Tamil Nadu Connection, Again
12 May 1996
Kalaignar Muthuvel Karunanidhi is back in power. His opposition
has virtually been wiped out. The future of the AIADMK hangs in the
balance. Some observers of the political scene in Tamil Nadu have
even ventured the suggestion that Jayalalitha, who was defeated in
her own constituency by a DMK candidate, might retire from politics
Karunanidhi's power is not only well established now in the state of
Tamil Nadu with the rout of the AIADMK and the Congress I, but may
also extend to the centre where the 35 Lok Sabha seats of the DMK -
Tamilaha Maanila Congress alliance will be a key factor in deciding
the balance in hung Parliament. The B.J.P. and the left front have
already started negotiations with him. The DMK's remarkable
performance has shown quite conclusively, contrary to the general
impression, that a well structured and ideologically coherent cadre
based party is a better bet for survival and success in the long
term than cinematic charisma and the zeal of fan clubs - a fact
which the actor Rajnikanth seems to have taken note of in deciding
not to get directly involved in politics at least for the time
being. Karunanidhi is certainly the last giant of the Dravidian
movement. His political career spans more than fifty years. He is
seventy two now (born June 3,1924) but remains a tireless organiser
and campaigner and prolific writer. He has survived many things in
his long political career - attempts on his life, jail terms for
being a strident separatist, MGR's challenge, the dismissal of his
government twice, the split of the Gopalasamy faction, implication
of his party men and women in the Rajiv assassination and the
killing of EPRLF leader Padmanabha and his associates, shrill
charges of corruption and nepotism etc.
He is an admirer and staunch defender of Stalin - named his son,
currently the controversial heir apparent, after the Russian leader.
And above all he is the main architect of the martial Tamil
nationalist ideology from which the Sri Lankan Tamil separatist
youth derived its inspiration in the sixties and the seventies.
Karunanidhi is not unaware of this. In fact when the LTTE fought the
Indian army he publicly exclaimed that the Tamil martial heritage,
for the revival of which he had devoted considerable rhetorical
energy, had found its true heirs in the Liberation Tigers.
A former cabinet minister of the DMK and a close associate of its
leader, Subbu Letchumi Jegadeesan, was jailed for harbouring and
helping the escape of the LTTE hit squad which had killed the EPRLF
leader Padmanabha and thirteen of his associates. The name of his
son and heir apparent Stalin was also mentioned in connection with
the activities of the Tigers in the state although no direct charges
were brought against him. During the election, Karunanidhi's line
was that he had no sympathy with the LTTE but that he views Thamil
Eelam as a solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka.
This is a change from his earlier stand that the Tamils should find
an honourable solution within a united Sri Lanka. The DMK manifesto
however did not mention this as such but stated the party's concern
in resolving the Tamil problem in the island. The change in the DMK
chief's stand on the Sri Lankan Tamil question is mainly connected
to the impact of Gopalasamy's politics on a section of the DMK's
rank and file. Karunanidhi realised that a large number of youth
from his party's rank and file who had gone with Gopalasamy were
attracted mainly to the MDMK leader's pro-Eelam image. He did not
fail to take note of the fact that the Eelam resolution at the
MDMK's first statewide conference was mainly thrust upon that party
by the youth and some of its politically energetic radical young
leaders. Since then the DMK leader has shrewdly been weaning away
many of these from the Gopalasamy camp.
In this context what impact will Karunandhi's landslide victory have
on the Sri Lankan Tamil question? This is uppermost today in the
minds of many politically conscious people in the north and east as
well as in Colombo. Firstly it should be mentioned that the view of
Frontline Editor N. Ram, who ruled out any change in India's policy
on the ethnic question in the island while delivering a talk on the
Indian polls recently at the ICES, is unacceptable at this juncture.
The context in which we have to view this has been redefined by the
D.M.K.'s come DMK's.
Karunandhi's impact on the course of the ethnic conflict might be
felt here at three levels.
One, as most non-LTTE Tamil leaders agreed, he will not pursue a
policy of imposing harsh measures on Sri Lankan Tamils who are
resident in his state. Tamil refugees will get a better deal. The
unofficial ban on granting college admission to Sri Lankan Tamil
students which was imposed under Jeyalalitha will be lifted. And the
state police and intelligence units would be less stringent on the
vexed question of cross border smuggling in which a large number of
fishing communities along the south and south western coast of the
state are involved.
