Amidst Mamata troubles, Centre faces heat over Lankan issues

Last Updated: Wed, Sep 19, 2012 12:29 hrs

Even as the Congress is going to be busy number-crunching in the coming days -- due to the Trinamool Congress and UPA split -- the Dravidian parties, including its UPA ally the DMK, are once again upping the ante on Sri Lankan issues.  

On Tuesday, a day before her visit to Delhi to take part in the Cauvery River Authority meet, which as a separate issue is being convened after a gap of nine long years, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa moved the Supreme Court for expediting the hearing on her writ petition, filed in 2008, seeking a declaration that would deem the agreements of 1974 and 1976 on the ceding of Katchatheevu to Sri Lanka as unconstitutional.

In January 2009, the Court had issued notice to the Centre, asking it to respond to the petition, which highlighted the apprehension of fishermen from Tamil Nadu, who feared attacks to their lives and stock while fishing in the waters of Katchatheevu.

Remember, the Tamil Nadu Assembly had passed a resolution on July 9 last year to retrieve Katchatheevu, a rich marine pocket which nets fishermen a rich haul. In her fresh petition, Jayalalithaa said that since May 2011, there have been 38 incidents of harassments and 23 cases of apprehensions, and has additionally referred to the alleged high handedness of the Lankan Navy in handling fishermen from Tamil Nadu.

Jayalalithaa has already written a number of letters to Dr Manmohan Singh on the fishermen issue, and now she wants the Apex Court to fast-track the hearing on her petition, saying that it is ‘just and necessary’ to do so.

In keeping with her stance that the ceding of Katchatheevu is unconstitutional, Jayalalithaa  has cited the Berubari case which came up in the Supreme Court. In its judgment, in 1960, the Court had held that ceding of any territory of India to another country should be done only with the approval of both Houses of Parliament. This was not done in the case of Katchatheevu, says Jayalaithaa.

Her staunch opponent and DMK president M Karunanidhi has taken strong exception to the Centre playing host to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is arriving on Wednesday night on a three day visit. 

Citing the fact that the United Nations Human Rights Council had asked India and Spain to assess human rights violations in the final stages of the civil war in Sri Lanka, Karunanidhi said “Tamils across the world will closely monitor the stand to be taken by India. At this juncture, no person who is a Tamil by birth will approve of Rajapaksa’s visit and India’s decision to welcome him.".

Meanwhile, MDMK leader Vaiko is also heading to Madhya Pradesh, along with a truck load of supporters, to protest the arrival of Rajapaksa.

Rajapaksa has been invited by the Madhya Pradesh government to lay the foundation stone for the proposed University of Buddhist and Indo studies in Sanchi. Media reports say Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh is hosting a dinner in Rajapaksa’s honour on Thursday. The visit has already stoked emotions, and an auto driver in Salem torched himself on Monday protesting Rajapaksa's visit. He died the following day from injuries sustained during the attempted immolation.

Political observers say that having moved the Supreme Court to expedite her petition on Katchatheevu, Jayalaithaa is unlikely to raise any other issue with the PM on the sidelines of the Cauvery River Authority meet in Delhi. The PM heads the panel, set up in 1997, to arbiter and finalise the water sharing formula between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, among others.  

However, with the Dravidian parties feeling that the Centre has been according greater priority to good neighbourly relations and lesser importance to Tamil feelings, and given that India-Lanka trade is at stake, Congress will be hard-pressed to dance the samba. Especially now, when the UPA 2 is on shaky ground, after the Trinamool pull out.

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Bhama Devi Ravi is a Chennai based journalist