With the recent controversy over Rajya Sabha member Kanimozhi, daughter of Tamil Nadu’s then DMK Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, allegedly asking Sasitharan alias ‘Ezhilan’ to surrender to the Sri Lankan armed forces at the final peak of the decisive ‘Eelam War IV’ in that country on 16 May 2009, separatist, pro-LTTE elements from across the world may have put India on notice, one more time. It remains to be seen how and what way could it impact on India, or seek to influence the nation ahead of the run-up to the all-important UNHRC session in Geneva.
The charge against Kanimozhi was made by Aanathi Sasitharan, wife of ‘Ezhilan’ and a pan-Tamil, pro-separatist member of Sri Lanka’s Northern Provincial Council (NPC) belonging to the ruling Tamil National Alliance (TNA), while talking to the Chennai-based daily, The Hindu. This is possibly the second time that the reputed Indian newspaper is getting caught in a controversy of the kind involving pro-LTTE elements in the past decade alone. Ahead of the March 2013 UNHRC session in Geneva, where war-related ‘accountability issues’ in Sri Lanka was at the centre of a second successive US-sponsored resolution in as many years, the newspaper had carried an ‘Exclusive’ of UK-based Channel IV which claimed that the Sri Lankan armed forces had brutally killed Balachandran, the 12-year-old son of LTTE supremo Prabhakaran.
While the DMK leadership may not entirely be absolved if they claimed not to have had been in touch with LTTE spokesmen from all across the world during that crucial window, it is highly unlikely that Kanimozhi might have even known about a lower-level commander like Ezhilan. If he had contacted her in sheer desperation, it is equally unlikely that she might remember the conversation at all. More importantly, anyone knowing the functioning of the DMK, then or now, would also acknowledge that Kanimozhi would have made calls or commitments of any kind to anyone, without getting specific clearances from Karunanidhi. Karunanidhi, well aware of his constitutional limitations as chief minister and political risks as DMK leader nearly two decades after the ill-fated ‘Rajiv Gandhi assassination’, would not have cleared any proposal of the kind from anyone at any point in time.
Timing, too, suspect
It’s not only that Aanathi’s claims that sound hollow and suspect. Even the very timing of her claims sounds even more suspicious – she waiting all these years to make these claims while she has been going hammer and tongs on everything relating to the last days of the war, and also against India. While she has claimed to have spoken to a lesser-known Tamil Nadu political leader about it in an interview in a near-unknown publication in the past, there is no knowing why she had avoided better-known sections of the Indian media and global forums, to which she has had free and easy access over the past couple of years.
Aananthi’s statement comes at a time when other sections of the separatist, pro-LTTE Tamil groups, particularly from among the Sri Lankan Diaspora, have congratulated Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa on the Karnataka High Court acquitting her in the ‘disproportionate assets case’ , recently. Sections of their social media networks also subsequently asked the Karnataka Government not to appeal the High Court’s verdict in the Supreme Court. If at all the Karnataka Government had known about this plea, it did not oblige them, as subsequent statements from Bengaluru have indicated.
It’s not to say that the pro-LTTE, separatist elements in the Sri Lankan Tamil community are expecting support from the ruling AIADMK and Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, or any other. In the long tradition of Sril Lankan Tamil ‘nationalists’, particularly the ‘separatists’ of the LTTE kind, they have only been hoping and aiming to see if their time-tested policy of ‘divide-and-win’ tactics all across the world succeeds one more time. The sudden appearance of a statute of Prabhakaran in a small village temple in coastal Nagapattinam district in southern Tamil Nadu needs to be viewed in context. While the statue was subsequently removed, reportedly by those who had installed it, the episode has brought back Prabhakaran’s name to the news columns, and so has it ensured that claims and allegations of ‘LTTE-TN links’ been revived.
