Union Minister E.M. Sudarsana Natchiappan on Monday created a flutter by saying “Sri Lankan Tamils must first get hold of their land, as Sri Lanka belongs to them” before their “Eelam dream” could become a reality.
Talking to reporters at the airport, the Minister of State for Commerce and Industry said land was important for the Tamils just as it was for Israel and Palestine. “I have told the Tamil diaspora, whose members are in touch with me, that Sri Lanka is our holy land. Don’t work against it.” And he added: “You should first capture Sri Lanka to achieve your objective.”
Mr. Natchiappan’s remarks, repeatedly aired on Tamil television channels, seemed to suggest that he favoured Tamils capturing their land in Sri Lanka as a first step towards achieving Eelam. It came as a surprise as he is known defender of the Congress government’s policy of engagement with Sri Lanka even while working for devolution of power for the Tamil minority there.
However, Mr. Natchiappan later clarified to The Hindu that what he meant that was that Tamils should lay claim to their territory and fight politically for their rights. He mentioned ‘Eelam’, a term that refers to the whole of Sri Lanka, and not to ‘Tamil Eelam’.
The reference to land was in the context of Israel being created only after land was obtained and the Palestinian Authority gaining recognition based on territory.
He also had the forthcoming North-Eastern Provincial Council elections in mind. “Elections are taking place in Tamil areas for the first time [in over two decades]. Unless and until Tamils get devolution of power, they cannot get equal rights.
It can be achieved only by democratic means,” he said and wanted the diaspora to help the Tamils living in the country.
Mr Natchiappan said Tamils in Sri Lanka were keen that the Indian Prime Minister should attend the Commonwealth summit (to be held in November in Colombo) as they believed that only a strong India could protect their interests and as India had already spent considerable sums towards their rehabilitation.
To a question on India’s defence cooperation with Sri Lanka, he said the ties between the two countries were important to ensure that Sri Lanka did not inch towards China for help.