Jaya’s Sri Lanka moves are powerful, but shortsighted
J Jayalalithaa asking Sri Lankan students, who were in Chennai to play some friendly football matches, to leave the state and suspending an official of a government stadium for granting permission for their game is more of a statement of authority to New Delhi than to Colombo.
Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa asking Sri Lankan students, who were in Chennai to play some friendly football matches, to leave the state and suspending an official of a government stadium for granting permission for their game is more of a statement of authority to New Delhi than to Colombo.
Not that she wouldn’t have wanted to send a message to Colombo on the Tamil issue as well, but this time it is primarily directed at Delhi.
And within India’s political theatre she has genuine reasons to be angry.
The centre has not only ignored her demands to cancel the training of Sri Lankan defence personnel anywhere in India, not just in Tamil Nadu, but also slighted her by answering her through a junior minister Pallam Raju.
She wanted New Delhi to be tough with Colombo in fixing the responsibility for the alleged killing of thousands of Tamil civilians in the 2009 war and in ensuring that Tamils are given equal rights and entitlements as the Sinhalese. She had made her point to New Delhi very clear on the issue by passing a resolution in the state assembly as well.
But, Delhi has been wishy-washy on the issue and didn’t take Tamil Nadu into confidence while it dealt with Sri Lanka. It even sent two Sri Lankan officers for training in Wellington near Ooty without the state government’s knowledge while knowing full well that it would anger the people of Tamil Nadu.
Not that the centre didn’t know the position and the sentiments of the people of Tamil Nadu on the issue - it had shifted nine Lankan military personnel, on training at the Indian Airforce station near Chennai, two months ago on demands from the state.
Jayalalithaa was vocally upfront in airing her displeasure towards Delhi while sending the Sri Lankan students packing. The permission for the matches were apparently granted by the centre, and while asking the students to leave, she said: “the decision of the Indian government had humiliated the people of Tamil Nadu and I condemn the centre for this.”
Incidentally, her stand also slights the Sri Lankan government, which chooses to ignore her while swaggering that its relations are with India and not with “a state”. With this decision, she tells Colombo that in a federal India, unlike Sri Lanka, the state is the master when it comes to the grassroots.
Had New Delhi shown some respect for the sentiments of Tamil Nadu on the Sri Lankan ethnic issue and employed minimum statesmanship that Indian federalism demands, this embarrassment could have been avoided. When she repeatedly raised the issue of training Sri Lankan military personnel in India with the prime minister, New Delhi not only didn’t offer to talk to her, but also chose to ignore her.
Now the other side of the story.
Jayalalithaa may be justified in her posturing to Delhi, but does it befit her stature and the image of Tamil Nadu?
Is there some collateral damage? Certainly yes.
Her decision is likely to inspire many Tamil chauvinistic outfits to indulge in vigilantism as shown by the demand by Nam Thamizhar Iyakkam to send back 200 Sri Lankan pilgrims who are in Thanjavur. Their demand came on the heels of Jayalalithaa’s decision. The Sri Lankan government promptly issued a travel advisory asking its citizens not to visit Tamil Nadu, implying that Sri Lankans are not safe in the state.
This is certainly bad for the image of Tamil Nadu and India.
This is where it is going to hurt the age-old ties between the people of Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka as well. The people-to-people contact between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka is not between Tamils alone, but also between Tamils and non-Tamils.
It’s not just Tamils who travel between Chennai and Colombo, but also a lot of Sinhalese as well. Chennai has the maximum number of flights that operate between the two countries and bulk of the Sri Lankan airline’s passengers are from India, who are often routed through Chennai. The silk sarees that the Sri Lankans shop for in Chennai, are not just a commodity, but a cultural motif that they flaunt in the island. And it is not just Tamils that wear Nalli’s silks.
Additionally, many Indian household brands are also well patronised in Sri Lanka. Airtel, Tata, Maruti, TVS and a host of Indian FMCG brands are household names in the island, not to mention the omnipresent Bollywood and Tamil movies. Bulk of the cargo that passes through Colombo port is also from India.
Given their network and global presence, the strong decision to send the Sri Lankan children from the prestigious Royal College, will besmirch Tamil Nadu and India among the future generation. The Tamil Nadu government should have instead used the opportunity to reach out to the people of Sri Lanka and encouraged them to demand action against the human rights violators who occupy positions of power.
It is not the Tamils’ demands from India that Sri Lankan State stonewalls, but also demands from within the country. In fact, the human rights activists in Sri Lanka operate at great risks. Brushing the establishment and the people with the same brush will only alienate the goodwill that exists between the people of the two countries.
The chauvinists in Sri Lanka as well as the proxies of the ruling establishment are not likely to take the decision of the Tamil Nadu government lightly. It’s a country with a history of violent ultra-nationalism. If they reciprocate and pick on visitors from Tamil Nadu, it might turn ugly. Earlier, Colombo had detained Dalit leader and pro-Eelam activist Thirumavalavan at the airport and sent him back.
It’s time New Delhi picked up the cue from Tamil Nadu and included the state in its relations with Sri Lanka. Bilateral ties with Sri Lanka are meaningless without the involvement of a state that is so close to the island - culturally, economically, politically
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