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Public Opinion On SL Tamils: FOREIGN POLICY IMPACTED, By Dr.S.Saraswathi, 25 March, 2013 Print E-mail

Events & Issues

New Delhi, 25 March 2013

Public Opinion On SL Tamils


By Dr.S.Saraswathi

(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)


It is indeed shocking to hear the horrible news of a 30-year-old man setting himself on fire while attending a meeting on Sri Lankan issue  in Chennai on  the evening of 21st March.  This tragic incident of self-immolation  took  place  after reports about the final Resolution on Sri Lanka  adopted at the  UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC)  was aired.  It shows the depth of   emotions of  people in some parts of India on this burning issue and the grave  consequences when they  burst out.


Tamil Nadu has been witnessing spontaneous  people’s protests over the Sri Lankan Tamil problem for over a fortnight.  Evidently, the provocation has come from  some pictures of  atrocities on Tamils in Sri Lanka released from Britain.  Activists belonging to various political outfits of Tamils, functionaries  of different political parties in Tamil Nadu, and unattached non-party  students and young professionals have been participating in the movement though not under a single united leadership. 


The movement has at times turned violent and has caused severe damage to public property.  Many  colleges all over Tamil  Nadu  remain closed for several weeks.  The intensity and spread of this movement reminds one of the  anti-Hindi movement of the 1960s.


Tourists and sportspersons  from Sri Lanka are turned away.  Even religious shrines of Buddhists and peaceful  Buddhist monks are not  spared from mindless attacks.


The latest target  of  public anger  is the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Puducherry  near Chennai.  This attack, according to some reports,  is  a mark of protest against the stand of Trinamool Congress leader to leave  the decision on foreign policy issues to the Union Government  while professing support  to  the cause of  Tamils. 


How the Ashram is responsible for this remark is not explained. We can only see a common birth place in Bengal for this political party and the Ashram  as the only  thin  linking factor.  The attack shows the  absurd extent to which public rage can go when emotions overflow.


While public sentiments find violent expression, political parties provide active fuel to add to the fury. Strangely, the DMK, AIADMK, PMK,  Communists and  several smaller parties are on protest on this issue. Even the   Tamil Nadu Congress does not want to be  seen  on the opposite side  and makes demands on the UPA government!


The proceedings of Parliament were disrupted for many hours by both DMK, and the AIADMK members demanding that the Government of India should itself move a resolution in the UNHRC  or  support the Resolution condemning human rights violations in Sri Lanka.


On top of this protest movement is the stand taken by the Government of Tamil Nadu. Chief Minister Jayalalitha wrote a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asking for  “strong, historic, and courageous” stance in the matter.  She gave some specific suggestions for incorporation in the UNHRC  Resolution to be moved by the US.  Clothed in rather strong  words, it conveyed  that she was speaking for the affected and the aggrieved people and not as a neighbouring friendly State or as just a human rights champion.


Her suggestions include setting up of  a  credible, independent international mechanism to prosecute  those involved in  “genocide and  war crimes”,  and trial of  the accused by an international court.  The  communication asked for time bound action within six months and submission of the  report to the special session of the  UNHRC.


This communication went further to dictate  inclusion of a political package for Sri Lankan Tamils and restoration of their equal rights to citizenship on par with the Sinhalese.


These suggestions reflecting the views of  protesters  may be construed as human rights issues. But, the communication goes ahead  practically touching  on  existing Indo-Sri Lankan  normal  friendly ties by suggesting “condemnation” of the failure of the Sri Lankan government to honour its commitments like devolution of political authority.


The unanimous Resolution adopted by the  Tamil Nadu  Assembly in 2011 to issue economic sanctions against Sri Lanka is reiterated now  more vigorously.  Protesters  who  can afford to separate Tamils issue from other foreign policy considerations  insist on severing  all relations with Sri Lanka -  trade, technical cooperation, education, training, and even sports.  


The Indian Constitution has vested foreign affairs as a subject under Union list without any ambiguity.  There is no scope for even a consultative status for the States in deciding foreign relations.   Protracted and intensifying agitation in Tamil Nadu is making this constitutional situation rather untenable or unrealistic as recent events in Tamil Nadu portray.  Historical and geographic factors of the past  exist  in the present  and will most  probably continue in the future.


The DMK, the  steadfast  principal partner of the UPA coalition government, unable to persuade the Government to include the terms “genocide”, and  “war crimes” to depict the  conduct of  the Sri Lankan government, and to demand international investigation, has already broken its alliance with the Congress and quit the Cabinet.


The role of competitive State politics and electoral calculations cannot be ruled out in the positions taken by parties though there is no reason to belittle the genuine concerns of Tamils in Tamil Nadu  about the plight of Tamils in the island nation.  The ties between them are not only linguistic, but cultural and hence emotional.  Kinship bonds also seem to be strong among some sections in the southern parts of Tamil Nadu. 


The final Resolution brought by the US and adopted by the UNHRC  is much weaker than  the  earlier draft.  India has not made any amendments, but only asked for independent investigation – amounting to total disregard for the demands of the protest movement.


However,  strong  public and regional  political opinion appears to have  played a significant role  in  the Government’s decision to support the US Resolution against Sri Lanka.  It has compelled the Government to introduce some changes in its basic posture.


The principle of avoiding country-specific resolution has to be  given up.  It is realized that the ideal of non-interference in the  domestic matters of other countries  may  become impractical where such matters are part of India’s own domestic interests.---INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)



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