CHENNAI: Almost a decade after the end of the Sri Lankan civil war, and days after the passing of former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, the mood at the Sri Lankan refugee camp here in Red Hills has been largely ‘forgiving’
From terming him a ‘traitor’, refugees who have made the State their home say time has tempered their view opinion of Karunanidhi with respect to his stand on the cause of the Sri Lankan Tamils.
“Ten years back, we strongly felt he didn’t do everything in his power for the Sri Lankan Tamils and to save (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam chief) Prabhakaran. Now, the discussions in the camp have been more understanding of his political limitations at that time,”’ said Karunakaran (name changed), at the camp. His neighbour and relative, Kripa (name changed) agreed.
“There was undoubtedly a lot of anger. But at that time, the schemes that were rolled out for refugees were undoubtedly helpful. Karunanidhi, in that way, has been kind towards us but so have subsequent governments,” Kripa said. The Tamil Nadu Government provides a monthly allowance of `1,000 to the head of a refugee family, `750 to each adult and `400 for children.
Writer and political commentator Stalin Rajangam believes anger at the way Karunanidhi dealt the issue of Sri Lankan Tamils towards the end of the war was, in fact, a result of disappointment with the DMK. “The cause of the Eelam was beyond his reach, as the head of a State party; it was concerned with the country’s foreign relations policy as a whole,” he said. The problem arose when these limitations clashed with the identity Karunanidhi was attempting to build for himself at that time — as the leader of Tamils across the world.
“For example,when the DMK gave up the Dravida Nadu demand in 1962, they instead took up causes like State autonomy. But this demand was only spelled out when there was a need to remind followers of what the party stood for. There was no wholehearted attempt to make this demand a reality,” he said, adding that this led to many of its followers losing hope, and later to charges that Karunanidhi did little to help Eelam Tamils.
According to experts, the DMK at the time, restricted its relationship with the Centre to power-sharing and did not have a vision for the country’s policies - an accusation that could be levelled against all regional parties.
Amidst reports of crackers being burst in some parts of Sri Lanka after Karunanidhi’s death, Mayuran, a former journalist, who lives in in Colombo said, “During the 2009-2010 period a large part of Tamils harboured discontent for Karunanidhi’s way of dealing with the crisis here, to put it mildly. But, now after a decade, there is no hatred for anyone in particular and it has turned into a larger issue of how a Government has to put the needs of a minority community on top of their priority list.”
“In fact, condolence meetings were held for him. The people here feel it important that he is celebrated as a littérateur first, and then, a politician,” he added.
However, a section of Tamils are resolute in their belief that Karunanidhi cannot be absolved of the responsibility of allowing the crisis to escalate.
Said political analyst Tharasu Shyam, “Vanni Arasu, now the deputy general secretary of VCK, had visited Sri Lanka in 2008 to document the crisis. He played the videos to Karunanidhi, who then even wondered at a public meeting in Mylapore if he should continue the alliance with the UPA.”
“But he did, didn’t he? He went on to continue in the coalition at the cost of the Sri Lankan Tamil cause,” he said, adding that the coalition could have been used as a bargaining chip. “He gave Tamils false hopes,” he said.