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Does Tamil Nadu care about Prabhakaran's death?

By Krishnakumar P in Chennai
May 18, 2009 18:41 IST
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Though the situation in Tamil Nadu is normal now, there is underlying tension about the possible reactions once Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam chief Velupillai Prabhakaran's death is confirmed.

"Though the common man will not turn to violence, there are still fringe elements that are pro-LTTE, which will try to whip up the sentiments of the people. But this can be brought under control if the state is alert," security analyst and columist B Raman said.

The state police is already on high alert and security has been beefed up at the airports.

"As evident from the attack on an army convoy in Coimbatore some time ago, there might be attempts to target the central and Sri Lankan establishments in the state," Raman added.

Senior journalist Cho Ramaswamy said that pro-LTTE activists might try self-immolations. "After all, the LTTE is an organisation that has promoted suicide as a form of expressing one's patriotism," he pointed out.

Interestingly, politicians like Vaiko and S Ramadoss, who were vociferous during the run-up to the elections, have not reacted till now.

On the mainstream Dravidian parties, Cho said, "The people have just met an election. All the attention will now be on what kind of cabinet berths can be won at the Centre."

However, he agreed with Raman's view, about fringe groups attempting to indulge in violence. "There will be groups that will try to agitate. But it will be a weak effort and should be easily quelled," he said.

But what about the common Tamilian? Does he care?

"The Eelam issue did not find any acceptance with the voter. For every 10 people I spoke to, eight spoke about their own problems. Only two sympathised with the Sri Lankan Tamils. And even they said they won't cast their vote based on that issue," said a senior Tamil radio journalist

"The lady who promised to send the military to create an Eelam state, and the most vociferous supporters of the cause -- Ramadoss and Vaiko -- have bitten the dust. This shows that the common man is really interested only in what happens to him," added the journalist, who has been tracking the Sri Lankan strife for over a decade.

This has been the case for some time now, feels Ramaswamy. "I was following Jayalalithaa's rallies, which were telecast live on Jaya TV. When the anchor went around asking people from the crowd about why they support the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, it was due to issues like price rise, unemployment, law and order and so on. Not once did I see or hear someone mention the fact that it was because she supports the Eelam cause," Ramaswamy said.

Thus, while the people would love it if the Sri Lankan Tamils secure equal rights, he was never going to risk his vote for their cause.

"It was always like this. Once MGR dared Karunanidhi to take up the Eelam issue as an election plank in a by-election. Karunanidhi did not bite the bait. He knew very well that it would not work," he said.

So, how did a state that was so open in its support for both the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Tamils, grow apathetic towards the outfit?

"True, there was once a time when the people of Tamil Nadu supported the LTTE. Those days, I was probably the only voice in the country -- in Tamil Nadu I was definitely the only one -- who opposed India's efforts to support and train a terrorist outfit. My loyal readers called me a traitor," Ramaswamy said.

That was also the time when the people saw Parbhakaran as an icon of Tamil nationalism.

"But the killing of Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front leader Padhmanabha and 14 others in the heart of Chennai was when the tide began to turn. The people realised what kind of outfit the LTTE was. They started to wonder that if the LTTE can do this to a fellow Tamil on foreign soil, what would they do back home," Ramaswamy said.

And a globalised world, where information reaches far and wide, did not help the outfit, the radio journalist added. "People started hearing about how the outfit killed other Tamil leaders and civilians too. You cannot escape the repercussions in a globalised environment, where people get to hear and see things as soon as they happen," he said.

Rajiv Gandhi's assassination was the final blow that erased any sympathy that the people of Tamil Nadu had for the outfit.

"His real downfall actually began with his greatest moment of glory -- the killing of Rajiv Gandhi. He steadily started losing support. Jayalalithaa at that time cashed in on the revulsion in the public mind over the assassination. She even forcefully repatriated 33,000 Sri Lankan Tamils against their wish," he said.

Cho added, "The same readers who had called me a traitor started writing in and apologising. That was the time that the people of Tamil Nadu lost all sympathy for Prabhakaran. That has been continuing till now and the elections were just an indicator of that," he said.

Observers also say the doublespeak of  'Tamil apologists in Tamil Nadu and among the Diaspora' are also responsible. "When the people saw these forces not condemning Prabhakaran, even when the LTTE started changing into a brutal and extremist outfit, they realised the doublespeak. They wanted the apologists to standup and tell Prabhakaran that he was wrong," the radio journalist said.

All that will be left now is a deathly silence, he added. "It is over. My wife was crying when the news came in. So were a couple of others who called me. But that is where it will end. People are sympathetic. They will be sad. But they won't go out of the way and do anything about it."

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Krishnakumar P in Chennai