Contextualising to Geneva
Such episodes need to be contextualised to the consequences that are anticipated in the coming months. After a six-month delay granted at the instance of the new Sri Lankan Government, the probe report on ‘accountability issues’ is to be tabled at the UNHRC session in September this year. India is not only a voting-member, but its influence may still be able to tilt the scales after the US sponsor of the original resolution had looked the other way at the March 2014 session. The decision on an UNHRC-directed probe was voted in at that session, with India abstaining. Going by media reports of the time and afterward, there was nothing to suggest that the US sought out India’s support and assistance through hard-bargaining, as had happened in the previous two years – once it was guaranteed of the resolution’s passage in 2014.
The much-expected Parliament elections in Sri Lanka during the crucial run-up to the UNHRC session has thrown up a confusing situation for not only friends and neighbours like India, but also to the political stake-holders in that country. Sri Lankan media reports indicate that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa may end up as a strong contender for the post of prime minister.
Whether or not he contested the polls and also became prime minister, the possibilities of such a scenario are daunting for Tamils and others nearer home and vocal and powerful sections of the international community. Given that the parliamentary polls would be fought mainly in the areas dominated by the Sinhala-Buddhist ‘majority community’, any straight and/or strong position taken by the current government leadership could prove counter-productive. Conversely, they could be forced to take a neutral, if not hard-line stand on the ‘ethnic issue’ all over again. The Tamil leadership, whether moderate, or ‘nationalist’, or ‘separatist’, can be expected to try and exploit the emerging election-eve embarrassment of ‘Sinhala moderates’ (?), also to win their own internal battles for supremacy within the larger Tamil community, the Diaspora included.
Consequences for India
For India in particular, all such possibilities are fraught with consequences. One, there could be a sudden surge of Tamil refugees landing in the country, particularly along the Tamil Nadu coast, if the return of Rajapaksa became probable – and afterward, too. The refugees would comprise innocent Tamils frustrated and/or in fear of the emerging situation in their areas, ‘economic refugees’ masquerading as asylum-seekers in India but mostly en route to the West, and pro-LTTE propagandists bent on not missing out on any situation to promote their ‘separatist’ cause in political terms.
Any such reverse-flow of refugees back to India could hit at the bottom of existing international expectations/pressure for the nation to ensure early return of the 100,000 people in the Government-run camps in Tamil Nadu and outside. Already, the Tamil Nadu Government stayed away from a March meeting on the subject called by the Centre, saying that they did not feel conditions existed in Sri Lanka for the State Government to encourage the refugees to return home. It remains to be seen what impact/consequences such refugee-arrivals may have on the society and polity in Tamil Nadu on the one hand, and the possible revival of pro-LTTE networks in the State, which had been crushed after the ‘Rajiv Gandhi assassination’ in particular.
Considering that Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu are due by May 2016 and an anti-Jaya political realignment is likely on cards, the Sri Lankan Tamil ‘separatists’ are out to drive a wedge between political parties in Tamil Nadu, to serve and sub-serve their cause, over the short, medium and long-terms. The purpose seems to be to try and embarrass prospective allies of the DMK, to be seen as aligning with the party all over again, and thereby try to be on the good books of the ruling AIADMK, without anyone asking for it, or even possibly thinking about it in any which way.
For Kanimozhi and the DMK, it might be one more lesson in truth-seeking after having backed the LTTE separatists without question, as all political parties in Tamil Nadu have been doing since the battle in 2009. No political party in Tamil Nadu, including the national competitors like the BJP and the Congress, could still escape responsibility and accountability. At least a powerful section of the Congress leadership at the Centre at the time, and the current crop of BJP leaders in the State, have been misleading their leaderships, after having allowed the Sri Lankan Tamil separatists to mislead them.
So intense has been the sentiments of pro-LTTE sections in Tamil Nadu (whatever the reason and/or justification, political and otherwise), no section of the otherwise vocal local media has thought it fit to compare the Channel IV claims on Balachandran’s death with a more recent claim of third or fourth line LTTE leader. In a media interview ahead of the sixth anniversary of the conclusion of the war (Ceylon Today, 17 May 2015), Karnan, who said he had left the LTTE in 2003-04, claimed that he was witness to all members of Prabhakaran’s family dying in a shell-attack by Sri Lankan armed forces.