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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
09CHENNAI38
2009-02-06 08:12:00
UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY
Consulate Chennai
Cable title:  

SRI LANKAN WAR HEATS UP TAMIL NADU POLITICS

Tags:   PGOV  PTER  PHUM  PREL  IN  CE 
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						UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 CHENNAI 000038 


SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PTER PHUM PREL IN CE
SUBJECT: SRI LANKAN WAR HEATS UP TAMIL NADU POLITICS

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 CHENNAI 000038


SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PTER PHUM PREL IN CE
SUBJECT: SRI LANKAN WAR HEATS UP TAMIL NADU POLITICS


1. (SBU) Summary: A dramatic self-immolation by a young man in
Chennai protesting Tamil civilian casualties in Sri Lanka gave
opportunistic fringe parties a political opening. Their efforts to
whip up more widespread protests through the call for a statewide
general strike, however, fell flat due to lack of participation by
the state's major political parties and quick government action to
preempt any escalation. The occasion led Tamil Nadu's DMK Chief
Minister M. Karunanidhi to criticize the the Liberation Tigers of
Tamil Eelam, decisively casting the DMK's lot with Congress in the
upcoming elections. We expect Karunanidhi to step up his efforts in
New Delhi to influence Colombo to minimize civilian casualties and
offer a credible devolution package to Sri Lanka's Tamils. End
summary.

Self-immolation in protest of Sri Lankan war
--------------


2. (SBU) On January 29, Muthukumar, a 26 year-old Tamil activist
committed suicide by immolating himself in front of a government
office building in Chennai to protest the killing of Tamil civilians
in Sri Lanka. Muthukumar reportedly shouted protests against the
Government of India's support of Sri Lanka's armed forces before
setting himself on fire. Students, lawyers, and politicians from
fringe political parties which support the LTTE seized on
Muthukumar's "act of martyrdom" to try to turn emotions in the state
in favor of the Sri Lankan Tamil cause. Their protests turned
sporadically violent, resulting in damage to offices of two Sri
Lankan-associated institutions, the Bank of Ceylon and Sri Lankan
Airlines. Protestors also directed their ire at Indian government
officials, burning effigies of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi. Initial reports of other
suicides attributed to protest against Sri Lanka turned out to be
less clear-cut than Muthukumar's: for example, a man who jumped
from a cell phone tower was reportedly mentally ill.

Government acts quickly to cool things down
--------------


3. (SBU) Worried that Muthukumar's self-immolation and the
subsequent political protests could get out of hand, the state

government quickly moved to cool down the situation. The government
ordered an indefinite closure of all of the state's colleges and
their dormitories. A senior government contact told post that the
government was particularly concerned about the government-run
liberal arts and law colleges. He said these colleges "are hotbeds
of agitation. There are too many young people with too much time."
The government also stepped up security at the Sri Lankan Deputy
High Commission, stopping anyone from driving or walking down the
busy thoroughfare. Instead of arriving at a Consulate-hosted lunch
in his usual Mercedes flying the Sri Lankan flag, the Sri Lankan
Deputy High Commissioner came late for the lunch in a nondescript
vehicle without diplomatic tags. The Deputy High Commissioner
explained that he had to switch cars for security reasons.

General strike barely gets off the ground
--------------



4. (SBU) On February 4, Sri Lanka's national day, a group of small
political parties in an ad hoc coalition called the "Eelam Tamils
Protection Movement" (ETPM) held a general strike across the state
to demand that India pressure Sri Lanka into a ceasefire with the
LTTE. The strike barely got off the ground, especially in Chennai.
There were minor disruptions and a few attacks on government buses
in outlying districts, but the strike failed to achieve its goal of
bringing life in the state to a halt. This was largely due to the
fact that the state's two largest parties, the ruling DMK and the
principal opposition AIADMK, did not participate. The ETPM is
largely composed of fringe political parties, including the MDMK and
VCK. (Note: Vaiko, the head of the MDMK, met then Presidential
candidate Obama in Chicago in July 2008. Vaiko has since sharpened
his rhetoric regarding the plight of Sri Lankan Tamils. End note.)



