On Thursday, millions of people across 12 Indian states voted in the second phase of the 2009 parliamentary elections in an exercise that was largely peaceful, apart from some incidents of insurgent violence in Assam and Jharkhand and political clashes in Andhra Pradesh. Meanwhile, the war in neighbouring Sri Lanka is having an impact on the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi has called on New Delhi to issue ultimatum to Colombo
With the plight of Tamil civilians in Sri Lanka becoming an electoral issue in India and boatloads of fleeing refugees landing in Tamil Nadu, there is increasing pressure on India’s ruling Congress government to call for a permanent ceasefire in the neighbouring country and to save the civilians caught in the bloody conflict.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi, who is also the head of the ruling regional DMK party, imposed a 12-hour dawn-to-dusk shutdown of the state on Thursday and called on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to issue an ultimatum to Colombo to declare an "immediate and permanent ceasefire."
“In this meeting I would like to address the concerns of our fellow brothers in Sri Lanka. The war has taken a heavy toll on civilians. They have been shot and killed,” he said.
Words of support for Tiger chief V Prabhakaran
Just a few days ago, Karunanidhi created a stir when he remarked that Vellupilai Prabhakaran, the Tamil Tiger leader, was not a terrorist and that his organisation had started out as a liberation group and only later had become an extremist outfit.
The chief minister later said that his comments had been misinterpreted and blown out of proportion.
Other smaller parties in Tamil Nadu have warned that there could be bloodshed if Prabhakaran comes to harm in the military onslaught. They have been pressurising New Delhi to act decisively. The MDMK chief Vaiko has even threatened violence and reiterated his demand for a separate Eelam nation for the Tamils.
Diplomatic analyst Manish Chand has been chronicling events in Sri Lanka and explained the impact they could have on the Indian parliamentary elections: “It is already having ripple effects as can be seen in Tamil Nadu, where there was a total shutdown. Karunanidhi has made a big issue of this and has written to the prime minister asking him to take it up with Sri Lankan president. Obviously it’s a hugely emotive issue. It is also a humanitarian issue where just not people in Tamil Nadu are concerned but all over India.”
India promises to help resolve humanitarian crisis
More than 100,000 distraught Tamil civilians have fled the war zone according to the Sri Lankan authorities. India has been pressing the Sri Lankan government to pause its military operation to enable the remaining trapped civilians to move to safe areas.
“Political pressure has already worked,” Chand said. “The Prime Minister convened an emergency meeting to review the evolving situation in Sri Lanka and at the end we had a strongly-worded statement telling Sri Lanka that the killing of Tamils must stop.”
India also underlined that it would do all it can to help resolve the humanitarian crisis and announced it would send more food and medical relief for thousands of hungry and sick Tamil civilians who had managed to flee the combat zone.
Colombo is reportedly planning to send President Mahinda Rajapaksa's brother Basil as a special envoy to assuage New Delhi's concerns.