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Home > India > News > Columnists > Sukumari Surpana in Colombo

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Sri Lankan tsunami in Indian politics

October 22, 2008

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Coverage: The war in Lanka

The first of a three-part series on the war in Lanka and its implications for India

It is a political tsunami waiting to happen. The dramatic developments in Tamil Nadu on October 14 at the so-called all-party meet presided over by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, M Karunanidhi, which set a two-week deadline to New Delhi [Images] to enforce a ceasefire in the war-torn Sri Lanka [Images] or face dire consequences, are a culmination of clever by half policies pursued by the Manmohan Singh [Images] government vis-�-vis the island nation.

New Delhi has fallen into the trap it assiduously dug since the current phase of escalation of hostilities in Sri Lanka in June/July 2006. The security establishment managers of the United Progressive Alliance simultaneously indulged the nationalist elements in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka, the former in line with domestic political compulsions, the latter in the name of New Delhi's geo-strategic interests. With the interest of the two nationalistic forces on a collusion course now, India is caught in a cleft.

It is indeed a catch-22 situation for the Manmohan Singh government. A classic case of `run with the hare and hunt with the hounds' turning into hare hounding! New Delhi just can't afford to endorse the demands articulated in the all-party resolution which has to be followed by imposition of its writ on an independent sovereign democratic third country, certainly not without diabolical consequences for India in particular and Sri Lanka in general. It has little option but to call the bluff of the Tamil nationalists, even in the unlikely scenario of risking the very survival of the government at the Centre. The Indian establishment has boxed itself into a zero sum equation and has run out of options of playing cupid.

Before one gets into the turn of events which have pushed India into its present predicament, a look at the validity or otherwise of the outcry of political forces in Tamil Nadu, on the plight of the ordinary civilians caught in the crossfire of the deadly war in to its third year at the current juncture, is in order. Notwithstanding the politically correct noises by the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime in Sri Lanka, the simple truth is the collateral damage to the ordinary mortals in the conflict zone is colossal.

In the course of the two year and three month war with no end in sight, an estimated 15,000 lives have been lost. Over half a million civilians have been displaced. Over 1050 aerial bombardments of the so-called `identified Tiger targets' in the north and east by the Sri Lanka Air Force has injected an unprecedented degree of unease in the daily chores of life of hapless citizens though there is no evidence of unacceptable civilian casualties in a battle zone.

The plight of civilians and Tamils is not confined to the battle scarred east and north. Their humiliation and suffering were compounded by some of thoughtless actions of the government and the military like the June 7, 2007, eviction of 300-odd Tamils from the north and east residing in temporary lodges of Colombo on the plea that they can not give a `valid reason' for their continued stay in the national capital.

Human rights bodies within and outside Sri Lanka have documented cases of thousands of innocent Tamils detained for indefinite length of time on mere suspicion of links with the LTTE [Images]. The fisher-folk community in the two regions is reduced to a state of penury as their means of livelihood is seriously curtailed in the name of security.

For the first time in the history of the country, the government actually ordered a `police census' of Tamils from the north and east residing in and around Colombo (Western Province) for the last five years in the name of fool-proof security. In other words, some of the moves amounted to conviction in the mind of the state that every Tamil is a suspect and guilty unless proved otherwise.

The LTTE cannot absolve itself of the responsibility for the systematic erosion of the dignity and the honour of the minorities in Sri Lanka. The ruthless methods employed by the Tigers in achieving its goal of inflicting maximum possible damage on the Sinhala military and administrative apparatus is best illustrated in the unsuccessful attempt on the life of the Army Chief, Lt Gen Sarath Fonsenka in April 2006 by a suspect LTTE woman cadre posing as a pregnant woman. Hundreds of innocent civilians from both the majority and minority communities and countless political leaders of all hues have been victims of LTTE blood-thirst. At the same time, whatever be the provocations from the Tigers, the Sri Lankan state can have no excuse to stoop down to the level of its enemy to beat it in its own game. It is a legitimate state with worldwide recognition as opposed to the LTTE's stigma of being labelled as a terrorist organisation by some of the most influential countries across the world. In its zeal to tame the Tigers over the last two year plus, the Rajapaksa regime has acquired some of the Tiger stripes.

This is and continues to be the naked reality of Sri Lanka since Rajapaksa took over the reigns of office of President in November, 2005, with generous help from the LTTE. He made it to the chair with a margin of less than one per cent in a contest against Ranil Wickremesinghe only because the Tigers forced Tamils, who presumably would have preferred Wickremesinghe, to stay away from the poll.

Part II: India's reluctant deplomacy in Lanka


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