By N Sathiya Moorthy*
The Tamil Nadu Assembly’s recent Resolution on the ‘accountability issues’ in neighbouring Sri Lanka is not necessarily in sync with the prevailing mood and methods of the socio-political majority among the Tamils in that nation. Instead, by singing a tune different from that of the Sri Lankan Tamil polity and society in Sri Lanka, the Tamil Nadu polity in general and the State Assembly Resolution in particular, which unilaterally extends strong sentiments, sympathy and support to the war-victimised Tamil brethren, may have deflected, even if slightly, from the script that the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has been writing in that country since the January presidential polls.
The Assembly resolution, if anything, may have also lost some of its sting, owing to the ‘wrong-timing’. The world in general and the Tamil-speaking people and those concerned about their continued welfare, or lack of it, in Sri Lanka, were focused more on the UNHRC proceedings and probe report in distant Geneva on the very day that the TN Assembly passed what by now has become as one more in a series. Rather than seeking to upstage the UNHRC probe report, as it did, the unanimous Assembly resolution would have also made greater sense and served a larger purpose had it waited until after the UNHRC probe report was out and they too had studied it in some detail, before coming up with suggestions and appeals for the Centre.
The impinged Resolution thus urged the Centre to take steps for ensuring an ‘international investigation’ into ‘war crimes’ and ‘accountability issues’ in Sri Lanka, and also rather stall any ‘domestic mechanism’ for the purpose. In the final analysis, the UNHRC probe report, if implemented, would entail an ‘international inquiry’ of sorts, with international judges, prosecutors and investigators, facilitated through domestic legal and legislative sanctions, wherever required. The Maithiri-Ranil duo in power in Sri Lanka is yet to come out with its full reaction, and action, if any, that they propose to initiate in this regard. With the result, the TN resolution this time at the very least might seem like wanting to put the cart before the horse, and prematurely so.
This is not to suggest that it’s all going to be hunky-dory for the UNHRC probe recommendations, and the Sri Lankan State, leadership and armed forces, not to leave out the Tamil polity and the LTTE remnants in that country and elsewhere, are going to lap it all up. Even then, nothing seemed to be able to move on the ‘accountability issues’ until the TNA, or other sections of the Sri Lankan Tamil polity and society – whether Diaspora or locals in the island-nation – had taken the initiative and convinced the ‘international community’ that the Sri Lankan State and the Sinhala polity had proved once again, their ‘inherent’ inability/unwillingness to take it forward.
Persuading the US
The TN polity, particularly the ruling AIADMK leadership of Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, also wants the Centre, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in particular, to impress upon the US to insist on an international mechanism to probe the Sri Lankan ‘war crimes’. It is unclear if the demand would now include/cover a ‘hybrid court’ that the UNHRC probe report and the UN Human Rights Commissioner, Prince Zeid, have recommended. For their part, the TNA, even before the probe report was out, had mentioned that any Sri Lankan domestic probe mechanism should include/involve international judges, etc. While the TNA, and hence the Tamil community in Sri Lanka, should be satisfied with the UNHRC report, their final position would be known only after the Government clarified as to what they have since meant by taking ‘due attention’ of the same.
Whoever is in power, these are issues where India has little to no say, as long as the Sri Lankan stake-holders have problems. The US, whose three-in-a-row annual resolutions had caused the UNHRC probe in the first place, could do precious little about it until the TNA, as the democratically-elected spokesperson of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka, too felt that way. It was not until the post-war political negotiations on power-devolution issues between the TNA and the erstwhile Government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, got aborted after 18 rounds did the party take such a position. Today, having to give the new Sri Lankan dispensation a fair chance – given in particular the prevailing mood of the international community, the TNA may not rush to conclusions as fast as their Tamil brethren across the Palk Strait tend to.
Even without it, India would have had a tough task if it had sought to dissuade the US from going along with a reversed position on the accountability probe in Sri Lanka after the change of government in that country. Truth be acknowledged – and seldom is it – the US too would have found it difficult to carry a majority in the UNHRC, on the probe report implementation in particular, if the new Sri Lankan dispensation had appealed for international support for a domestic probe under a credible Government than in the immediate past. If it had won the probe-vote in March 2014, it did not come without reservations from some of its traditional allies. They would have found in the government-change in Sri Lanka, the right justification for either to vote against any resolution for pursuing internationally on the probe report, or at least abstained from it. India moving any resolution on its own or persuading the US to do so – if ever it had happened – would not have been a smart move, politically or diplomatically.
True, the Assembly polls in Tamil Nadu are due around May next year, but that does not necessarily imply that the State’s polity does not have the genuine concern for their Tamil brethren in mind. Yet, right now, like the international community the TN society too would seem wanting to give the new Sri Lankan dispensation a chance, particularly under the circumstances in which they have formed a multi-party ‘National Government’, which is unlike anything tried out in South Asia and the rest of the Third World – or, even the First World. The more they tune in, into the Tamil politics and society in the war-torn nation sans the emotional upsurge of the State polity and protestors nearer home, the greater are the chances that they would think more about the TNA and its ways.
For long, however, the TNA has remained cut off from the competing sections of the Dravidian polity – and also seems to have reduced its contacts with individual communist leaders in Tamil Nadu, apart from their State counterparts from the BJP leader of the ruling NDA at the Centre. To the extent, if nothing else, the spontaneity with which the Tamil Nadu youth took to the streets on ‘accountability issues’ was missing and the calibrated commentaries and tele-visuals too did not make the anticipated/desired impact. Suffice is to point out that the two ‘Dravidian majors’, namely the ruling AIADMK and the parent DMK rival, did not join the rest of ’em all in organising protest rallies timed to the UNHRC session, this time round. What they all would do – and how far could they succeed – ahead of the March session of the UNHRC, when alone a clearer picture would have emerged on the Sri Lankan Government commitments, if any, on the UNHRC probe report, remains to be seen. That would also be when the TN Assembly polls would only be weeks, if not days, away.
*The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter