By R Hariharan –
[This article includes extracts from the valedictory address delivered by the author at the International Conference on “India-Sri Lanka Relations: Strengthening SAARC” organised by the Centre for Indian Ocean Studies, Osmania University Hyderabad on November 8 and 9, 2012.]
There is a widespread feeling of pessimism among South Asians at the halting progress made by the South Asia Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) since its inception in 1985. Though SAARC is world’s largest regional grouping of 1.47 billion people, it has not been able to assert its collective strength like the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) or the European Union (EU).
But the comparison is a little unfair as both ASEAN and EU were formed in different historical contexts and environments. They were conceived when the world was in the grip of Cold War.[i] The European grouping came about to minimize the impact of twin threats: post war economic privations of Europe and the fear of Soviet Union destabilizing Europe. For ASEAN, the U.S. penchant for building regional alliances to fight Communist threat in Southeast Asia provided the incentive.
When the Cold War compulsions vanished, both the groupings seamlessly focused on other fronts – energy, resources, economic development, environment protection and counter terrorism – to benefit from collective strengths. Both ASEAN and EU streamlined structural frameworks of their members to take the best advantage of global economic liberalization that came about towards of the end of the last century. They coordinated their policies and practices to reap maximum advantage for the members. And this process is constantly reviewed to remove the functional kinks and minimize damages due to external and internal pressures.
On the other hand, SAARC came about without the trappings of ideology and external pressures. Unlike the more prosperous ASEAN and EU groupings, SAARC has the largest number of people below poverty level in the world. Its members have some of the highest population densities in the world. And the region has been the scene of extremism and insurgency from the 1950s when most of the members became free nations. This scourge later gave birth to both Jihadi terrorism and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) who accounted for some of the worst acts of terrorism the world had ever seen. So the growth of SAARC has been stunted from birth.
ASEAN took nearly three decades to gather full momentum; the EU took even longer – nearly four decades – to master its act. Compared to this, the progress made by SAARC in two and a half decades of active existence is not too bad. But the sad truth is SAARC has remained a potted plant. It is yet to make a difference in the lives of South Asians, despite pious speeches made by leaders at every SAARC conference.
Both EU and ASEAN have shown that bonding between members was the key to their success as a group. Their members used the strength of bilateral relations to minimise negative influences during group formation and later in their group operations. This was brought to bear upon in shaping collective responses to issues relating to larger issues of strategic security and terrorism, environmental threats, and global trade and commerce.
The reasons attributed to SAARC’s slow progress are unequal size and relative strength of member- nations, memories of shared history, bilateral problems of members, political and economic compulsions of nations, and differences in responding to external influences – global power play, terrorism, and competing political and economic interests. But these are neither unique nor special to SAARC; both ASEAN and EU also have been facing the same problems since their inception.
India’s domination of South Asia is often cited as the main reason in the way of SAARC’s progress. It is true India’s influence derived from its huge geographical size and economic, political and military power overwhelms the region. And it forms a major part of the historical experience of most the member-nations. They have also been impacted by India’s soft power which has become a part of their religious, social and cultural influences. In this environment, India’s success as a democracy and rise as a dominant economic power have given rise to contrarian feelings of love and hate among SAARC members. The fear of being overwhelmed by India is probably a constant in their security calculus, although its impact on their decisions may not always be negative. These feelings also often influence their internal politics as well the world view. Often India is branded as a bully or “hegemon” (if such a word can be coined) by them.
India appears to be aware of the positive and negative vibrations it generates among other SAARC members. Over the years, India has tried to understand this “contrarian chemistry” and temper its policy prescriptions with some success. However, the bitter India-Pakistan relations, bloodied by wars and skirmishes, continue to hobble the full bloom of SAARC. Recently, with a democratic government staging a painful comeback in Pakistan, there are hopeful signs of improved relations between India and Pakistan.
There was increasing realization among SAARC members, including India and Pakistan, that group’s progress cannot be hostage to the bilateral relations of these two important members. As a result, SAARC had been able to take halting steps to identify areas of cooperation and tried to build upon them and take a few initiatives. It has made progress in evolving outlines for action in five areas of common interest for cooperation: terrorism, economic growth, social issues, energy and environment management, and development of inter-connectivity. It has managed to evolve conceptual frame works in all these areas.[ii]
In particular, the SAARC protocols adopted to combat terrorism in the region are of special relevance as the region has become the epicenter of Jihadi terrorism.[iii] Similarly, SAARC initiatives taken to rationalise economic structures of member countries for collective advantage are encouraging.[iv] But the initiatives have not been fully translated into action except in a few areas. So, overall rhetoric rather than action still dominates SAARC.
