and expediting APRC process
It was perhaps just a matter of time, before the sabre
rattling from across the Palk Straits reached a fever pitch. But
last week, with troops advancing in the North and with no signs
of a let up in the military onslaught against the Liberation
Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Colombo was forced to look at the
concerns being expressed in Tamil Nadu.
For some time now, there have been murmurs of discontent in the
corridors of power in Chennai, and even in New Delhi, at the
manner in which Colombo was prosecuting the war against the
Tigers. Although reservations have been expressed from many
international platforms, Colombo has refused to back down and
has continued its military operations.
Now, however, these reservations have come to the fore and
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is on record as saying
that, he is ‘concerned’ about events in Sri Lanka. He has also
re-iterated that India believes only in a political solution to
Sri Lanka’s crisis.
The Indian Premier’s future responses to Colombo’s stance will
be eagerly awaited in the coming days. But Prime Minister Singh
has an unenviable task on his hands. His is a coalition
government that only recently, very narrowly survived a vote of
confidence. Given the vulnerability of his numbers in the Indian
legislature, he cannot afford to be extravagant in his policies
And that is where Tamil Nadu politics comes into play. Muthuvelu
Karunanidhi, 84-year-old leader of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam
(DMK) and Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, which is home to 66
million Tamils, is leading the revolt, demanding that, the
central government in New Delhi intervenes in the Sri Lankan
conflict. Karunanidhi has threatened to withdraw his support to
Prime Minister Singh, claiming parliamentarians would resign in
support of his demand. In fact, his daughter has already done
Karunanidhi’s chief rival in the Tamil Nadu political stakes,
Jayalalitha Jayaram has denounced Karunanidhi’s call and said
instead, that India should abstain from providing military
assistance to Colombo. Significantly, Jayaram has also noted
that India should not interfere in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs.
Therefore, her statement is a strategic ploy that meets the
demands of opposing her rival, but stops short of endorsing
It was the ever colourful Wimal Weerawansa, now the de-facto
leader of the Jathika Nidahas Peramuna who pointed out that this
is mere political theatre being played out for the benefit of
audiences in Tamil Nadu, and there is more than a modicum of
truth in it. Even so, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh must
be a worried man.
Understandably, Singh is walking a political tightrope. If he
offends the political sensibilities of Karunanidhi, Singh risks
losing his parliamentary majority. On the other hand, opposing
Colombo would mean plunging headlong into a political and
military crisis with Sri Lanka, like his predecessor Rajiv
Gandhi did- and paid for dearly with his life.
And Singh is not getting any respite from Colombo either.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself confirmed that the military
offensives would continue and presidential sibling and Defence
Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa reaffirmed this. The younger
Rajapaksa said that, the political ramifications in Tamil Nadu
are an ‘internal matter for India’- perhaps a gentle reminder to
New Delhi, that Colombo also wishes what it considers to be
‘internal matters of Sri Lanka’ to be left well and truly to be
handled by the Sri Lankan government alone.
Despite this shooting from the lip, Colombo needs to be prudent
in its dealings with New Delhi, if only because of the political
realities the Singh government is faced with. Even if Indian
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh detests a standoff with the Sri
Lankan Government, he may well be thrust into it, because of his
vulnerability in the Indian legislature, and that is a factor
Colombo has to reckon with.
Twenty years ago, in the events leading up to the infamous
‘parippu’ invasion of Sri Lanka’s air space by India, during the
J.R. Jayewardene government, there was Jyotindra Nath Dixit,
Indian High Commissioner in Colombo, dictating every step of the
drama. This may have been a handicap in the long run, given
Dixit’s machinations, but nevertheless, the communication
channels between Jayewardene and then Indian Prime Minister
Rajiv Gandhi were wide open- and the same cannot be said of the
levels of communication between the two governments today.
Colombo also has a long way to go in convincing New Delhi- and
the rest of the world, that it is indeed working out a political
formula to redress the grievances of the minority Tamil
community. It is true that the All Party Representative
Committee (APRC) was summoned hastily, recently, but that too,
seemed a knee-jerk reaction to the unfolding events in Tamil
Nadu, rather than being any deliberation of substance.
New Delhi- and for that matter, most of the international
community, has time and again, reiterated that, while Sri
Lanka’s unitary status was respected, it was also expected that
a political framework to devolve power would follow. It is high
time that Colombo realises that merely summoning the APRC will
It is becoming clear that, the Sri Lankan forces are on the
verge of a historic victory over the LTTE. However, such a
victory will be a reality only if triumphs in the battlefield
are accompanied by successes in diplomacy and international
endorsements of Colombo’s gains. A mere capture of Kilinochchi,
which does not prove our commitment to a political solution in
the eyes of the rest of the world, is surely not what the
country wants at this moment in time.