Where is the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam V. Prabhakaran? Where are the civilians of war-torn northern Sri Lanka? Who will speak for them now? And what role will India play? These are the questions on which we hope to have some clarity now that External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee has returned from Colombo. There is one notable aspect of the Sri Lankan army offensive this time around. As it rolls ahead confining the LTTE to a 300 sq km area at the northern tip of the island, passions on both sides of the Palk Straits have been subdued. The Tamils, beleaguered as they are, are not in a position to say much at the moment. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the most vocal proponent of Sri Lankan Tamil rights, has made the usual noises from Chennai. But it has not pressed the point beyond asking for India’s involvement.
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse has played his cards deftly by inviting an all-party delegation from Tamil Nadu that includes the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the DMK. He has also spoken of the ‘13th amendment’ as a first step towards a solution to the Tamil problem. This was formulated after the J.R. Jayawardene-Rajiv Gandhi accord of 1987 that provided for devolution and autonomy for the northern and eastern provinces to ensure the legitimate aspirations of ethnic minorities. This formulation has been endorsed by New Delhi. There is clearly no desire on New Delhi’s part to intervene in the island nation’s politics. Nevertheless, India has a stake in a comprehensive resolution of the problem on two counts. One, that the refugee influx during the strife has been more than it can handle; and second, that Prabhakaran is wanted for the assassination of a former Prime Minister.
India must push the Rajapakse government to kickstart a political solution now that the military offensive seems to have succeeded to a large extent. Caught between a resurgent Lankan army and the violent tactics of the Eelam leadership, Tamil civilians are suffering. For this victory — if it can be called that — to be legitimate, Colombo must be more transparent with aid workers and mediapersons than it has been so far. Mr Mukherjee’s visit at this crucial time was a booster for the Rajapakse government and also a signal to Tamil Nadu parties that New Delhi is not oblivious to the plight of Sri Lanka’s innocent Tamil civilians.