Jaffna looked rain-washed and green when SM Krishna’s aircraft touched down at the Palali airport last week.
Traffic was intermittently blocked as the official convoy zipped over the narrow, wet roads and hundreds of security personnel stood guard; the day before was dead LTTE chief V Prabhakaran’s birthday — he was born in Jaffna — and emotions across the peninsula could be brittle, the authorities had expected.
It was the most high-profile Indian visit in several decades. A new Indian consulate was inaugurated, tractors were given and the “need for a political resolution to the ethnic issue’’ speech was made.
It was around the time the speech ended, that a Tamil MP shook his head. “The war was not fought over tractors,’’ he told me. It was fought over a community’s perception of unequal treatment. But now that the cannons had fallen silent, the Indian government should use its diplomatic influence, even mobilise international opinion, to settle the issue. “But the Indian government isn’t doing enough,’’ he said.
I went back to the joint declaration issued when President Mahinda Rajapaksa visited New Delhi in June. Krishna repeated the exact words from the declaration through out his visit. Striking words but also meaningless if not put into practice, the Tamils could say.
Krishna’s statements conversely were viciously attacked in few newspapers, mostly by pro-government columnists. In essence, they said that India should lay off Lanka as it was New Delhi that trained the LTTE and forced the 13th amendment on Sri Lanka.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari’s arrival a day before Krishna’s departure led to further speculation that Colombo and Islamabad were sending a message to New Delhi that it doesn’t enjoy unfettered regional hegemony.
Then there was China. “Sri Lanka has become a football ground for India and China,’’ the MP told me, suggesting that because of Beijing’s increasing influence here, New Delhi was keeping Rajapaksa in good humour and not exerting enough pressure on the political settlement issue. A diplomatic ballgame between three countries could in the end become a long wait for the Lankan Tamils.