Karunanidhi on hunger strike in Chennai on Monday. (PTI)
Chennai, April 27: M. Karunanidhi today began an indefinite fast demanding a ceasefire in Sri Lanka and ended it six hours later after Colombo called a halt to combat operations which, Lankan defence spokespersons clarified, did not amount to a ceasefire.
Karunanidhi, however, appeared to have seen an announcement coming from Colombo. I was in constant touch with (Union) home minister (P.) Chidambaram last night, he said after ending the fast a little after noon.
Last evening, Karunanidhi had spoken of waiting for one more night but he launched his fast at 6am today. Accused of not doing enough to end the war, he needed to act on the touchy issue in election time especially after rival Jayalalithaa announced support for a Tamil Eelam (homeland) in Sri Lanka.
So he drove to Anna memorial on the Marina Beach and sat there on a fast. His family members arrived soon enough, expressing shock and surprise at his impulsive decision.
I did not even sleep last night. Let me be one of his (Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksas) victims. This is my sacrifice for the cause of Tamils, Karunanidhi, 85, said at the fast site, surrounded by party leaders and workers.
The party machinery swung into action, erecting a shamiana, positioning air coolers around his wheelchair, ferrying a cot from home, arranging chairs for visitors and erecting barricades to control the cadres.
Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi made the customary calls. Friends and film stars showed up too.
But Colombos declaration came around noon and 30 minutes later, Karunanidhi declared he was ending his fast since the protest had had its intended impact.
Chidambaram too interpreted Colombos statement as cessation of hostilities and crowed: It is the result of the Government of Indias efforts over the last 72 hours.
But if one reads between the lines of Colombos statement, Karunanidhis calculations might go awry.
Our security forces have been instructed to end the use of heavy-calibre guns, combat aircraft and aerial weapons which could cause civilian casualties. Our security forces will confine their attempts to rescuing civilians who are held hostage and give foremost priority to saving civilians, the statement said.
Colonel (retired) R. Hariharan, a former Indian Peace Keeping Force intelligence officer, said the Lankan statement was as much of a joke as the LTTEs ceasefire offer yesterday (the Lankan defence secretary had called the rebels offer a joke).
When Colombo had all along claimed it was not using air strikes or artillery in its recent operations, where is the question of withdrawing them? he asked.
The former officer said Colombos statement clearly meant it would continue to use light weaponry to rescue hostages from the LTTEs clutches.
Even 60mm mortar launchers, grenade launchers and shoulder-fired rockets and machine guns with a range of 3km and firing 230 rounds per minute are classified as light weaponry since they can be carried on shoulders by the infantry, Hariharan said.