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Has PM Modi’s Jaffna visit done enough to heal the wounds of 30 year long civil war?

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By Harshmeet Singh

Narendra Modi’s visit to war torn Jaffna in Sri Lanka is significant in more ways than one. Only the second international leader to pay a visit to Jaffna after Britain’s David Cameroon in 2013, the Indian PM handed over more than 27,000 homes to the local Tamils who were left without a roof after the deadly civil war.

The housing scheme, aimed at benefitting the war victims at Ilavalai in Jaffna, has been funded by the India and is a part of the reconciliation process undertaken by the Indian Government.

Jaffna

Jaffna has been the flashpoint of hostility between India and Sri Lanka for close to 30 years. Considered as the bastion of the Tamil Tiger forces, Jaffna was the site of outbreak of the civil war. Assassination of Jaffna’s mayor was the first major operation carried out by Prabhakaran. Soon after, Jaffna became the point of violent exchanges between the LTTE and Sri Lankan government, with the former maintaining its hold inside the area and latter attacking from outside in order to regain the territory.

Jaffna presents a classic case of a prosperous city being destroyed by war. Before the unfortunate Sri Lankan Civil War, Jaffna was the second most populated city in the country after Colombo. The majority of local population in the city comprises of Sri Lankan Tamils. The growing animosity between the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils in Sri Lanka was constantly fuelled by the Government after Sri Lanka attained independence from Britain in 1948.

Liberation of Tamil majority areas, a key demand of the Tamil nationalist parties, was never taken seriously by the Government. Growing discrimination against the Tamils in Sri Lanka in terms of civil rights meant that the situation was soon about to be turned violent. Discontent among the Sri Lankan Tamils gave rise to a number of armed groups which were ready to wage an armed battle against the government. LTTE, led by Prabhakaran, was the most ferocious of these groups and either suppressed or merged other groups with itself.

India’s connection with Jaffna

Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to the island nation in 1987 was nothing less than a disaster. He was attacked by a naval soldier while inspecting the naval guard of honour at Sri Lankan President’s house. That action of the naval soldier trying to swipe off Rajiv Gandhi’s head with the reverse rifle was captured by media from all over the world. That one act summed up Sri Lanka’s feelings towards India at that point.

India’s involvement in Sri Lankan conflict can be owed to Tamil Nadu’s growing influence on the national politics due to the era of ‘coalition governments’. A strong supporter of Sri Lankan Tamils’ independence, Tamil Nadu government ensured that India supported the Tamil rebels in the northern province of Jaffna. Many people also believe that LTTE’s euphoric rise was only possible because of RAW’s training, arms and monetary help.

In 1987, while the LTTE was said to be breaking down against the Lankan forces, Indian air force was directed by the Indian Government to drop tonnes of food packets over Jaffna to ensure that the rebels’ resistance doesn’t break down. During Rajiv Gandhi’s visit, the two countries signed the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord which resulted in the introduction of the 13th amendment in the Sri Lankan constitution. The accord was aimed at providing equivalent civil rights to the Tamils.

The agreement also included the decision to post the Indian Peace Keeping Force in the conflict hit areas to ensure a cease fire and surrender of arms. This move turned out to be a blunder as more than 1,500 Indian soldiers lost their lives fighting LTTE after Prabhakaran refused to surrender. Prabhakaran wasn’t keen on accepting anything other than an independent Tamil Eelam. LTTE’s hatred against Rajiv Gandhi for ‘compromising’ with the Sri Lankan Government resulted in his assassination in 1991. Post the assassination, India decided to step back from the conflict and remain a neutral observer.

Far from being normal, thousands of Sri Lankan military troops are still stationed at Jaffna, despite the official end of the civil war many years ago, as if reminding the citizens that they will never be far from the site of a gun and bullet.

Significance of Modi’s visit

PM Modi’s historic visit to Jaffna and call for ‘equitable development and respect for all citizens in the island nation’ is an effort to heal the wounds of Tamils who suffered immensely at the hands of the conflict. His meeting with the Sri Lankan president is being considered by many as India’s attempt to establish closer relations and steering Sri Lanka away from the Chinese influence. Modi extended a support of $318 millions to assist Sri Lanka in changing the fortunes of its shabby railways network. During his visit, Modi also flagged off a train service to Talaimanner, the closest point to India, signalling the completion in work of the Northern Province Railway Line.

Modi’s call for devolution of power in the favour of Tamils, along with establishment of a cultural centre in Jaffna with India’s financial help is aimed at erasing the memories of Rajiv Gandhi’s visit and presenting India as a true partner.

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With the Modi in Camelot 2.0, Expect the Unexpected

Many aspirations and ambitions have to be fulfilled while hard work and perseverance will need to be rewarded

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Modi, AIM, Global
The prime focus of the government as well as NITI Aayog remains on accelerating the pace of manufacturing sector in India. Flickr

With a gargantuan majority at his disposal, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has a huge gene pool to choose from and reward as he goes about appointing members to his new Camelot. However, with PM Modi, no one can second-guess him. At the same time, speculation is rife in Delhi’s political circles on the composition of the new Cabinet.

