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LTTE could gain from Tamil Nadu realignments

Recent move by Vaiko to contest May elections with ruling AIADMK may provide the Tigers political access to CM Jayalalithaa.

india Updated: Mar 11, 2006 13:28 IST

Tamil Nadu's close race for power might prove a mixed bag for Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger guerrillas, rather than the windfall it could have been for the insurgent group outlawed in India.

The moves by Vaiko's MDMK and T Tirumavalavan's Dalit Panthers of India (DPI) to contest the May assembly elections with Tamil Nadu's ruling AIADMK may provide the Tigers political access to Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa they lacked - if she retains power.

But if India's ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) ousts the MDMK for aligning with its foe in Tamil Nadu, it could be a setback for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) whose cause Vaiko advocated with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

At the same time, the Tigers will be aiming at a favourable political climate in Tamil Nadu, something they have lacked since they assassinated former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.

Some gains are already visible.

The reason Jayalalithaa chose not to meet Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa in December was because she was already thinking of roping in the MDMK and others from the DMK-led alliance.

So she did not want to host a Sinhalese political leader.

Again, Jayalalithaa did not put curbs on the pro-LTTE Feb 14 meeting in Tamil Nadu where Vaiko was one of the key speakers, although she would have done so if she did not feel the need for MDMK.

What are the AIADMK's - and Vaiko's - compulsions?

Jayalalithaa does not want to repeat the blunder of May 2004 when her party lost all 39 Lok Sabha seats of Tamil Nadu.

Although the odds are in her favour in the coming polls, she wants to consolidate as many votes as possible. For this, rallying smaller groups on her side is crucial.

The 1991 killing of Rajiv Gandhi cost the LTTE dearly. It lost public support in a state that is separated from Sri Lanka by only a narrow strip of sea and where it once had key bases. Indian authorities shattered layers and layers of the LTTE network in the state built painstakingly over the years.

Although some of the known pro-LTTE Tamil Nadu leaders continued to speak in its favour, their rhetoric fell sharply. Jayalalithaa's jailing of Vaiko for 19 months in 2002-03 for supporting the Tigers was a major blow to the Tigers.

The latest developments have neutralised all that to an extent.

Pro-LTTE political activists from Tamil Nadu have in recent times been visiting LTTE-controlled areas in Sri Lanka. DPI leader Thirumavalavan has met LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran.

The LTTE is upset by the stridently anti-Tigers remarks of US officials. While courting the European Union, whose travel curbs of September have irked it, the LTTE would use Tamil Nadu politicians to fire salvos at Washington - and to put pressure on New Delhi.

But if Vaiko gets thrown out of UPA, it would be a setback. Vaiko not only enjoyed a personal rapport with Prime Minister Singh, the latter had begun to pay attention to what the MDMK leader said on Sri Lanka matters.

In the opinion of one Indian official, if the AIADMK wins the elections and if Vaiko enjoys a close working relationship with the chief minister, the Tigers might slowly start laying support networks in Tamil Nadu in six months or so.

However, that would only happen if Jayalalithaa wins and leans on Vaiko to govern.

In a way, this would be a replay of the 1980s when the LTTE enjoyed close ties with Tamil Nadu politicians and made use of the state to further its interests. Simultaneously it established hideouts and networks without the knowledge of New Delhi and Chennai.

There will only be one difference. The Indian state keeps a close watch on the LTTE although it does not see the Tigers with the same prism it looks at Islamists and Maoists. A recent meeting in New Delhi on threats to India did not even discuss the LTTE.

If and when the LTTE decides to resume its war in Sri Lanka or get out of the Western-brokered peace process, Tamil Nadu's politicians will be expected to speak - in India and abroad - in favour of the Tigers.