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LTTE Woos Tamil Nadu

M. Mayilvaganam is Associate Fellow at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detail profile.
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  • August 29, 2008

    LTTE Political Head P. Nadesan’s recent call to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi to “turn into a supporter of LTTE struggle” in an interview to ‘Kumudam,’ a Tamil weekly, is an example of the outfit’s efforts to woo Tamil Nadu and Karunanidhi in particular. It also underscores the importance of Tamil Nadu for the LTTE at a time of its most pressing crisis. Of late, the Tigers seem to have increased their dependence on, and activities in, Tamil Nadu, which they consider to be a rear base. Though the LTTE have supporters within Tamil Nadu’s political sphere, by wooing the DMK chief and Chief Minister Karunanidhi they hope to put pressure on the Indian government to alter its present pro-Rajapaksa approach. However, two key questions remain. Will the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister take up the Sri Lankan Tamil cause and exert pressure on the Centre to alter its present Sri Lanka policy? And, is Tamil Nadu a rear base for the LTTE?

    The LTTE have reached a critical stage in their history, with the military situation looking graver than ever before. Sri Lankan forces have pinned them down to Mullaitivu and Killinochchi in the North and are threatening their very survival. The LTTE are at best trying to prevent a further loss of strength and military hardware. Consequently, as a tactical move, they have begun to show keenness in attracting the attention of India and that of Tamil Nadu in particular to earn respite from their present acute difficulties. Hence, the appeal to Karunanidhi—considered a leader of world Tamils—to come forward to assist them “in their struggle to establish a Tamil Eelam state.”

    The appeal seems to be a conscious effort to reach out to Karunanidhi in particular and Tamil Nadu political leaders in general and win back their sympathy and support. Incidentally, it was not so long ago that Velupillai Prabhakaran made it a point in his November 27, 2007 `Heroes Day' address to express `gratitude' to the leaders and people of Tamil Nadu for their `support' to the cause of Tamil Eelam and requested them to continue their support and help the LTTE in the `freedom struggle'. The former leader of the political wing S.P. Tamilselvan too paid his gratitude to Karunanidhi for expressing grief over the demise of Anton Balasingham – the outfit's former ideologue and chief negotiator.

    The LTTE’s pressing desire to re-establish links with Tamil Nadu and to cultivate the DMK chief is geared towards ensuring their immediate survival, rather than a reflection of the hidden agenda of creating a pan-Tamil Eelam. What they are looking for right now are essential items, military supplies, medical facilities and safe houses in Tamil Nadu.

    Notably, while MDMK chief V. Gopalswamy, PMK head Ramadass and Dalit Panthers of India’s Thirumavalavan are hailed as selfless contributors to the Tamil Eelam cause, Karunanidhi is admired at this point of time because, unlike others, he is firmly entrenched in the seat of power both in Tamil Nadu and at the Centre. Moreover, the LTTE has no option but to warm up to the DMK chief even though he is viewed as being opportunistic—supporting the Tamil cause when needed and being non-committal otherwise—by the Sri Lankan Tamils and Tigers. Though the sudden increase in arrests of LTTE cadres and supporters in Tamil Nadu in recent weeks is a perturbing factor for the Tigers, they are making concerted efforts to reach out to Tamil Nadu.

    In the absence of major casualties among Tamils in Sri Lanka as a result of the Sri Lankan military offensive, the Tigers could potentially seize upon the influx of Tamil refugees and the fishermen issue to advance their objective. In fact, the LTTE is trying hard, albeit unsuccessfully, to achieve a shift in the political and public opinion in Tamil Nadu against the Sri Lankan Government by firing on Indian fisherman and transferring the blame on to the Sri Lankan Navy. At the same time, the case filed in the Chennai High Court by AIADMK chief Jayalalitha demanding that the Government of India retrieve Kachchativu could serve as a boon for the Tigers since the issue can create tensions between India and Sri Lanka. Any strain in India’s relations with Sri Lanka will be favourable for the Tigers. While popular support for the AIADMK’s effort may not have shored up appreciably, the Tigers think that the issue has the potential to push the Tamil Nadu government into taking a more hard line approach on Kachchativu given the prevailing competitive politics between the two Dravidian parties. Nevertheless, the LTTE’s first preference is to woo Karunanidhi and by extension the central government in New Delhi. This seems to be the present goal of the LTTE.

    However, the DMK government does not seem to be very enthusiastic in taking up the Sri Lankan Tamil cause at present given the political situation in the State and the forthcoming parliamentary election. Moreover, though the DMK government is sympathetic and concerned about the Tamils in Sri Lanka, the party’s past history on the issue and the compulsions of coalition politics have considerably influenced the Karunanidhi government to adopt a low profile on the Sri Lankan issue. Equally owing to the above reasons the Tamil Nadu government had been very stern with the LTTE and their supporters in the state, as they do not wish to provide an opportunity to opposition parties in the State to take on the government when Congress is at the helm in the Centre.

    But is the LTTE in a mood to abandon its efforts to win support from Tamil Nadu in the days to come? The stakes are high for the Tigers, with the Sri Lankan forces steadily moving into their stronghold. They may well be able to galvanise Tamil Nadu on the fishermen issue and utilize the space thus gained for regaining their eroding strength. The Tigers are well aware of the dynamics of Tamil Nadu politics and the compulsions that the Dravidian parties face on the Sri Lankan issue since Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. However, the series of debacles on the war front has compelled them to turn towards Tamil Nadu despite strict vigilance and the apprehension of their supporters. In fact, it seems that the Tigers are well aware of the critical importance of support from Tamil Nadu than ever before. Thus, the Tigers will continue to woo Tamil Nadu and Chief Minister Karunanidhi in the coming days.

    Similarly, the Tigers’ ingress into Tamil Nadu and their activities like smuggling are unlikely to reduce in the near future. In fact, the LTTE appears to be willing to take risks in increasing its activities in Tamil Nadu. It has been reported that out of ten LTTE cadres who sneak into the State five or six go unnoticed because of several factors. First, the LTTE is aware of the lacuna that the Indian security agencies have in surveillance along the Palk Strait in detecting the intrusion of Tigers in the guise of fisherman. Two, the LTTE wants to make use of local organised smuggling groups in Tamil Nadu who are eager to make money from this activity. Three, the shallow sea at Nagapattinam, Karaikal and Ramanathapuram facilitates safe embarkation and the evasion of the Coast Guard.

    Tamil Nadu will thus continue to serve as a rear base for the LTTE till the organised smuggling groups and the support provided by fringe Tamil nationalist political groups in the state are dealt with. But this seems unlikely in the present context given the prevailing passive support for the LTTE’s struggle and the criminal-political nexus in the state.