GIVEN the geographical and cultural proximity between the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu and the island nation of Sri Lanka, one would have expected stronger ties between the two regions in South Asia. However, matters relating to citizenship and the civil war that went on for years in Sri Lanka ensured that India, under pressure from the state of Tamil Nadu, experienced a strained relationship with its neighbouring nation.
Over the years, subsequent governments in Tamil Nadu, along with the state politicians and its people have heavily criticised the Sri Lankan authorities regarding the atrocities faced by Tamil minorities in the island nation, which still continues to stir emotions in the southern Indian state. Post-2009, after the Sri Lankan government’s war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), came to an end, tensions continue to haunt both the regions with regard to the conflict between the Sri Lankan Navy and Tamil fishermen.
However, with Sri Lanka currently going through a period of turmoil owing to its worst economic crisis, the Tamil Nadu government, whose interest in Sri Lankan matters was mostly restricted to the lives of the Tamils, have decided to help the struggling nation and its people, which includes non-Tamilians as well.
In what can be seen as a step that will, in MK Stalin’s own words, “help to improve the warmth and cordiality between nations,” the Tamil Nadu legislative assembly, earlier this month, unanimously passed a resolution seeking permission to supply rice and essential medicines as an aid to Sri Lanka. The resolution was accepted by Indian External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar, who said that the TN government’s assistance can supplement the aid provided by the Union government.
“Throughout the past many years, Tamil Nadu has mostly voiced in favour of only the Tamils in Sri Lanka. But in the ongoing crisis, the state government has made it clear that it stands with all Sri Lankans. We are seeing a humanitarian approach by the Stalin-led DMK government here,” says N Sathiya Moorthy, policy analyst and political commentator based in Chennai. He goes on to add that it’s a welcome move by the TN government, which has decided to keep aside all the issues they have with Sri Lanka’s political class.
It’s interesting to note that the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), which is the ruling front in Tamil Nadu, have in the past, under the leadership of M Karunanidhi, was at the forefront of organising protest rallies in Tamil Nadu against the anti-Tamil violence in Sri Lanka during the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Even the AIADMK, under the leadership of late J Jayalalitha, has been vocal about the Tamil cause in Sri Lanka. During her election campaign in 2016, Jayalalitha had promised that her party would put pressure on the government of India to provide dual citizenship to Sri Lankan Tamils, who are living as refugees in Tamil Nadu and also to create a separate state for Tamilians in Sri Lanka.
And today, It’s not just the DMK government that has shown a positive attitude towards a humanitarian approach to Sri Lanka. Even opposition parties in the state including the AIADMK and the BJP have supported the state government’s decision to provide assistance to all Sri Lankans.
Speaking to India Ahead, political analyst Sumanth Raman, also reiterates Moorthy’s thoughts that the Tamil Nadu government is not looking at the crisis in Sri Lanka from a political perspective but rather as a humanitarian crisis. “Right now, the aim of the TN government is to ensure that the people of Sri Lanka have enough food, fuel and so on. And as of now, both the Union and state government have done a good job in providing aid to Sri Lanka,” adds Raman.
However, there is no clear clarity as to what Tamil Nadu’s or for that matter, even India’s stand is, with regard to the Rajapaksa regime. Following the violence that erupted in Sri Lanka and the resignation of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Government of India had said that it will be guided by the “best interests” of the Sri Lankan people.
Having said that, even today, most of the top officials in the Sri Lankan government, including the army chief and the defence secretary, according to Mr Raman have all been accused of war crimes in 2009. “Both DMK and AIADMK have, in the past, demanded that all these officials be taken to trial for war crimes,” he added.