It is reassuring that a positive and statesmanlike initiative by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi has been matched by a like response from Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa. There can be little doubt that the five-day visit by a group of ten parliamentarians of the State’s ruling combine to Sri Lanka, for a first-hand assessment of the conditions of the nearly 250,000 war-displaced Tamils housed in government-run camps in the north, has contributed to a better understanding of the prevailing situation in the island nation. After months of confusion and misperceptions, influential sections of the Tamil Nadu polity have had a rare opportunity to come to terms with the realities of post-Prabakaran Sri Lanka. There appears to be a readiness to look ahead towards practical solutions rather than behind to a benighted past dominated by calamitous violence, terrorism, and illfare in the cause of a secessionist struggle that never had a chance of achieving its proclaimed goal. By enabling the delegation freely to visit the refugee camps in Vavuniya district, Jaffna town, and plantation areas where Indian-origin Tamils are settled, Sri Lanka demonstrated a far-sighted willingness to accommodate the sensitivities of political parties in Tamil Nadu. In concrete terms, the mission can be commended for obtaining an assurance from President Rajapaksa that 58,000 displaced Tamils in the camps would be returned to their homes in a fortnight’s time, and that the remaining Tamils would be resettled gradually, as soon as de-mining operations permitted a safe return to their areas.
President Rajapaksa clearly has his priorities right — the first priority being the duty of the state to take care of the immediate basic needs and the safety of its Tamil citizens displaced during the fierce endgame of a three-decade-long civil war. To send the displaced people home in the absence of conditions assuring their safety from landmines and the minimum infrastructure needed to carry on life and work would have been an abdication of the government’s responsibility to its own citizens. The victims of the civil war need all the help they can get from their government, aided generously by India, other foreign governments, and genuine international aid agencies, to rebuild their lives and future. The Sri Lankan government must be encouraged to be more open and liberal in its policy towards people who were once in thrall to the LTTE; this would imply that only those who had organisational links with the extremist outfit need to be retained in the camps after the de-mining exercise is completed. The search for a just and enduring political solution acceptable to the Tamils, the Muslims, and the majority Sinhalese needs to be speeded up but the reality is that this can come only after the displaced Tamils are returned, in substantial measure, to their areas and after the presidential and parliamentary elections are completed by the first half of 2010.