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The Tamil cause might be Vaiko's ticket to Parliament

April 20, 2009 17:47 IST

The Sri Lankan Tamil card is perhaps the most overstated one there is.

Why is India accepting the arrant hypocrisy on show over the issue of the Tamils of Sri Lanka? Why doesn't anyone question the self righteous cant of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and, more than that, of their self-proclaimed Indian supporters?

Why doesn't the Indian state accept that the Tamils are their own worst enemies and until there is a Sinhala consensus that they should be given their rights, they can never live in a Sri Lanka that is undivided?

Why must we suffer M Karunanidhi's monotonous refrain that his heart bleeds for the Tamils of Sri Lanka but accept his oh-so-carefully worded denunciations of the Sri Lankan government (because at the end of the day, he is a part of the central government).

Why should we let J Jayalalithaa get away with her smugness and V Gopalaswamy (Vaiko) with his dissimulation?

As cards go, the Sri Lankan Tamil 'card' in Tamil Nadu politics is the most overstated one there is. Everyone is complicit in its use, but its most prolific user has been Vaiko. This is a dedication to him and his politics.

He was locked away under the Prevention of Terrorism Act by Jayalalithaa for his pro-LTTE sympathies in 2002 (he was in jail for 19 months under a law that allowed a Superintendent of Police to extract a confession from an undertrial and present it in the trial). When POTA was scrapped and he came out of jail, lore has it that his mother saw him and broke into a lament: "I carried you in my womb for nine months… and now look you. What have they done to you" she cried. To this, according to his associates, his reply was. "You carried me for nine months. But Amma kept me for 19," referring to Jayalalithaa and his reinvention as a Tamil rights activist.

The statement that landed Vaiko in jail was: "I was a supporter of LTTE once. I was a supporter of LTTE yesterday; I am a supporter of LTTE today and I will be a supporter of LTTE tomorrow." Then, he asked his audience whether the LTTE had engaged in terrorism for the sake of violence or had taken up arms to prevent the suppression of a culture.

Sounds stirring. The invocation of POTA -- clearly illegally -- against him made him the rebel with a cause. But if it was the rights of Tamils and the suppression of a culture that was Vaiko's cause, he forgot to fight for a set of people who have been permanent victims -- of successive Sri Lankan governments and their own leaders, including the LTTE. These are those poor Tamils who were sent to Sri Lanka as indentured labour to clear the forests in upcountry Sri Lanka for tea plantations and were returned to India under the Sirimavo-Shastri Pact of 1964 as 'stateless'.

Shouldn't Vaiko have shed a tear over the fate of these people, more than 300,000 of them, living in abject poverty in camps in Kerala and Tamil Nadu after having slaved for generations to contribute to Lanka's prosperity and then thrown out simply because they were Tamil? What has the LTTE or Vaiko ever done for them? And what about all the Tamils the LTTE has killed? Didn't they have rights as an oppressed racial minority? Vaiko has never apologised, never explained why Padmanabha, the gentlest, most humane, rational Tamil student leader needed to have been murdered by the LTTE in a daylight shootout in Chennai's Pondy Bazar.

So let's be realistic: LTTE and the Tamil cause was a stepping stone that Vaiko used just as other Tamil leaders did. For his exertions, he was thrown out of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam where, he claims, he fell a victim to family politics: he came in the way of Karunanidhi's son Stalin's elevation.

 In 1993, when he was expelled from the party for holding a press conference at Anna Arivalayam (the DMK headquarters) about his secret Jaffna trip where he said he met LTTE chief Prabhakaran, Karunanidhi rightly construed that he was getting above himself. His expulsion coincided with Stalin's rise; but he was also seen as a rallying point by several DMK leaders who felt an injustice had been done to them: L Ganesan was never made a minister, Pon Muthuramalingam was unhappy at the rise of Karunanidhi's other son, Azhagiri, in his areas of influence.

So it was not as if Vaiko threw the gauntlet down: it was discontent within the DMK that made several leaders, including Gingee Ramachandran and L Ganesan leave the party. Even then, it was just one MLA and not a single MP who left the DMK. His exit never created even a murmur in the famed fan associations that are such an important part of Tamil Nadu politics. But today? Not one of those who left the DMK is still with Gopalaswamy. Most of them have returned to Anna Arivalayam. Doesn't that tell us something about Gopalaswamy's leadership qualities ?

And let us assume for a moment that the decision to join Jayalalithaa's alliance was tactical. But what did this achieve for his party? When he joined Jayalalithaa in 1998, he was given five seats and the Pattali Makkal Katchi was given five. Today, the PMK has got seven, and Vaiko's got four.

The logical extension of those fighting for the rights and culture of the Tamils is what they think and say about the rights of the socially-marginal communities: the Adi Dravida, the most backward and the backward. Vaiko is yet to share his views on this. So please, let us put an end to all this hypocrisy about the Tamil cause and its champions. The longer the war for Wanni lasts, the easier will be Vaiko's path to the Lok Sabha. After that, he will be in Parliament -- and if the Tamils of Sri Lanka thought they'd been oppressed before, they will now know what the word means.

Aditi Phadnis
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