Sept 05 (TOI) A disturbing trend that has implications for India's trade and foreign relations with Sri Lanka is on the rise in Tamil Nadu. Politicians are increasingly targeting Sri Lankan nationals, especially civilians, who are visiting the state.
The latest incident, when a few pro-Eelam outfits protested the presence of Lankan pilgrims at a church in Thanjavur on Monday, has pushed Colombo to issue a directive against its citizens from visiting Tamil Nadu. In the past too, these politically marginal outfits have targeted visiting Sri Lankan officials and academics.
What is worrying is even the state government seems to be tacitly approving the anti-Lanka sentiment, which has been on the rise, especially after reports of war atrocities in the aftermath of the LTTE's decimation. On Sunday, the state government had suspended an official who gave permission for a football friendly between a visiting Sri Lankan school team and a Chennai school, claiming it was tantamount to hurting the sentiments of Tamils.
It is more than a coincidence that the AIADMK government has started to identify with the anti-Lankan sentiment after the DMK held a conference to uphold the cause of Lankan Tamils. One outcome of this competitive politics of rhetoric and bluster is that an agenda that was marginal in the political discourse in the state has started gaining momentum and, now, threatens to disrupt bilateral relations between New Delhi and Colombo. A dip in India-Sri Lanka relations is for no one's good. Ever since the two countries signed a bilateral agreement in 2000, trade has increased manifold and a major beneficiary has been industry in Tamil Nadu. A hostile attitude to Colombo would also force Mahinda Rajapaksa to further strengthen relations with Beijing. Enabling a Chinese presence in Colombo that crowds out New Delhi hardly suits India's strategic interests in the region.
More importantly, the interests of Tamils in Lanka are best served if India has friendly relations with Sri Lanka. We are in a post-LTTE era and fresh, constructive thinking is necessary to enable the Tamils in Sri Lanka to outlive the trauma of war and rebuild their lives. Political leaders ofTamil Nadu must ask New Delhi to influence Colombo to mend its approach towards Tamils and tell the Rajapaksa government that encouraging Sinhalese triumphalism will not heal the wounds of a three-decade-long ethnic war but only lead to Sri Lanka's isolation in the international community.