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Colombo must hush the triumphalism and begin a political process

Written by The Indian Express | January 29, 2009 4:10:59 am

External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s dash to Colombo comes quick upon Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi’s renewed call to the Centre to show some insistent diplomacy. With the Sri Lankan army piling up successes against the LTTE,Tamil Nadu’s politics has been simmering with demands that New Delhi put pressure on Colombo to kickstart a political process to solve the longstanding ethnic conflict. In this context,Karunanidhi had threatened to withdraw the DMK from the UPA coalition. With Mukherjee undertaking the visit,the ultimatums in Chennai have subsided somewhat. The visit,though sudden,is therefore timely. With it,the MEA should take control of the direction and tenor of diplomacy with India’s island neighbour.

Mukherjee has correctly separated the status of the LTTE from that of Sri Lanka’s Tamil population. India,he said before leaving for Colombo,has no sympathy with terrorist organisations like the LTTE. Its chief,V. Prabhakaran,is after all among the most wanted terrorists in this country. But for the series of swift military successes against the Tigers to be fully beneficial,the Sri Lankan authorities need to see that humanitarian assistance is rushed to the civilians,mostly Tamils,in the affected theatres of battle. Also,for any lasting peace to be a consequence of the LTTE’s reverses,a political solution must be begun.

India has vast experience of using the democratic process to close out insurgencies,to use the opening provided by military success against insurgents by meeting,and being seen to meet,the aspirations of the civilian population — and the Indian government needs to remind the Sri Lankans of that. It would be in Colombo’s interest to hush the triumphalism sweeping the southern parts of the island. The LTTE has taken some dramatic losses. With the fall of Mullaittivu,it has lost its last urban stronghold. And from an estimated 15,000 square kilometres under their control during the high noon of the ceasefire,the Tigers are believed to now hold just about 300 square kilometres. But the Tigers have in the past shown a capacity for resilience. A Tamil population suffering the consequences of the war would make their propaganda for revival that much easier.

All multi-ethnic societies struggle with issues of representation; it is a process of accommodation that never stops. In the years of conflict and then of the ceasefire and its dismantling,Colombo postponed the issue. It cannot afford to do so any longer.

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