Tamilnadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi, India and Sri Lanka

Did Indian Government "Threaten" Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi to Tow its Line on the Sri Lankan Ethnic Conflict?

Thanjai Nalankilli

TAMIL TRIBUNE, January 2009 (ID. 2009-01-01)
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Abbreviations

1. Tamil Civilian Casualties in the Sri Lankan War

2. India and Tamil Nadu on the North

3. Demonstrations in Tamilnadu

4. Chief Minister Karunanidhi

5. Chief Minister Sets a Deadline and a Threat

5.1 Phase 1: Initial Response (Silent and Passive)
5.2 Phase 2: A demand and a Deadline (Sincere, Genuine and Forceful): Pre-Pranab-Meeting
5.3 Pranab Mukherjee - Karunanidhi Meeting (A Slap on the Face of Tamil Nadu)
5.4 Phase 3: Pleading and Crying (Powerless and Subservient): Post-Pranab-Meeting

6. Did Pranab Mukherjee "Threaten" Chief Minister Karunanidhi?

6.1 What happened at the Pranab Mukherjee Meeting?
6.2 Narayan-Karunanidhi Meeting of 2006
6.3 What was the Reason for the Turnabout?

7. A Dossier on Tamil Nadu Chief Minister

8. Can Tamil Nadu Do Anything to Help Sri Lankan Tamils?

9. Murmurs of Tamil Nadu Independence

9.1 Samarasinghe's Statement
9.2 Pandian's Statement

ABBREVIATIONS

CPI - Communist Party of India

DMK - Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam

IB - Intelligence Bureau

IT - Information Technology

LTTE - Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam

MDMK - Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam

MP - Member of Parliament

PMK - Pattali Makkal Katchi

SLAF - Sri Lankan Air Force

UN - United Nations

UPA - United Progressive Alliance

USA - United States of America


1. Tamil Civilian Casualties in the Sri Lankan War

There is a war going on in Sri Lanka between the army and the minority Tamil rebels, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The war started in the 1970s but got more intense and bloody after the 1983 ant-Tamil riots that took the lives of hundreds of Tamil civilians. A ceasefire agreement was signed in 2002 but fighting started again in 2006 after President Mahinda Rajapaksa came to power. Sri Lankan military purchased several bomber aircrafts, got training, mostly, from Pakistan and India, and relied heavily on bombings to gain advantage over the LTTE. Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF) bombings caused heavy Tamil civilian casualties. According to the Sri Lankan government, its air force had dropped 14.4 million kilogrammes of bombs  (more than the equivalence of the Hiroshima nuclear bomb in explosive power). While SLAF routinely gives out LTTE casualties, it says that it does not keep count of Tamil civilian asualties, a sign of total disregard for Tamil civilians.

2. India and Tamil Nadu on the North

India, the emerging regional power, is just north of Sri Lanka. In India is the state of Tamil Nadu, separated from the Tamil northeast of Sri Lanka by only 53 kilometers of sea. There live 60 million Tamils who are of the same ethnic stock as Sri Lankan Tamils; both have the same culture and speak the same language. Cries of the Sri Lankan Tamil civilians suffering from persistent aerial bombings and artillery shelling did not go unheard in Tamil Nadu. Tamil are only a minority in India (although 60 million in number, they are less than 10% of the Indian population). They and their state government have to plead with the Indian Government to help their Tamil brethren in Sri Lanka. India was not only quiet over Tamil civilian killings, it was, in fact, providing military assistance to Sri Lanka. Indian government is dominated by Hindi politicians from the north, because Hindi people constitute approximately 40% of the Indian population. Unlike the Tamils of Tamil Nadu State, Hindi politicians from the north have no affinity or sympathy towards Sri Lankan Tamils.

3. Demonstrations in Tamilnadu

There were large-scale demonstrations in Tamil Nadu during the last few months of 2008 urging the Indian Government to pressure Sri Lanka to a ceasefire so the bombings and shelling of Tamil civilians would end. (This article is written in the second-half of December 2008.) Every segment of society expressed its concern for fellow Tamils and urged India to bring about a ceasefire in Sri Lanka. Political parties, students, lawyers, shop keepers, information technology (IT) professionals, writers, doctors, movie artists and technicians, television artists and technicians were among those who participated in a variety of demonstration--processions, public meetings, one-day fasts, human chain, etc. Yet no action from the Indian Government; no call for ceasefire but continued flow of military assistance to Sri Lanka.

