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A vote before the vote, and what next?

2014 Mar 31

Though the issue of Sri Lankan Tamils hardly made an impact on voting preference in Tamil Nadu in the past, the Congress seems to have pushed itself into deeper trouble following India’s abstention from voting on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution against the island nation.

With barely a month to go for the Lok Sabha polls in the State, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam was the first to capitalise on the emotive subject. Its treasurer, M.K. Stalin, hit out at detractors, who had accused the DMK of going soft on the issue.

“It was the presence of our party in the Congress-led UPA [United Progressive Alliance] that forced the Centre to vote against Sri Lanka twice in the past in the same forum,” said Mr. Stalin while stressing the role his party had played in influencing the course of action to ameliorate the sufferings of Sri Lankan Tamils.

The views matched with the DMK’s revival of the Tamil Eelam Supporters’ Organisation (TESO) two years ago to demand justice for those who faced rights violations in the last leg of the military conflict in Sri Lanka in 2009.

Mr. Stalin’s statement pre-empted criticism from Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader Jayalalithaa, who since 2009 had consistently held the DMK equally responsible for the Centre’s dilly-dallying on the Sri Lankan Tamils issue. DMK president M. Karunanidhi was more acerbic in his reaction. The Congress, he charged, had shut the doors on a possible post-poll alliance with his party permanently by the position it took at the UNHRC.

Only on Wednesday, Mr. Karunanidhi surprised many by expressing his willingness to join hands with his old ally, albeit with a rider that the Congress should regret its “ungratefulness.”

Even senior leaders in the Congress seemed to have recognised that India’s stand did not bode well for the party in the run-up to the polls. Union Finance Minister, P. Chidambaram, who is campaigning hard for his son in the Sivaganga constituency, struck a note of dissent, and remarked that the Centre could have voted in favour of the resolution.

But sources in the Congress said that with the party going into the elections without allies, the Centre’s decision to abstain from voting was an acknowledgement that the State was already a lost turf for the party.

Further, the UNHRC resolution this time did not elicit a similar response as it did last year, when it fuelled a mass student movement.

“Even if we had voted in favour of the resolution, no party in Tamil Nadu would have joined hands with us,” a former Union Minister said.

P. Sakthivel, Head of Political Science at Annamalai University, told The Hindu that the issue might not provide any particular party an edge in the election as the stand of almost all of them was similar.

“I do not see any party benefiting electorally from this issue. The Congress is already out of the race. Voting will depend on other larger grievances and local factors,” he said.

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