Colombo is treating Jaya with kid gloves on Tamils issue

Colombo has been uncharacteristically muted in its response to Jayalalithaa's call for President Rajapaksa to be tried in an international court for genocide.

Ayeshea Perera May 23, 2011 16:55:05 IST
Colombo is treating Jaya with kid gloves on Tamils issue

Even before she took office, Jayalalithaa Jeyaram fired off her first salvo against the Sri Lankan government. Speaking on her own channel Jaya TV,  Tamil Nadu’s newly-elected chief minister said she would exert pressure on New Delhi “to take action” against  the Sri Lankan president for “genocide and war crimes” in an international court. If Sri Lanka failed to respond, she said  India would have to impose economic sanctions on its island neighbour.

In a hard hitting editorial attacking both Jayalalithaa and Sonia Gandhi, English language daily The Daily Mirror noted that the "Indian political club has already started meddling with the Sri Lankan issues openly." But what has been most interesting is the response from the government in Colombo. Ever since the UN released its report about the end of the civil war and the conditions of the Tamils, the government has been on the offensive, calling the report a slight to Sri Lanka’s sovereignty.

But the state response to Jayalalithaa’s accusations of genocide has been surprisingly muted, even conciliatory.

Colombo is treating Jaya with kid gloves on Tamils issue

Tamil Nadu’s newly-elected chief minister said she would exert pressure on New Delhi “to take action” against the Sri Lankan president for “genocide and war crimes". Reuters

Local media reported that Minister for External affairs GL Pieris had sent Jayalalithaa a congratulatory note that had also "indicated Colombo's willingness to work with her for the welfare of the people of both countries".

This sentiment was echoed by ruling United Peoples Freedom Alliance MP Professor Rajiva Wijesinha in an email interview with Firstpost. "I hope that her positive feelings towards Sri Lankan Tamils, which are similar to those of our government, will translate into close cooperation on the lines of those of the Central Indian government," he said. Incidentally, Wijesinha has been at the forefront of efforts to discredit the UN panel report. His book titled See No Good, Hear No Good, Speak No Good: the perversions of the Darusman Panel will be available later this month.

In contrast to the blitz of publicity and reactions that greeted the release of the panel report, Jayalalithaa's statements about President Mahinda Rajapakse have  been reported very sparingly and ignored by the government.

"Sri Lanka needs India internationally,” said Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, director of the Centre for Policy Affairs in Colombo. “This much more mature diplomatic response is because the government knows that if India is going to be on their side in international matters and at the United Nations, they have to neutralise Jayalalithaa. Hence the reconciliatory language."

The congratulatory note to Jayalalithaa, in fact, comes directly on the heels of the External Affairs Minister's official visit to India. A joint statement issued at the conclusion of the visit contained heavy references to the Lankan Tamil issue as well as Tamil Nadu fishermen— two issues that Jayalalithaa had repeatedly addressed during her election campaign. The statement noted that "the External Affairs Minister of Sri Lanka affirmed his government’s commitment to ensuring expeditious and concrete progress in the ongoing dialogue between the Government of Sri Lanka and representatives of Tamil parties." It also said Sri Lanka had undertaken to "address issues related to resettlement and reconciliation."

Others are reading the situation differently. For the local Tamil National Alliance which is currently in talks with the government to look for a political solution to Tamil grievances, Jayalalithaa's victory could not have come at a better time. "The fact that Jayalalithaa is a part of the opposition to the central government, and the fact that Congress lost so heavily in  Tamil Nadu means that she is in a position to say whatever she wants, said TNA MP MA. Sumanthiran. “Unlike the DMK, which was a part of the centre, Jayalalithaa will be able force the centre to keep up pressure on the Sri Lankan government on the Tamil issue. From a Sri Lankan Tamil perspective this is a very good thing.”

"The fact that Jayalalithaa is in the opposition will also give the Indian government the social leverage it needs to exert pressure on the Sri Lankan government on this issue," added Dr Saravanamuttu.

While the government is holding its fire, some opposition parties are jumping into the fray but tentatively. "The tragedy is that this government internally portays itself as fiercely patriotic but makes no move to defend itself against statements that directly threaten Sri Lanka's sovereignty," said Anura Kumara Dissanayake, an MP belonging to the Marxist JVP or  People's Liberation Front. However even he said that the party would not make an official statement in this regard.

The main opposition United National Party has also remained silent thus far. These responses are again in stark contrast to both parties’ reactions to the UN panel report.

"Everyone realises  we need India internationally," said Dr Saravanamuttu. "Saner counsel has prevailed."

 

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