To make SAARC vibrant, a qualitative change is required among SAARC members to improve the form and content of bilateral relations among members. It will help create better understanding among members to appreciate the nuances of collective cooperation. In this context, growth of India-Sri Lanka relations during the last three decades is an interesting example of building win-win relationship. In this period, the bilateral relations of both nations have weathered conflict situations without suffering serious damage.
India-Sri Lanka Relations
India and Sri Lanka have always enjoyed a special relationship not only due to their close geographical proximity but because of their cultural, religious and ethnic affinities and shared history. Sri Lanka President Rajapaksa has aptly described India-Sri Lanka relations as “family.” Of course, even such a sibling relationship has had its ups and downs.
There are three national and “notional” concerns that affect India and Sri Lanka relationship: strategic security; grant of citizenship to people of Indian origin in Sri Lanka; and troubled relations between the Sinhala majority and the Tamil minority. All the three issues had tested India-Sri Lanka relations in various times.
Sri Lanka’s geo-strategic location as a vanguard of India’s peninsular south, dominating the Indian Ocean astride the sea lanes of Indian Ocean is, one of the centre pieces of Indian strategic thinking. This is more so after China’s foot print started enlarging in Sri Lanka considered by India as part of its area of influence. On the other hand, Sri Lanka’s feeling of geographic vulnerability is enhanced by the Tamil Nadu’s strong sympathies for Tamil minority struggle in Sri Lanka. India’s growing economic power and strategic strength supported by two-million strong army and a powerful Navy also imposes caution on Sri Lanka’s strategic perceptions. However, both nations have tried to remove these fears by adopting close strategic cooperation between the defence forces as well as by regular exchange of their perceptions.
The denial of Sri Lanka citizenship rights to descendents of Tamils, who were inducted into Sri Lanka as plantation labour in the British colonial days after the country attained independence, used to be a matter of India’s concern. However, this vexing issue has ceased to be a contentious one, thanks to the far-sightedness of the leaders of both countries. The Shastri-Sirimavo Pact 1964 and the Sirimavo-Gandhi Pact 1974 partially resolved the issue. Subsequently thanks to the initiative of the leader of Indian Tamil community Saumyamurthy Thondaman, after Sri Lanka passed Act No 35 of 2003 granting citizenship status to all stateless persons, the issue ceased to be a cause for Indian concern.[v]
Sri Lanka’s inability to provide equitable treatment to Tamil minority in its country has a history of five and a half decades and it has rocked India-Sri Lanka relation more than once. Tamils, who form around 12 per cent of Sri Lanka’s population, have close links with their brethren across the Palk Straits in Tamil Nadu from times immemorial. And the denial of equitable rights to Tamils in Sri Lanka which became a major political issue since 1956 had its impact in Tamil Nadu politics as well. Tamil Nadu’s concerns came to a head when a politically orchestrated anti-Tamil pogrom took place in July 1983 in Colombo. Marauding Sinhala gangs killed Tamils and pillaged Tamil business and property. This set off a massive exodus of Tamil population from Sri Lanka with Tamil Nadu as the major destination.
Over 100,000 refugees sought shelter and succour in Tamil Nadu. And along with them came Tamil insurgency groups including the LTTE seeking refuge. The suffering of Tamils touched off wide sympathy the world over. It was natural that the fate of Sri Lanka Tamils became a major political issue and humanitarian concern not only in Tamil Nadu but also in India. It was in this period the Tamil quest for autonomy into a full blown insurgent struggle for separatism and received India’s support. Thus the narratives of India-Sri Lanka relations as well as the rise and fall of the most powerful Tamil insurgent group – the LTTE – became closely inter-woven with Indian support to Sri Lanka Tamil aspirations to preserve their identity and culture in their traditional “Homeland” in North and East Sri Lanka.
