Opinion » Lead

Updated: March 28, 2013 00:41 IST

With fair-weather friends like these …

Sankaran Krishna
Comment (21)   ·   print   ·   T  T  

It would be naïve on the part of Sri Lankan Tamils to repose faith in parties like the DMK and the AIADMK which are competing to out-‘Thamizh’ each other

A photograph often cuts through tonnes of verbiage and exposes the truth. One such photograph was published on March 19 soon after the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam president M. Karunanidhi announced his party’s withdrawal from the United Progressive Alliance government led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. It showed a handful of smiling DMK cadres outside party headquarters distributing bright yellow “laddus” as fireworks were set off “celebrating” the party’s decision.

Why would withdrawal from the ruling coalition, based on principled differences with the Congress over the Sri Lankan issue, specifically on the milquetoast Resolution supported by India at the recent Geneva meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, be worthy of celebration? Should it not be marked by solemnity and a commitment to pressure the Centre to do the right thing by the Sri Lankan Tamils? Isn’t there something crass about distributing ‘laddus’ when issues such as the wanton killing of civilians, denial of rights to a minority, and other weighty matters are at stake?


Yet, it’s precisely such opportunism that has marked the actions of the DMK (as well as the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Congress and other parties) when it comes to Sri Lanka. Having decided that allying with the Congress in the next election would prove a liability, the DMK used the putative shortcomings of the Geneva resolution that India supported against Sri Lanka as its alibi to exit the UPA. If there is one lesson for the Sri Lankan Tamils in such a photograph, it is this: to repose any faith in the sincerity and goodwill of parties like the DMK would be nothing but naïveté.

At least since the beginning of Indira Gandhi’s second stint in power starting in 1980, one unexamined and self-serving fiction has underlain much of our foreign policy towards Sri Lanka — the allegedly secessionist proclivities of Tamil Nadu. This simmering sub-nationalism, it was argued by many in New Delhi, meant India had more than just an idle interest in Sri Lanka’s domestic affairs as the fate of the Tamil minority there could have grave implications for India’s security and integrity given kin-ethnics in Tamil Nadu. Indeed, such a logic was used to justify our policy of covertly aiding Sri Lankan Tamil militant groups or, at a minimum, allowed Delhi a degree of ‘plausible deniability’ suggesting that if Sri Lankan Tamil militants found a safe haven in Tamil Nadu, it was not policy but something beyond Delhi’s control.

An academically thorough and rigorous examination of the history of the Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu would seriously question such assumptions about Tamil sub-nationalism. One could argue that the very breaking away of the DMK from the parent social movement-based Dravida Kazhagam (DK) in 1949 indexed a desire to engage in electoral politics and work India’s emerging federal order in favour of the State. This tendency gained a powerful fillip after three significant events: the creation of language-based States in the mid-1950s; the explicit proscription of secessionist parties in the aftermath of the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962; and most importantly the Central government indefinitely ‘postponing’ the anointment of Hindi as the national language into the indefinite future after the tumult over the issue in the mid-1960s. Once the DMK emerged as the ruling party in the State elections of 1967, the die was cast: thereafter, any secessionist embers the Dravidian movement may have had were confined to its fringes. After the breakaway of the All-India Anna DMK from the DMK under the charismatic leadership of MGR in 1972, Tamil Nadu politics has been a triangle involving the two Dravidian parties and the Congress. Electoral understandings with the Congress often paved the way for power in the State Assembly and increased clout in the coalition governments that predominated at the Centre.

Performative staple

Other integrative processes have powerfully buttressed the conformist or moderating compulsions of electoral politics in recent years, ranging from economic liberalisation and mass media to cricket and consumer culture. What this has meant for the two main Dravidian parties in a crowded electoral marketplace is fairly simple: they are locked in a competition to out-‘Thamizh’ each other to gain distinction and retain a brand identity, but mainly in a symbolic or rhetorical sense. Expressing solidarity and support for Tamil people and the Tamil language everywhere becomes a performative staple of Dravidian politics. Yet they dare not take up a cause in any substantive sense as that might run afoul of the Centre’s well-established sovereignty in foreign affairs or strain relations with the Central government.