4. Chief Minister Karunanidhi

Caught between the Indian government and the people of Tamilnadu was the Chief Minister of Tamilnadu State Muthuvel Karunanidhi. He was not only the chief minister of the state but his party, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), was part of the ruling alliance/coalition of the Indian government (United Progressive Alliance - UPA). Pressure mounted on Chief Minister Karunanidhi to put pressure on the Indian government to pressure Sri Lanka to a ceasefire. Karunanidhi knew that the Hindi politicians in parliament who essentially controlled Indian foreign and military policies were not interested in ending the war in Sri Lanka. Unlike the people and politicians of Tamil Nadu, Hindi politicians from the north have no blood bond with Sri Lankan Tamils nor have they any empathy for them.

5. Chief Minister Sets a Deadline and a Threat

Chief Minister Muthuvel Karunanidhi's actions vis-a-vis the Sri Lankan issue may be divided into three phases.

5.1 Phase 1: Initial Response (Silent and Passive)

Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi was silent and passive during the initial demonstrations by other political parties and groups. Though parties and organizations like Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) and Tamil National Movement (Tamil Desiya Iyakkam) had been active in supporting the Tamil cause in Sri Lanka for the past several years, demonstrations started by the Communist Party of India (CPI) in October 2008 cascaded to large scale, multiple demonstrations around Tamil Nadu. Neither this party nor its Tamil Nadu leader D. Pandian is known for taking up Tamil causes and so this was a surprise to many, a pleasant surprise to some. (Even now it is opposed to an independent Tamil country in the Sri Lankan island.) Karunanidhi simply ignored CPI's call for statewide demonstrations because CPI did not have a large vote bank in Tamil Nadu. Then Ms. Jayalalithaa Jeyaram of the powerful AIADMK party threw her support for the demonstration. Now Karunanidhi took stock of the situations and charted his own course of action to demonstrate his support for Sri Lankan Tamils.

5.2 Phase 2: A demand and a Deadline (Sincere, Genuine and Forceful): Pre-Pranab-Meeting

Before his meeting with the Indian External Affairs Minister (Foreign Minister) Pranab Mukherji, Chief Minister Karunanidhi's actions seem to be sincere, genuine and forceful. After the meeting his actions were decidedly fake and insincere with a sense of utter powerlessness. Let us look at the pre-Pranab-meeting scenario first.

Karunanidhi thundered, "If the atrocities against Sri Lankan Tamils do not stop we must answer the question 'Do we need this government?'" (He was referring to the Indian government in which his party was an alliance partner.) The most important and key action on the part of Chief Minister Karunanidhi was the All-Party Meeting he convened. Most of the parties in Tamil Nadu attended the all-party meeting held on October 14, 2008. After the meeting Karunanidhi announced that all 39 members of parliament from the State of Tamilnadu and the Union Territory of Puducherry would resign if the Indian government does not come forward to ensure a ceasefire in Sri Lanka within two weeks. A few days later both CPI(M) and Congress Party said that they did not agree to the resignation at the meeting [CPI(M) is different from CPI that initiated the demonstrations].  MDMK did not attend the meeting but it agreed to the resignation.

The All-Party Meeting resolution was a good one. It had a definite goal (ceasefire), a specific deadline (two weeks) and a specific consequence if the goal was not met (resignation of MPs). Some analysts think that Karunanidhi never intended to go through with the resignation and it was all a drama to appease the people of Tamil Nadu. This writer is of the opinion that Karunanidhi might be making a genuine and sincere effort to pressure the Indian government to act and bring about a ceasefire. We would at least give him the benefit of the doubt. He was a committed "Tamil patriot" in his early years but was clouded by political ambitions and hunger for power after tasting political power from the 1960s. Even with CPI(M) and Congress Party MPs not resigning, with the resignation of DMK, PMK, MDMK and CPI members of parliament the Congress-led alliance ruling India would lose parliamentary majority unless it receives some support from opposition parties from other states. Karunanidhi might have thought that, with the threat of losing power, Congress Party would act and bring about the ceasefire.