For starters, one will have to look at the Big Four – members of the all important Cabinet Committee on Security. In the erstwhile Cabinet there were two women. Apparently, former Rajasthan Chief MInister Vasundhara Raje may be sounded out for the External Affairs Ministry while giant killer Smriti Irani, who toppled Congress President Rahul Gandhi from his pocket borough of Amethi, may get the plum post of Raksha Mantri. Many aspirations and ambitions have to be fulfilled while hard work and perseverance will need to be rewarded.

The PM may also be looking at certain technocrats to push his JAM policy where the tri-junction of Jan, Aadhar and Mobile meet. This has paid handsome dividends at the bottom of the pyramid and in more ways than one given a sense of liberation and purpose to rural women. As such, one shouldn’t be surprised if there is a Make in India, Skill Development and other such nomenclatures in the new Cabinet.

Grapevine also indicates that NSA Ajit Doval may be one of the contenders for the Defence Minister’s job. He could even be sent to Washington as India’s ambassador to the US. Adding a twist to the permutations and combinations, if BJP President Amit Shah is inducted into the Cabinet, he may get one of the most crucial portfolios out of three – Home, Defence or even Finance.

Modi, Camelot 2.0
Former Rajasthan Chief MInister Vasundhara Raje may be sounded out for the External Affairs Ministry. Flickr

In whatever role the PM assigns him, he will be pushing the rollout agenda of the PM’s pet schemes aggressively. In the eventuality that he joins the Cabinet, given the nature of Indian polity where the country lurches from one election to another and the whirligig is more often than not year round; Dharmendra Pradhan or Bhupendra Yadav may get the nod for the party top job.

Health minister J.P. Nadda is another name doing the rounds. National General Secretary and a Rajya Sabha MP from Himachal Pradesh, Nadda is known as a master strategist in his party. The party had given him charge of Uttar Pradesh in the recently concluded hustings. The party bagged 62 out of 80 Lok Sabha seats.

Meanwhile, Pradhan cut his teeth in the Bihar Lok Sabha elections 2014 and once again, this time in his home state Odisha. BJP’s vote share in the Lok Sabha polls in Odisha rose from about 21.9 per cent in 2014 to 38.37 per cent while the ruling BJD’s fell from 44.1 per cent in 2014 to 42.76 per cent.

BJP’s vote share in the Odisha Assembly polls also rose significantly from 18.2 per cent in 2014 to 32.5 per cent in 2019. An RSS member since his student days and a close confidant of both Modi and Shah, Pradhan is expected to play a bigger role in BJP.

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Bhupendra Yadav is a Rajya Sabha member, but equally a powerful national general secretary. Fiercely private, like his mentor Amit Shah, Yadav keeps to the confines of the war room, a role that he relishes. Yadav had been the BJP election in-charge for Rajasthan in 2013, Jharkhand in 2014 and Bihar in 2015. While Bihar did not go the way the BJP would have liked, Yadav delivered results for his boss, Shah, in both Rajasthan and Jharkhand.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh may be retained in his present job, but if party President Amit Shah, who has played a monumental role in the BJP returning to power working ceaselessly and tirelessly to put the strategic tent poles in place, joins the Cabinet, the former party president may become the new Speaker of the Lok Sabha.

Railways Minister Piyush Goyal, who served as the interim finance minister when Arun Jaitley was undergoing treatment, may step into his shoes.

However, other names are also doing the rounds for this post. Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad may be moved to a more prominent ministry after his win in Patna Sahib. He was a minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government and became a cabinet minister under Modi. Nitin Gadkari had a number of ministries under him and is credited with most tangible work being done in those departments. He may continue with the work assigned to him. Agriculture will be one of the focus areas and, there is a thinking that a technocrat like Ashok Gulati should be given the job to ameliorate the woes of agrarian India which appears to be in distress mode.

Modi, Camelot 2.0
Speculation is rife in Delhi’s political circles on the composition of the new Cabinet. Flickr

Telecom will have a new minister since Manoj Sinha is one of the prominent losers in the BJP. If Pradhan moves to head the party, then the energy portfolio comprising petroleum and natural gas will also see a new face. Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi may get a cabinet rank this time. He is the most prominent Muslim face in the Modi team. Prakash Javdekar will also be given an important position — he served as HRD Minister in the old Council of Ministers.

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With nearly 80 members in the previous Cabinet, lots of faces and names to fill the posts abound. Expect the infusion of new blood and representation to states where the BJP has done exceedingly well — Rajasthan, Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Delhi, Jharkhand, Odisha, Telangana, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and equal weight to the allies. (IANS)