Will TN Politicians’ Lanka Ethnic Issue Mantra Erode or Strengthen?

By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan | Published: 2:00 AM May 1 2021
Focus Will TN Politicians’  Lanka Ethnic Issue Mantra Erode or Strengthen?

By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan

Results of the Tamil Nadu Assembly election 2021 would be announced today (2), under the turbulent COVID-19 spread. Political analysts say that without the two stalwart hardcore politicians namely All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s (AIADMK) Jayalalithaa Jayaram and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s (DMK) M. K. Karunanidhi, the win by their successors – Edappadi K. Palaniswami of the ruling AIADMK-led front or the Opposition DMK-led front with President M. K. Stalin, a new dimension in Tamil Nadu politics will surface that would not put Sri Lanka to test as it did before but can come strong with their political views. 

According to India Today-Axis My India, Today's Chanakya, Republic-CNX and P-MARQ exit polls, M.K. Stalin and his allies are going to register a big win in the Tamil Nadu State. Approximately 70 million people voted for the 234-seat Tamil Nadu assembly with a majority mark of 118 seats win to run the State. The poll was held on 6 April and the results will be declared today (2 May). According to the Republic-CNX exit poll, the DMK and their allies are going to win 165 seats, while the AIADMK is predicted to win 62 seats.

The anticipated landslide victory by Stalin’s DMK and its alliance are the Indian National Congress led by K. S. Alagiri, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi led by Thol. The Thirumavalavan, Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) led by a controversial Tamil Nadu political figure, Vaiko, Communist Party of India (CPI) led by D. Pandian,  CPM (Marxist) led by K. Balakrishanan, Indian Union Muslim League (IUML)  led by K.A.M. Muhammed Abubacker and  Manithaneya Makkal Katchi (MKK) led by M. H. Jawahirullah.  

The party next in the race is anticipated to be AIDMK with its alliance, the BJP led by L. Murugan, Paattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) led by S. Ramadoss, Tamil Manila Congress led by G.K.Vasan and few small political parties.

The new entry into TN politics led by megastar Kamal Haasan of Makkal Needhi Maiyyam (MNM) is predicted to win fewer seats and would dilute the voter bases of AIADMK and the DMK. Naam Thamilar Katchi (NTK) led by Seeman has performed ‘better’ this time but poll analysts say that Seemans’ hardcore Tamil nationalism and his strong allegiance to the LTTE leader Prabharakan, which he narrates at any given chance, has strengthened the voter base of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Tamil Nadu. He was seen using the LTTE flag as a shawl around his neck during the recent campaigns. Many of the Tamil Nadu people have said that he had never met Prabhakaran in the jungles of Vanni although he claims he did and undertook weapon training. 

It cannot, however, be disputed that all of the Tamil Nadu politicians have stood firm on the issues on the Sri Lankan ethnic issues and voiced for devolution of power, claimed alleged war crimes and genocide, land grab and demolishing of Hindu temples. Whether it had impacted or not on Sri Lankan politics, from time to time TN political parties’ ambitions have impacted the Indian Government’s decisions and one fine example would be the Government of India had swayed in its decisions when the resolution on Sri Lanka was taken up at the United Nations Human Rights Council, in the past.  

Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi were there at the last 2016 assembly polls. During their political careers, both pursued strong lines on the war and the alleged war crimes. She requested the Centre for an international probe despite despising the Tamil Tigers’ connivance in the Tamil Nadu politics. Stalin’s father,  DMK, Karunanidhi, was highly criticised for not halting the war. The Sri Lankan ethnic factor was key in every Tamil Nadu politician’s speech but the Centre managed to keep everything under wraps or ignored it completely. 

There were two resolutions on war crimes in Sri Lanka that were moved by Jayalalithaa with all parties seconding it during her rule. She also banned the Sri Lankan cricket team from entering Tamil Nadu and it was active until 2019. They were not even allowed to play on TN soil. Also, several of the Sri Lankans were harassed at the airport and Buddhist Monks were chased out of Tamil Nadu. The ruling parties and others were mum on these incidents. Even now, Sri Lankan brands and marketable items are not available in Tamil Nadu.  

The student movements that protested during the last days of the war were crushed and Prime Minister Modi took up the mantle to attend to Sri Lanka’s national issue one by one conveniently, as and when it affected his political doldrums in New Delhi.

Rajapaksa Unshakable

On the reading of the TN polls and whether BJP entry in Tamil Nadu felt stronger than before, Dr. Nanda Kishor, Associate Professor and Head, Department of Geopolitics and International Relations, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, told Ceylon Today, it has entered but not substantially. He said, its vote share may rise but it is difficult for BJP to capture power. 

He also noted that the Sri Lankan Tamil factor has not been a great factor as the hardcore Dravidian politicians are no more and many others see Sri Lankan politics as stronger than before. It is not an electoral factor anymore, he opined. 

He went on to say that Rajapaksas are seen as strong leaders by the Tamil Nadu people and they are also aware that the Rajapaksa's won't budge under any pressure tactics.

“The BJP Government in India is a majority Government so, TN politicians who exploited the situation of coalition politics since 1989 are not able to do that. Arm twisting of National Leadership is ruled out. The current leadership is capable of snubbing such demands.”

On Modi’s 13A push on Sri Lanka and calling for PC polls, the Professor noted that the Modi and Rajapaksa relationship is cemented by few individuals in-between. “Their mantra is simple -  ‘No anti-India stands in matters of South Asia and India will not vote on resolutions against Sri Lanka at international fora.” 

