Tamil Nadu aiding Sri Lanka

The State’s proposal to send relief material can help build closer ties between the two nations

May 04, 2022 12:15 am | Updated 01:29 am IST

Sri Lankans, protesting against the economic crisis, lie on the road outside Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s official residence, demanding the government to step-down in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Sri Lankans, protesting against the economic crisis, lie on the road outside Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s official residence, demanding the government to step-down in Colombo, Sri Lanka. | Photo Credit: AP

The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) government, by securing the consent of the Central government for the proposal mooted through a resolution of the Tamil Nadu Assembly to provide humanitarian aid to Sri Lanka, has deftly managed the issue.

The nod from the Centre was communicated by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar in his letter on May 1 to Chief Minister M.K Stalin.

On April 29, the House adopted unanimously the motion to have relief material, worth ₹123 crore, supplied to the people of the island-nation, which is reeling under an unprecedented economic crisis. Significantly, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), the principal Opposition party, backed the resolution which had proposed the supply of 40,000 tonnes of rice (valued at ₹80 crore), 137 life-saving drugs (₹28 crore) and 500 tonnes of milk powder for children (₹15 crore).

The resolution marked a nuanced shift in the stand of the DMK government, which completes one year in office on May 6, from what it stated in the memorandum submitted by Mr. Stalin to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 31. Originally, the request was for a nod to the State government to supply essential commodities and life-saving drugs to Sri Lankan Tamils in northern and eastern provinces of Sri Lanka and in Colombo, apart from those working in the plantation sector.

As pointed out by Mr. Stalin in the Assembly at the time of passing the resolution, several Tamil leaders and bodies in Sri Lanka had also appealed to him to not discriminate against the people of other ethnic groups as everyone was suffering from the economic crisis.

It is worth recalling here that after the 1983 Black July anti-Tamil pogrom, Tamil Nadu had, on a number of occasions, sent relief material to Sri Lanka. The services of the Red Cross Society had also been tapped. Of course, the most sensational episode took place in June 1987 when Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister and M.G. Ramachandran was the Chief Minister.

The beginning of 1987 saw the resumption of hostilities between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Sri Lankan forces. On May 26, 1987, the latter began what was called the Vadamarachchi campaign or “Operation Liberation.” These events had cumulatively created a humanitarian crisis in the form of shortage of food and other essential commodities for people of Jaffna, who, to quote the then India’s High Commissioner J.N. Dixit in his memoirs, Assignment Colombo, “suffered extreme hardship due to the economic blockade imposed against the [northern] province since January 1987.”

It was then that the Central government had decided to send essential commodities, weighing 950 tonnes, through a convoy of 19 fishing boats, apart from a boat carrying media persons and representatives of the Red Cross.

The convoy, which left Rameswaram on June 3 for Jaffna, was stopped by the Sri Lankan navy off Katchatheevu. The next day was the day of “Operation Poomalai” (garland of flowers). Indian Air Force’s five AN-32 aircraft, accompanied by four mirage fighters, dropped around 22 tonnes of relief material over Jaffna city. This particular event changed India’s role from that of a mediator to a direct participant in the resolution of the Tamil question.. What followed later, as they say, is history.

Tamil Nadu's present initiative is aimed at helping those who are in distress, regardless of ethnicity. It is hoped that the move can even pave the way for building closer ties between the people of India and Sri Lanka.


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