Public opinion on SL Tamils: Foreign policy impacted

Public opinion on SL Tamils:  Foreign policy impacted

Dr. S Saraswathi It is indeed shocking to hear the horrible news of a 30-year-old man setting himself on fire while attending a meeting on Sri...

Dr. S Saraswathi It is indeed shocking to hear the horrible news of a 30-year-old man setting himself on fire while attending a meeting on Sri Lankan issue in Chennai on the evening of 21st March. This tragic incident of self-immolation took place after reports about the final Resolution on Sri Lanka adopted at the UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) was aired. It shows the depth of emotions of people in some parts of India on this burning issue and the grave consequences when they burst out. Tamil Nadu has been witnessing spontaneous people's protests over the Sri Lankan Tamil problem for over a fortnight. Evidently, the provocation has come from some pictures of atrocities on Tamils in Sri Lanka released from Britain. Activists belonging to various political outfits of Tamils, functionaries of different political parties in Tamil Nadu, and unattached non-party students and young professionals have been participating in the movement though not under a single united leadership. The movement has at times turned violent and has caused severe damage to public property. Many colleges all over Tamil Nadu remain closed for several weeks. The intensity and spread of this movement reminds one of the anti-Hindi movements of the 1960s.A Tourists and sportspersons from Sri Lanka are turned away. Even religious shrines of Buddhists and peaceful Buddhist monks are not spared from mindless attacks. The latest target of public anger is the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Puducherry near Chennai. This attack, according to some reports, is a mark of protest against the stand of Trinamool Congress leader to leave the decision on foreign policy issues to the Union Government while professing support to the cause of Tamils. How the Ashram is responsible for this remark is not explained. We can only see a common birth place in Bengal for this political party and the Ashram as the only thin linking factor. The attack shows the absurd extent to which public rage can go when emotions overflow. While public sentiments find violent expression, political parties provide active fuel to add to the fury. Strangely, the DMK, AIADMK, PMK, Communists and several smaller parties are on protest on this issue. Even the Tamil Nadu Congress does not want to be seen on the opposite side and makes demands on the UPA government!
The proceedings of Parliament were disrupted for many hours by both DMK, and the AIADMK members demanding that the Government of India should itself move a resolution in the UNHRC or support the Resolution condemning human rights violations in Sri Lanka.On top of this protest movement is the stand taken by the Government of Tamil Nadu. Chief Minister Jayalalithaa wrote a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asking for "strong, historic, and courageous" stance in the matter. She gave some specific suggestions for incorporation in the UNHRC Resolution to be moved by the US. Clothed in rather strong words, it conveyed that she was speaking for the affected and the aggrieved people and not as a neighbouring friendly State or as just a human rights champion. Her suggestions include setting up of a credible, independent international mechanism to prosecute those involved in "genocide and war crimes", and trial of the accused by an international court. The communication asked for time bound action within six months and submission of the report to the special session of the UNHRC.A This communication went further to dictate inclusion of a political package for Sri Lankan Tamils and restoration of their equal rights to citizenship on par with the Sinhalese. These suggestions reflecting the views of protesters may be construed as human rights issues. But, the communication goes ahead practically touching on existing Indo-Sri Lankan normal friendly ties by suggesting "condemnation" of the failure of the Sri Lankan government to honour its commitments like devolution of political authority. The unanimous Resolution adopted by the Tamil Nadu Assembly in 2011 to issue economic sanctions against Sri Lanka is reiterated now more vigorously. Protesters who can afford to separate Tamils issue from other foreign policy considerations insist on severing all relations with Sri Lanka - trade, technical cooperation, education, training, and even sports. The Indian Constitution has vested foreign affairs as a subject under Union list without any ambiguity. There is no scope for even a consultative status for the States in deciding foreign relations. Protracted and intensifying agitation in Tamil Nadu is making this constitutional situation rather untenable or unrealistic as recent events in Tamil Nadu portray. Historical and geographic factors of the past exist in the present and will most probably continue in the future. The DMK, the steadfast principal partner of the UPA coalition government, unable to persuade the Government to include the terms "genocide", and "war crimes" to depict the conduct of the Sri Lankan government, and to demand international investigation, has already broken its alliance with the Congress and quit the Cabinet. The role of competitive State politics and electoral calculations cannot be ruled out in the positions taken by parties though there is no reason to belittle the genuine concerns of Tamils in Tamil Nadu about the plight of Tamils in the island nation. The ties between them are not only linguistic, but cultural and hence emotional. Kinship bonds also seem to be strong among some sections in the southern parts of Tamil Nadu. The final Resolution brought by the US and adopted by the UNHRC is much weaker than the earlier draft. India has not made any amendments, but only asked for independent investigation � amounting to total disregard for the demands of the protest movement. However, strong public and regional political opinion appears to have played a significant role in the Government's decision to support the US Resolution against Sri Lanka. It has compelled the Government to introduce some changes in its basic posture. The principle of avoiding country-specific resolution has to be given up. It is realized that the ideal of non-interference in the domestic matters of other countries may become impractical where such matters are part of India's own domestic interests. -� INFA
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