The Congress has hardly been immune to the seductions of appearing as the defender of Tamil interests elsewhere in its quest to re-establish itself in the State. In the Assembly elections of 1989, it chose to run alone on the platform of being the champion of Tamils — both here and there — as proven by the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement of 1987 signed by Rajiv Gandhi and J.R. Jayewardene. The ISLA required that Sri Lanka recognise itself as a union of provinces; the north and east as the areas of traditional Tamil habitation; and that it cede a far greater degree of autonomy to all provinces. These and other aspects of that agreement were given extensive publicity by the Congress during the campaign, and it featured prominently in its party platform in Tamil Nadu. Rajiv Gandhi’s multiple trips to the State in the run-up to those elections hammered away at the idea that the Congress, rather than the Dravidian parties, would be better at serving Tamil interests. That the ISLA also occasioned the entry of the Indian Peace Keeping Forces which were at that very moment engaged in a disastrous campaign against the Lankan Tamil militant groups destroyed any Congress efforts to present itself as the saviour of Tamils. The Congress was duly routed in the elections.

The DMK’s expediency over the Geneva resolution comes at a particularly poignant moment in the history of the Sri Lankan Tamils. President Mahinda Rajapaksa seems bent on proving the dictum that victory is often more catastrophic for a society than defeat or a standoff. Far from capitalising on the “Ashokan” moment that prevailed in the immediate aftermath of May 2009, when he could have inaugurated a new era of national reconciliation and integration based on ethnic equality, he has chosen to further consolidate Sinhala majoritarianism and personal power. The resettlement of Tamils has been slow and humiliating; there has been no movement on provincial autonomy; and there are genuine fears that, as has already happened with the Eastern province, the demographic balance of the North will slowly and irrevocably be changed. ‘War tourism’ brings southern Sinhalese visitors to various battlegrounds to commemorate ‘victory’ in the North even as the graves of Tamil militants and others are being paved over. The military continues to be an overbearing force in the North and even relations between Buddhists and Muslims — hitherto a relative non-issue in Sri Lanka — are worsening. If anything, far from being magnanimous in victory, the Rajapaksa regime is further distancing Sri Lanka from a narrative of pluralism and ethnic cohabitation.


The protests of students and other sections of civil society in parts of southern India and especially Tamil Nadu are heartening. Some of these are clearly independent of the rent-a-crowd antics of political parties and tap into genuine outrage at the impunity of the Rajapaksa regime. The widely publicised photographs of 12-year-old Balachandran taken just before and after his brutal killing whilst in custody seem to have galvanised a number of people into action. There remain serious questions about the sustainability of such protests and of any impact on government policy. Certainly, the Indian government will not want to set any precedents in this matter of an international inquiry, and any overt pressure on the Rajapaksa regime would only further inflame Sinhalese intransigence. The incentives for strong and quiet advocacy of the Tamil cause by Delhi are hard to discern at the moment. Yet sustained pressure from civil society groups on normative grounds may be the best one can do for now. In the meanwhile, for Sri Lankan Tamils, ignoring the theatrics of fair-weather friends like the DMK may be the sensible thing to do.

(Sankaran Krishna is a professor of political science at the University of Hawaii in the U.S. —

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It is appropriate to state that it depends on the leader of the
parties whether they capitalize these sensitive issues for their
politics.If we observe closely the ideologies of dravidian parties had
seen great changes(almost disappeared now) since its inception by EVR
periyar.It is to be noted that MGR during his regime did a lot to help
srilankan tamils through the LTTE chief prabakaran. There were
instances when MGR gave crores of rupees from his personal funds and
it helped LTTE to such an extent that they could form a separate
Government(National Liberation Army and other basic structures of a
Govt such as administration,revenue,law and order etc)in Srilanka. At
times MGR supported LTTE even overruling the central Govt ,for example
when the LTTE bought ammunition from abroad MGR helped them to clear
the customs at the chennai port. Knowingly or unknowingly MGR did an
exceptional help to his brothers at his birth place. Had he not died
,Srilankan Tamil would have got Freedom by now

from:  Jayaraj Perumal
Posted on: Mar 29, 2013 at 18:45 IST

While analysing the stand of the political parties in T&N, the writer has rightly seen the futility of the parts they are playing. Who are these "students" protesting in Tamil Nadu for the Tamils settled in Sri Lanka for generations? Other than a connection based on ethnicity, there is no further love between them. The Sri Lanka Tamils who have come as refugees have firmly settled in India (ie T&N) and have no intention of going back to Sri Lanka. The motive of this group of young "students" must be determined. It reminds us when not long ago when Jayalalithaa for populist reasons supported the agitators at Kudankulam and found later that the agitators had their own agenda and had to face reality. BY showing such narrow chauvinistic policies, the two major parties in T&n may find it difficult to work as part of any future Centarl Govt.