Highlights of relationship
In spite of their strategic concerns, both India and Sri Lanka have so far never wavered from their long term objective of maintaining a cordial and friendly relationship between them. The journey of India-Sri Lanka relations through its crests and toughs since independence provides interesting insights into their relationship management:
· 1947 to 1983: In this period India’s passive policy interventions were mostly driven by concerns for people of Indian origin as already discussed. Though the adoption of socialism as national policy brought about ideological cohesion in both countries brought, Colombo’s strict neutrality during India’s wars with China in 1962 and Pakistan in 1971 was a disappointment to India. However, India did not allow it to affect the larger interests of both India and Sri Lanka. When JVP insurgency threatened to destabilise Sri Lanka in 1971 India readily responded to her request for military help and sent a battalion of troops to help Sri Lanka. The signing of two key agreements to resolve the citizenship issue and the demarcation of India-Sri Lanka maritime boundary were the positive achievements of this period.
· 1983 to1990: It was a period of active Indian intervention, triggered by the 1983 pogrom against Tamils in Colombo. Though India had supported the Tamil cause and militancy, it tried out all possibilities to help Sri Lanka and its Tamil minority to amicably settle their differences. These included bringing both the Sri Lanka Government and the Tamils to resolve their differences across the table, and working with Sri Lanka to help evolve a consensus on devolution for Tamils. The signing of the India Sri Lanka Agreement on July 29, 1987 was in a way culmination of these efforts. However, the Agreement also had a strong flavour of India’s Cold War considerations due to the ongoing Soviet conflict in Afghanistan and American efforts to gain a foothold in Sri Lanka. Indian Peacekeeping Force (IPKF) was inducted into Sri Lanka at Sri Lanka President’s request to help implement the Agreement. However, IPKF involvement in a conflict with LTTE after it refused to lay down arms in terms of the Agreement created a lot of antagonism. At different times during the conflict, India came under severe criticism from the Sri Lankan Government, Sinhala political opposition, and Tamil separatist segments, notably the LTTE. Sri Lanka’s new President Premadasa’s ultimatum to India to withdraw the IPKF and his assistance to the LTTE even as IPKF was fighting it led to a lot of bitterness in India. IPKF’s ignominious pullout in 1990 sent India-Sri Lanka relations to a new low. In the wake of Bofor scandal, India’s Sri Lanka policy fiasco became one more tool for the Indian opposition campaigns against Rajiv Gandhi that resulted in his defeat. Though few weaknesses made the Agreement self-defeating and political changes resulted in the IPKF not completing its assignment, India managed to achieve a few things.[vi] Constitutional recognition of Tamil autonomy when provincial councils were created following the introduction of 13th Amendment in Sri Lanka Constitution.[vii] It was also loud affirmation of India’s support for a united Sri Lanka, signalling end of Indian support to Tamil insurgency. It made both nations realise that cooperation rather than confrontation would be the cornerstone in their relations. It was also a demonstration in India’s power assertion to defend its interest in its neighbourhood, sending a strong message to the global strategic community.[viii]
· 1991 to 2006: This period saw sea change in global power equation: dismantling of the Soviet Union ended the Cold War; China increasingly flexed its economic and military power to challenge American influence in Asia Pacific. Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination by LTTE in 1991 further singed Tamil Nadu’s enthusiasm for Sri Lanka Tamil problem. After a brief pause, India and Sri Lanka slowly started rebuilding their relations. India kept aloof from Sri Lanka’s conflicts with LTTE during this period. India chose to keep out of the International peace process 2002 in Sri Lanka though it led to the legitimate entry for other major powers – the US, Japan, EU and Norway – in India’s area of influence changing the security environment.[ix] The signing of India’s first ever Free Trade Agreement with Sri Lanka was a major milestone in the journey to a win-win relationship.[x] It could mature into a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) proposed by India to benefit both the countries.
· 2006 to date: Despite domestic pressures, India fully supported Sri Lanka during the Eelam War IV. Although it provided only limited supply of arms Sri Lanka wanted during the war, it extended diplomatic, intelligence and other material support to Sri Lanka. Its naval cooperation and intelligence were useful for Sri Lanka in destroying LTTE’s supply ships which greatly helped it win the war. At the same time, India constantly reminded Sri Lanka of the need to fully implement the 13th Amendment and devolve powers to Tamil community as part of Sri Lanka’s strategy. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka has not even started the process. Sri Lanka’s poor handling of international concerns over allegations of human rights violations and war crimes in the post war period has burgeoned into a minor international crisis affecting Sri Lanka’s credibility. It has created dilemma for India in extending unflinching support to Sri Lanka in international forums. The elimination of the LTTE removed a major obstacle to India’s active engagement with Sri Lanka Tamils. India has given Sri Lanka nearly $ 4 billion in aid and extended credit for Sri Lanka’s post war recovery of economy and reconstruction of Tamil areas. However, Sri Lanka has not been able to take advantage of these favourable developments because politically it wants to project a “homemade solution” as the only way for united Sri Lanka.
