The release and arrival of the five fishermen facing the death penalty in Sri Lanka sparked a jousting match as soon as the plane carrying them touched down at Chennai, with the AIADMK and the BJP both claiming the fishermen were saved because of their efforts.
Sri Lankan navy arrested the five fishermen in November 2011 on charges of drug-trafficking and a Lankan court sentenced them to death in October. Angry reactions in Tamil Nadu triggered intense diplomatic negotiations between the Indian and Sri Lankan governments following Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s intervention to commute the death penalty.
BJP leaders were quick to seize the moment as the fishermen reached Chennai on Thursday. Tamil Nadu BJP chief Tamilisai Soundarrajan said the release was possible only because of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Central government’s timely intervention.
“The release is owing to the steps taken by Indian Prime Minister and the external affairs minister,” she said.
A week ago, senior BJP leader Subramanian Swamy said in a television show that the fishermen’s release was imminent after Modi talked with his Sri Lankan counterpart, Rajapaksa, something the AIADMK does not agree with.
Tamil Nadu chief minister O Panneerselvam said the release was possible due to the state government’s efforts.
“The AIADMK government is committed to protecting the livelihood of fishermen and ensuring their safety... Fishermen of Tamil Nadu know who their true friend is,” he said.
However, even the AIADMK could not deny the Centre’s role in getting the Indian fishermen back home though it attributed a huge chunk of the credit to party chief J Jayalalithaa.
“Since it was an international issue, the Tamil Nadu government could not have contacted Sri Lanka directly. Only the external affairs ministry could initiate action. Amma (Jayalalithaa) and the Tamil Nadu government were urging the Centre to discharge its moral responsibility,” Panneerselvam said.
Analysts feel the diplomatic victory was owing to different factors, including pressure from BJP ally, the MDMK, whose chief, Vaiko, alleged that the Indian and Sri Lankan governments were enacting a drama over the whole issue.