Karunanidhi’s ‘Eelam dream’ is a curse on Lanka Tamils

Among politicians in Tamil Nadu, there is now a headlong scramble to claim credit for the Indian government’s vote against Sri Lanka at the United Nations Human Rights Council proceedings in Geneva on Thursday.

DMK president M Karunanidhi, who has elevated political blackmail to a high art and who held the UPA to ransom by threatening to withdraw support if the government did not support the US-sponsored resolution in Geneva, has reason to believe that his pressure tactics worked.

M Karunanidhi panders to Tamil nationalist chauvinism. Reuters

The Indian government, which earlier said it would not support a country-specific resolution, came around to supporting it – after ensuring that the final resolution was not overly intrusive. At the Indian government’s insistence, the resolution was watered down to ensure that the instruments of political reconciliation that would be put in place would be activated only with the consent of the Sri Lankan government.

Karunanidhi has abundant grounds to claim victory in this round of political tussle, but on Thursday, after the vote on the resolution, Karunanidhi sounded like a man who hadn’t got quite what he wanted in life.

His unrealised dream, he said, was a “Tamil Eelam”, a separate homeland for Sri Lankan Tamils. “As far as I’m concerned, that is the goal,” he said. And he would fight for it to be realised, he added.

Karunanidhi’s renewed articulation of an aspiration for ‘Tamil Eelam’ is, as Firstpost had noted here, a naked attempt to channel Tamil chauvinistic sentiments by a leader who stands discredited for the monumental corruption scandals that he and his family have perpetrated in recent years.

In the 60-plus years that he has inflicted himself in public life, Karunanidhi has progressively hijacked the Dravidian movement, which began as a well-meaning social movement aimed at addressing widespread caste-based discrimination, and used it as a cover for his venal politics – and his family’s rampant corruption.

The renewed chant about a ‘Tamil Eelam’ is dog-whistle to the basest etho-linguistic nationalists sentiments that continue to fester beneath the surface and which politicians like Karunanidhi and MDMK leader Vaiko pander to.

There’s a case to argue that the Sri Lankan Tamils’ case against linguistic discrimination in Sri Lanka from 1956 onwards may have been on firmer ground if the Tamil moderate movement had not embraced the concept of a separate ‘homeland’ in 1976 through the Vaddukoddai Resolution.

It was that demand that fanned the flames of chauvinism on both sides – Tamil as well as Sinhala – and led to the gradual militarisation of the ‘Tamil Eelam’ movement. Ironically, most of the moderate Tamil leaders were subsequently wiped out by the fascist Tamil Tigers and other militant groups.

Yet, that ‘Tamil Eelam’ demand was embraced enthusiastically by Tamil political parties in Tamil Nadu who forced the Indira Gandhi government to extend moral, material and martial support. In fact, a de facto Tamil Eelam was established in the North and East of Sri Lanka under LTTE authority: to the extent that the writ of the Sri Lankan state did not run in these parts, the LTTE virtually ran a parallel state, complete with courts and constabulary and even an army. It is another matter that the civilian Tamil population in the North and East of Sri Lanka were themselves held hostage in this ‘Eelam’ by the LTTE, which used them as human shields in its war against the Sri Lankan government.

Karunanidhi’s pandering to these Tamil nationalists sentiments found expression in late 1980s (when he was Chief Minister) in his party’s valorising the LTTE, which was then waging battle on Indian troops which had been inducted under the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement of 1987. When the Indian troops were de-inducted and returned home, Chief Minister Karunanidhi boycotted the ceremony in Chennai, to project himself as the leader of Tamil nationalism.

With the defeat of the LTTE in 2009, there was reason to hope that both Sinhala and Tamil Eelam chauvinism would abate, and that reasonable progress could be made towards political reconciliation. The failure of the Sri Lankan government to advance the process of reconciliation in these three years earned it a rap on the knuckles in Geneva on Thursday.

But by stirring the pot of Tamil chauvinism with his renewed articulation of an aspiration for a Tamil Eelam, Karunanidhi isn’t helping that reconciliation process – or the cause of Sri Lankan Tamils either.