The issue of alleged human rights violations in Sri Lanka during the final phase of the civil war in 2009 is turning out to be a bridge too far between the DMK and the Congress, both of whom share a symbiotic relationship in UPA II. The two parties, once close allies, are unable to see eye to eye on what is turning out to be a toss up between national diplomacy and unassailable local sentiments.
On Monday, a day after DMK president M Krunanidhi issued an ultimatum, talks between the DMK and the three Congress, represented by its ministers, P Chidambaram, AK Anthony and Ghulam Nabi Azad, Chennai in an attempt to assuage the DMK, hit an impasse.
The bone of contention is over amendments to a US-sponsored resolution against Sri Lanka in the United Nations Human Rights Council which is coming up for vote in Geneva on March 21. The DMK wants two key amendments to the resolution, namely, mention of 'genocide' by the Lankan army in the final phases of the civil war.
The DMK also wants the inclusion of an 'international' probe into excesses committed in the final phases of the Lankan civil war. The DMK would also like to see a time bound probe into the allegations. In short, it wants Sri Lanka brought to book, for suspected war crimes, which is one reason for its demand for an international probe. The DMK has always cited the emotional bond between Tamil Nadu and ethnic Lankan Tamils. However, it is not the only party to do so. Political parties in the state often refer harp on the 'umbilical cord' binding local Tamils and Lankan Tamils.
The Tamil Nadu chief minster J Jayalalithaa has also demanded that the Centre act on the emotive issue. In a recent letter to Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, she wanted India to move for amendments to strengthen the US resolution on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC, and urged the government to take a "courageous stand on the issue". "It is absolutely important that India takes a strong stand in support of the US-sponsored resolution at the 22nd session of the UNHRC and more importantly moves necessary independent amendments to further strengthen the resolution, " she said , in her letter.
Meanwhile, the student community in the state has taken to street protest in large numbers. On Sunday, students of IIT Madras marked their protest. Hundreds of colleges across the state have been on a protest mode for over a week now, forcing the state government to declare an indefinite closure of all arts and science colleges , as a measure of damage control.
For once, arch rivals DMK and AIADMK are on the same page, in wanting the Centre to take a firm stand on the US-sponsored resolution on Sri Lanka.
However, the Centre shows no sign of caving in, despite the fact that the next Lok Sabha elections are due in 2014, if not earlier, and it is in Congress' interest to maintain status quo.
Will the UPA sacrifice its trusted ally, the DMK?
Experts say that while the Congress has to weigh in diplomacy—after all it would not want reciprocal calls for international probe into its actions in sensitive border areas—the DMK has no choice but to push hard for amendments to the resolution, since a lot is at stake for the Party. Political observers say that the DMK is preparing for the 2014 elections. "It has already lost a lost of ground to its arch rival AIADMK who is seen as having taken a tough stand on the TN Assembly floor. The DMK's credibility is at stake here," says a political analyst.
Experts also say that the million dollar question today in Tamil Nadu is whether the DMK will be loyal to the UPA or will it be true to the cause of the Lankan Tamils. " The devolution of power and the complete rehabilitation of the Lankan Tamils have not taken place, although the war ended in 2009. If the DMK fails to push for an impartial probe in Lanka, for alleged war crimes, it will lose its credibility," say experts.
Political observers also say that with the student community having taken a pro-active role, and if the DMK president backtracks, against his threat to pull out, the anger will turn against the DMK, even if it says it will extend outside support to the UPA. "It will be quite strident, and there will always be a suspicion that the DMK gave in because of considerations over 2G spectrum scandal and Kanimozhi's case. " That would be political hara-kiri" feel some experts.