Former President Pranab Mukherjee, as External Affairs Minister, regarded Tamil politics as a factor of great influence on the India-Sri Lanka relationship.
In the final volume of his autobiography The Presidential Years 2012-2017, Mukherjee has stated that bilateral ties had been “greatly influenced by Tamil politics in India, particularly with the emergence of a strong Dravidian party in Tamil Nadu since the mid-60s.”
By the term “Dravidian party,” he meant the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), which came to power in 1967.
On the concept of Tamil Eelam, the former President, who served as External Affairs Minister in two spells (1995-1996 and 2006-2009), observed that it was raised by “the Tamil population residing on both sides of the Palk Strait that the northern part of Sri Lanka and the southern part of India, having a common cultural and ethnic identity, be brought under the so-called Tamil Eelam.”
However, the concept, as defined in the May 1976 Vaddukoddai resolution of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), referred only to a separate State in Sri Lanka, consisting of people of the Northern and Eastern provinces.
The resolution also stated that “full and equal rights of citizenship” of Tamil Eelam would be ensured to “all Tamil speaking people living in any part of Ceylon [Sri Lanka] and to Tamils of Eelam origin living in any part of the world who may opt” for the citizenship.
Pointing out that organisations including the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) had the “tacit support” of local governments in Tamil Nadu, Mukherjee, in his book, said that after the DMK and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) became the principal parties in the State, “the coastal areas of the state [sic] became a safe haven for Tamil terrorists.”
At the same time, he recalled how the Indian government too had supported the terrorists “tacitly by overlooking the involvement of Tamil politicians in Sri Lanka’s internal matter.”
On the issue of extradition of LTTE leader V. Prabhakaran to India for facing trial in the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi assassination case as he was the prime accused, he recalled that as External Affairs Minister in the Narasimha Rao Cabinet (1995-96), he raised the matter with the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga during the bilateral talks in New Delhi in 1995.
“We received the cryptic response by the Sri Lankan side that perhaps, Prabhakaran would not be captured alive, but would be killed before he surrenders,” Mukherjee stated, adding that he brought about a “change in our policy,” by which “India would like to support the anti-terror measures initiated by the Sri Lankan government.”
Though the portion of the book did not refer to his role in the final phase of the civil war that came to an end in May 2009, the author referred to his meetings with the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2010 and thereafter.
Once, his meeting with Mr. Rajapaksa in Colombo began at midnight and ended in the early hours of the next day wherein he discussed the anti-terror operations along with steps to “implement the 13th Amendment of the Sri Lankan Constitution [envisaging autonomy to provincial councils], initiated by Rajiv Gandhi, to arrive at a political settlement between the Sri Lankan Tamils and the Sinhalese.”
On his return to India, Mukherjee stopped at Chennai and briefed the then Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi of the outcome of the meeting.
On the influence of China on Sri Lanka, Mukherjee felt that “there is no doubt that the massive Chinese presence in the name of infrastructure development in Sri Lanka can cause a serious problem to India’s security concerns.” He also advocated greater support of India to Sri Lanka for developmental needs so that Colombo “cannot use the lack of adequate [sic] developmental help from India as an excuse to depend on another country that can pose problems for us.”