In May 1991, mid-way through a campaign for the general elections, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by an LTTE suicide squad in Tamil Nadu. Now, it’s general election time again, and for the first time since that fateful year, it looks like polls in the key southern state will be dominated by the LTTE and the plight of ethnic Tamils in Sri Lanka.
The tragedy of Gandhi’s death radically changed the Tamil Nadu people’s attitude towards the “liberation struggle” by Tamil militant groups. The DMK, which was perceived as being soft on the LTTE, got a drubbing.
This time around, it’s the undoing of 1991’s villain that threatens to hit the DMK. The party that was then seen as the LTTE’s friend is now an ally of the Congress party led by Rajiv Gandhi’s widow Sonia Gandhi.
The Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) actions in the late 1980s’ in Northern Sri Lanka had created a backlash against India. Now it is the perception that there has been “Indian assistance to the Rajapakse regime with sophisticated radars and other equipment” in the battle against LTTE.
The Tamil Nadu opposition’s sustained campaign on this issue has been on since October 2008. At every campaign meeting, the opposition leader, Jayalalithaa, has raised the Sri Lankan Tamils issue and demanded the retrieval of the island of Katchatheevu that was ceded to Sri Lanka by India in 1974.
The DMK, on the other hand, has been forced into crisis-management. DMK leader M Karunanidhi’s latest flip-flop on the LTTE is a case in point. At one stage recently, he even wanted Sonia Gandhi to do “an Indira Gandhi”, alluding to the latter’s liberation of Bangladesh.
On the other hand, a staunch LTTE critic like Jayalalithaa is now willing to consider ‘Tamil Eelam’ (separate Tamil State) as an option, if other means to ensure equal rights and dignity for the Tamils in Sri Lanka fail.
As the latest phase of the ethnic crisis throws up fresh demands, several analysts and political leaders believe the 1987 Rajiv-Jayawardhene Accord is still the best bet for the Island-Tamils.
“It is really the ghost of Rajiv’s killing that continues to haunt the LTTE and Prabhakaran,” Union Home Minister P Chidambaram said recently. If Prabhakaran is killed by the Sri Lankan forces, his ghost may well haunt the island nation — and Tamil Nadu — for many a year after.