Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa is at the driving seat leading the charge against Sri Lanka. The anti-Sri Lankan sentiment has hit the ceiling in the state, which recently forced a batch of Sinhala pilgrims scurrying back home.
Jayalalithaa’s vocal opposition to the training of Sri Lankan airforce personnel in Tambaram and then senior army officers in Wellington Training College in Nilgiris gave an impetus to the movement that was till now in the hands of a few Tamil groups comprising young people and smaller political parties like the MDMK, Naam Tamizhar party and PMK.
The collective chagrin in the state has been over a general feeling that India turned a blind eye to the mass massacre of Tamil people during the end of the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009 and indirectly helped the Sri Lankan army, which is quintessentially Sinhala. Since Tamil Nadu was under DMK rule when the massacre took place, Tamil activists could do nothing much other than voicing their protest. There was a general resentment that the then chief minister M Karunanidhi did nothing to put pressure on the Centre to prevail upon the Sri Lankan government. Karunanidhi made a bid to regain the confidence of the people that he lost by reviving the Tamil Eelam Supporters Organisation in August. But Jayalalithaa gave a renewed spirit to the opposition when she packed off two Sri Lankan football teams from Chennai on September 2, and also sacked a stadium official who had given permission for the ‘friendly matches’.
She has been consistently voicing her opposition to the Centre whenever fishermen from the Tamil Nadu coast have been attacked or detained by Sri Lankan navy in the deep seas. After Tamil activists and political party cadre chased a batch of 184 Sinhala Christian pilgrims from the Poondi Madha Basilica, a Catholic pilgrimage centre in Thanjavur district and Velankanni in Nagapattinam district on September 3 and 4 to stage series of agitations against their visit to Tamil Nadu, Karunanidhi gave the credit for the protest to Jayalalithaa.
He said that the anti-Sri Lanka protestors were emboldened by the deportation of the football teams. What he did not factor while making such an allegation was that there had been many attempts to oppose the visit of Sinhala people to Tamil Nadu in the past and public sentiments has been that non-Tamils from the island nation deserve no hospitality as they were responsible for the installation of Mahinda Rajapakse in power.
So indirectly, Karunanidhi himself acceded the leadership of the grassroots movement against Sri Lanka, which has been active in Tamil Nadu for quite some time and saw a revival in 2009, to Jayalalithaa.
Even while taking on Union Minister for Defence Pallam Raju for his statement that Sri Lanka is a friendly nation, it was Jayalalithaa who led the strident attack, pushing all the other political parties to the background.
In all this, what warmed the cockles of the Tamil activists is the no-nonsense approach of Jayalalithaa in the issue that had hitherto lacked a focus mainly because the self-proclaimed ‘leader of Tamils' has been indulging in doublespeak. The activists claim that Karunanidhi’s basic considerations are not the safety or welfare of the Tamil people of Sri Lanka or at present their rehabilitation. They say that he has been giving lip service to the Tamils’ cause only because he wanted to remain relevant in Tamil Nadu politics while his primary concerns are over the business interest that some people close to him have in Sri Lanka. Besides, Karunanidhi is in no mood to speak out against the Centre for obvious reasons.
It is in this context, Jayalalithaa emerging as the prima donna of the movement against Lanka has given a boost to the activists, who feel that they can articulate their views to the world more effectively on the Sri Lankan issue.