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Beware of pug marks

The LTTE’s Indian cheerleaders are making dangerous noises, writes Debashish Mukerji.

india Updated: Feb 06, 2009 22:44 IST
Debashish Mukerji

Let there be no mistake — the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam’s (LTTE’s) stock has risen dramatically in Tamil Nadu in recent weeks. A terrorist organisation officially banned since 1992 is being openly eulogised on the streets of Chennai. It may be endgame for the Tigers in Sri Lanka, but on the other side of the Palk Straits they are well on their way to regaining the exalted status they enjoyed in the 1980s.

It is not the state’s leading politicians who are whipping up passions. The ones making emotive speeches now are those who have been the LTTE’s cheerleaders in India for decades: V. Gopalaswamy ‘Vaiko’ of the MDMK, Ramadoss of the PMK, Thol Thirumavalan of the VCK. They are bit players in Tamil Nadu politics, but suddenly they find many more people — especially the young — hanging on every word they say. The DMK and AIADMK leaders have been pretty circumspect so far. But with general elections in the offing, they too are finding it difficult to resist the surge of popular sentiment.

Officially, all parties take the position that they are concerned about the welfare of Tamil civilians in the LTTE-controlled areas the Sri Lankan Army has been winning back. But in the speeches of the leaders of parties that have rallied under the banner of the Sri Lanka Tamil Protection Front (STPF) — the MDMK, PMK, VCK and CPI — all such pretension is dropped. They are openly rooting for the LTTE.

The mood was dramatically apparent in Chennai on January 31 at the funeral of Muthukumar, the young man who burnt himself to death outside the central government’s main office building in the city two days earlier. A sea of humanity attended, with LTTE flags and large posters of Prabhakaran everywhere. Posters and hoardings of Karunanidhi, Jayalalithaa and Sonia Gandhi they spotted en route were torn down or defaced.

The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi on May 21, 1991, had marked a decisive change in the relations between Tamil Nadu’s Tamils and the LTTE. Until then, support for the ‘Tamil Eelam’ dream had been considerable in Tamil Nadu, continuing even when the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) was battling the LTTE. The assassination of Gandhi changed that.

But memories fade in 18 years. To Tamil Nadu’s youth, Rajiv Gandhi means little. Nor have they any knowledge of the havoc the LTTE created in their state — bomb blasts, targeted killings of rivals — even before the Rajiv Gandhi watershed.

That 85-year-old Karuna-nidhi left his hospital bed and travelled in an ambulance to the DMK general council meeting on February 3, shows how worried the party is over the emerging trend. Karunanidhi is trying hard to reiterate the distinction between Sri Lanka Tamils and the LTTE — with the DMK floating the Sri Lankan Tamil Protection and Welfare Forum as a rival to the STPF. Whether he will succeed remains an open question.

DMK MPs fear they may have to pay the price of their lukewarm support for the LTTE in the coming general election. Ironically, if the bit players fail to translate their current support into votes, the biggest gainer may be Jayalalithaa, who has always taken a harder line against the LTTE than the DMK.