Tamil Nadu

Article critical of Jayalalithaa in Sri Lanka Army website creates furore

Setting aside their differences, political parties in Tamil Nadu on Friday strongly backed Chief Minister Jayalalithaa after the Sri Lankan Army website carried an article critical of her, with an accompanying graphic image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Hours after the article was published, it led to political furore accompanied by protests by AIADMK and Tamil outfits in various parts of the state besides NDA allies demanding India severe ties with Colombo even as the piece was later removed from the website.

Even as Ms. Jayalalithaa urged Mr. Modi to demand an unconditional apology from the Sri Lankan government over the issue, the Sri Lankan Defence Ministry issued the same.

Sri Lanka tries to create fissures: Jayalalithaa

Taking strong exception to an alleged derogatory article about her on the Sri Lankan defence website, Ms. Jayalalithaa accused it of trying to create fissures in India’s federal polity as she demanded an unconditional apology from Colombo for the insinuations against her.

In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi hours after the controversy broke out, leading to a furore in Tamil Nadu’s political circles, she said that it also depicted him in a ’disrespectful manner.’

She said it was brought to her notice that the article, titled ‘How meaningful are Jayalalithaa’s love letters to Narendra Modi’ had been published in the website of Ministry of Defence and Urban Development of Sri Lanka.

Though the article had been removed following an outcry in her state, ‘the damage has been done,’ she told Modi.

She urged Mr. Modi to immediately direct the External Affairs Ministry to summon the Sri Lankan High Commissioner and ’clearly express India’s displeasure’ over the manner in which the article was hosted and “seek an unconditional apology from the Government of Sri Lanka.”

“The visual rendering on the homepage of the official website just above the link is highly objectionable as it depicted both the Prime Minister of India and Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu (herself) in a very trivialized, derogatory and disrespectful manner,” she said in a letter to Mr. Modi.

She said the article contained certain unwarranted and unfounded comments about her consistently taking up issues such as the arrest of Indian fishermen by the Sri Lankan navy, including her strident stand against ceding of Katchatheevu,an islet, to Sri Lanka by way of two agreements in 1974 and 1976.

“This is a livelihood issue for lakhs of fishermen families in my state whose cause I have been espousing and will continue to espouse strongly,” she said.

Ms. Jayalalithaa said her refusal to accept the ceding of Katchatheevu was based on legal grounds.

The article ascribed motives to her without any basis, including the ‘insinuation’ that she had demanded the release of boats from Sri Lankan custody as “some of these may belong to her or her supporters,” she said, citing from the article.

“The article also tries to mischievously create fissures within India’s federal polity where none exist through statements like ‘obviously she is attempting to dent the popularity of the Indian Prime Minister’,” she said.

Ms. Jayalalithaa said she as a public political figure had faced criticism and comments but this was a “blatant attempt to ridicule and trivialize the untiring efforts made by a democratically elected leader to resolve an important livelihood issue of fishermen of Tamil Nadu.”

It was ‘completely unacceptable’ that a highly objectionable article was published on the official website, she said.

“The added visual image on the website is clearly aimed at denigrating the elected leaders of India, the world’s largest democracy, and particularly a 66-year-old woman political leader of many years’ standing. These are affronts to India which cannot be ignored or lighlty brushed aside,” she added.

She said while there was a disclaimer that the Defence Ministry bears no responsibility for the ideas in an Op-Ed page where the article was published, the ‘reprehensible visual’ indicated that the views were not necessarily that of the author but the government itself.

TN parties condemn Sri Lanka

The Tamil Nadu BJP unit said publishing of such a derogatory article in an official website was not acceptable.

Party’s State general secretary Vanathy Srinivasan said that India should summon the Sri Lankan envoy and “convey our feelings”.

“We should strongly condemn it as it was published in an official website of the Sri Lankan government,” she told PTI.

However, she was not in favour of severing ties with the island nation, as demanded by her party’s Tamil Nadu allies, the PMK and the MDMK.

The DMK also slammed the Sri Lankan government over the episode and demanded an apology.

Party spokesperson T.K.S. Elangovan described the article, which mocked Ms. Jayalalithaa’s writing of letters to Mr. Modi on issues involving Sri Lanka, as “cheap“.

No matter what the differences were, a Chief Minister cannot be depicted in such manner, he said.

PMK founder S. Ramadoss said that the article was in bad taste and not only demeaned Ms. Jayalalithaa, but also Mr. Modi.

Referring to criticism in the article about Ms. Jayalalithaa writing letters to Mr. Modi on issues relating to Indian fishermen involving Sri Lanka, he said such commentary in an official government site amounted to ‘interfering’ in the internal affairs of the country.

He alleged that the visit of a BJP delegation led by party leader Subramanian Swamy to Sri Lanka had emboldened that country to make such remarks.

Holding that India should not allow Sri Lanka to continue with such practices, he urged New Delhi to summon the envoy of that country and lodge a strong protest.

“The Sri Lankan President (Mahinda Rajapakse) and Defence Secretary should apologise for the article. If the Sri Lankan government declines to do so, India should not hesitate to sever its relations with that country,” Mr. Ramadoss said.

He said that it was not proper to degrade Ms. Jayalalithaa, who was not only an elected leader, but also a woman.

MDMK leader Vaiko described the incident as “unforgivable” and said it showed the “atrocious” nature of the Sri Lankan Army.

Ms. Jayalalithaa’s letters to Mr. Modi were not mere communication, but her “struggle” to ensure the welfare of the Sri Lankan Tamils, he said.

“Those letters are representative of the feelings of 7.5 crore Tamil people,” he said and faulted the BJP delegation’s visit to the island nation.

“India should immediately take action against Sri Lanka and sever ties with that country. Else there will be a suspicion if the Narendra Modi government had joined hands with Sri Lanka in its anti-Tamil measures,” he said.

TNCC president B.S. Gnanadesikan also criticised the article and said he had taken up the matter with the Sri Lankan Deputy High Commission, seeking its removal from the website.

“There may be political differences, but portraying a Chief Minister in an indecent manner is not acceptable,” he said.

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