from:  S.N.Iyer
Posted on: Mar 29, 2013 at 10:10 IST

What extra rights are denied to sri lankan tamils that other sri lankans
have? Sri Lanka has sinhala buddhists, sinhala catholics, indian tamils,
muslims, malays, burgers and indigenouse peoples besides sri lankan
tamils. If we are to create separate states for each of these groups (to
be fair since why a separate state for sri lankan tamils and why not for
others?!) there will not be a sri lanka left to speak of. Please India
leave sri lanka alone and mind your own business.

from:  sam
Posted on: Mar 29, 2013 at 00:07 IST

Thought provoking article, although, for all those with a bit of
knowledge, the political triangle and its performance since 1960's,of
Tamil Nadu, is well known. If only we can add the family squabbles
for power and money, it is apparent that the motives of DMK are more
sinister than sincere.
It is a strange world that a genocide of this proportion, is swept
under the carpet and that no one has been brought to justice. This is
not a matter for India alone, let alone Tamil Nadu, but for the entire
humanity. While most of the world emulate British standards in many
respects (we have to find out the pioneers and champions of justice
system, human rights and equality- that is where Britain scores over
the rest of the world), referendum with the rights for the people who
are distraught is a medium of justice. Ideally, this is what should
have happened in Sri Lanka, a country whose language is spoken by a
tiny minority of human race, but a country that is hell bent on
destroying others.

from:  Ram A
Posted on: Mar 28, 2013 at 23:59 IST

I think it is unfair to equare AIADMK and DMK in this issue. AIADMK (especially Jayalalitha) has always been consistently against LTTE's path but did not find any issue on the cause. If LTTE had bent a bit there were a number of peace makers (like Norway, IPKF) who would have brokered a deal and they could have saved many lives. Instead they wanted to carve out a country which was their aim. DMK has always been palying SL tamils issue for politics so if people still have not realised then god save TN.

from:  Ragav
Posted on: Mar 28, 2013 at 21:03 IST

The issue of Sri Lankan Tamils is a superb cover for parties like the DMK to deflect public attention from the monstrous scams that their members were and are still involved in. And of course, one should never forget how selfless the agitators in Tamil Nadu are. They can put aside their own need for justice for the brazen manner in which their political leaders and instigators have looted them, and come forward to rally for the cause Tamils in SL. If the same fervor were to have been shown when dalit and yes, Tamil settlements were burned in Dharmapuri, when Raja, Kannimozhi and gang. looted the country and yes, Tamils, at least we could see some change here. But no, the criminals in our own backyard can get away. And of course, our sense of support to the Tamil cause is by beating up monks, innocent civilians, and banning sportspersons from entering TN. What next? Ban Sri Lankan stations on the radio?

from:  luhar sen
Posted on: Mar 28, 2013 at 21:02 IST

It would be foolish for us to believe that Sri Lankan Tamils continue
to repose their faith on state parties of Tamil Nadu that they stand
for their cause and concern in the island nation. As is said by many,
it is mere "politiks" of Tamil Nadu state parties to gain mileage in
the race of the day.It is not the demonstrations during the visits of
Sri Lankan president to India or attacks on citizens of Lanka who are
on tourist visit to India that can serve the purpose to show their
protest towards Sri Lankan regime.
Why not all the political parties of Tamil Nadu form
a strong and sound group of intelligentia and coordinate along with
Indian government to have a healthy and vibrant "Track-2" diplomacy
raising their voice on their demands, that nothing short of
integration and equality will be accepted. Pressurizing Indian
government to vote/ voice against Lanka in UNHCR merely sidetracks
the diplomatic healthiness that both countries are deserving and
boosts the "cheque-book" diplomacy of China which is far grave threat
to the Indian sub continent as a whole.