5.3 Pranab Mukherjee - Karunanidhi Meeting (A Slap on the Face of Tamil Nadu)

Indian External Affair Minister Pranab Mukherji came to Chennai and met Chief Minister Karunanidhi on October 26, 2008. It was a private meeting and there were no meeting minutes released. After the meeting, the external affairs minister flatly ruled out asking the Sri Lankan Government to ceasefire. After the meeting Karunanidhi made a total flip flap. He said that DMK members of parliament would not resign because India is doing all that was needed to resolve the ethnic issue. Only concession, if it could be called a concession, that India made was that it would allow from India some food and relief supplies to go to Tamil civilians in the war zone. [Indian government was blocking such relief from Tamil Nadu for over a year (a few hundred tons of food and medicine).] In the ensuing month about 5000 tons of food was sent. To put it in proper perspective, the far away Australian Government had sent 5000 tons of food to affected Tamil civilians in December 2008.

In essence, External Affair Minister Pranab Mukherjee did not meet the all-party resolution for ceasefire. Indian Government refused to stop military assistance to Sri Lanka either. Indian External Affair Minister Pranab Mukherjee told the upper house of parliament (Rajya Sabha) on October 23, 2008 that security cooperation with Sri Lanka, including training of Sri Lankan military officers, would continue.

Yet Karunanidhi meekly said that his party MPs would not resign per the all-party resolution. Instead Karunanidhi said, "The opinions of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the External Affair Minister are congruent with the decision taken at the all-party meeting on October 14, 2008 underscoring the need for a negotiated political solution to the Sri Lankan Tamils' problem". In view of India's refusal to call for a ceasefire and stop its military assistance to Sri Lanka, it was a totally false statement, hoping to fool and pacify the people of Tamil Nadu. But most people were not fooled. PMK leader Dr. S. Ramadoss said that the all-party meeting resolutions were not met. CPI leader D. Pandian said that none of the resolutions passed in the all-party meeting had been taken seriously by the Indian Government but the Chief Minister is saying that he is satisfied.

5.4 Phase 3: Pleading and Crying (Powerless and Subservient): Post-Pranab-Meeting

The private meeting with Pranab Mukherjee brought about a total turnaround in Karunanidhi. Obviously the Indian external affairs minister refused to pressure or even ask Sri Lanka to ceasefire. Karunanidhi tried to save face, declaring victory. As stated in the last paragraph of Section 5.3, Karunanidhi pretended that Indian government had agreed to the All-Party Resolution. It was false; he knew it and the people knew it.

In the ensuing weeks, as of now, Karunanidhi seems indecisive, erratic and totally powerless. One day he would say that India is doing everything possible and thank Congress Party President Ms. Sonia Gandhi and Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh. Another day he would ask India to bring about an end to the war. The man who roared like a lion, "If the atrocities against Sri Lankan Tamils do not stop we must answer the question 'Do we need this government?'" is reduced to pleading, "With tears in my eyes I am making this request (to end the war) (December 26, 2008). Karunanidhi's pleading and crying do not in anyway disgrace him in our eyes. We know that this proud, grand old man of Tamil Nadu politics was begging and pleading to Indian rulers because he genuinely wants to end the sufferings of Sri Lankan Tamils. This is what our chief minister, elected by the people of Tamil Nadu, is reduced to within India. [Although nothing he or anyone else in Tamilnadu could do that would have changed Indian policy and actions in Sri Lanka, there are things Karunanidhi could have done and there are things he should not have done. That would be the subject for another article at another time.]

