Saturday, November 2, 2013

CHOGM politics: does moving the goal posts reset war crimes record?

Political parties in Tamil Nadu want India to boycott the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo, but the chief minister of the northern province elected by an overwhelming majority of the Tamils in the island nation doesn't seem to have the same opinion. Not only is northern province chief minister CV Vigneswaran participating in the summit, but he also wants Manmohan Singh to visit Jaffna. In other words, he wants India to participate – not necessarily for the reasons of the Sri Lankan government which has been repeated slammed by rights groups and international community for its alleged war crimes and continuing human rights violations. Manmohan SIngh. AFP image This is a significant point of divergence in Sri Lankan Tamil politics, wherein the political position of the Indian Tamils and the diaspora are not entirely shared by the leaders of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) that rules the northern province. The Sri Lanka Tamil leaders now may very well speak a language that is at variance with that of the Tamil groups in India and elsewhere. At some stage, Vigneswaran and company might even say, thanks, but no thanks. At the core of this now emergent dichotomy is the clash of political realities. Political parties and groups in Tamil Nadu harp on the fantasy of Eelam, a separate homeland for Sri Lankan Tamils; but by joining the Sri Lankan government, the TNA has evidently given up the desire for a separate country. What they want is more autonomy and not a Tamil nation. Vigneswaran and the other leaders have time and again said that the Tamils want complete autonomy, but within Sri Lanka. In fact, the LTTE-vestige in the diaspora was not happy with the candidature of Vigneswaran, who has since emerged as a master of political craft. The moment a rebel decides to join the government, the only option is to continue the fight within. And for the TNA and the Tamil government, that is the most effective and practical option. After all, by a carefully calibrated mixture of aggression and reconciliation, they have been able to capture power and start speaking a language of autonomy. The invitation by Vignewaran to Manmohan Singh to visit Jaffna, telling Colombo that he is independent within Sri Lanka, and the latter's response are encouraging indicators of how far the TNA would go in living its dream of independent, dignified and equal lives. Strategically and ideologically, the Sri Lankan ethnic politics in Tamil Nadu is now trapped in a time warp, whereas the Tamils in the island have moved on. Not that both are happy to forget and forgive the Rajapaksa regime for the horrors of the past, but their paths have begun to go in different directions. Till the Tamils claimed the administrative and political control of the northern province, they were almost together; but now, one is dogmatic, while the other is pragmatic. The contrast between the voices of the political parties and groups in Tamil Nadu against Delhi and that of Vigneswaran is remarkable in this context. While the leaders in Tamil Nadu accused the UPA government and Manmohan Singh of negligence or failure in addressing the Sri Lankan Tamil issue, Vigneswaran credited him with a lot. He in fact went to the extent of saying that India persuaded Sri Lanka in holding the provincial polls and even his election as the chief minister. That is precisely how Delhi would have wanted to counter the voices in Tamil Nadu, including from the Congress, which asked its government to boycott CHOGM: "If he (Vigneswaran) attends, what is now left with us to protest?" Manmohan Singh is now certainly justified to attend the summit. But continuing the old legacy of the ethnic issue is unlikely to change in Tamil Nadu with the elections round the corner. The state assembly has passed a resolution asking India to boycott the summit while the DMK president Karunanidhi said if Delhi goes to Colombo in November, his party will have to face the consequences. Whether the Sri Lankan Tamils want it or not, politicians in Tamil Nadu cannot change the course that may win them some crucial votes. However, the demands of the political parties in Tamil Nadu, the diaspora and international rights groups are still extremely important. The Sri Lankan government has to be held accountable for its war crimes and continuing rule of terror. Every possible forum, including the CHOGM, should be exploited to put pressure on the government run by the Rajapaksa family. The huge mountain of evidence of war crimes and rights abuse, and the unrelenting indictment by the UN, which even called the island's government totalitarian, cannot be pushed under the carpet for the sake of good times and sub-continental diplomacy. The latest Channel 4 video which shows that Isai Priya, one of the iconic women victims of the war, was in fact captured alive before being abused and killed by the Sri Lankan army, should provide fresh emotional and human rights impetus to CHOGM participants to ask Rajapaksa and his terror cabal tough questions.

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