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 Tamils.
It was the first time that such a high-profile Indian political delegation — including M Karunanidhi’s daughter Kanimozhi and former union minister T.R. 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 Indian 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 neighbour.
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 words and ordered her not to interfere with the tour of 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.