Is it right for Indian legislators to advocate a referendum for the break-up of a neighbouring country? Politicians in Tamil Nadu spearheading the campaign against Sri Lanka for human rights abuses by its military in the final stages of the war with the Tamil Tigers seem to think so. India is deeply involved in the efforts for the resettlement and rehabilitation of Sri Lankan Tamils displaced by the war. But, going by the resolution adopted by the Tamil Nadu Assembly demanding a referendum on Eelam and calling for economic sanctions against Sri Lanka, regional political parties in Tamil Nadu are keener to score points off each other than aid India’s purposive, if somewhat limited, attempts at bettering the lot of the Sri Lankan Tamils, many of whom are still without homes and means of livelihood. The legislators want India to move the U.N. Security Council seeking a referendum among Tamils living in Sri Lanka and the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora on creation of a separate nation of Tamil Eelam. Apart from the sheer bad taste and bad judgment involved — India would violate every principle it has stood for were it to approach the Security Council with such a demand — the motion can only do more harm than good to the Tamils of Sri Lanka. A partition will doubtless create more displacement and inflict more pain on a battered people already suffering from the effects of a decades-long ethnic conflict that ended only in a war that appears to have killed more civilians than armed combatants. Indeed, any position that makes the assumption of irreconcilable differences between the Sinhalese and the Tamils is doomed to failure.
The Assembly resolution further wants India to stop calling Sri Lanka a “friendly nation.” What good that would do is unclear. In effect, what Tamil Nadu’s politicians seem to want is for India to surrender its leverage, cut off economic and cultural links with Sri Lanka and leave for itself no means of influence other than that of armed might. But if its Sri Lanka policy is not to merely tail or turn away from the agenda-setters of Tamil Nadu, India must push Colombo to honour its past commitments and do more for devolution of powers, including financial and police, to the Tamil areas in the north and east on the basis of the 13th amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution. India has a responsibility to ensure that Sri Lanka delivers on this commitment quickly and sincerely. Elections to the Tamil-majority Northern Province, which are supposed to be held this September, present an opportunity for Sri Lanka to expand on the 13th amendment and end the inequalities and injustices that formed the original basis for the ethnic conflict.