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Tamil Nadu interference in Sri Lankan politics will lead to the revival of secessionism in Tamil Nadu, and regional instability.

Sweden, April 2 -- The Sri Lankan Tamil political issue has many parallels with the history of the Tamil or Dravidian nationalist issue in Tamil Nadu, and political leaders in Sri Lankan should be well advised to be cognizant with these parallels if they are to find ways and means of treading the political minefield this issue is, without harming the future well-being of all Sri Lankans.

The more contemporary history of the Dravidian issue in India has to be considered using the life and times of C N Annadurai to understand the dynamics of Tamil Nadu politics considering his status as the founder of the Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (DMK), and for his part in supporting the idealism of political forces in Tamil Nadu for an independent State for the Dravidians. The writer is of the view that this idealism is the primary vote winner for any political party in Tamil Nadu (as it has been since the days of Annadurai), and unfortunately and dangerously, for Sri Lanka, it has become an ideal for Tamil Nadu politicians to chase elsewhere as it had not been achieved where a passive desire for it still exists, and has always existed.

We must contest more elections, win more seats and that way, win the confidence of the people; and when it is hot, we can strike and strike hard - C N Annadurai during the early days of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) formed in 1949

This idealism is as dangerous to Sri Lanka as it is to India, and beyond that, to regional security and stability as well. While some may argue that the writer's theory is farfetched, it is nevertheless plausible considering the domino effect that could be set in motion due to events occurring in Tamil Nadu.

Firstly, it is undisputed that the Congress party, and no doubt the leading Opposition party, the BJP, will be wooing the DMK as well as the ADMK for votes in Tamil Nadu, and Rajya sabha members elected from the State to support either the Congress or the BJP to form a government in India after the next general election. It is very likely that both party will have enough seats to form a government on their own, and that they will have to rely on regional political parties as the Congress party has had to do in the current Parliament.

Considering that the Sri Lankan Tamil issue is now regarded as a key electoral issue in Tamil Nadu, the party that makes the biggest noise there on this issue and is seen to be taking the most drastic action against the government led by President Rajapaksa, will very likely win the most number of seats in the State Assembly and send the most number of members from Tamil Nadu to the National Parliament.

So, the competition to bash Sri Lanka will only intensify and not abate in Tamil Nadu unless both Sri Lanka and India takes some decisive strategic decisions.

As State governments have little direct leverage against an external sovereign government, they will have to exert whatever pressure against Sri Lanka through the Indian government. As it has been reported in the media, politics has entered the sports arena, and the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Ms Jayalalitha has informed the Indian government that no Sri Lankan cricketers, officials or support staff will be permitted in Tamil Nadu during the next IPL tournament.

The relationship between the Tamil Nadu government (irrespective of whether it is a DMK or ADMK one) and Sri Lanka is bound to deteriorate further as the demands made by them on events surrounding the final battle against LTTE are mostly unattainable as they are both unreasonable and based on misinformation and emotion and not facts or objectivity.

Just to make the point about misinformation, two instances, amongst many, where this was evident was a shrill comment by a DMK Rajya Sabha member participant at an Indian NDTV program that no one can go to the North in Sri Lanka without permission from the Military and one cannot take any photographs without permission. The other comment was from someone who commented on an India Today feature that labelled the Indian government decision to support and vote for the UNHRC resolution as a mistake. The comment referred to a "one million" Armed Forces personnel in Sri Lanka occupying private homes, Kovils and Schools in the North and East of Sri Lanka.

Both remarks are incorrect. Anyone can go to any place in Sri Lanka and take any number of photographs except an area demarcated as a high security zone, and these zones have now shrunk to a bare minimum.

With regard to the second remark, Sri Lanka now has a total of 300,000 Armed Forces personnel (not one million), and these forces are deployed throughout the country, with only a reported 20,000 personnel in the North.

Listening or reading comments like this from responsible Tamil Nadu Indian persons leaves one with a conclusion that the general public there are unintelligent, which the writer firmly believes they are not, or they are acting out a script that is based on a deliberate strategy of misinformation and distortion of facts. This has to be the case as people from Tamil Nadu are not fools.

Come what may, it is clear that the DMK and the ADMK are vying for the Tamil Nadu vote irrespective of the consequences and repercussions that will follow between Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu, the Indian government and the Tamil Nadu government, and more disturbingly for Sri Lanka, between India and Sri Lanka. The politicians in Tamil Nadu probably do not realise the broader implications arising from this development, and the consequences for India, and the implications for the US led alliance that includes India, whose objective is to keep the Chinese in check.

What is therefore the ultimate consequence of the theatrics in Tamil Nadu? The creation of a strong foothold for China in Sri Lanka, and the establishment of an ability for China to be within striking distance to several military installations and military industries in the South of India. This will not be what Sri Lanka wishes for, but it will be the consequential opportunity provided to China due to the short sightedness of Indian (including Tamil Nadu) policy makers as China's presence and influence in Sri Lanka is bound to grow, as Sri Lanka will have to rely on China to counter balance the void created by India in their bilateral and security relationship with Sri Lanka.