Posted on: Mar 28, 2013 at 20:45 IST

I am pleasantly surprised that TheHindu has published an article speaking the truth about dmk. The satire shown in Indiatoday recently about mk's facebook also showed similar views to this nice article. It is time the people of Tamilnadu choose someone other than the current admk , dmk.

from:  simhan
Posted on: Mar 28, 2013 at 16:56 IST

Who is/was not doing politics in Sri Lankan Tamil issue? Prabhakaran was using India and Tamil Nadu, in particular political parties of Tamil Nadu, whenever it suited him. Was it not politics? The tamils of Sri lanka believed him and thought he will bring some change in their lives which were genuinely required. LTTE had the temerity to kill Rajiv Gnadhi in Tamil Nadu! I am not in any ways suggecting that tamils in SL should suffer for their act of supporting LTTE. But, it takes time. Under the present circumstances prevailing in TN, is it any body's case that DMK should continue in the Union Govt.?

Posted on: Mar 28, 2013 at 15:01 IST

The Srilankan issues could have been handled amicably after the war, with a strong Indian Leader and a Compassionate Srilankan Leader. Both are missing and Dravidian parties( they never had statesmen after Anna)are highly Opportunists and they only want to kick the other party and become rich in the process. Tamilnadu will not prosper under Dravidian parties and it is a curse. None of these leaders have visited SL and taken any initiatives and can talk from here only. Govt. is interested in putting cases against central govt.(what a joke)and they can not work with others. Very unfortunate...

from:  Siva
Posted on: Mar 28, 2013 at 14:42 IST

Srilankan tamils were at the receiving end both at the hands of LTTE
and Srilankan Govt.LTTE butchered Tamils not subscribing to their way
of struggle and eliminated moderate leaders like Amrithalingam.When
the struggle for autonomy was waged peacefully by moderates at least
there was some hope.When weapons started talking the struggle was
crushed with weapons.Now that the struggle has vanished the innocent
Tamils are at the mercy of Srilankan Govt. Any intervention at this
stage by other countries will only complicate the natters.The
Tamilnadu political parties and the leaders spearheading the student
agitation are aware of that.But vote bank politics may fetch votes
here,it won't benefit Srilankan Tamils

from:  Jagannathan k
Posted on: Mar 28, 2013 at 14:25 IST

Let us remember that Sri Lankan Tamils are citizens of Sri Lanka and our
government ought not to meddle in their affairs, at least not now, beyond the
usual request made by all countries that the atrocities of wartime by both sides be
investigated duly.

These statements of the TN politicians will only harm Sri Lankan Tamils by
providing ammunition to the nationalist Sinhala politicians who will be able to
bolster their claims about the Tamils not being real Sri Lankans. After all, that is
the absurd argument behind the entire saga, namely that Sri Lanka belongs to the
Sinhala and to them alone, which has led to decades of repression, war and
countless lives lost.

We have no right to meddle in Sri Lanka, just as Pakistan hasn't got a right to
meddle in Kashmir.

Let us keep our nose out of Sri Lanka, or have we forgotten the hard lessons
taught to us by history?

from:  Vivek
Posted on: Mar 28, 2013 at 13:16 IST

When the war was at its peak & when civilians were dying (2009), the DMK
was busy grabbing portfolios / cabinet berths for its MP-s. The act of
pulling out support after being a part of the government for almost 9
years is political opportunism at its best. As the author rightly said,
SL Tamils would be better off if they don't heed to the antics of
opportunistic politicians of TN.

