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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 104

LTTE Ripples in Tamil Nadu

By Col R Hariharan (Retd.)

The ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (DMK) party took out a huge procession in Chennai by on March 12, 2007 in protest against the Sri Lanka Navy's repeated firing on Tamil Nadu fishermen in the Palk Strait.

Later a delegation comprising some of the leading lights of the party like N Veerasamy, M K Stalin, and Duraimurugan presented a memorandum protesting against the killing of Indian fishermen to the Sri Lanka Deputy High Commissioner in Chennai. The speeches made at the conclave though highly critical of Sri Lanka on its attitude to Indian fishermen, were muted in voicing any support to the LTTE.

It was clear that the ruling party was making a clear distinction between support to Tamils struggle for their rights and the LTTE's war. It would be incorrect to construe the massive protest as a popular affirmation of DMK support for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the ongoing war in Sri Lanka. It also does not automatically translate into support for an independent Tamil Eelam.

After the protest, when Chief Minister Karunanidhi spoke to the pressmen, he said, "If the Sri Lankan government approaches India in this regard and both agree for such a joint inspection (of Palk Strait region), we expect that will provide protection for our fishermen." What does this enigmatic statement signify? Does it mean joint patrolling by the two navies? Or is it a cosmetic touch to the coordinated patrolling the two navies had been indulging in the past?

Perhaps, efforts to bring in Indian involvement in the process of keeping the Palk Strait sanitized are in the offing. If this so, it would represent a departure from India's lukewarm stand in the past to undertake joint action with Sri Lanka in these waters. Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa had suggested joint patrolling of the Palk Strait when he visited Delhi last November. However, Delhi did not respond to the proposal probably because it wanted to avoid naval confrontations with the LTTE. Or perhaps, for reasons of coalition politics Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did not want to get involved in the Sri Lanka tangle.

The Jain Commission Report on Rajiv Gandhi's killing has documented the type and extent of support extended to the LTTE when the DMK was in power with Karunanidhi as the Chief Minister, even when the Indian Army was fighting them in Sri Lanka in the late 90s. When the Indian troops returned home, in a huff of 'Tamil patriotism' he refused to receive them. As a result many in India (particularly non-Tamils) and in Sri Lanka are apprehensive about his attitude to the LTTE in the present conflict in Sri Lanka.

However, in his present tenure Karunanidhi's approach to LTTE's war in Sri Lanka has been pragmatic, with carefully calibrated response to events.

Politically, it is tight rope walking for the DMK Chief because waiting in the wings are pro-LTTE leaders of smaller parties spawned from the same ideological stable as DMK. The Chief Minister while speaking in the Legislative Assembly in August 2006, had said that though it was debatable whether the ban on the LTTE was right or not, one has to abide by the law so long as the ban was in force.

He made it clear that those violating the law had to face the consequences. This speech gives an inkling into the three elements of his present posture: an avowal of strong support to the Tamil cause with a detached attitude towards Tamil Eelam, distancing himself from LTTE while supporting the Sri Lankan Tamils cause, and a strong stand against arms traffic in the State – as a corollary to the smuggling of weapons and equipment to the LTTE from Tamil Nadu. In Tamil Nadu, though the Sri Lanka Tamil Cause – that is the struggle for democratic rights - does not figure prominently in the political agenda, it remains a sensitive and emotional issue.

This sensitivity was reflected in the unanimous resolution passed in the State Assembly on August 20, 2006 flaying Sri Lanka for launching the air strikes at an orphanage in Chencholai in Mullaitivu district, which killed 51 teenage girls. This does not mean that LTTE or its struggle automatically kindles the same emotion or support. All political parties including the All India Anna DMK and the Congress party, known for their strong anti LTTE stand, try to convert this emotive issue into political support for their parties. On the other hand, pro-LTTE parties like Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and LTTE's closest ally Vaiko-led Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (MDMK) would like to use every opportunity to turn Tamil sensitivity into tangible support for the LTTE. Even the latest clone of Dravidian politics, the maverick Vijaya Kanth's Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazagham(DMDK), is known to be sympathetic to the LTTE. But the pro-LTTE political parties support to LTTE is muted at present due to clear warnings from the Chief Minister. But the moment the issue hits high public rating, they would join the LTTE political bandwagon with the rallying call of 'Tamils in danger' to strengthen their constituencies.

However, political attitudes in no way minimize the strong pockets of sympathy for LTTE that exists in Southern Tamil Nadu. Among the rank and file of most of the political parties, elements sympathetic to the cause of an independent Tamil Eelam, if not LTTE, exist. LTTE has shown an enviable ability to turn such muted sympathy of Tamil Diaspora into tangible sources of support. LTTE will attempt to do the same in Tamil Nadu, if it has not already done so. LTTE's global network, money power, and propaganda machinery, abetted by corrupt elements of bureaucracy could provide an incendiary mixture in Tamil Nadu if LTTE once again becomes a strong political issue.