The Mattala International airport, the Hambantota harbour and several other projects financed by China, are bound to become cornerstones in a future security arrangement between China and Sri Lanka. India supported by the US, and pressured internally by Tamil Nadu, would have given China, the paradoxically hard to believe firm presence in India's backyard.

There is little debate that C N Annadurai, or respectfully referred to as Anna, should bear the title of the father of Tamil Nadu for his contribution to the political evolution of this Dravidian State. The fact that more than an estimated 15 million people attended his funeral in 1969 (a Guinness book record), supports the view that he was a highly revered political figure in Tamil Nadu.

He enrolled as a member of the Dravida Kazhagam founded by his mentor Periyar E V Ramasamy, a proponent of an independent Dravida Nadu. During his days in Dravida Kazhagam, Annadurai had supported Periyar's call for an independent Dravida Nadu. The DMK that Annadurai formed later had initially followed a political ideology identical to the mother party, Dravidar Kazhagam. But with the evolution of national politics and the constitution of India after the Sino - Indian war in 1963, Annadurai dropped the claim for an independent Dravida Nadu.

A committed Dravidian nationalist, Annadurai is also seen as a pragmatist who guided the State to accept and remain within the Union of India. He saw the gaining of independence as an overall achievement of India rather than solely that of Aryan North. Annadurai was also clearly a liberal minded person who saw the domination of Brahamins in national and regional politics as an anachronism in the evolving independent India.

His early interest in politics and his joining the South Indian Liberal Federation (S. I. L. F.) - popularly known as Justice party (formed by non Brahamin elites) 1935, demonstrated the liberal persona of the person. Periyar Ramasamy was the President of the Justice party at the time and he had renamed it as the Dravidar Kazhagam, with its central plank being the call for an independent Dravidian State, a stance that Annadurai eventually disagreed with.

The DMK that Annadurai formed appealed to the urban lower, lower middle and working classes, students, Dalits and lower castes, and he fought for the social justice of the lower. This political approach won Annadurai millions of supporters. Although in 1962, Annadurai said in the Rajya Sabha that Dravidians want the right of self-determination and we want a separate country for southern India. Giving in to realities, Annadurai and his DMK changed the call of independent Dravida Nadu for Dravidians to an independent Tamil Nadu for Tamils. At this time, the Sixteenth Amendment (most popularly known as the Anti-Secessionist Amendment) had banned any party with sectarian principles from participating in elections.

On the party's position, Annadurai had said, To make the Dravidian state a separate state was our ideal. A situation has arisen where we can neither talk nor write about this ideal. Of course we can destroy the party by undertaking to violate the prohibition. But once the party itself is destroyed there will not be any scope for the ideal to exist or spread. That is why we had to give up the ideal. "

Hindi was first recommended to be an apt language for official purposes in India by a committee headed by Motilal 1928. This move was opposed by people and politicians of Tamil Nadu, since they considered that it would make them second class citizens when compared to that of native Hindi speaking North Indians.

In 1938, the Congress government in the Madras Presidency headed by C Rajagopalachari (popularly known as Rajaji) proposed the use of Hindi language as a compulsory language in schools. This move was opposed by Tamil leaders. Annadurai, along with other Tamil activists held demonstrations against this proposal and he participated in the first Anti Hindi imposition conference held in Kanchipuram on the 27 February 1938. Two members of the protest, Thalamuthu and Natarajan, died as a consequence of police beating the same year. With overwhelming opposition, the government of Madras Presidency finally withdrew the order in 1940.

When India became a republic with its own constitution in 1950, the constitution had given special status to the Hindi language, which was to gain official status after 15 years in 1965. This move was regarded with anxiety by students in Tamil Nadu.

Speaking of making Hindi as official language of India, Annadurai said It is claimed that Hindi should be the common language because it is spoken by the majority. Why should we then claim the tiger as our national animal instead of the rat which is so much more numerous? Or the peacock as our national bird when the crow is ubiquitous?

In view of continued threat to impose Hindi, the DMK held an open-air conference against Hindi imposition in Chennai in August 1960, which Annadurai presided over. He gave black flags to leading functionaries, to be shown to the President of India during his visit to the state. Sensing an uprising, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru assured in the Parliament that English would continue to be the official language of India, as long as non-Hindi speaking people desire. DMK gave up the plan of showing black flags and Annadurai appealed to the Union Government to bring about a constitutional amendment incorporating the assurance.

With no constitutional amendment done, Annadurai declared 26 January 1965, the 15th Republic Day of India and also the day the Constitution, which in essence enshrined Hindi as the official language of India, came into practice, as a day of mourning. Violence broke out on 26 January, initially in Madurai which within days spread throughout the state. With violence surging, Annadurai asked the students to forfeit the protests, but some DMK leaders like Karunanidhi kept the agitations going. Nevertheless, Annadurai was arrested for instigating the agitation. Although the violence was not directly instigated by the DMK, the agitation itself aided DMK to win the 1967 elections and Annadurai became new the Chief Minister of Madras State.