Jeyalalitha's concern with her personal security was so overwhelming
that she was prepared to ignore the political importance of these
communities in her southern constituencies. She assumed that it was
enough to raise the Katchathivu issue once a while to placate them.
As one ex-Tamil militant leader who returned from Tamil Nadu a few
days ago said, the state police might prefer to overlook certain
activities of Sri Lankan Tamils in the state as long as they do not
get out of hand, even if no express orders are given from above to
do so. The long standing demand to allow the purchase of medicial
supplies, for which some politicians who were close to Jeyalalitha
had lobbied in the past with some measure of success, would most
probably be granted by the DMK regime. The lobby to allow medical
supplies to the LTTE is very strong within the DMK rank and file.
The argument was made on humanitarian grounds which found sympathy
particularly during Op. Riviresa.
Two, the small but influential pressure groups in the state which in
recent times stepped up a campaign to call on Delhi to withdraw its
active involvement on the side of the Sri Lankan government in
prosecuting the war against the Tigers, may find an audience in
Kurunanidhi's cabinet. If the DMK leader were to become a key player
in deciding the course of the hung Parliament in Delhi, this lobby
is in a position to persuade him to intercede on their behalf for
securing the Indian central government's neutrality in the war
against the Tigers - again on humanitarian grounds. This lobby
comprises some important film actors and producers who have
organised public meetings to protest Delhi's involvement in sinking
LTTE's supply ships. (A detailed report of one of these meetings
appeared in the magazine 'Thamilan Express').
The LTTE made two appeals to the Indian central government on the
eve of the Indian elections seeking rapproachment most probably with
such possibilities in mind. (the Tigers as we mentioned in these
columns earlier established contact with the Shiv Sena, an important
ally of the BJP, reportedly after Sinnamani's meeting with its
leaders). If the BJP does not form the government, the Tamil
nationalist lobby would still be in a position to bring some
pressure on Karunanidhi to intercede on its behalf to persuade the
left front (which has also staked its claim) government to adopt a
neutral stand on the Sri Lankan Tamil question - which is tantamount
to desisting from interdicting supplies to the LTTE.
Three, although the DMK leader would today, shun any direct contact
with the LTTE, he still remains very much accessible unlike
Jeyalalitha to many other influential Sri Lankan Tamils and leaders
of some Tamil political parties. Some ex-militant leaders have
already sought appointments with him (a book on the 'traditional
homeland of the Tamils in the north and east' researched and written
by the controversial Arular is to be presented to the DMK leader).
If there is a deadlock in the Parliamentary select committee process
there would be a strong compulsion in the Tamil parties and groups
who are now involved in it to turn to Tamil Nadu and seek the DMK
leader's good offices to take up their case with the central
government. Karunanidhi has his own agenda in this respect. He seems
to think that this is the opportune time to renew and push his case
for restructuring the Indian union.
It was resolved at the DMK's Tiruchi conference that not only should
the Indian federal system be restructured to give greater regional
autonomy to the states but such restructuring should include a
special status - along the lines of what was granted to Kashmir - to
the state of Tamil Nadu. Since the time the DMK gave up its demand
and struggle for the separate state of Dravida Nad Annadurai, and
after him Karunanidhi have consistently argued a case for
restructuring the Indian union. The DMK appointed the Rajamannar
commission when it came to power to inquire into, and report on the
shortcomings of regional autonomy under the Indian constitution. The
DMK government was the first in India to pass a resolution in the
state legislature in 1974 that the Indian constitution should be
changed into a full federal (confederal by implication) system. It
may be pointed out in this regard that Karunanidhi's stated position
is that the Indian Muslim leadership was compelled to establish
Pakistan as a separate state because of the Congress leadership's
failure to honour the principles of adequate regional autonomy. He
held talks under the V.P. Singh government to change the Indian
federal system. The National Front has been somewhat sympathetic to
this cause. This did not fructify due to the calamities which
overwhelmed the V.P. Singh regime at that time.
The DMK leader is sure to begin his efforts again. If the non-LTTE
Tamil groups and parties lose faith in the Select Committee process
they will gradually link their cause to the DMK leader's efforts to
successfully argue his case for greater autonomy for Tamil Nadu.
The political and military course of Eelam War Three has to be
examined in this context.