November 04, 2008|
On or around the beginning of October, just as Dr Manmohan Singh [Images] was returning from his trip to the United States and to France [Images], a poster began to pop up around Tamil Nadu. Roughly translated, it read 'The prime minister is concerned about turbans in France. How about some concern for Tamil lives in Sri Lanka [Images]?'
A second poster was even more mischievous. 'A Sikh shot Indira Gandhi [Images] in 1984, and a Sikh became the prime minister of India in 2004,' it read, before continuing, 'A Tamilian killed Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. When will a Tamilian become prime minister?'
Nobody seems sure who was behind the posters, whether pro-LTTE forces or foes of the DMK, but the effect was to push Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi into action. Dr Manmohan Singh had indeed taken up the issue of Sikh students being punished for displaying a religious symbol in government schools in France, but he had been notably silent on the Sri Lankan forces' push against Prabhakaran's men in Sri Lanka. Since the DMK is a constituent of the United Progressive Alliance this left Karunanidhi scrambling for an explanation.
At least in the beginning, Karunanidhi himself was apparently not averse to raising a cry over Sri Lanka. The DMK chief has what are delicately described as 'domestic issues,' making it necessary to divert public attention from family squabbles. But he speedily found that he was being overtaken by events.
When the chief minister finally raised the issue of the Sri Lankan Tamils he found himself ridiculed by his great rival in Tamil Nadu politics, J Jayalalithaa. Dismissing the threats that DMK MPs would resign en masse from Parliament as a 'political drama,' the All-India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief mockingly wondered whether Karunanidhi would have the 'guts' to go to the people.
Jayalalithaa knew that her rival had made a mistake by seemingly offering October 29 as a deadline. There is nothing much that any government in New Delhi [Images] can do in a couple of weeks. But, frankly, it would have made little difference even if Karunanidhi had given Dr Manmohan Singh more time; whether the end of October, or the end of November, or even the end of the year there is no way that India can stop Sri Lanka from crushing the LTTE [Images] now that Prabhakaran's head is in the noose.
There are three virtual certainties irrespective of what the DMK might say or do. First, the Mahinda Rajapaksa government in Colombo shall try its uttermost to shatter Tamil militancy. Second, no government in Delhi will send a single Indian soldier over the Palk Straits. Third, when the final push comes I fear that there shall be several thousand Tamil civilian casualties.
It is a fact -- acknowledged even by External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee -- that the LTTE has placed tens of thousands of innocent civilians around its bases as human shields. Does anyone believe Sri Lankan soldiers shall value the lives of these Tamilians when Prabhakaran himself is prepared to sacrifice them?
President Rajapaksa might coo that 'the security forces are under strict instructions to avoid causing any needless civilian casualties during this operation' but it is meaningless given his oft-repeated intention to stage 'a fight to the finish.' Unless Prabhakaran and his lieutenants suddenly cease the war, I fear we are going to see bloodshed on a nightmarish scale come late November and through December.
It is at that point that Karunanidhi shall be hoist on his own petard. Whether pushed into doing so or of its own free will, the DMK is now associated with the issue of protecting the lives of the Tamils of Sri Lanka. Karunanidhi climbed down from the initial threat of mass resignation by his MPs after a few soothing words from the Sri Lankan president's special envoy, Basil Rajapaksa on a flying visit to New Delhi. But what excuse will he find to save face once innocent civilians are shown falling to the Sri Lankan forces -- which they undoubtedly shall because that is the very purpose of creating human shields?
V Prabhakaran has hailed 'Kalaignar' as a 'Tamil nationalist' in a recent interview, adding that it made him 'happy to see him taking a stance in support of the Tamils when they face untold suffering.' I have no idea if the chief minister of Tamil Nadu is indeed a 'Tamil nationalist', a loaded phrase if ever there was one. Nor do I know if he will 'take a stance' when the time comes, or if the DMK shall be content with staging a 'drama' as Jayalalithaa alleged. But the LTTE chief is absolutely correct when he says the Tamils of Sri Lanka shall face 'untold suffering.'
I do not believe that the Manmohan Singh ministry is prepared either to lift India's ban on the LTTE or to send a single jawan over to Jaffna. But the prime minister's dear friend and ally in Fort St George then runs the risk of looking ineffective. The fortunes of the DMK are now linked to those of the LTTE for better or for worse.
T V R Shenoy