from:  Sathish
Posted on: Mar 28, 2013 at 12:11 IST

Superb article. The writer has wonderfully separated the chaff from
the rice. The hypocritical & opportunistic nature of the so-called
Tamil political parties has been clearly illustrated. And Mahinda
Rajapakshe could have avoided this situation that has developed now,
if he had acted like a statesman and worked for genuine reconciliation
between the Tamils and Sinhalese by ensuring equality for all
The students' protest is heartwarming, but it is very difficult to see
what effect they have on improving the plight of the Tamils in

from:  Balaji
Posted on: Mar 28, 2013 at 11:52 IST

It is true that the real reason for DMK quitting the UPA government was that it views congress as a liability in the upcoming general elections.
DMK is on the backfoot in Tamil Nadu politics owing to corruption charges and inner party squabbling. Also, the recent Cauvery Water tribunal's verdict has gone Jayalalita's way.
Feeling pressure in order to maintain its position and relevance in Tamil Nadu politics, DMK is resorting to grandstanding in an eternally sensitive issue.
All political parties must understand that Central government has the last say in deciding on matters of foreign affairs. We must give credit to the central government as it did not fall prey to the demand of a parliamentarian resolution. I feel India should lodge protests against Sri lanka in the bilateral meetings. At best, India can be a facilitator in the rehabilitation of Sri Lankan tamils. But, the real change has to come from within Sri Lanka.

from:  Mukut Ray
Posted on: Mar 28, 2013 at 11:17 IST

A correct description of the Tamil Nadu parties of allaying with UPA or NDA or United Front ever since coalition politics started ruling the country is "far-weather-friends". These two parties decide to partner only winning combination without any ideological commitment before or after election and again divorce before next election time. DMK is great master of this art of winning friends for self benefit. As Mr Sankaran Krishnan rightly pointed out, the DMK is playing same game in case of Sri Lankan Tamils now, while fully keeping quiet when actual massacre of Tamizhs was taking place either by LTTE or Sri Lankan government just for enjoying the benefits of power with Congress or NDA all the time. Not only Sri Lankan Tamizhs but Indian political parties like Congress or BJP or any other party should be wary of this fact before partnering with Tamil Parties.

from:  MvjRao
Posted on: Mar 28, 2013 at 10:53 IST

Tamil Nationalist politics already have travelled beyond DMK and
AIADMK. The student upsurge is an example. The columnist argued about
“sustained pressure from civil society’. How can it possible without
the involvement of political parties like DMK and AIADMK? In Gramscian
and Althusserian sense ‘civil society’ and ' political society' are
inter related not antagonistic.

from:  Ravikumar
Posted on: Mar 28, 2013 at 10:51 IST

A pretty candid article about the current state of affairs in Tamil
regional politics which are seeking to have national and international
implications. Reminds me of a conversations between two tamilian
friends of mine, one based in malaysia and the other in Chennai. When
the one in Chennai was cursing Sri lankans and singing paeans of the DMK for taking up the cause of Srilankan Tamils the Malaysian asked as to what good did the government do for him (i.e the indian Tamil) for which he had no answer. It is easy for politicians to mobilise people on emotive issues but only when they work for the electorate which voted for them will they achieve some credibility and respect.

from:  krishnan
Posted on: Mar 28, 2013 at 10:37 IST

U have rightly hit the bulls eye. Both the dravidian parties along with a mute congress have only encouraged formation of agressive splinter groups who are vociferously denouncing India though they being Indians. these seccessionist groups have a bigger agenda, it appears like they want to liberate Eelam immediately and in the long run merge Eelam with Tamil nadu and try to secede from India and become a separate country.
If the ruling party present and the future ruling parties be a silent spectator, this is bound to happen. The agenda of forming dravida nadu is once again remerging by these so called splinter groups.
It has to be nipped at the bud otherwise India will be splitting like the former USSR.

from:  Gopu
Posted on: Mar 28, 2013 at 10:34 IST

Fantastic take on the issue. Absolutely unbiased. The author 's first hand feeling on the latest happenings on Tamilnadu is really commendable.

from:  Ilango
Posted on: Mar 28, 2013 at 07:19 IST

Its been very clear from the very beginning that this whole issue of
"Tamil patriotism" is nothing but a "political drama" organized by DMK and ADMK. On one side, DMK wants to make sure that the tamil people have forgotten all the corruption scandals of DMK (along with UPA)
before the next lok sabha election, and on the other hand ADMK wants
to make sure that it doesn't lose even "1" seat to DMK due to
mishandling of the tamil issue. Both the parties are racing against
time and once again srilankan tamils have become the "pawns". Such a sad state of affair indeed. Sometimes makes me wonder, how "dirty"
politics can get!!

from:  John
Posted on: Mar 28, 2013 at 01:29 IST
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