The visit of the Indian MPs' delegation from Tamil Nadu to the brimming refugee camps of northern Sri Lanka was a broad stroke of political and diplomatic symbolism.
For the 10 representatives of the ruling combine – DMK, Congress and Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi -- it was aimed at reassuring vote banks in TN that the situation of the 2.4 lakh displaced Tamils was being monitored; India did not intervene to save the isolated and cornered LTTE but it would not step back from safeguarding the rights of the Tamil community.
It was the first time that such a high-profile Indian political delegation – including M Karunanidhi’s daughter Kanimozhi and former union minister TR Baalu -- came to this country. They, as Sunday Times put it, were ``here to go where Lankan MPs can’t.’’ Opposition MPs in Sri Lanka, ironically, are not allowed to visit the camps.
Allowing the India MPs to visit refugee camps could be interpreted as the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime’s way of telling India that Sri Lanka understands the political sensitivities of a giant neighbor.
But the delegation’s four-day visit ended up hurting sensitivities as well. Not the least hurt was civil servant PSM Charles who ended up howling after a brief interaction with a high-handed Baalu. An uncivil Baalu apparently used harsh language and ordered her not to interfere while touring the refugee camp. Kanimozhi had to step in to comfort the sobbing woman.
The delegation was kept away from the media in Colombo; the Lankan authorities said the Indian High Commission wanted it that way while diplomatic sources said the MPs only pretended to be willing to interact but in reality wanted to stay away from the media.
The delegation’s visit to the East was cancelled after the Indian MPs did not agree to the particular political chaperon that the Lankan authorities had designated as the eastern region tour guide.
In the end, Congress MP Aaron Rashid, was quoted by Daily Mirror, as saying that the refugees ``did not seem to have been suffering as the media in India had painted.’’ But the final word will only be out after the return flight lands in Chennai.