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Terrorism & Security

Sri Lankan war roils Indian politics

Tamil parties threaten to withdraw from India's Parliament, but some see this as an attempt to wrest more seats in upcoming elections.

By Jonathan Adams / October 22, 2008

As Sri Lanka's military presses toward the Tamil Tiger rebels' last stronghold, the conflict has begun to send political shock waves through neighboring India.

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Ethnic Tamil parties in India disrupted Parliament Tuesday with calls for New Delhi to intervene to stop what some called "genocide against Tamils" in the northern Sri Lankan war zone. The Tamil parties have threatened to withdraw from India's ruling coalition unless Delhi helps put a stop to the fighting or intervenes directly.

Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan military claimed on Tuesday that it had at last broken through a key Tiger trench line in heavy fighting under monsoon rains, reports Reuters. But the military admitted suffering scores of casualties in the process, and a suicide attack on merchant vessels off the northeastern coast Wednesday showed the Tamil Tigers aren't yet a spent force.

Tuesday saw "unruly" scenes in India's Parliament, according to the New Delhi-based news website, with Tamil MPs interrupting proceedings with shouting, banner-carrying, and walkouts.

The Rajya Sabha [the upper house of Parliament] had to be adjourned till noon after it witnessed angry scenes. Chairman Hamid Ansari's repeated requests to allow proceedings did not make any impact on members. While DMK [a prominent Tamil party] members were shouting slogans and carrying banners reading "Save the Tamils" and "Stop Genocide in Sri Lanka," Left parties members were hitting at Centre for "mortgaging" country's autonomy in the form of nuclear deal with the US.

The Tamil parties have given Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's administration until early next month to take action – after which they will quit his coalition, according to Reuters.

Some observers see cynical politics at work. Writing in Rediff News, columnist TVR Shenoy notes that Parliament is set to be dissolved soon anyway, with national elections due in the next six months, and that Tamil politicians and other coalition allies are raising a fuss to shore up their base and wrest concessions from the ruling Congress party.

Why then are these esteemed gentlemen piling on the pressure on Dr. Manmohan Singh and his party? Very simply, it is a bargaining tactic to wrest more seats out of the Congress in the general election.
The [ruling Congress party's coalition allies] would like the Congress to give something in return if they "sacrifice" their demands. The Congress – and the Indian electorate at large – is expected to politely ignore the fact that the demands are a load of unrealistic bunk that never had a prayer of being realized.
Call it whatever you want, a 'bargaining tactic' or, less politely, 'blackmail'. Let us just hope that the Congress does not take the demands from its "allies" too seriously.

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