LTTE is a military machine and does not bother with the nuances of backroom politics. So it does not depend upon political rhetoric. It bankrolls the gaps to buy influence and power. If this sounds alarmist, it is good to remember what the Jain Commission report had said about the significance of the very same subject in the year 1989: "the perpetuation of the general political trend of indulging the Tamil militants on Indian soil and tolerance of their wide-ranging criminal and anti-national activities ... LTTE activities of arms smuggling, abduction of Indian citizens and officials and intimidation of the law enforcement machinery were tolerated". In the existing political environment in India, LTTE might not find it easy to repeat its 1989 performance. LTTE is under tremendous operational pressure with the Sri Lanka Security Forces at its gates, and the sea-lanes of supply increasingly proving unsafe. Thus LTTE has to look to Tamil Nadu for sourcing its supplies. If this need overtakes other considerations, LTTE may well turn back to the basics of 1989. If Sri Lanka carries out military operations unmindful of the suffering caused to the Tamil population will help the LTTE to regain its influence in Tamil Nadu.

But is Tamil Nadu ready for this on onslaught on its security? Hot war in Sri Lanka had been raging from December 2005 on wards. In spite of that the security machinery in the State is being cranked up only now. It is difficult to believe that the Centre and the State had ignored the possibility of LTTE using Tamil Nadu as a source of supply to progress the war. Similarly the creation of a coastal security network structure has been treated as routine matter. This is evident from the State from the Tamil Nadu DGP's statement on the security preparedness made as recently as February 8, 2007. He said (emphasis added), "12 marine police stations are being set up and 12 marine police outposts and 40 checkpoints have been proposed in the State under the Centre's Coastal Security Scheme." According to another report, the State is now carrying out a census of Sri Lankans living in Tamil Nadu (and all along I was thinking that Sri Lankans came under the Foreigners Act)! When the whole security set up would be in place in the State, is anybody's guess. But at least there is some thought for action.

The ever-increasing LTTE-related activity in Tamil Nadu indicates that it was cashing in on the lethargy of the system. The Tamil Nadu police and the Coast Guard have continued to seize huge quantities of explosives, metal bars, boosters for explosives, components for improvised explosive devices, iron balls used in Claymore mines, explosives etc, destined for LTTE. More than 40 suspects have been rounded up. However, the casualness with which the issue continues to be treated should warm the cockles of LTTE's heart. This was aptly illustrated in the case of Coast Guard's seizure of a LTTE boat on February 13, 2007. Till one of the apprehended Sea Tiger cadre informed the police on February 19, 2007 that the boat was lined with explosives, nobody – not even the Coast Guard or the police sleuths – knew that. During the entire period, the boat laden with explosives was in port! If LTTE had wanted, it could have blown up the whole port along with the boat!

Recently, there are reports of a number of crimes in Chennai related to illegal movement and transfer of money, men and material. In variably, terrorists mastermind such crimes to further their operations. In the present circumstances, police need to thoroughly investigate all such crimes for possible LTTE links. The limited resources available to the State police might not be adequate for such in depth operation. It is essential that Centre chip in with additional forces and resources they need to help them tighten security in the State. The Government should take the public into confidence to educate them on the dangers of aiding terrorism, instead of debating the definitions of terrorism or destination of militants. Otherwise when the LTTE ripples turn into waves, the Government may find LTTE activity beyond manageable proportions.

A delegation, comprising state ministers N Veerasamy, M K Stalin, Duraimurugan, Paruthi Ilamvazhuthy, Poongothai, M P Swaminathan and K P P Samy r presented a memorandum to  P.K. Amza  Deputy High Commissioner for Sri Lanka in Chennai,  protesting against the killing of Indian fishermen by the Sri Lankan Navy.A delegation, comprising state ministers N Veerasamy, M K Stalin, Duraimurugan, Paruthi Ilamvazhuthy, Poongothai, M P Swaminathan and K P P Samy r presented a memorandum to P.K. Amza Deputy High Commissioner for Sri Lanka in Chennai, protesting against the killing of Indian fishermen by the Sri Lankan Navy.

P.K.Amza, Deputy High Commissiomer for Sri Lanka in Chennai explaining to the DMK delegation when they met on 12 March.P.K.Amza, Deputy High Commissiomer for Sri Lanka in Chennai explaining to the DMK delegation when they met on 12 March.

Col R Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia, served with the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka 1987-90 as Head of Intelligence.

- Asian Tribubne –

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