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If the TNA is willing to cooperate with the government India is ready to provide assistance for development projects in the Tamil areas. If the TNA does not cooperate they cannot expect anything else from India. This is India’s current approach to the Tamil issue.


Veeragathy Thanabalasingham

Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, who visited Sri Lanka last week, met with TNA leader R Sampanthan at the India House for about half an hour prior returning to New Delhi.

It is learned that the two talked about the future of the provincial councils which would give some devolution to the Tamils and the 13th Amendment to the Constitution which led to it and agreed to keep what they discussed in secrecy owing to the sensitivity of the issue.

During the meeting with Sampanthan, Doval had expressed interest in the economic development of the northern and eastern provinces and had advised Sampanthan that the Tamil National Alliance should focus more on economic development.

The fact is, in the current context, India does not want or is unable to put pressure on the Sri Lankan government regarding domestic political issues, such as the constitution and devolution. Though Indian Primer Minister Narendra Modi,during his official meetings with Rajapaksa brothers , made it a point to insist that SriLankan Tamils’ aspirations must be addressed through the full implementation of the 13th amendment but to no avail.They (Rajapaksa brothers )always maintained a studied silence in front of PM Modi and later used to give lengthy interviews to Indian prominent English news papers in Delhi itself proclaiming that they were unable to grant anything against the will of the Sinhala majority.That was their response to Modi’s request regarding Tamil problem,But, no doubt,India would certainly continue to raise the issue.

But the fact is, in the current context, India doesn’t want to put pressure on the SriLankan government regarding the domestic political issues.India is not prepared to alienate or contradict Colombo at a time when India is engaged in strategic moves with the United States to curb China’s growing influence in the Indian Ocean region, therefore India does not wish to alienate or get into conflict with the government. Therefore, India will not take any action that could embarrass the Rajapaksa government. That is the Geo political reality today.

Therefore, it is more prudent for India to be concerned with economic development than to be at odds with the government over the political issues of the Tamils in the North and East. If the TNA is willing to cooperate with the government in this regard, India is ready to provide assistance for development projects in the Tamil areas. This is India’s current approach to the Tamil issue. If the TNA does not cooperate they cannot expect anything else from India.

The need therefore is for the leaders of the Tamil National Alliance to change their political strategies and action in line with this approach, which India considers convenient at present. Another important question is how they are going to fulfil it.

As far as the Tamil National Alliance is concerned, it cannot be said that they are not at all focused on the economic development of their areas. The parliamentarians of the TNA implement economic projects with the funds allocated to them annually.

But aside from the fact that the funds are not adequate, their main focus continues to a political solution to the ethnic problem. Most of the MPs in the TNA speak emotionally and live in the past. In the changed geo political arena, they are unable to devise new approaches to guide the Tamil people in the post-war period

Tamils are not accustomed to a political culture that collaborates with the Government in Colombo. Since all the governments in power since independence have discriminated against Tamils, Tamil political parties have always engaged in oppositional politics. Therefore, it has become customary for Tamils to call politicians who work with the government ‘traitors’.

Although it is difficult for Tamils and their political representatives to change from such a political culture the situation has changed since the end of the war and therefore it requires a change in their political culture.

When the Maithri-Ranil- led government embarked on the process of drafting a new constitution, the TNA collaborated with the government in an attempt to find a political solution to the ethnic problem through that process. Although TNA did not join the government but fully supported it. As the new constitution drafting process failed, the TNA’s influence among Tamils began to wane. Even cooperating with Colombo was to no avail.

In such a scenario, it is an embarrassment to the TNA when India asks it to co-operate with the current Rajapaksa government in economic development activities.

The Rajapakse government is pursuing development projects in the north and east without consulting the Tamil parliamentarians in those areas. TNA and other Tamil parties believe that the government should consult with them prior to undertaking any development activities in the Tamil regions. If the government proceeds to adopt a strategy that includes Tamil MPs in its development activities in the North and East, it will be easier for them to co-operate in economic development activities as per India’s insistence. India should use its goodwill to persuade the Rajapaksa government in this matter.

Meanwhile,Tamil parties must not give up the basic aspirations and ideology of the Tamis’ struggle for their legitimate rights, but at the same time they must prepare themselves to adopt a short — term pragmatic political approach or strategies to address the post war economic and humanitarian needs of of the Tamil people especially given the current context.

The necessity to give up the traditional confrontational politics to facilitate to a new approach in the interests of their people doesn’t have to necessarily mean surrendering to Colombo dispensation,