Why Karunanidhi has killed his Eelam dream for now

On his 89th birthday last month, the DMK patriarch Karunanidhi revived yet again the demand for a separate homeland (Eelam) for Tamils in Sri Lanka. He said his party’s efforts and an upcoming conference of TESO (Tamil Eelam Supporters Association) in August should help creating the Eelam.

A valorous Karunanidhi had also said that a separate homeland for Tamils in Sri Lanka was his birthday message too.

But on Monday, he took a complete about-turn.

Why has Karunanidhi retreated from his calls for creating an Eelam for Tamils in Sri Lanka? PTI

He said the TESO conference will not make a call for a separate Eelam, but will focus on the mitigation of the suffering of the Tamils.

And what happens to the Eelam? It will remain his unfulfilled dream and will be a reality one day!

Last month, the DMK, which was woefully out of ideas to stay politically alive under a tough Jayalalithaa regime, was betting heavily on the TESO conference and its Eelam fantasy. The party, which didn’t have the numbers to make an impact in the assembly or the imagination to exploit the public displeasure against the unpopular decisions of the state government, thought that the Eelam would provide them a springboard to bounce back.

Although its record on the issue has never been consistent, the Sri Lankan Tamil cause was an idea that resonated well not only among the Tamils in the world, but in the international community as well. In fact, the latter had set the terms of reference for the issue quite clearly and has stood by them.

Although people who are familiar with the ways of the DMK and Karunanidhi aren’t amused by his constant flip-flops, the unavoidable question is why such a change of mind after all the build-up?

The Eelam cause or the the political compulsions that prompted Karuna to take up the cudgels haven’t changed in a month; but still the patriarch went back on his word.

Definitely not without a reason.

The immediate speculation was the he buckled under pressure from the Union government, which extended the ban on LTTE for another two years. A visit by the Union Home Minister P Chidamabram a day earlier is circumstantial evidence. But Karunanidhi says that Chidambaram hasn’t discussed the issue with him and he was not under any pressure.

If one were to believe that it was not Chidambaram’s counsel that changed Karunanidhi’s mind, then there is no other option but to assume that Karunanidhi has found it unwise to pursue the Eelam issue now. Either he found it politically useless or fraught with some trouble.

The reasons could be both and more.

Number one: Eelam is a pipedream that is kept alive only by the Tamil diaspora across the world, the remnants of the LTTE, and Tamil nationalist outfits in India and elsewhere.

The international community, particularly the western nations that have been outspoken on the alleged war excesses by Sri Lanka and the need for reparation, have no sympathy of a separate Tamil homeland within the country. It simply doesn’t make sense in the present geopolitics of the world.

Even the LTTE-vestige, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) in Sri Lanka, has said that they don’t believe in a separate homeland, but in equal rights and dignity to the Tamils. In fact, the call for separatism gives an opportunity to the Sri Lankan government and the country’s rabid nationalists to sidetrack the real issues faced by the Tamils.

Perhaps the DMK has realised late that it will be flogging a political dead horse and it would be wiser to focus on the immediate - the miserable lives of the Tamils, the militarisation of the north and the east, the continued oppression of the Tamils by the Rajapakse government, and the need to get justice for the families which lost innocent lives.

 

Number two: Without the support of prominent Tamil nationalist outfits, the TESO conference was going to be a flop-show anyway. Other than the two not-so-significant parties; the Dravidar Kazhagam (DK) and the VCK (Viduthalai Chiruthaikal Katchi); no political party is joining the DMK in the conference. The prominent Eelam campaigners such as MDMK (Vaiko), Naam Tamizhar Iayakkam (Seeman) and P Nedumaran are staying away from the conference.

The non-participation of the main interlocutors will also mean that key international Eelam campaigners will also stay away. Without high level participation and sufficient rabble-rousing, it is mostly likely to be a low key “seminar”.

 

Number three: The conference might attract LTTE-elements/sympathisers from other parts of the world that the central government wouldn’t want to see in india. A full-fledged Eelam conference might be a lot of hard work for the intelligence agencies and trouble for DMK because it might also lead to undesirable circumstances.

Speeches supporting a banned organisation can be a lot of trouble and legal hassle. In fact, instead of a political revival, a gathering for the Eelam can backfire on the DMK. In the past, leaders such as Vaiko, Nedumaran and actor/activist Seeman; although from the non-DMK camp, have spent considerable time in jail for their support to LTTE. Perhaps the central government has briefed the DMK about such possibilities and advised it to stay away from trouble. Anyway, the DMK leaders have sufficient other criminal cases filed against them by the state government.

 

Number four: If the DMK had a hidden agenda to put pressure on Congress and even get out of the UPA in favour of a possible alternative front by 2014, perhaps the party is still unsure. Karunanidhi, the quintessential political strategist, constantly changes his tact and finds reasons later. The latest Eelam rollback is yet another example.

On the other hand, the person scoring well on the Tamil cause is the chief minister J Jayalalithaa who is free of the Congress. She has made her stand on the Eelam cause unequivocal in the last parliamentary and assembly elections, has been tough and consistent against the Sri Lankan government and the centre in advancing her argument, and has even passed a  resolution in the assembly asking for an economic blockade against the island nation.

Recently, she forced the Centre to pack off a group of Sri Lankan air force men who were training near Chennai.

While Karuna backed out on Eelam on Monday, Jaya stepped up her demands against Sri Lanka. She wrote her third angry letter to Manmohan on the issue - this time she was harsher than ever on the Centre for ignoring the sentiments of the people of Tamil Nadu and for training two Sri Lankan defence men in Coonoor. She said the people in the state were frustrated and outraged. She termed the stand of the Centre callous and adamant.

In all likelihood, the TESO conference will be a damp-squib that the DMK would want to get get over with. With its active ingredient taken out, it will have no political value and is most likely to be ignored by many.

However, the Eelam dream will never die, for it is an issue that can be dusted and reused at will and put back on the shelf for later use even as thousands of Tamils languish in Sri Lanka.