Sept 04 (Asian Age) Though by no means unexpected, the enraged reaction of Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa to a friendly football match between visiting Sri Lankan schoolboys and a team of customs officials in Chennai is deeply distressing.
She has suspended the state government official who had allowed the use of an indoor stadium, and has packed off the youngsters "back to their country". On top of it, she has "condemned" the Union government for allowing the football team of a Sri Lankan school to come to India in the first place, and then play in her state. This action of the Central government, according to her, has "humiliated the people of Tamil Nadu".
Sadly, the state of Tamil Nadu has of late been in the grip of what can only be called a crazy political competition in inflaming and exploiting the Tamil feelings against the government of President Mahinda Rajapakse of Sri Lanka over what is perceived as "ill-treatment" of Sri Lankan Tamils after Colombo's complete victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The feeling is not entirely without basis, but the Tamil grievances are greatly exaggerated.
For instance, it does seem that Mr Rajapakse has virtually reneged on the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution, the agreed basis for devolution of power to the Tamil minority. This is unacceptable, and the Indian government has taken it up with him. But the complaint that the Tamils who were displaced from their homes during the prolonged civil war are still languishing in camps would not bear scrutiny. For independent surveys show that almost all camps have already been closed and their inmates are being rehabilitated in houses. Deficiencies in rehabilitation measures are being discussed and sorted out at government-to-government level. The Army from the Tamil areas has yet to be withdrawn, however. As in war, so in irrational competition in extremism and chauvinism — truth has become the first casualty.
In the southern state of India the main competition in rabble-rousing and inflaming passions is between the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK). The latter is a caste-based party of increasingly influential Vanniars. This is a clue to why the DMK patriarch, M. Karunanidhi, who is also an ally of the Congress in the United Progressive Alliance, chose to sponsor a provocative conference on the plight of Sri Lankan Tamils. He had retained the word Eelam (independence) in the conference's title but had mercifully dropped it from the final declaration.
Such activity, it should be obvious, cannot but damage relations with so close a neighbour as the island republic, separated from this country's shores by only a narrow stretch of water. In one of her previous innings as chief minister at the time of Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, Ms Jayalalithaa had dealt with the LTTE and its supporters then strutting around Tamil Nadu with due sternness. This time around she is pandering to the very emotions she had then curbed. Political expediency and electoral calculations are obviously taking precedence over national interest.
In the circumstances, it is no surprise that Ms Jayalalithaa has denounced, once more with feeling, the Union government for "training the Sri Lankan Army" not just on Indian soil but also within Tamil Nadu itself. What is the fuss all about? Wellington in Tamil Nadu is the place where the Defence Services' Staff College is located since its inception in 1948. In undivided India that honour belonged to Quetta in Balochistan. Over the years Wellington has developed the sensible practice of inviting officers of a major or equivalent rank from 20 foreign countries, especially from friendly neighbours like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Burma to profit from annual courses at this and other institutions. Ms Jayalalithaa wants the two Sri Lankan officers at Wellington to be expelled forthwith. Would she extend the same demand to the National Defence College where, as always, two Sri Lankan brigadiers, like other foreigners, are going through a composite course?
She, of course, is not alone in demanding that no Sri Lankan military man should be trained in India. Her political foes are insisting on this more vehemently. However, it is time they pause and ponder whether it would be prudent for us to break all military relations with any of our close neighbours. There is no surer way of driving them deep into China's arms.
Ironically, no one in Tamil Nadu is saying a word about a third problem between this country and Sri Lanka. It is that Indian fishermen in large numbers routinely enter Sri Lankan waters and fish there. Inevitably, they are arrested, and even though are released in a couple of days, except the ones charged with smuggling of contraband or even arms, there are frequent uproars on both sides. This practice had flourished during the Lankan civil war when both Sinhalas and Tamils of that country were otherwise engaged. Now the greatest resistance to fishermen from Tamil Nadu sailing into Lankan waters comes from Lankan Tamil fishermen.