Tamil Nadu

Anti-Tamil riots and MGR’s ‘political gift’

M.G. Ramachandran, who was Tamil Nadu Chief Minister during 1977-87, saw in the 1983 anti-Tamil riots in Sri Lanka a “political tool, political gift” to gain greater leverage with the Central government, according to R. Kannan, whose biography MGR: A Life was recently released.

In an interview to The Hindu, Dr. Kannan recalled that ever since Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister again in January 1980, MGR did not have a very good relationship with the Centre and this went on for a little over three years. “Thanks to the ethnic issue, there was a need for the Centre also to soften towards him.”

MGR had realised that on the issue of Sri Lankan Tamils, the Central government had to rely on him before making its moves.

When the DMK, the principal Opposition party, made a “shrill demand” for a Cyprus-like intervention in Sri Lanka or sending Indian Army to the island, MGR handled the situation “very deftly.” Responding to the DMK’s demand, MGR asked why should M. Karunanidhi make that kind of demand when Sri Lanka’s Tamil Members of Parliament themselves did not ask for such an intervention. “I am not sure whether his response was spontaneous or well rehearsed. But, he had tried to embarrass the DMK as much as possible,” Dr. Kannan said.

Ties with Indra

The author, also the Head of Office of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq in Basra, explained that Indira Gandhi had, till 1983, regarded MGR as an undependable person following the latter’s decision not to support her candidature in the 1979 Thanjavur Parliamentary byelection, “even though he had funded her campaign during the Chickmagalur bypoll in 1978.”

Pointing out that MGR, Indira Gandhi and R. Venkataraman, who was Union Finance and Defence Minister during 1980-84, were all on the same page on the ethnic issue, Dr. Kannan said neither MGR nor anyone in the country at that point of time had visualised the ramifications of supporting the militant groups, as it was “too early then to think so.” As many have recorded, he took an instant liking towards V. Prabhakaran of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Asked how Indira Gandhi and MGR could support the militants, who were operating in the 1980s out of Tamil Nadu despite the State’s experience with “secessionist movements,” Dr. Kannan asserted that there were only “very fringe elements” in Tamil Nadu which could not be equated with separatist elements in Jammu and Kashmir or Khalistan supporters in Punjab.

The two leaders were aware of this factor and whatever they did was to express solidarity with the Tamils of Sri Lanka. Otherwise, the fringe elements here would have acquired some strength. “We [Tamil Nadu] have long ago integrated with the rest of the country. We have a sense of cultural exclusiveness, which I do not think will lead to secessionism,” Dr. Kannan added.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | May 7, 2021 8:39:42 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/anti-tamil-riots-and-mgrs-political-gift/article19286790.ece

Next Story