Visit will instil confidence in Sri Lankan Tamils: Congress MP

With the two main political parties from Tamil Nadu staying away from a parliamentary delegation to Sri Lanka, the visit beginning on Monday is set to be a low-key affair that gives the impression of a goodwill mission and sceptics doubt whether it would consist of an interactive engagement with key stakeholders.

Ever since the delegation's visit was announced, there was much scepticism about its usefulness, as a similar tour by a group of UPA MPs from Tamil Nadu in the immediate aftermath of the end of the war in 2009 drew only derision from sympathisers of the Tamil cause. Moreover, critics are saying the omission of CPI's D. Raja and Viduthalai Chiruthaikal Katchi (VCK) leader Thol Thirumavalavan, who have been consistently raising their voice in support of the Sri Lankan Tamils both in Parliament and other public platforms, is glaring.

T.K. Rangarajan (CPI-M), a member of the delegation, felt that it could have been useful, had Mr. Raja and Mr. Thirumavalavan been included in the team. Former VCK MLA Ravikumar and Tamils Protection Movement coordinator P. Nedumaran also stress this point.

“The omission has created an impression that Sri Lanka decided on who should be part of the delegation. India is sending the team only to mollify Sri Lanka, which is upset over India's vote in favour of a US-sponsored resolution against it in the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC)," Mr Ravikumar said.

Mr. Raja told The Hindu that he had no idea why he was not included and that it was for the Centre to explain. “It looks like a goodwill visit and it is unlikely to serve any purpose. I am already hearing reports that people have been intimidated to behave in proper manner during the Indian delegation's visit,” he said.

The government, according to Mr. Raja, ought to have accommodated representatives of all political parties in Tamil Nadu irrespective of their strength, as the State had more stakes than any other in the problem of the Sri Lankan Tamils.

“If the visit's purpose was to oversee India-sponsored projects, it can be done by a team of diplomats and there is no need for a Parliamentary delegation. Instead of confining itself to an official briefing, the team should have meaningful dialogue with the Sri Lankan government on human rights issues and a political solution to the ethnic problem,” he said. However, Congress MP E.M. Sudarsana Natchiappan, who is part of the present delegation, contended that the visit would provide an opportunity to instil confidence in the Sri Lankan Tamils and send a message that India would always stand by them in times of crisis.

Rejecting criticism that the delegation would not be allowed to have a free interaction with the local Tamil population, Mr Natchiappan said: “We will also look into the law-and-order situation, besides the process of demilitarisation in Tamil areas.”

“We are visiting areas where India-sponsored projects are processing. We will meet Tamil leaders and are likely to have a discussion on the 13th amendment and the devolution process. We will have a thorough idea of the situation on the ground before meeting President Mahinda Rajapaksa,” he said.

V. Suryanarayan, an expert on South Asian Affairs, agreed that Tamil Nadu's concerns were genuine, but expressed the hope that Sushma Swaraj, who leads the delegation, would not allow herself to be bulldozed into a conducted tour. “The delegation should visit Jaffna University, Kilinochchi and Vavuniya and interact with the people and human rights activists like P. Saravanamuttu, Jehan Perera and Tamil MPs,” he added.