Sept 08 (FP) Earlier this week when Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa asked some Sri Lankan students not to play friendly football matches in the state and to pack off, she had some reasons to feel justified.
But now it is time that she cracked the whip on nationalist outfits who have turned vigilantes in the name of Tamil pride.
Although not without ramifications, Jayalalithaa's act was a political statement primarily targeted at New Delhi for choosing to ignore her repeated demands on Sri Lanka. Incidentally, it was also a message to Sri Lanka that international relations cannot be at odds with a state's sentiments. She stopped at that and didn't say anything more.
But seemingly, Tamil nationalist parties such as MDMK, Nam Tamilar Katchi and Viduthalai Chiruthai Katchi (VCK), have taken the official stand of the government as a license to indulge in lawlessness. They first attacked poor Christian pilgrims from Sri Lanka who were visiting some shrines in Tamil Nadu and stoned the convoy in which they were travelling.
But for luck and police intervention, some of them could have been hurt and certainly led to volatile bilateral situations.
Not satisfied with that, the Nam Tamilar Katchi on Thursday laid siege to hotel in Madurai alleging that it has employed Sri Lankans and they should be expelled immediately. Times of India reported that the party workers tried to barge into the hotel alleging that a dozen Sri Lankans were employed there. Reportedly, there was only one Sri Lankan employee and he was a Tamil.
As Firstpost warned on Tuesday, escalation of the situation would seriously harm Indo-Sri Lankan relations — cultural, political and economic. Continuing physical threats and hate-propaganda against Sri Lankans in Tamil Nadu can provoke ultra-nationalist groups in the island nation to target Indians, triggering a chain of attacks and counterattacks on each other.
In fact there are more Indians in Sri Lanka, in business or employment, than Sri Lankans in India; and India gains substantially more than Sri Lanka in terms of trade and business. Any counter-attack against Indians on the streets of Sri Lanka could seriously damage Indian interests.
The aggression and violence shown by Nam Tamilar Katchi, MDMK or VCK haven't found any takers in Tamil Nadu. In fact, DMK leader Karunanidhi spoke against the cancellation of the football matches and condemned the attacks on the pilgrims. The CPM also termed the attacks unfortunate. In Colombo, even Tamil businessmen staged a protest in front of the Indian high commission asking for protection for their fellow citizens in India, perhaps indicating the dissonance between what Tamils in Sri Lanka want and the groups in Tamil Nadu who purportedly espouse their cause.
A statement by the Tamil Nadu Chamber of Commerce and Industry (TNCCI) thoroughly exposed the futility of the violence by Nam Tamilar Katchi and others. Times of India quoted from a statement by TNCCI: "Bilateral trade between India and Sri Lanka is about $5 five billion and export to Sri Lanka is eight times more than the import. India is among the four big investors in Sri Lanka to the tune of $500 million, out of which Tamil Nadu holds a large share. Tamil Nadu has also emerged as the second priority destination for tourists from Lanka."
The senior office bearers of TNCCI also expressed concerns that the attacks by the groups will sully the image of Tamil Nadu.
Interestingly, these are the same fringe elements that swing into street-violence and destruction of public and private properties whenever there is a hint of inter-state tension. Ironically, the leaders who demand primacy, and not just equal rights, for Tamils in Sri Lanka are often intolerant to other cultures.