by M.S.M. Ayub
The visit by the Indian joint Parliament delegation to Sri Lanka was no doubt a novel experience not only for the members of the delegation but also for the Sri Lankan politicians as well as the general public.
It was novelty for the Sri Lankans since the delegation was led by the Opposition Leader of India and not by any government minister of that country
Government ministers in Sri Lanka had said that the Sri Lankan Opposition Leader has to take a leaf out of Indian Opposition Leader Sushma Swaraj’s book since she did not accuse the government of her country or attempt to outsmart that government during her tour in a foreign country.
Sri Lanka is a country that breached recently the decade long tradition to appoint opposition members to the post of Chairman of the Committee of Public Enterprises (COPE) and the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the Parliament. However, in spite of the fact that the political culture in India is very much similar to that of Sri Lanka, there are instances of important bipartisanship in that country which we have to appreciate.
A best case in point was when the Indian Opposition Leader lead a delegation to the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC), which the predecessor to the present United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) during a motion against the country in respect of the situation in Jammu and Kashmir in 1993.
The then Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao assigned the Opposition Leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee to lead the delegation to face a Pakistan-sponsored, OIC-backed resolution against India, charging it with ‘human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir at the Human Rights Commission, as the former felt that the best person to counter the Pakistani arguments was the latter.
Swaraj, during her Sri Lanka visit seemed to represent the totality of Indian polity instead of part of it. One of the purposes of her delegation’s visit was to see the progress of rehabilitation and development projects in Sri Lanka that are sponsored by the Indian government.
According to a Tamil website she had defended the US sponsored resolution on Sri Lanka that was adopted at the UNHRC last month at a public meeting in Jaffna and had said that Indian government had taken that decision in the interest of reconciliation in Sri Lanka. Many here did not view her as the Opposition Leader of India.
The 12 member Indian delegation’s visit was viewed skeptically by the Tamil separatist forces in India and the Tamil diaspora, while the Tamil leaders here were eagerly awaiting it as another opportunity to place their case.
Many Tamils living overseas including Tamil Nadu leaders expected a grim picture drawn by Swaraj’s delegation at the end of its tour to the island so that they would be able to further their separatist call. But the expectation of Tamil leaders in Sri Lanka was strengthening their demand for a greater autonomy, though they too wanted to highlight the dark side of the goings on in the north and east, to that end.
All these groups must have been elated when Swaraj said at the media briefing concluding the six-day visit that the Army was interfering in the day-to-day life of the people in the north and there was no conducive situation for the Sri Lankan refugees living in Tamil Nadu to return to their homes.
Her assertion that more or proper devolution of power must be implemented in the Tamil dominated areas in the island with wordings identical to those of the Indian government must have exerted some sort of pressure on the Sri Lankan government as it has been before while bringing joy among Eelamists and those advocating more powers for Tamils.
However, the delegation seems to have seen both the brighter side as well as the dark side of the ground situation in the areas where Tamil people predominantly live. It must have been a slap on the face of the Tamil diaspora and Tamil Nadu leaders especially the DMK leader Muthuvel Karunanidhi who has been since lately calling for a Tamil Eelam when Swaraj praised TNA leader Sampnthan for his honesty and quoted him as saying that he did not stand for a separate State, he was for devolution of power within Sri Lanka and he was proud to be a Sri Lankan.
The delegation was here to study the ground situation, which was the outcome of a heated debate during the last winter session, on the plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka after the end of the war. The decision to tour in the island was taken on the grounds that it is better to see for Indians rather than arguing among them based on information spread by media outlets affiliated to various political parties and ideologies
However, when the date for the tour was nearing Karunanidhi and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jeyalalithaa withdrew their representatives from the delegation as they were apparently skeptical about the very horrific picture they have been painting on the situation in Sri Lanka and feared that they wouldn’t be able to exploit the Sri Lankan situation for some time, as they have been doing.
Even after the Indian delegation returned home Karunanidhi had said on Thursday that he wouldn’t die without seeing Tamil Eelam. It is ironic than interesting to note that Karunanidhi prefers Sampanthan and other Tamils in Sri Lanka receive something that they do not demand.