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'Lankan Tamils can be added to Citizenship Act later'

By A GANESH NADAR
December 18, 2019 08:53 IST
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'Chief Minister Palaniswami is meeting Modi on December, 19, he may mention Tamil refugees when he talks to him.'

IMAGE: Sri Lankan Tamil refugees in Kudal Nagar, Madurai. Photograph: ANI Photo

The Citizen Amendment Bill's smooth passage through Parliament was eased along by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam backing it in the Rajya Sabha.

The party's 11 MPs voted for the bill even though its provisions fell short of what then AIADMK chief minister Jayalalithaa had promised -- to grant citizenship to Sri Lankan Tamil and Muslim refugees in Tamil Nadu.

By restricting its focus to non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act has drawn considerable criticism in Tamil Nadu for ignoring the claims of Tamil refugees fleeing persecution in Sri Lanka.

Naturally, when the AIADMK, which swears by Jayalalithaa's ideals, voted for a bill that she would have opposed, eyebrows were raised.

AIADMK spokesman Satyan Rajan aka Kovai Satyan, below, explains to Rediff.com's A Ganesh Nadar why his party voted for the bill in its present form.

 

Why did your party back the Citizen Amendment Bill?

Over the years Tamil Nadu has always been open to refugees. Our doors of humanity are always open. We call the citizens of other countries who come here as illegal immigrants.

Though they might be illegal according to the law, we did treat the Sri Lankan Tamils well when they fled their own country. We housed them, clothed them, fed them.

Then prime minister Manmohan Singh has said that persecuted minorities in the neighbouring countries are always welcome here. Now because of politics they (the Congress) are opposing it.

From 1964 till now the Communist parties said we must support them (refugees) and now they too are opposing it.

We supported the bill on humanitarian grounds.

You don't feel the bill is discriminatory against Muslims?

No, it is about the minorities in these three countries and they are not in the minority there.

Why didn't you insist on including Sri Lankan Tamils in the bill?

There is a legal framework. We are looking after the Sri Lankan Tamils properly. After a while we can add them to the act.

Our chief minister (Edappadi K Palaniswami) is meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi on December 19. He may mention it when he talks to him.

We may take it up later, but it is definitely on the agenda.

You are not worried about alienating the Muslims in Tamil Nadu?

We look at all the citizens of Tamil Nadu as one. We don't differentiate between people by religion or caste or anything else.

The Muslims will not feel alienated by us. When the Centre stopped the Haj subsidy we continued it. We have helped them in every which way as we help every other community.

Tamil Nadu is well known as a peaceful state. There is no alienating anyone.

Do you realise the north east doesn't want immigrants irrespective of their religion?

In the north east the availability of jobs is less. The infrastructure is less compared to the rest of the country. Development is slower because of the rough terrain.

Because of this the people of the north east have spread out across the country looking for jobs and livelihood and they have been welcomed.

Now they are feeling that outsiders will come and take away their resources and also dilute their identity.

Opposition parties having their political agendas and Naxalites are taking advantage of their fears.

The people there need to be educated about this Act and assured that it will not interfere with their cultural identity in any way.

The economy is in recession, isn't the Citizenship Act and the drama over it meant to divert attention from the slowdown?

There are two angles to that. The Opposition doesn't realise that this agitation will boil down in a week or two. They are showcasing it as a student protest which is fuelled by political parties.

Once the unrest stops, the economy will be back in the news and we will talk about reviving the economy and creating jobs.

As a Bharatiya Janata Party ally are you going to agree to everything the BJP does?

That is not true. When we saw that the government is not implementing the Cauvery tribunal orders, we filed a contempt petition in the Supreme Court against the government.

We did the same when the Mekedatu scheme was cleared. We always protect our state and our people. We will not allow anything that goes against the interest of the state.

Did the BJP arm-twist your party into an alliance by lodging cases against O Panneerselvam, Edappadi K Palaniswami and other senior AIADMK leaders?

You are repeating what the Opposition is saying, it is not true. There is no case bigger than the 2G case against our leaders.

Our minister Vijay Bhaskar was questioned for eight hours by the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation). Nothing came out of that.

Why are you sticking with the BJP when you know it is disliked in Tamil Nadu?

Rumour-mongers won't last long. At the end of the day, people will realise that when you cooperate with the central government more work gets done.

Have you heard of any other state getting nine new medical colleges in one year, like Tamil Nadu?

All central schemes are implemented here for the benefit of the people.

We have received 13 awards for good governance. Tamil Nadu is among the best governed states.

The credit for that goes to the AIADMK, not the BJP.

You are correct, we are ruling here. But you must realise that we get a good deal from the central government because we are allies. And we use that to improve the state.


A Ganesh Nadar is based in Chennai and the author of two books. He can be contacted at ganesha@rediff.co.in

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