- Karunanidhi, whom Lankan Tamils had for the last 3 years seen as a betrayer, is trying to redeem himself in their eyes
- At the TESO conference he organised last week, he said his calling off the 2009 fast was owing to his being misled
- The conference resolved to call on the Sri Lankan government to protect Tamil culture and assure Tamils there lives of dignity
- It also resolved to ask India to move UN for Sri Lankan Tamils’ right to political self-determination
Touched though it was by controversy, the TESO conference held last week turned out to be a
heartwarming event for DMK chief M. Karunanidhi. The 88-year-old veteran has had bad times since 2011: first his party was badly beaten in the assembly elections; then his daughter Kanimozhi, entangled in the 2G scam, was incarcerated. The Tamil Eelam Supporters’ Organisation conference, which he organised in the face of opposition from the J. Jayalalitha government, once again gave him an opportunity to proclaim himself a stout champion of Sri Lankan Tamils.
It’s a cause his rhetoric has always been loud on, but over the last three years, Sri Lankan Tamils have been wondering if there was any substance to it. In 2009, the Lankan army swept rebel strongholds in an assault that left LTTE chief V. Prabhakaran dead. The military action also killed some 40,000 Tamil civilians, and this was widely described as genocidal. Some videos that surfaced later showed Sri Lankan soldiers shooting dead young Tamil rebels who had been stripped and bound hand and foot. Karunanidhi had protested the army operation with a fast. His party had threatened to withdraw from the UPA government at the Centre if it did not adopt a resolution against Sri Lanka at the United Nations. Instead, he had ended his breakfast-to-lunch fast.
At the closed-door session of the conference, Karunanidhi claimed the Sri Lankan government had cheated the world saying hostilities had ended, and he’d been misled: “Based on the Lankan statement, the MEA issued a statement, a copy of which was sent to me at the fasting site.” It is not clear if this has passed muster, but the 14 resolutions adopted at the conference were probably aimed at boosting his credentials with Sri Lankan Tamils. Among them is one asking the Sri Lankan government to protect Tamil culture and language, ensure facilities for Tamil refugees and ensure the safety of Indian fishermen. Another demanded that India adopt a resolution at the UN that Tamils on the island be given full rights, including that to decide their own political future.
Fr Jegath Casper Raj, a rights activist, says it was Karunanidhi who started the debate on the Lankan Tamils issue and then let them down. “Even so, a fresh beginning has been made,” says Fr Raj. “Kalaignar has come with a vision, but has not given us a roadmap. But if he can begin to act on the resolutions adopted, he will have a chance to redeem himself in Tamils’ eyes.”
The conference, before it was finally held, ran into trouble both with the state government and the Centre. Chief minister J. Jayalalitha had tried to put a spanner in the works by denying permission to hold the conference at the ymca grounds. The high court, however, allowed the conference, ignoring the government counsel’s plea that it was feared that terrorists and LTTE cadres would be attending it. The Centre insisted that the word ‘Eelam’ be dropped, but then let it be. Karunanidhi had argued that the term was used in Tamil literature as early as 2,000 years ago; all the same, during the conference he was mindful of the Centre’s diktat that no resolution about the formation of an Eelam that would interefere with the sovereignty of a nation be adopted. He justified this before delegates saying, “My explanation is: our first priority is to nurse the wounds suffered by the Tamils. Following this, within my lifetime, I will struggle to realise my dream with all of you.” Equivocation, after all, has always been his weapons of choice.