Little poll gain for Cong in TN

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By G.C. SHEKHAR
  • Published 11.11.13
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Chennai, Nov. 10: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s decision to skip the Commonwealth meet in Colombo may spare the Congress more criticism on the Lankan front but is unlikely to reap votes in Tamil Nadu.

Political parties in the state are now faulting even the decision to send foreign minister Salman Khurshid, saying they had called for a total boycott of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting to protest the alleged war crimes by Sri Lanka during the final combat with the LTTE.

Congress leaders from the state, led by Union ministers P. Chidambaram and G.K. Vasan, had urged Singh to choose between diplomatic compulsions and sentiments in Chennai, arguing that ignoring popular feelings could hurt the party’s electoral prospects in 2014.

But observers say even the Prime Minister’s absence will not improve the Congress’s position in the state. “The Congress has emerged as the preferred whipping boy on the Lankan Tamils issue and the Prime Minister’s boycott will not change that. The DMK had realised this and distanced itself from the Congress by walking out of the UPA in March. It is in no mood to revive ties with the Congress based on one reluctant gesture from Delhi. So the Congress, even after the Prime Minister’s decision, is not likely to find any allies for the Lok Sabha elections,” said a senior DMK MLA.

In the absence of allies, the Congress is hardly in any shape to fight an election with a diminished vote share of less than 10 per cent. Even if it were to ally with Vijayakanth’s DMDK, credited with an 8 per cent vote share, the two together are unlikely to mop up enough votes to win even a single Lok Sabha seat from the state.

More important, the pro-LTTE forces in the state are unlikely to spare the Congress from their high-pitched campaign that it was a willing accessory to Lanka’s alleged war crimes.

“After (Lanka President Mahinda) Rajapaksa, the Congress-led UPA stands as the second accused in the eyes of Tamils all over the world. So the pro-Tamil groups will do everything to ensure that not a single MP from the Congress gets elected from Tamil Nadu,” said Tamil Nationalist leader P. Nedumaran.

The state BJP has cleverly identified itself with anti-Colombo sentiments resonating in Tamil Nadu. When reports emerged that the BJP’s central leadership was not against the Prime Minister travelling to Colombo, Tamil Nadu BJP leaders had rushed to Delhi to urge them to revise their stand that saw the BJP shift the onus of participation entirely on the Congress leadership.

“Given the Congress’s track record in the last 10 years and the anger against it on the Lankan front, neither past allies like the DMK nor prospective ones like Vijayakanth will dare to ally with it in the near future. So we have to position ourselves as the viable alternative,” said a senior BJP leader.

“The Congress leadership failed to see that the political cry from Tamil Nadu was aimed only at consolidating the position of the various regional parties on the Lankan Tamil issue and not helping the Congress retrieve the ground it had lost because of its support for Lanka’s war against the LTTE. In the process, it has only further distanced Colombo, a key neighbour,” observed a senior intelligence officer.

State Congress leaders are alive to the danger that the anti-Lanka mood could drown the positive achievements of the UPA government. The external affairs ministry has tried to counter that by releasing full-page advertisements in Tamil dailies listing India’s contribution in rebuilding war-torn Tamil areas in north Sri Lanka, including the election of a Tamil chief minister in the provincial elections.