Gritty issues in the relationship
India and Sri Lanka relations are facing a number of gritty issues generated in the wake of Eelam war. The durability of their good relations would depend upon how they manage these issues in future:
· China’s increasing profile in Sri Lanka: China became a major source of weapons and political support in UN for Sri Lanka during the Eelam War. After the war, the Chinese has emerged as a major financial source for construction of a number of infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka. Some of them like the construction of modern port facilities at Hambantota are part of China’s non military power projection in India’s neighbourhood. China’s recent interest in understanding the Tamil ethnic issue indicates its increasing interest in Sri Lanka political affairs as well. Thus China could emerge as a major contender to check Indian influence in Sri Lanka and the Indian Ocean region.
· Increasing militarism and centralization of power: The 200,000-strong Sri Lanka army has emerged as a powerful force with high morale after the success against LTTE. The continued deployment its major strength in Northern Province even after three years of war and their employment in non-military duties even outside the war zone have become matters of concern for civil society. It does not augur well for democracy as Colombo is showing increasing tendency to centralize power in the hands of Rajapaksa clan, use the parliament to reduce executive president’s accountability, weaken civil society institutions and curb of opposition and media. Assertion of Sinhala triumphalism has encouraged xenophobia and hardened Sri Lanka’s attitudes towards devolution of powers to minorities. It could strengthen anti-Indian lobbies in Sri Lanka leading to a backlash in favour of Eelam separatism and anti-Sri Lankan lobbies in Tamil Nadu.
· Delay in reconciliation process: President Rajapaksa failure to keep up his promise to implement the 13thAmendment in full to empower provincial councils has weakened India’s position both internally and externally. Sri Lanka’s casual attitude to India’s and international concerns over allegations against Sri Lankan army’s war crimes, human rights abuses, custodial killings and abductions in the post war period, compelled India to vote for a U.S. sponsored resolution seeking Sri Lanka’s accountability in the UN Human Rights Council meeting in March 2012. This has soured the relations between the two countries. Sri Lanka’s continued indifference to Tamil concerns could affect New Delhi’s ruling coalition’s fortunes as it depends upon the support of Dravidian parties from Tamil Nadu. If no course correction is applied it could also affect the electoral fortunes of Congress-led coalition in New Delhi in the long run.[xi]
· Negative impact on policy making: These issues have provided an incentive for the revival of Tamil separatism among Tamil Diaspora. It has helped pro-LTTE fringe elements in Tamil Nadu to come to the political limelight which could harden the larger Dravidian parties’ stance on Sri Lanka and negatively impact policy making in both India and Sri Lanka affecting their friendly relations. Increased support to Tamil separatist elements has the potential to turn into a security risk to both India and Sri Lanka. If left unchecked it could pose a major challenge for national leaderships in both countries in their relationship strategy.
Takeaway in SAARC Context
The progressive growth of relation between India and Sri Lanka provides valuable takeaways in relationship building which are relevant to improving relations among SAARC members:
1. Transparency in transactions: Lack of transparency in transactions in international diplomacy is taken for granted as a matter of routine. However, the public involvement in policy making has increased tremendously through social media and blogging networks. So probably time has come for nations to achieve a level of transparency in their international transactions without jeopardizing national interests. Lack of transparency of transactions was a major reason for the poor public credibility India-Sri Lanka Agreement 1987 enjoyed during implementation. Neither public nor political parties were taken into confidence either during the Rajiv-Jayawardane talks or when the Agreement was signed. In fact it was rushed through in unseemly haste giving rise to misapprehensions. Publication of white papers on policy matters periodically could help improve the situation.
2. Keeping open communication channels: In this era of real time news and powerful social media, it is essential that communication channels between countries are kept open at various levels to avoid misunderstanding. This was done effectively during the Eelam War by both India and Sri Lanka. In addition to this there were periodic meetings between the policy makers in both makers as well as within the country. Equally important is to create effective public communication channels. It played an important role in LTTE’s successful image building exercise during its conflict with IPKF and subsequently in earlier episodes of Eelam War. Understanding this, Sri Lanka used improved public communication through electronic and print media to successfully neutralize LTTE propaganda machinery during Eelam War IV. India’s credibility during the Eelam War IV and after was affected due to poor public communication particularly in Tamil Nadu.
