Karunanidhi, who was the prime mover, remained subdued and vague while demanding his Eelam, says S Murari
The much-maligned Tamil Eelam Supporters Organisation -- harassed on various fronts what with the Tamil Nadu government putting a spanner in its works, the Centre frowning at the very word Eelam (a homeland for Tamils) and the Sri Lankan administration warning Tamil parties against participating in the conference -- on Sunday asked India to take the issue to the United Nations to secure for Lankan Tamils the right to determine their political destiny.
A resolution adopted at the conference also called upon the UN Human Rights Council to set up an international committee to investigate war crimes that took place in the last stages of the civil war in May 2009.
But there was no shrill rhetoric. In fact, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader M Karunanidhi, who was the prime mover, was subdued in his speech. He came up with a specious explanation about the conference being called three years after the end of the war to provide "first aid" to the wounded psyche of Tamils and its priority was, therefore, the three Rs -- relief, reconstruction and rehabilitation in war-torn areas.
Much has happened since the first TESO conference in Madurai in 1986, towards which Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam leader V Prabhakarna showed lofty contempt by killing his fellow militant leader and TELO chief Sabaratnam, even as the leader desperately pleaded for his life.
In a vague reference to such fratricidal wars which isolated Prabhakaran in the political arena as well as in the battlefield leading to his ultimate decimation, Karunanidhi recalled the point made by veteran Bharatiya Janata Party leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee -- that the Tamils could secure their Eelam only if they were united.
In the same way, he vaguely referred to India's attempt to find a solution -- through a peace agreement between then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and then Sri Lankan president J Jayawardene in 1987 that floundered in the face of the resistance put up by the LTTE -- and blamed it on Sri Lanka.
Even the resolution on the question of a political solution to the ethnic strife was vague. It stopped short of giving Tamils the right to self-determination, a key demand of pro-Eelam activists, not just of the LTTE.
The DMK, which is a partner in the Congress-led coalition at the Centre, did not want to offend the ruling coalition as any demand for self-determination was bound to have an echo in Kashmir.
The resolution said, "This conference urges the government of India to bring forth a resolution in the UN for bestowing full right to the Tamils in Sri Lanka to decide the political solution themselves, which they have been demanding".
Prior to the conference, a factotum in the foreign ministry told a DMK organiser that the conference could go on provided there is no reference to Eelam.
While other opposition parties like the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Pattali Makkal Katchi backed the DMK in protesting against what they perceived as high-handedness, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader J Jayalalitha, who wanted to scuttle the conference itself, remained silent. The Congress finally stepped in to control the political damage and made the official retraction.
But the issue rankled in Karunanidhi's mind. It was reflected in the resolution which asked, "Why is the government of India silent on the undemocratic developments in Sri Lanka" where there is "no protection for Tamil nationality, religion and language".
It said, "India has the duty and responsibility to ensure peace and equality in Sri Lanka".
India, therefore, should redeem the Tamil community's political, economic and cultural rights. It should bring forward a resolution in the UN to give the Tamils the right to decide their political future, said the resolution.
On the war crimes committed during the last phase of the war, the resolution selectively cited the report submitted to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, which had held both Sri Lankan forces and the LTTE guilty of war crimes.
The resolution, however, cited the report white stating that there were mass killings in May 2009 and even bombing of safety zones and hospitals. The report called it "state-sponsored terrorism" and said "efforts were made to obliterate all traces of war crimes.".
It noted that though one year had passed since the expert committee submitted its report, so far there has been no investigation by an independent international committee. It called on the UN Human Rights Council to set up such a committee to "go into war crimes and punish the guilty".
As for political settlement, there was no reference to the much-abused Indo-Sri Lanka peace agreement of 1987, which was resurrected by the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration after the obliteration of the LTTE. Nor was there any reference to the 13th amendment which provides for ample devolution of powers to the provincial councils, particularly the Tamil majority in the north and the east parts of the island.
One point in the resolution, which Karunanidhi stressed on, was that India should not provide any training to Sri Lankan armed forces. This was in reaction to the recent protests to the training that was given to some personnel of the Sri Lankan Air Force at the Indian Air Force station in Tambaram, Chennai.
The resolution also asked the Indian Navy to set up a base in Rameswaram to safeguard Tamil Nadu fishermen from frequent harassment by the Sri Lankan Navy.
Karunanidhi, 89, has said he would like to see his dream of Eelam, meaning a homeland for the Tamils, become a reality in his lifetime.
What seasoned Sri Lankan Tamil leaders -- from the moderate S J V Chelvanayagam to the militant Prabhakaran -- could not achieve through peaceful struggle and civil war respectively for over 50 years, Karunanidhi hopes to achieve through a campaign in Tamil Nadu.
Pro-LTTE leaders like MDMK's Vaiko and Tamil Nationalist Movement leader P Nedumaran did not attend the conference, dubbing it as an exercise by Karunanidhi to atone for his inaction during the brutal final phase of the war, when he failed to pressurise the central government to bring about a ceasefire.
No leader of a Sri Lankan Tamil party attended the meeting for fear of retribution by the Rajapaksa administration. A huge portrait of Chelvanayagam, hailed as the 'Eelam Gandhi', adorned the conference hall.
But his son S C Chandrahasan, who has been working among refugees and shuttling between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka, stayed away as he did not want to fall afoul of the Lankan authorities.