boost his party's dwindling credibility. He has decided to remain close to the Left parties and the Pattali Makkal Katchi, which makes them a formidable force. By isolating the Congress, Karunanidhi is virtually eliminating one enemy (Congress) from the electoral field."

The AIADMK and the BJP think the resignation move is a ploy for the DMK to move away from the Congress.

A senior AIADMK leader says, "When Karunanidhi wanted a plum portfolio for his party in the Union cabinet he threatened to resign immediately but on the Sri Lankan Tamil issue, he is giving two weeks notice. The Tamil people do not need such drama. As you know, the Congress members were present at the meeting in Chennai. They could not have attended without Congress President Sonia Gandhi's [Images] permission. Does it mean that she is endorsing the Tamil Eelam issue? We would like to now."

He also asks why Karunanidhi is complaining now when his ministers in the central government were tacitly endorsing Indian support to Sri Lanka for the last two years.

The resolution also binds Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram and Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss. The resolution also demanded that defence equipment supplied by India to Sri Lanka should not be used against the Sri Lankan Tamils.

The war in Sri Lanka is fast becoming a hot button political issue in the state with the pro-LTTE Tamil parties propagating that 'Sri Lankan Tamils are being killed by the Sri Lankan army trained by India'. This is hurting the feelings of Tamils, says a security analyst and a retired army officer based in Chennai.






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