He noted that the Tamil welfare largely is part of an extended gesture for Modi as he understands that Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is a military man and also Modi is cautious with Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa due to the accusations that India was involved in his 2015 defeat.

Tamil Sentiment Prevailes in TN

President of the Tamil Nadu Youth Force Prabhakaran Veerarasu, speaking to Ceylon Today said, the sentiments on the Eelam Tamil matter remain a factor in Tamil Nadu. There are also Sri Lankan Tamils as refugees and the link has strengthened.

“First of all BJP is a religious fundamentalist party and in Tamil Nadu, we had great progressive leaders like Periyar, and Anna who had designed our politics against fundamentalism and Tamil Nadu will not allow fascism in any form.”

The youth activist said that Tamil Nadu ideology is the Dravidian ideology and they will not allow any Party with a different focus other than our ideology to rule them.  

“When Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was formed in Nagpur in 1925, in the same year, Periyar, the Indian social activist and politician, who started the Self-Respect Movement and Dravidar Kazhagam, started a non-Brahmin Movement in Tamil Nadu. The policies of BJP are anti-Muslims, anti-Tamils and anti-people in the name of development, and they degrade our environment.  Over the years, all that he created was hatred,” he added. 

Veerarasu admits that after Jayalalithaa’s demise the political scenario has changed in Tamil Nadu that even led the Modi Government to indirectly control everything and put pressure on all social movements where cases were filed against student leaders.   

The activists went on to say that most of the people in Tamil Nadu don’t know what 13A is and Stalin right now does not have a clear stand on Sri Lanka’s issue.  “He needs to take a firm stand.” 

“Tamil Nadu politics applied pressure on the Sri Lankan Government. Internationally, the Tamil Diaspora worked hard based on the activities that took place in Tamil Nadu and got the energy to work closely with the UN and with the US,” Veerarasu said. 

Veerarasu was of the view that Stalin’s win will not impact the Rajapaksa rule because he is not close to the Centre.  “When the Indian diplomats are with Sri Lanka doing the needful, Stalin coming into power in Tamil Nadu will not disturb the Rajapaksas unless Stalin becomes more aggressive on Sri Lankan issues like how Jayalalithaa was.”  In his view, Sri Lanka would see an impact only if Stalin become aggressive on the Sri Lankan ethnic issues.   

Looking at the DMK and its alliance, in the coming years, Sri Lanka can face challenges however, according to Col. Hariharan, a retired MI specialist on South Asia and terrorism and an expert on Sri Lankan politics, “Actually, whomsoever wins it makes no difference. Both DMK and AIADMK [regimes] are corrupt. But AIADMK has a good equation with the Centre and the BJP. So, Tamil Nadu had preferential treatment from New Delhi. If Stalin wins, his anti-Centre rhetoric will make things difficult with the Centre. He will make it the core of his propaganda to strengthen his support base. So, I see only political polemics, if he wins. Sri Lanka’s Tamil issue will [continue to] be used to spice up their political rhetoric, with no actual results.”

He went on to say that whomsoever wins in Tamil Nadu, India’s current policy of adopting an issue-based approach on Sri Lanka would continue because foreign policy falls in the Centre’s domain. “Implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lanka Constitution will continue to be a core issue of India’s policy as it is part of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987. Equitable treatment to India on par with China in trade and development in Sri Lanka and continued networking between India and Sri Lanka on defence issues are other key parts of the bilateral relations, as I see it.” Foreign Minister of India, Dr Jaishankar had referred to the PC election in the context of India’s concerns in Sri Lanka and not in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic. His focus on the subject indicates that the PC issue will come up again in India’s high-level meetings with Sri Lanka.

To the question of whether Rajapaksas would heed Modi’s PC polls call and implementation of the 13A, Col. Hariharan said “My suggestions to Sri Lankan Tamils is [basically] ‘you have to fight your own battles.’ Don’t wait for India to do what you don’t want to do. Why don’t all Tamils get together to stage a massive protest demanding the holding of PC elections in Sri Lanka? It will send a strong message to not only India, but the whole world. There had been the destruction of Hindu Temples in Sri Lanka; I saw only BJP raising the issue in Tamil Nadu. Other perennials like the fishermen’s issue will continue.”

Looking at the exit poll results, with DMK and its alliance winning as predicted and Kamal Haasan speculated to win at least two seats, the Sri Lankan Government will have challenges from persons like Stalin, Vaiko and Thol Thirumavalavan who are not only strong social media users but keep accusing the Centre and Sri Lanka of not taking strong decisions on the Sri Lankan ethnic issues.  

Kamal Haasan tweeted immediately after India abstained from voting on the UNHRC Resolution on Sri Lanka that the Centre had betrayed them. He also questioned why Sri Lankan Tamils, Muslims were left out of the 'genuinely benevolent' Citizenship Bill that was passed. 

AIDMK’s Edappadi accused Modi of not solving the fishermen’s issue and condemned Sri Lanka for not holding the PC elections. Stalin urged India to vote against the UNHRC Resolution on Sri Lanka and denounced the demolition of the Mullivaikkal remembrance statue at the Jaffna University.

Such accusations by the DMK will continue to reverberate in the ears of Sri Lankans and in New Delhi in the coming years, but this time it would be different – these politicians will be in power. 

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By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan | Published: 2:00 AM May 1 2021

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