In the first signs of violent protests in Tamil Nadu against the continued military offensive against the Tamils in Northern Sri Lanka, a 26-year-old youth here today killed himself, while the ruling DMK firmly stood ground on the Centre's latest initiatives to save the innocent Tamil civilians in the Island-republic.
Even as agitated opposition MLAs' in the Assembly, particularly the CPI and PMK, sought to know the outcome of the External Affairs Minister, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee's latest Colombo trip, Muthukumar, believed to be a PMK sympathizer, set himself on fire before the 'Shastri Bhavan' which houses Central Government offices here.
A top Police official told HT that the youth Muthukumar, a "Tamil chauvinist", who came to that spot around 10-40 am, shouted slogans protesting the continued killings of Tamils in Northern Sri Lanka and instantly poured kerosene over his head and lit himself ablaze. "Prabhakaran (banned LTTE Chief) should see this," the youth cried out, while demanding that Tamil civilians in Northern Sri Lanka "should be protected".
A Police patrol party at the spot immediately "extinguished the flames in his body" and rushed him to the nearby Kilpauk Government Medical College Hospital, the official said. After battling for about an hour, Muthukumar, said to be working as a typist with a Tamil journal, died this afternoon.
As this news spread like wildfire, a PMK MLA in the Assembly, Mr. Velmurugan was on his feet, urging that the Government should take note of this serious development and pay the victim's family Rs.10 lakhs as compensation. Another stridently pro-Tamils leader, the MDMK Chief, Mr. Vaiko was among the first to visit the victim in the hospital.
A shocked PMK leader, Dr. S. Ramadoss immediately appealed for calm and urged the people not to resort to such acts of cruel self-mortification, amid students from scores of Law and Arts and Science Colleges in the State resorting to protests, demanding immediate ceasefire in Sri Lanka. What was important was Tamil Nadu "speaking with one voice" on this issue, he said.
Dr. Ramadoss' appeal came close on the heels of five opposition parties including the CPI, MDMK, PMK, Dalit Panthers of India (DPI), and the Tamil Nationalist Movement led by the veteran pleader of the Sri Lankan Tamils cause, Mr. P. Nedumaran, jointly floating a new forum here last night called, "Eelam Tamils Protection Movement". With Mr. Nedumaran as its convenor, it plans to broad-base "a series of peaceful struggles" to get the Rajapakshe regime to declare a ceasefire there.
The forum leaders including Dr. Ramadoss, the State CPI Secretary, Mr. D. Pandian and Mr. Vaiko termed the outcome of Mr. Mukherjee's visit to Colombo as "disappointing", while their party MLAs' in the Assembly today lambasted the UPA Government's role in this issue.
However, a measure of order was stunningly restored to the debate with the Leader of the House and DMK's senior-most Minister, Prof. K. Anbazhagan, expressing a "qualified satisfaction" with the outcome of the Foreign Minister's latest visit to Colombo, which he said was undertaken "in deference to the DMK's views" on this crisis, to foremost protect the innocent Tamil civilians in Northern Sri Lanka.
Reading out in full Mr. Mukherjee's statement on his return from Colombo yesterday, Prof. Anbazhagan said that political parties had different views on the ethnic issue. "But in dealing with matters of a neighbouring State, there are clearly limitations; in that context Mr. Mukherjee has been assured by Mr. Rajapakshe that safe zones will be expanded and that innocent Tamil civilians caught in the war-zone will not be harmed, the DMK leader said, adding, "there is scope (for us here) to go by that assurance."
Prof. Anbazhagan's explanation and cautious endorsement of the fruitfulness of the Foreign Minister's visit to Sri Lanka, ahead of the ruling DMK's crucial State Executive meeting here on Feb 3 was, nonetheless, rejected by the PMK, MDMK and the DPI members who walked out of the House in protest.