6. Did Pranab Mukherjee "Threaten" Chief Minister Karunanidhi?

6.1 What happened at the Pranab Mukherjee Meeting?

Mukherjee-Karunanidhi meeting was private and so we are not privy to what was said behind closed doors. What was the reason for Chief Minister Karunanidhi's turnabout? Terms of the all-party resolution were not met. Yet the man who wondered aloud 'do we need this government?' withdrew the threat of resignation of members of parliament? Terms of the all-party resolution were not met. Yet Karunanidhi said, "The opinions of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the External Affair Minister are congruent with the decision taken at the all-party meeting on October 14, 2008 underscoring the need for a negotiated political solution to the Sri Lankan Tamils' problem". Why the turnabout? Did the External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who was sent to Chennai by Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi, threaten or intimidate the Tamil Nadu chief minister?

6.2 Narayan-Karunanidhi Meeting of 2006

We recall another meeting between the Tamilnadu chief minister and two high level Indian Government representatives in November 2006. This was at a time the present round of war was starting after 4 years of peace; Chief Minister Karunanidhi and many political leaders in Tamil Nadu raised concern about Tamil civilian casualties; there were street demonstrations (although not as large as the current ones); there was an unanimous resolution passed by Tamil Nadu State Assembly condemning the massacre of Tamils in Sri Lanka. After being reticent in the beginning, Karunanidhi made a somewhat strong statement asking Indian government to persuade Sri Lanka to end the war. On November 9, 2006, after condemning the killings of Sri Lankan Tamil civilians, he asked, "How long was India going to keep patience?"

Indian Government dispatched two top-level Indian government officials, National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon to Chennai. They met Chief Minister Karunanidhi and his grandnephew and Indian government minister Dayanidhi Maran on November 24, 2006. No meeting notes (if any) or other details of this meeting was made public. After the meeting Karunanidhi made a turnabout although Indian government did not agree to do anything to stop Tamil civilian killings. National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan told reporters after the meeting that Indian government and Tamil Nadu State government have identical views on the Sri Lankan question. Dayanidhi Maran echoed the view that the State [Tamilnadu State Government] agrees with the views of the Centre [Indian Central Government]". In the ensuing days, weeks, months and the two years (2006 to present) India did not do anything to end Tamil civilian killings. Not only that, India continued to provide training, equipment and technicians to the Sri Lankan military.

6.3 What was the Reason for the Turnabout?

What was the reason for chief minister's turnabout after these meetings? Indian government's position did not change. India not only did not call for a ceasefire but continued to help the Sri Lankan military with training, equipment and technicians. What is the reason? Did the Indian government privately threaten the chief minister if he did not tone down? What could the Indian government do? It has the power to dismiss his state government and also arrest him for "anti-national activities". Already Karunanidhi's political opponents in Tamilnadu had asked for the dismissal of his government and his arrest, saying that calling for ceasefire was tantamount to supporting the Sri Lankan Tamil fighters LTTE which is a banned organization in India.

7. A Dossier on Tamil Nadu Chief Minister

Indian government may even have a dossier on Chief Minister Karunanidhi compiling reasons for dismissing his government and arresting him? We do know that when Karunanidhi was chief minister during 1989-1991 the Indian intelligence agency IB (Intelligence Bureau) prepared reports against him and submitted them to the office of Prime Minister V. P. Singh. No action was taken because Karunanidhi had cordial relations with Prime Minister V. P. Singh. His successor Prime Minister Chandrashekhar dismissed the Karunanidhi government in 1991 using information from the intelligence reports provided by IB. The intelligence officer who sent these reports was Mr. M.K. Narayanan; the same Narayanan who is now the National Security Advisor.

The fact that Intelligence Bureau prepared and submitted reports on the Tamil Nadu chief minister was revealed in 1995 during Jain Commission hearings on Rajiv Gandhi assassination. DMK argued that the 
reports were fabricated behind the back of the DMK for the sole purpose of maligning it and to dismiss the democratically elected state government. Only a few may know the full truth whether the reports were fabricated, exaggerated or real. Is there a similar report in the hands of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh now, which can be used to dismiss or even arrest Chief Minister Karunanidhi? 

[Note: Indian Government can dismiss a state government without giving any valid reason and any reason given need not have to stand review by an independent court.]

