The visit to Sri Lanka from Monday of a team of members of Parliament has turned out to be a non-starter even before it could take off, with the two principal parties from Tamil Nadu, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the DMK, calling it a junket and pulling out its members.
The all-party delegation of MPs led by Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj, which starts its five-day visit from Monday, has lost its credibility even without the non-participation of the two Kazhagams thanks to the exclusion of prominent Tamil leaders like D Raja of the Communist Party of India who have been articulating the plight of the Sri Lankan Tamils since the war.
Raja has said if the purpose was to assess Indian-sponsored projects, there is no need to send the MPs, as it can be done by our diplomats in Sri Lanka. Also, representatives from all major parties in Tamil Nadu, regardless of their strength in Parliament, should have been included in the team as "they have more stake in the problem than others", he has said
Raja also said that instead of confining the MPs to official briefings, they should be enabled to have a meaningful dialogue with the Sri Lankan government on human rights and the search for a lasting political settlement to the Tamil problem.
The MPs' visit, coming on the heels of India supporting a United States-sponsored resolution that sought to bind Colombo to a credible investigation into allegations of war crimes during the closing stages of the war that ended in May 2009, is meant to assess reconstruction in the war-ravaged north and rehabilitation of displaced Tamils. Smarting from the blow of the Indian vote, the Sri Lankan government is using the MPs' visit to set the agenda, deciding where they can go and whom they can meet. A prominent Dalit leader from Tamil Nadu, D Ravi Kumar, has said that it looks as if the MPs visit has been arranged to mollify Colombo.
While it is natural for the host government to draw up the itinerary, Colombo has seen to it that the MPs will have little time or opportunity to interact with the Sri Lankan Tamils, be they leaders from the Tamil National Alliance represented in Sri Lankan parliament or the local people who faced the brunt of the brutal war in April-May 2009 that led to the decimation of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam's armed struggle for an independent State.
As per the agenda, the team will meet President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother and Minister for Economic Development Basil Gothabaya. It is not known if the MPs will meet Defence Secretary Basil Gothabaya, who prosecuted the war to its bitter end regardless of the human cost. Also on the agenda is a discussion with the articulate Foreign Minister G L Peiris.
Of course, the team may meet Eelam People's Democratic Party leader Douglas Devananda who is part of the government.
The first to pull out of the MPs' visit was AIADMK leader and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa who in a statement said her party was under the impression that the MPs would be able to interact with the internally displaced Lankan Tamils. However, from the itinerary drawn up by the ministry of external affairs in consultation with the Sri Lankan government, it was clear that importance has been given only to the meetings with Lankan government representatives and officials. 'This tourist visit... seems to be tailored to form an opinion in favour of the Lankan government,' she has charged.
The DMK, which is still in the United Progressive Alliance despite its troubles with the Congress over the 2G scam, has also decided to pull out of the MPs' team. In a statement on Sunday, party president M Karunanidhi said the visit will not serve any purpose.
A year after the war ended, a team of MPs from Tamil Nadu, which included his daughter Kanimozhi, visited the island and went on a conducted tour of the northern areas and rounded off the visit with a meeting with President Rajapaksa, a visit that had drawn derision from Jayalalithaa.