Who is Jayalalithaa Jayaram? For millions in Tamil Nadu, she’s an inspiration. For women, she is one who broke all the stereotypes and fought her way through to become a Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, not once, but thrice.
She was revered, loved and respected by many, and feared and hated equally.
But who was Jayalalithaa for Sri Lanka? How was she perceived by the people here? Jayalalithaa the actress, had thousands of fans in Sri Lanka. Jayalalithaa the politician, unfortunately, did not.
Her relationship with Sri Lanka was not a smooth one. It was tumultuous.
There were three issues which divided Tamil Nadu from Sri Lanka. One is the Kachchatheevu issue where Jayalalithaa spearheaded calls for India to regain the islet.
The other issue was the frequent clashes between Sri Lanka Navy and the Indian fishermen over the poaching issue. She had continuously written to the Central Government of India to ensure that the livelihood of Tamil Nadu fishermen was not affected.
The third however was the war in Sri Lanka.
Tamil Nadu was somewhat of a silent observer as far as the country’s ethnic conflict was concerned until fighting reached its climax by 2008 and early 2009.
Tamil Nadu erupted with protests when the Sri Lankan Government closed in on the LTTE.
In the early nineties when Jayalalithaa first assumed office as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, she refused to provide facilities to Sri Lankan refugees who had sought asylum in the State during the height of the war.
Critical of the LTTE
Her mentor and former Chief Minister MG Ramachandran (MGR) sympathized with the LTTE and provided assistance during its early years. The LTTE in fact had a very good rapport with several key politicians of the State.
However, the equations changed with the assassination of India’s former Premier Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. Jayalalithaa who formed an alliance with the Congress to win the elections soon after Rajiv’s death detested the LTTE.
Ramachandran in fact supported the LTTE by providing political support to Velupillai Prabhakaran and monetary assistance to purchase arms.
The LTTE was closer to the MGR-led All India Anna Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam (AIADMK) than the DMK until Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. MGR was already dead when the incident occurred.
During her very first tenure as Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa went after the LTTE and made sure it was wiped out from Tamil Nadu.
Jayalalithaa was instrumental in the ban on LTTE. It was she demanded that the Central Government ban the LTTE. She succeeded in her demands and the group was eventually placed on the prescript list of India in 1992.
In her second tenure from 2001, Jayalalithaa invoked the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) against LTTE sympathisers, including MDMK general secretary Vaiko.
Sri Lanka then signed a ceasefire agreement with the LTTE on February 22, 2002. It was Jayalalithaa who was the Chief Minister at that time.
Soon after Prabhakaran held his first and final press conference in the Wanni, Jayalalithaa passed a resolution in the Assembly demanding that the LTTE leader be captured and extradited to India to face trial in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.
Jayalalithaa did not change her stance on the LTTE until in run-up to the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. This was the time when fighting in Sri Lanka was reaching its climax and the LTTE was being cornered.
During the run-up to the polls, Jayalalithaa said that she would send the army to free the civilians trapped in the war zone.
Her remarks surprised a lot of people. It was a change in stance for Jayalalithaa who had earlier said that human loss was inevitable in war.
She also observed a one-day fast to express solidarity with Tamil civilians and called the Indian Government to enforce a ceasefire.
When the LTTE was finally defeated, Jayalalithaa clarified that she did not condemn the eradication of the LTTE but the killing of LTTE members who had surrendered.
“What I condemn is the killing of 50,000 unarmed civilians coming out of their bunkers, lured into believing that the war had come to an end,” she was quoted as saying.
However, she also sought the commutation of the death sentence awarded to three convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi case, and also passed a resolution calling for the same.
(Published in the Nation on December 11, 2016)