8. Can Tamil Nadu Do Anything to Help Sri Lankan Tamils?

Foreign policy and military affair are the sole responsibility of the Indian central government. Other than bringing political and moral pressure on the central government, Tamil Nadu cannot do anything to bring about a ceasefire and thus end the killings of Tamil civilians in Sri Lanka. We have seen that neither moral nor political pressure has worked. Even the threat of the resignation of members of parliament from DMK, CPI, PMK and MDMK had not brought about a change in Indian government policy and actions.

In short, there is nothing Tamil Nadu could do to help Sri Lankan Tamils. Karunanidhi put it thus. He said, "Raja Raja Cholan conquered Sri Lanka. Today Tamils are destroyed there and we (Tamil Nadu) are in such a pathetic situation that we could not help them. This situation should change" (November 23, 2008). [Note: Raja Raja Cholan was one of the greatest kings in Tamil Nadu (985-1014 AD); he conquered Sri Lanka in 1002 AD and assumed the title Sinhalanthahan.]

Not only in the case of Sri Lankan Tamils, Tamil Nadu was a mere spectator with hand tied even as Sri Lankan Navy had shot and killed hundreds of Tamil Nadu fishermen in the sea, and mobs in Karnataka State murdered and raped Tamils following a court verdict favoring Tamil Nadu on the Cauvery water issue. In both instances Tamilnadu chief minister pleaded and begged the Indian prime minister to protect the Tamils with no avail.

9. Murmurs of Tamil Nadu Independence

9.1 Samarasinghe's Statement

Coming back to Sri Lankan Tamils, there is only way Tamil Nadu could have protected Sri Lankan Tamils. Answer comes from Sri Lanka Broadcasting Chairman Hudson Samarasinghe. He said, "In the event of Tamil Nadu becoming an independent country there is absolutely no doubt that she will invade Sri Lanka over the Tamil issue" (August 4, 2008). Security and protection for Tamils everywhere (including Tamil Nadu fishermen) would come only if Tamil Nadu becomes an independent country. Events relating to Sri Lankan Tamils, Karnataka Tamils and Tamilnadu fishermen have all shown that we cannot rely on India for protection. Tamil Nadu needs its own military, Tamil Nadu need its own representation in United Nations and other world bodies to represent Tamil interests whether it is killings of civilians in Sri Lanka or water disputes with neighbors.

We know that Tamilnadu independence cannot be achieved in the immediate future and the current Sri Lankan war would be settled one way or other well before that. But there would be other crises that affect Tamil people in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere in the decades and centuries to come, and it is important that Tamil Nadu become an independent country to handle such crises.

9.2 Pandian's Statement

Even Tamil Nadu political leaders who do not advocate independence for Tamil Nadu have cautioned India that people of Tamil Nadu may be driven towards independence if India stands aside even as Tamil civilian are being killed in Sri Lanka. D. Pandian, Tamil Nadu General Secretary of CPI made the following points in an interview with Sri Lankan paper Sunday Leader.

"Because, the Tamil people [of Tamilnadu] feel, despite the unanimous resolution passed in the state assembly, despite speaking through the Chief Minister and all the political parties, when the [Indian] central government is turning a blind eye to all these requests, then comes a big question as to where are we as Indians in India.... 

I may not raise it [independent Tamil Nadu] because I belong to the Communist Party of India (CPI). I may keep mum. The Congress Party may keep mum. But, we can't keep the mouths and the hearts of the people of Tamil Nadu....

As a disciplined political party due to our ideology and commitments, I may not speak for separation or division of India. But, not my son. I can't prevent my son from speaking about it or taking up the flag."

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If you would like to translate this article to Tamil for us, please write us. Your help would be greatly appreciated.

ALTERNATE SPELLINGS OF NAMES:

Chandrashekhar - Chandra Shekhar, Chandrasekhar, Chandrasekar, Chandrashekar

Nalankilli - Nalangkilli

Puducherry - Puducherri, Puducheri, Puduchery, Puthucherry, Puthucherri, Puthucheri, Puthuchery (known in the past as Pondicherry, Pondicheri)

Raja Raja Cholan - Rajaraja Chola, Raja Raja Chozhan, Raja Raja Chozan

FIS090102    2009-a1d


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