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"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."

- Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Selected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki)

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 for good.

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.

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