Annadurai legalised what are called self- respect marriages for the first time in the country. Such marriages were void of priests to preside over the ceremony and thus did not need a Brahmin to carry out the wedding. Annadurai was also the first to use subsidising of the price of rice for election victory. He promised one rupee a measure of rice, which he initially implemented once in government, but had to withdraw later. Subsidising rice costs are still used as an election promise in Tamil Nadu.

Another major achievement of Annadurai's government was to introduce a two language policy over the then popular three language policy. The three language formula, which was implemented in the neighbouring states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, entitled students to study three languages: the regional language, English and Hindi.

On 10 September 1968 Annadurai travelled to New York for medical treatment. He was operated for Cancer in the gullet. He returned to Chennai in November and continued to address several official functions against medical advice. His health deteriorated further and he died on 3 February 1969. His cancer was attributed to his habit of chewing tobacco. His funeral had the highest number of attendees until then, and an estimated 15 million people attended it.

The magazine India Today has listed Annadurai in its "Top 100 people who shaped India by thought, action, art, culture and spirit".

Annadurai' s Tamil constituency in the state of Tamil Nadu is now divided between the DMK, the party he founded, and the ADMK, the breakaway group founded by film star M G Ramachandran, and now led by current Chief Minister Jeyaram Jayalalitha, herself a former film star and close associate of M G Ramachandran.

To rephrase India Today's assessment of Annadurai, it may be said that he shaped Tamil consciousness and Tamil nationalism more than any other person in the epicentre of the Tamil world, Tamil Nadu.

Sri Lankans, especially the Sinhala and Muslim communities may justifiably ask what this has got to do with them, as they would feel, again very justifiably, that the Tamil nation, if there were to be one, should be in Tamil Nadu, and not in the island of Sri Lanka considering its more recent as well as its ancient history. After all, a Jewish state exists only in Israel, not in the USA or any other place although Jewish people live in many parts of the world.

The sensitiveness of the Sri Lankan Tamil issue in Tamil Nadu however cannot be and should not be discounted purely as politicking amongst two parties bickering for votes. While it is true that bickering indeed is taking place, one should not forget that such bickering is happening because the issue finds resonance amongst many in Tamil Nadu on account of the shared cultural and linguistic links amongst Tamils irrespective of where they live.

Having said this, Tamil Nadu and India has to accept that the conflict in Sri Lanka will be addressed and resolved in a manner appropriate for Sri Lanka by Sri Lankans, and not by Tamil Nadu or India or for that matter any other country.

If this reality is not accepted by all political parties in Tamil Nadu, and only by the Union government, it is very likely that this issue will get internalised and the people of Tamil Nadu will begin seeing the Union government as their enemy in not pushing Sri Lanka to go as far as granting full autonomy to the North and East of Sri Lanka.

This is not fanciful thinking as some politicians in Tamil Nadu, both from the DMK and the ADMK, have already begun voicing such sentiments.

While it is true that the Union government of India should not allow domestic politics to affect its relationship with Sri Lanka, it would be rather foolhardy to imagine it would not in this instance, as the stakes for any central government of India are very high on account of this issue.

In this context, Sri Lanka should work with the Indian government and the Indian Opposition, as well as the Tamil Nadu political establishment, their government as well as the Opposition, to ensure emotions do not override rational, objective thinking on repercussions that would follow if the Tamil issue in Tamil Nadu, which has a link to the Tamil issue in Sri Lanka, is not handled both with sensitivity, and strategically.

Something that the Indian government has failed to do is to organise a visit to Sri Lanka by a multiparty delegation from Tamil Nadu, media representatives, and civil society representatives, to see for themselves the negatives as well as the positives on the post war rehabilitation and reconciliation effort in Sri Lanka, and how India could cooperate with the Sri Lankan political establishment to advance the many efforts that have already been taken.

Sri Lanka has not denied that more needs to be done, but they have rightly stated that efforts have been made to advance reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation. In fact this has been confirmed by several delegations that visited Sri Lanka including a national parliamentary delegation from India.

India and Tamil Nadu are treading on dangerous grounds by attacking Sri Lanka, not because Sri Lanka can launch any counter attacks, but because of the broader repercussions that may follow if Sri Lanka is forced to lean even closer to China to provide it security in the hostile environment that Tamil Nadu is creating in the region.

It is time the current Indian government sat down with the Opposition parties at national level as well as with political parties in Tamil Nadu to repair the dents in the relationship between India and Sri Lanka as a consequence of the UNHRC vote that India supported.

It is also time that all political parties in Sri Lanka, not just the governing party, expedited inter community reconciliation efforts, especially between the Sinhala and Tamil communities by being better engaged and arriving at a realistic plan for a reconciliation program within a realistic time frame. Another important factor here is the need for Sri Lankan Tamil political parties to keep this issue out of Tamil Nadu and not add fuel to the fire as they would be doing a disservice to the very constituency they are claim they are fighting for in Sri Lanka if they export this internal issue for other benefits.

Besides this, it is also time that the people of Sri Lanka realised and accepted that reconciliation is not just a government responsibility although one accepts that the government should provide the leadership to advance reconciliation and to move it to a wider, more representative forum so that there will be greater ownership of the reconciliation effort.

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Publication:Asian Tribune (India)
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Apr 2, 2013
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