3rd January 1999
Did President meet Gopalasamy?
A speculative story about why President Kumaratunga stayed a day longer in Delhi was posted in a Tamil news circle on Friday.
Bylined Tara Shankar Sahay, the report, with a New Delhi dateline, says: "Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga's delayed departure from New Delhi has triggered speculation that she stayed back to meet Indian politicians who are close to separatist Tamil leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and could get him to speak to Colombo.
"Kumaratunga was to leave for home on Tuesday afternoon, but stayed back for a day, ostensibly to meet senior central ministers and other VVIPs. She left for Colombo on Wednesday.
"Union home ministry officials hinted that she delayed her departure to meet politicians like V Gopalasamy alias Vaiko of the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition government in New Delhi.
"Vaiko is one of the few Indian politicians who are believed to have direct access to the shadowy chief of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Prabhakaran's parents even attended the wedding of Vaiko's son in Madras recently."
The veracity of this report is not our concern here.
It is interesting because it opens an opportunity for discussing some issues which appear to have been overlooked in recent times.
Firstly, one has to say that our foreign policy approach has become somewhat sophisticated and concerted in handling cases of foreign political support for the LTTE.
Diplomacy is a game not played in visible black or white but largely in the grey area defined by the maxim 'there are no permanent enemies or friends; but only permanent interests'.
Much of the country's foreign policy approach in respect of the Tamil question was handled, during the UNP's rule in either black or white.
Say, for instance, if X was a friend of the LTTE in Tamil Nadu then X was automatically a foe as well, a member of an impermeable enemy camp.
Tissa Jayakody was the only exception to the rule at the time.
He established good contacts with some key DMK politicians, much to the chagrin and annoyance of RAW and IB officials, when he was Sri Lanka's deputy high commissioner in Madras, a job for which he relinquished his post as ambassador in West Germany, during the most difficult times of Colombo's relations with Delhi.
The PA's style of diplomacy has also been marked by the same attitude, shaped over the years by improved foreign intelligence input. The South African episode is a recent case in point.
The government avails itself of the advantage of having a Tamil for a foreign minister (imprudent cynics may slander that he is such in name only) in attempting to persuade politicians abroad that the government genuinely wants to solve the problem through devolution, that it has made great progress in the human rights situation, that the Tamils are tired of the war and that the Tigers are recruiting children.
And when somebody is thought to be a hard nut to crack, it might be only right that the President herself takes the matter into her own hands.
So if she had actually met Gopalasamy in Delhi, it would have been in accordance with this principle.
The MDMK leader was considered not only a die-hard supporter of the Tigers but, in recent times, one who has caused the greatest damage to the remarkable diplomatic gains made by the PA since 1995 in support of its policy on the Tamil question.
His October visit to the US at the head of an Indian Parliamentary delegation and his mission to Geneva on his way back have been well covered in the Tamil press both here and abroad.
In America, Mr. Gopalasamy had had discussions with government officials and politicians to impress upon them that the 'Eelam people were an oppressed lot.'
He spoke at the UN about "the sufferings of the Sri Lankan Tamils," particularly those in the Wanni and about the alleged mass grave at Chemmani in Jaffna. He charged that the government was deliberately dragging its feet on investigating the latter.
The MDMK leader also lobbied UN and other international agency officials in Geneva with a view to bringing pressure upon the government to relax its embargo on the Wanni.
There is speculation among some Tamil politicians in Colombo that the PA had to send the commissioner general of essential services, N. Obadage, to the Wanni to review the dry ration cut as a direct consequence of his efforts at the UN.
It appears that Mr. Gopalasamy was doing all this with the tacit but fullest approval of the BJP coalition leadership, including Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Defence Minister George Fernandes.
But technically foreign office officials in Delhi who share Colombo's perception about the LTTE could do little to object because Mr. Gopalasamy was free to speak on the "Sri Lankan Tamils' plight" in his capacity as a member of Parliament from Tamil Nadu.
Sections of the press in the South Indian state condemned the MDMK leader for dabbling dangerously again in the Sri Lankan Tamil conflict.
Many, however, welcomed Mr. Gopalasamy's stand, pointing out that his critics were unscrupulous Congress party members and members of the Brahmin lobby, including 'Cho' Ramasamy, the editor of the politcal weekly Thuglak.
His timing, wittingly or unwittingly, was not bad either.
The Brahmin intelligentsia was up in arms, directly and indirectly, against the use of Tamil in Hindu temples in Tamil Nadu instead of Sanskrit, touching a raw nerve as it were, even in some very moderate Dravidian political circles.
His critics in a section of the press charged that the MDMK leader had returned to the Tiger fold. His political opponents, however, were unusually quiet this time on the matter.
The popular weekly magazine Ananda Vikatan asked Mr. Gopalasamy recently about the most emotional moments in his life. "My journey to the jungles of the Wanni in the midst of the war," he replied.
His current stand on the Sri Lankan Tamil question came as a surprise to many who had almost taken it for granted that the MDMK leader had permanently distanced himself from the LTTE.
This appeared to be the case from the time his younger brother Ravichandran was arrested and jailed for harbouring a group of Tigers, alleged to have been responsible for the massacre of the EPRLF leadership in Madras.
His views on the Tigers were toned down and his statements on record were cautious when I saw him three years ago at his Madras residence for an interview.
Now it appears that he was only marking time until he got to the right place and position.
The PA has to take several things into account in 'softening up' what it perceives to be an effective pro-LTTE lobby in India.
Firstly, that Prabhaharan's friends across the Palk Strait today are those who risked much for him since the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.
The draconian TADA legislation, an angry vocal press and a host of central and state law enforcement agencies were out for their blood, almost with a vengeance, in the wake of Rajiv's killing.
Any form of support for the Tigers was outright treason. Therefore, speaking to people like Mr. Gopalasamy, Mr. Fernandes or Dr. Ramdoss who weathered these extremely hostile conditions for more than six years is not the same thing as convincing a western diplomat who is passing through.
Secondly, no amount of diplomatic finesse can white-wash matters like Chemmani.
The PA's lame and silly excuses for not starting an inquiry on these alleged graves in Jaffna have not been helpful either.
And thirdly, the fact is that the LTTE is today perceived as the underdog (despite the military prowess it displayed at Kilinochchi) and is fast learning to play the game as such.
An underdog eager to conform to international norms; a Third World regime prosecuting a war with a staggering defence budget: contrast and compare the chances in conjunction with the foregoing.
The game, as you might thoughtfully agree, is intractable.
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