Rajapaksas returning to power in Sri Lanka worries Tamil Nadu politicians

Brothers Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka PM, and Gotabaya Rajapaksa, president, had played a key role in the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam | Photo: AP/PTI
Gotabaya Rajapaksa, newly elected president of Sri Lanka and former defence secretary, had it out with J Jayalalithaa and M Karunanidhi, both Tamil Nadu chief ministers in the past, over their allegations of atrocities on the Tamils during the last phase of the insurgency in 2009.

His return to power, along with his brother Mahinda, former president and now prime minister, is a concern among political parties in Tamil Nadu.

As parties in the state continue to fear for the future of the Tamils in the island nation, they have sought the Centre’s help to protect them. This is one issue that brings all parties in the state on the same page. They have been demanding the trial of Mahinda Rajapaksa for war crimes and human rights violations against the Tamils since 2009, when internal strife ended with the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Gotabaya was hailed as a war hero by most Sinhalese for ending the three-decade civil war, in which around 100,000 died and thousands disappeared. But the minorities, including the Muslims, continue to fear and are not too happy about his return.

There was news that unidentified gunmen fired on buses carrying Muslims to polling stations in northwest Sri Lanka though there were no reports of casualties.

Gotabaya swept the polls in the Sinhala-majority districts while his main challenger, Sajith Premadasa, who persevered close to the minorities and the Indian government, garnered most of the votes from the Tamil-dominated north and east and Muslim community, including tea plantation workers of Indian origin.

This new phase of Sinhalese nationalism leads to “a strong government” headed by a “a strong leader”, as reports say, elected by the Sinhala Buddhist population, which accounts for about 70 per cent of the island nation, with the ethnic Tamil Hindus accounting for about 12.6 per cent, Muslims 10 per cent, and Christians 8 per cent. 

In 2017, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Sri Lanka, which has huge Chinese influence owing to the Rajapaksha family, he gave an assurance that India would support the economic progress of the Tamils and others in Sri Lanka and offered India’s assistance in the construction of 10,000 additional houses in upcountry areas, where 4,000 have already been built.

AIADMK senior leader and State Fisheries Minister D Jayakumar said the Indian government would ensure the safety and security of the Sri Lankan Tamils.

The DMK, the ruling party’s main rival, echoed the view. DMK President M K Stalin appealed to Modi to ensure that the Tamils in the island were protected. He said Rajapaksa was “totally against the Tamils and a solution had not been found for the consequences of his actions”.

In the same vein, MDMK General Secretary Vaiko said Rajapaksa’s victory was a “sad day” for the Tamils. “It was during his time that thousands of Tamils were killed, women were sexually assaulted and children and elders were brutally murdered,” Vaiko told reporters on Sunday. 

PMK founder S Ramadoss said now a separate Tamil Eelam was the only solution to the safety and welfare of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. He said the Tamils, who were in any case treated as “second-class citizens” there, would not get “fourth-class” status now.

S Raveenthran Duraisamy, a political commentator, said the impact of the Sri Lankan election result was limited to the Naam Tamilar Katchi (NTK), led by its leader Seeman, if one looked at the voting patterns. The NTK, which means “We are Tamils Party”, is a regional party and reportedly has its leanings towards the LTTE, and its leader, the late Veluppillai Prabhakaran. The party, formed in 1958 with radical thinking, was revived by Seeman in Tamil Nadu in 2009.

“The impact went against Karunanidhi in 2009 and 2011. After the death of Jayalalithaa, those who are driven by the Sri Lankan issue seriously are throwing in their lot with Seeman,” he said. One of the major factors that contributed to the 5.58 per cent vote to the NTK is the Sri Lankan issue. But, it will be marginal in terms of impact. 

Responding to Tamil Nadu political parties, Sri Lankan MP Namal Rajapaksa, son of Mahinda, has urged Tamil Nadu politicians to shun opportunistic politics.

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