In Poll Season, Congress Seeks Tamil Respite

After months of refusing to relent with support for Sri Lankan Tamil civilians caught in the midst of Colombo’s war with itself, the Congress party finally went into damage-control on Thursday with Union Home Minister P Chidambaram blaming both the Rajapakse government an the Tiger rebels for refusing to heed ceasefire calls issued by New Delhi.

Speaking to the media soon after he filed nomination papers for the Sivaganga parliamentary constituency in Tamil Nadu, Chidambaram said, cause of the Lankan Tamils was a humanitarian one and there was need to protect the lives of the people.

He iterated that India had asked the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE to end hostilities.

“We have been making the demand continuously for many days. But both the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government are not paying heed to our request,” he stressed.

Chidambaram said that that the Sri Lankan government was more at fault as it believed in a military solution to end the strife.

“The issue cannot be resolved by the army. It has to be resolved through negotiations. The Tamils should be given equal respect, status and right. Tamil dominated one or two provinces should be made states with equal rights within the Sri Lankan federal set up,” he said.

Skirting queries on possibilities of New Delhi snapping diplomatic ties with Colombo over the issue, as demanded by TN chief minister and DMK President M Karunanidhi, Chidambaram said: “It is a serious issue and it cannot be discussed in a press meet.”

Coming ahead of the Lok Sabha elections in the state, Chidambaram’s remarks – on a day when business establishments in the state downed shutters in solidarity with Lankan Tamils – are widely accepted to be a last ditch damage control measure launched by the Congress.

Chidambaram termed the DMK – a key Congress ally – called strike in the state as an expression of “anguish” against killing of Tamils in the island nation.

He iterated that the strike was “not against the Union government or Congress. It is for stopping the hostilities there in that country.”

People in the state, who share close family and cultural ties with Lankan Tamils caught in the midst of Sri Lanka’s “decisive war” against Tamil rebels, have repeatedly called for New Delhi’s intervention on behalf of their counterparts on the island.

Intervention calls, however, failed to move the Congress led UPA government, despite aid agencies and media reports pointing towards a huge humanitarian crisis in the country.

DMK patriarch Karunanidhi issued several ultimatums to the UPA government urging it to intervene and negotiate a ceasefire in Sri Lanka, failing which, he threatened, to pull-out of the UPA coalition, but the warnings repeatedly turned out to be damp squibs.

With Opposition parties in the state, under an umbrella alliance led by Jayalalitha’s AIADMK, seeking to convert the plight of the island nation’s civilian Tamil population into a major poll plank, the Congress and DMK are now desperate to diversify risks brought forth by the non-intervention, say the politically astute.

Chidambaram, however, refuted the charges and said it was wrong to say that the UPA did not take any steps to stop the hostilities in the island.

He said that successive governments at the center since 1983 have followed the same policy in context of the Sri Lankan strife, and added that all major Tamil parties including the PMK, AIADMK, MDMK, have been allies in such governments.

Meanwhile, AIADMK and its allies did not participate in the day-long strike called by the DMK and dismissed it as a ‘farce and a drama.’

Chidambaram’s remarks come hours after the UN Security Council (UNSC) expressed “deep concerns” over the humanitarian crisis in the country.

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