3. Managing political compulsions: Political compulsions affect policy making in bilateral relations. This cannot be wished away in democratic societies; however, its negative fallout can be minimized by adopting of coordinated political strategies in both countries to manage. India and Sri Lanka maintained excellent communication between decision makers at all levels to handle critical issues with finesse barring a few exceptions.
4. Policy commitment and continuity: In democracies where leadership change is common, it is essential countries identify, preferably together, their objectives and maintain continuity of policy to build a win-win relationship. The main reason for the successful growth of India – Sri Lanka relations was the policy the commitment and its continuity even during brief setbacks in between. Continued interaction at the leadership level and regular people to people contact managed to erase the negative feelings generated in the aftermath of Indian intervention from 1987 to 1990. The high level of strategic cooperation and the signing of the India-Sri Lanka FTA and striving to improve its value addition is a good example of this strategy.
5. External pressures: Though Cold War is over, global power play is increasingly bringing pressure on nations in their inter-relations with other countries. After the emergence of China as a challenger to the U.S. power in Asia-Pacific, SAARC nations are increasingly being subject to pressures of external power play. Both India and Sri Lanka have adopted consultation, cooperation, and coordination as the strategies to tackle the impact of such external pressures to handle national and regional issues affecting each other, particularly in international forums. This mutually reinforces their relations with each other. On the other hand, such strategies would work if only nations respond in time to international concerns. This was amply demonstrated by Sri Lanka’s progressive loss of international credibility when it chose to ignore mounting international concerns in the UN.
[i] ASEAN was formed on August 8, 1967 by Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. Since then Brunei, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam have been admitted making a total of ten members at present. EU conceived in July 1952 took present form under the Treaty of Maastricht in November 1, 1993.
[ii] In 1991 the Committee for Economic Cooperation was set up. The framework agreement for the SAARC Preferential Trading Arrangement (SAPTA) was finalized in 1993 and operationalised in December 1995. South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) became operational from January 1, 2006. This Agreement provides for a phased tariff liberalization programme (TLP). The non-LDCs would bring down tariffs to 20 per cent, while LDCs will bring them down to 30 per cent. Non-LDCs will then bring down tariffs from 20 per cent to 0-5 per cent in 5 years (Sri Lanka in 6 years), while LDCs will do so in 8 years. [www.saarc.org]
[iii] SAARC Convention on Terrorism (1987) is remarkable because it came up before 9/11 terror strikes which prompted global initiatives in countering terror. SAARC updated its terrorism strategies with Additional Protocol on Terrorism (2005).
[iv] In 1991 the Committee for Economic Cooperation was set up. The framework agreement for the SAARC Preferential Trading Arrangement (SAPTA) was finalized in 1993 and operationalised in December 1995. South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) became operational from January 1, 2006. This Agreement provides for a phased tariff liberalization programme (TLP). The non-LDCs would bring down tariffs to 20 per cent, while LDCs will bring them down to 30 per cent. Non-LDCs will then bring down tariffs from 20 per cent to 0-5 per cent in 5 years (Sri Lanka in 6 years), while LDCs will do so in 8 years. [www.saarc.org]
[v] On 30 October 1964 Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri and Ceylon Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike signed the Sirima-Shastri Pact (also known as the Indo-Ceylon Agreement) under which India agreed to the repatriation of 525,000 Indian Tamils. Another 300,000 would be offered Ceylon citizenship. The fate of the remaining 150,000 Indian Tamils was to be decided later. On 28 June 1974 Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her Ceylon counterpart Sirimavo Bandaranaike signed the Sirimavo-Gandhi Pact under which India and Sri Lanka agreed to grant citizenship to the 150,000 Indian Tamils whose status was left unresolved by the Sirima-Shastri Pact. In 1982 India abrogated the Sirima-Shastri Pact and Sirimavo-Gandhi Pact. At this point 90,000 Indian Tamils who had been granted Indian citizenship were still in Sri Lanka and another 86,000 were in the process of applying for Indian citizenship. In 1988 the Sri Lankan Parliament passed the Grant of Citizenship to Stateless Persons Act which granted Sri Lankan citizenship to all Indian Tamils who hadn’t applied for Indian citizenship under previous agreements. On 7 October 2003 the Sri Lankan Parliament unanimously passed the Grant of Citizenship to Persons of Indian Origin Act No.35 of 2003 which granted Sri Lankan citizenship to all Indian Tamils who had been residing in Sri Lanka since October 1964 and their descendents. This amounted to 168,141 persons and included those who had been granted Indian citizenship under previous agreements but were still living in Sri Lanka. All Indian Tamils living in Sri Lanka had finally been granted Sri Lankan citizenship, 55 years after independence. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
[vi] See R. Hariharan ‘Discarded accord and the unwanted war’ The Hindu, August 7, 2007 for an analysis of the India Sri Lanka Agreement 1987.
