India not for Eelam: PM

NEW DELHI, MAY 8. With the constituents of the National Democratic Alliance and the Government's supporting parties speaking in different voices on the Sri Lanka issue, it was left to the Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, to categorically state that India was not for a separate Eelam, and that it favoured a solution to the crisis in the island country ``within the framework of Sri Lanka's unity and territorial integrity''.

Mr. Vajpayee's clarification came at the all-party meeting at his residence this morning immediately after some members said ``some constituents of the NDA who are part of the Government'' were ``talking about recognition of the LTTE'' and the Government should clarify.

In fact, it was Ms. Jayanti Natarajan (Tamil Maanila Congress), who demanded a clarification. Some NDA constituents ``were saying all kinds of things in Chennai and Tamil Nadu,'' and the Government should clarify, she said. Strength was added to her argument by the Telugu Desam Party leader, Mr. Yerran Naidu, who suggested that while discussions with parties on the issue should be held behind closed doors. ``there should be no public statements, at least from the constituents of the NDA.''

Though no names were mentioned, clearly the references were to Mr. Vaiko, MDMK leader, who got up to say Ms. Natarajan was referring to him and his party. His party wanted recognition of Eelam, and ``we have a fundamental right to say what we want without embarrassing the Government, and this right cannot be curtailed.''

This clash of views between NDA constituents and supporting parties led to the Prime Minister's intervention calling for ``restraint'' even as he reiterated that India sought a solution within the framework of Sri Lanka's unity.

Briefing reporters later, Mr. Pramod Mahajan, Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, said four issues on which there was a consensus had emerged at the meeting. One, the view was against military intervention. Two, there was an emphasis on remaining committed to Sri Lanka's unity and integrity. Three, there should be full protection for the island's minorities, especially the Tamils. And four, there should be a peaceful resolution of the crisis within the framework of the Sri Lankan Constitution.

Some of the other issues raised by the 33 representatives of parties at the meeting included fears of intervention in Sri Lanka by countries other than India, the role of Norway in the crisis and the visit to Sri Lanka of the Air Chief, Air Chief Marshal A. Y. Tipnis. Some members were not convinced by Government statements that it was a mere goodwill mission and had nothing to do with the ongoing crisis.

Parties were apparently united in the view that India should carefully monitor the situation to ensure there was no third party intervention. Fears were expressed on the basis of reports that Sri Lanka was looking for help from Israel, Pakistan and even Norway. The Government said India was in touch with Norway.

The Government was represented by the Prime Minister, who chaired the meeting, Mr. L. K. Advani, Home Minister, Mr. Jaswant Singh, External Affairs Minister, Mr. Pramod Mahajan and Mr. P. R. Kumaramangalam, Power Minister. Representatives of the Tamil parties were present in strength - Mr. T. R. Baalu (DMK), Mr. E. Ponnuswamy (PMK), Mr. Vaiko and Mr. N. Kannappan (MDMK), Mr. P. A. Pandian and Mr. R. Margabandhu (AIADMK), and Ms. Natarajan (TMC). The Congress(I) sent Dr. Manmohan Singh and Mr. Pranab Mukherjee while the Left was led by Mr. Indrajit Gupta and Mr. J. Chittaranjan (CPI), Mr. Abani Roy (RSP) and Mr. Amar Ray Pradhan (FB).

During the meeting, Mr. Jaswant Singh gave a brief update which the Congress(I) found ``informative.'' However, some parties felt the Government did not reveal what it planned to do in a situation fraught with danger. Others expressed fears of a huge refugee problem if the crisis deepened.

Mr. Singh categorically said there had been no change in the military situation in Sri Lanka. He is also reported to have said that the U.S. would support ``whatever India does,'' a point on which some of the participants later expressed surprise. Mr. Singh explained that a Norwegian delegate who would be going to Sri Lanka would also visit India (presumably to debrief India) and that the Government was monitoring the situation carefully. ``There have been supplies to Sri Lanka by other countries'', he said and that this did not involve sending of troops.

The Congress(I) spokesperson, Ms. Margaret Alva, later told reporters her party ``would like to know what kind of help Sri Lanka had sought''. The party view was that India should not be dragged into a confrontation and keeping in mind the possibility of a refugee influx, the policy should be cautious. The party reiterated its stand that any resolution should be within the framework of the Sri Lankan Constitution.