For the first time, the issue of Lankan Tamils is likely to play a key role in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. Although local issues are rarely a factor in the Lok Sabha polls, that is set to change in the 2014 elections, as far as Tamil Nadu is concerned. With the US set to move a resolution against Sri Lanka in the United Nations Human Rights Commission, the DMK is pushing the Centre to support the same.
The Channel 4 stories on human rights violations in the last phase of the war in Lanka have been a genuine game changer, raising serious concerns among the ordinary people, over human rights violations in Sri Lanka during the last days of its civil war, in which LTTE leader Prabhakaran and his family were killed. The AIADMK, DMK, MDMK and other parties have all been strident in demanding that the Centre take a pro-Tamil people stand. The emotive issue claimed yet another human life, when L Mani self immolated on Monday to highlight the Sri Lankan Tamils issue.
The onus is now on all parties to play the electoral politics well, and notch up scores to show that they care about the ethnic Tamils in Lanka. In fact the DMK organized Tamil Eelam Supporters’ Organisation (TESO) meet to be held in Delhi on March 7, and its call for a general strike in the state on March 12 actually show that the UPA ally has already swung into the election mood if not mode.
The Congress, which is once again gravitating towards the DMK for a possible electoral alliance, has to gain ground quickly, specially since AIADMK supremo and the chief minister J Jayalalithaa has already taken a tangible stand on at least four occasions in the recent past. She has moved a resolution in the Assembly, wanting Lankan President declared as a war criminal and calling for economic sanctions; her government passed a resolution in the Assembly demanding commutation of the death sentences awarded to Rajiv Gandhi killers. Thirdly, she sent back the Sri Lankan football team, and justified the action. Fourthly, she has called off the Asian Athletics Championship, scheduled to be held in Chennai. Experts say that against such demonstrated action, DMK has to demonstrate to the public that it has forced a change in the Centre’s approach to the Lankan issue. "If it succeeds in doing so, then it will be a major takeaway from the 9-year alliance with the Congress," says an analyst.
The state Congress seems to have awakened to the reality that it cannot be out of synch with popular sentiment, and its MPs have urged Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi on the need for Congress party to mark its presence in the March 7 TESO meet in Delhi. If Congress participates in the TESO meet , it would be a turning point in its stance. A political analyst and an expert on Sri Lanka says that for over two decades the Lankan issue had never had any electoral impact. "That was because of the Rajiv Gandhi assassination and the suspicion about LTTE , even though it had many admirers. Now there is no LTTE, and there is a global perception that war crimes were committed. With only victim-Tamils, as opposed to terrorist-Tamils in existence, the plight of Lankan Tamils may have an electoral impact for the first time. In the poll scenario, the state Congress will want to dispel the impression that it is not in tune with popular sentiment, " he adds.
Whether the Congress high command gives the green signal for participating in the TESO conference or not, the ground reality is that Congress needs an alliance partner for Lok Sabha elections, and the DMK appears to be its best bet at present. Experts say that ayalalithaa would want to be in a regime where her party is able to bring tangible benefits to Tamil Nadu.
The elections may be a bit down the road, but the war of words has already begun, on who is the people’s person. In a recent interview, MDMK’s leader Vaiko, had claimed that Karunanidhi merely pretends, but Jayalalithaa takes up the struggle ("Kalaignar n adagamadugirar, Jayalalithaa poradugirar" ).
In Tamil cinema, it is all about being an action hero. In politics, it is always a war of words between the Dravidian parties. But in the upcoming general election, mere words may not be enough to change public perception, say experts. Action may just be the key word.
The very fact that the Sri Lankan issue has come up for discussion in Parliament on the very day of the DMK-organised TESO meet is another indicator that the Lankan issue is not a 'local' issue but one that all national parties are beginning to appreciate as a larger problem.
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