[vii] Sri Lanka parliament passed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution on November 14, 1987. It led to the creation of among others North-eastern provincial council which included what Tamils considered as their ‘Homeland.’
[viii] India’s first exercise in asserting its power in its neighbourhood in 1971 resulted in the creation of Bangladesh when Indian forces helped by East Bengal freedom fighters to defeat Pakistani forces. Indian action in 1971 kindled expectations among Sri Lankan Tamils and while apprehension among Sinhalas that IPKF was in Sri Lanka to help the creation of Tamil Eelam which was never India’s intention.
[ix] The four nations were known as the co-chairs of the peace process. India did was not actively involved in the process presumably for two reasons. The Oslo agreement had recognised the LTTE as the sole representative of Tamils ignoring a large segment of Tamils represented by other political parties and former militant groups that had supported the India-Sri Lanka Agreement 1987. Moreover, the LTTE remained unrepentant for carrying out the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and remained a proscribed organisation in India. Its attitude to India remained unpredictable, and India did not trust it.
[x] A study titled ‘Regional Economic Cooperation and Connectivity is South and South-West Asia: Potential and Challenges’ edited by Dr. Saman Kelegama, Executive Director, Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka and released by the UN-ESCAP in September 2012 shows that the India-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (ISFTA) has helped narrow the trade gap between the two countries in favour of Sri Lanka while attracting more Indian investments into the country. It said “An FTA in the region that has experienced significant benefits of trade creation for both parties involved is the FTA between India and Sri Lanka, which was an early experiment towards regional economic integration in South Asia…which provides useful lessons for other South Asian economies in terms of the progress in strengthening trade and economic linkages.” According to the study over 70 per cent of Sri Lanka’s exports have been undertaken within the framework of FTA preferences, compared to around 30 per cent of India’s exports. On the other hand, only around 14 per cent of Sri Lanka’s imports from India have been under the FTA. Therefore, the FTA has assisted in narrowing the trade gap between the two countries in favour of Sri Lanka and has contributed towards more equitable and balanced growth of bilateral trade. [Oct 17, 2012 ‘FTA with India further narrowed the trade gap of Sri Lanka- Study’ www.island.lk]
[xi] Support for Tamil Eelam died down in Tamil Nadu after the LTTE’s assassination in 1991 of Rajiv Gandhi, India’s former Prime Minister. However, public indignation over the plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka during the Eelam War and allegations of atrocities on them came in handy for Ms Jayalalithaa of AIADMK party to espouse the Tamil Eelam cause during the parliamentary poll in 2009. When she became chief minister of Tamil Nadu, she demanded imposition of trade sanctions against Sri Lanka and UN inquiry into allegations of war crimes. Smarting under the electoral debacle in Tamil Nadu assembly polls in 2010, her bête noir Karunanidhi, leader of DMK, has revived of the defunct Tamil Eelam Supporters Organization (TESO) he had formed in 1986 to pursue the Tamil Eelam agenda. Their support to the separatist cause legitimizes it and provides political space to pro-LTTE fringe parties in Tamil Nadu that deify Prabhakaran. If the DMK seriously activates TESO, its link-up with Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE), an organisation of LTTE members and supporters overseas, would become a reality. This increases the risk of Tamil Nadu becoming a hothouse of Tamil extremism, with serious implications for national security. Already, Sri Lanka is seriously concerned at these developments. It would also stoke sentiments inimical to Indian interests in Sri Lanka.
*R Hariharan ‘While building economic linkages, also bridge ethnic divide’ Indian Journal of Foreign Affairs, April-July 2012.