5. (SBU) Two mainstream parties participated in the general strike:
the PMK and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The participation of
the PMK, which is part of India's ruling UPA government and has two
ministers in the central government, could be explained by the fact
that it has been trying to distance itself from the state's ruling

CHENNAI 00000038 002.2 OF 002


DMK (another UPA member) of late. A contact close to PMK Union
Health Minister Ambumani Ramadoss told post that the PMK was likely
to complete its break with the DMK by pulling out of the UPA over
the Sri Lanka issue. The Tamil Nadu BJP extended half-hearted
support to the strike, which observers attributed to the BJP's
efforts to shake its image as a North Indian party.


DMK condemns LTTE
--------------


6. (SBU) DMK Chief Minister Karunanidhi addressed the party
leadership on the eve of the February 4 general strike. Karunanidhi
sharply criticized the LTTE for its fratricidal policies and
dictatorial tendency. Referring to a 1987 magazine interview by
Prabhakaran in which the LTTE leader described his plans for a
dictatorship in the future Tamil nation, Karunanidhi reportedly said
"from then on, I became sick of the Tigers' war... Later, many
people were killed by the LTTE and the sympathy towards that
movement was dwindling gradually and at one point, it completely
vanished." He emphasized that his party's sympathy extends to Sri
Lanka's Tamils, but not to the LTTE. At the same time, the DMK
formally urged India and Sri Lanka to take immediate steps to ensure
full devolution of powers to the Tamil dominated North and East of
Sri Lanka. Karunanidhi announced that the DMK would organize
state-wide rallies to garner support for its Sri Lanka policy.
Karunanidhi further distanced the DMK from the LTTE-sympathizing
ETPM by formed a competing umbrella organization he dubbed the "Sri
Lankan Tamils Liberty and Welfare Organization."


7. (SBU) Observers from across the spectrum agreed that Karunanidhi
took a big step by criticizing the LTTE at a time when concern for
the Sri Lankan Tamils is high. An editor with The Hindu described
Karunanidhi's coupling of criticism of the LTTE with his commitment
to devolution as the political solution as "a big step; it was
brilliant." The Sri Lankan Deputy High Commissioner said
Karunanidhi's stand was "a welcome development."

DMK cries foul against PMK
--------------


8. (SBU) Karunanidhi accused the PMK of trying to bring down the
state government by driving a wedge between the DMK and the Congress
party. (Note: The DMK lacks a majority in the state assembly and
depends on the Congress party's support to maintain power in Tamil
Nadu. End note.) Karunanidhi told reporters that the PMK "is
trying to create enmity between me and the Center." Though the
parties joined to form the Democratic Progressive Alliance (DPA) for
the 2006 state elections, they have since fallen out with
Karunanidhi kicking the PMK out of the DPA in 2008. The two,
however, remain members of the Congress-led ruling UPA in New Delhi.
The continued feuding at the state level makes it increasingly
unlikely that the two parties will work together in the upcoming
parliamentary elections, but media contacts refuse to guess which
way the PMK will ultimately go. The party has a history of
unpredictability.


9. (SBU) Comment: Concerns about the possibility of additional
suicides and more violent protests after Muthukumar's
self-immolation appear to have been unfounded. The failure of the
general strike reinforces the belief that the LTTE's assassination
of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi reduced support for the terrorist
organization in Tamil Nadu to the far fringes of the poltical
spectrum. Sri Lanka, nonetheless, factors into Tamil Nadu's
political situation. The DMK's past associations with Sri Lankan
militant groups and Karunanidhi's personal penchant for Tamil
identity politics make the party vulnerable to charges of betrayal
by the LTTE-sympathizing fringe parties. In criticizing the LTTE
and calling for devolution, Karunanidhi has made his most decisive
break with the past. He has clearly cast his lot with the Congress
party, largely out of political compulsion, but also perhaps in an
effort to be on the right side of history as the LTTE's power wanes.
With his eyes trained on the upcoming elections we expect
Karunanidhi to demand that New Delhi influence Colombo to minimize
civilian casualties and offer a credible devolution package. End
comment.

SIMKIN