Professor P Radhakrishnan, a sociologist from the Madras Institute of Development Studies is an authority on affirmative action, agrarian problems, backward classes and reservations, backward class politics, caste system, untouchability, globalisation and society, language politics, social discrimination, mobilisation and movements and terrorism.
In this interview with rediff.com's Shobha Warrier, he tries to draw the difference between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the ordinary Tamils of Sri Lanka.
From a sociologist's point of view, do you think there is sympathy for the Sri Lankan Tamils in Tamil Nadu?
We have to first separate the LTTE from the Sri Lankan Tamil issue. When the LTTE began its work, it was well meaning; there was a lot of sympathy and support for it. Over the years, it has degenerated and become hegemonic and lost whatever goodwill and support that it got initially.
Now, the sympathy has to be for the Sri Lankan Tamils because they are suffering because of a double whammy; both by the Sri Lankan government and the tyranny of LTTE chief V Prabhakaran. Being sympathetic to the suffering people is one thing; supporting the LTTE is quite another, particularly after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. LTTE is now seen as one of the deadliest terrorist organisations. So, there is the sympathy for the Tamils and not for the LTTE.
The sympathy was much more in the beginning. I remember people waiting at Madras (now Chennai) airport to receive the refugees. That kind of sympathy does not exist anymore with the people because of the LTTE's misdeeds though the issue is still alive.
So, the politicians of Tamil Nadu cannot get the sympathy of the people anymore now if they support the LTTE. The LTTE lost a lot of genuine support and goodwill with the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi.
All of us are concerned whenever there are civilian causalities and displacement anywhere in the world. And, here, these are taking place in our neighbourhood. Culturally and ethnically, the Sri Lankan Tamils are close to the Tamils of Tamil Nadu.
Suddenly, why do you think the Tamil Nadu politicians are making so much noise? The DMK is threatening with mass resignation of its MPs.
That is only because we have a lame duck prime minister. It is a matter of political expediency.
Apparently, there is a genuine problem in Sri Lanka. But what the Tamil Nadu politicians are doing is fishing in troubled waters. They have never tried to solve the issue. The only person who tried to solve the issue was (former chief minister) M G Ramachandran.
Let me stress again, you cannot equate the Sri Lankan Tamil issue with Prabhakaran. I would say, minus Prabhakaran and minus the present LTTE, it is easy to solve the issue.
Secretary of Defence Gothabaya Rajapaksa said that it was the LTTE that was instigating the Tamil Nadu politicians. Do you feel so?
It is possible. Prabhakaran is desperate now. We do not know what is happening between the politicians and Prabhakaran.
I do not know why the politicians are overlooking the most important factor, that Prabhakaran is the number one accused in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. They should say, capture him and bring him to India and have a trial here.
Now that Tamil Nadu politicians are taking it as a politician issue, do you think they will be able to win some votes in the coming Lok Sabha elections?
No. Though the issue is relevant, it cannot win votes. If people are sympathetic like they were in the 1980s, you don't see it. There is no mass movement in Tamil Nadu. There is no rally either.
Sri Lankan army will capture Prabhakaran any time. Once that happens, the Sri Lankan socio-political scenario will change drastically, and hopefully for the better.
If Sri Lanka asks New Delhi about how it is dealing with terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir, what would it say?
It is not only in Kashmir, there were secessionist movements in some of the states that were formed a few years ago. These were sub-national movements which continued for several decades. The government tried to crush them. No political solution was found then.
Secessionist movements often fail. Tamil Nadu itself had a secessionist movement. Annadurai equated Tamil Nadu with the whole of south India. He soon realised that other southern states were not willing to support the Dravida Nadu issue. So, he gave up.
I don't think our government at the Centre will be foolish enough to meddle with the affairs of Sri Lanka.
Mahindra Rajapaksa can be a statesman if he can clean the place (Jaffna). Prabhakaran is a gangrene which has spread all over Jaffna and even outside. That area needs to be cleaned up. After that, the President should give equal status to Sri Lankan Tamils. There should be no discrimination.
Sri Lanka was once considered a paradise and a development model for all South Asian countries. Whatever Rajapaksa has promised, he should deliver.
You spoke of what is happening there as a human rights issue. The LTTE is labelled as a terrorist organisation now.
Yes, the Sri Lankan issue is more of a human rights issue now with more than 2 lakh people displaced.
I also would say if you are looking at the human rights issue, what about the atrocities committed by the LTTE within LTTE and by [the] LTTE on innocent people inside and outside -- Indians, foreigners, Sri Lankan people, etc. Between the Tamils killed by the LTTE and the Sinhalese, I would say the first is far higher.
You look at the list of people killed in the last more than two decades. All the front liners of the LTTE have been eliminated by Prabhakaran. Why? What kind of movement is he heading? The list is very long.
Have the politicians of Tamil Nadu ever protested against these atrocities? What about the human rights issue within the LTTE and within Jaffna? Their recruits have often been children.
So, this movement called LTTE in its present cruel and hegemonic form has to be crushed first; then only Sri Lanka will be able to address the people's issue.
Sri Lankan President Mahindra Rajapaksa said the other day that they are only attacking the LTTE camps, and that their aim is only to capture the areas controlled by the LTTE. He also said that after capturing the areas, there will be a political solution. If they capture Prabhakaran, do you think Rajapaksa can solve the issue?
I think Rajapaksha means business. He is also aware of India's strength. Once Prabhakaran is captured, dead or alive, Rajapaksa will try to solve the Jaffna problem amicably and to the satisfaction of the Sri Lankan Tamils. Public opinion will also be in his favour for doing so.
As of now, there is no political solution to the Sri Lankan issue mainly because of the LTTE. Prabhakaran is the major roadblock now. Also, if he surrenders, the sufferings of the ordinary Tamils will end. He should have been chastised by the Tamil Nadu politicians if they are really concerned about the conditions of the innocent Tamils there in Sri Lanka.
Do you think the Tamil Nadu politicians will prevail upon him to surrender?
If Tamil Nadu politicians are really concerned about the plight and sufferings of the Sri Lankan Tamils, they should bring pressure on Prabhakaran to surrender. But it is doubtful if they will do that. In any case, that will be the litmus test of their concern or lack of it for the Sri Lankan Tamils.
Photograph: Sreeram Selvaraj