His critics, however, see the move as yet another desperate bid to remain in the political limelight and also as a tactic to divert attention from the succession war between his sons Stalin and Alagiri.
On Monday, Karunanidhi will chair a meeting of the Tamil Eelam Supporters’ Organisation (TESO), an outfit he had founded in the 1980s but which had remained dormant since he dumped the Eelam demand for political expediency after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination in 1991.
At the last two public meetings he addressed this month, the former Tamil Nadu chief minister demanded a UN-sponsored referendum among Lankan Tamils to establish an Eelam on the lines of South Sudan, which voted last year to split from the north.
What has intrigued observers is the timing of Karunanidhi’s new-found love for the Eelam cause. The LTTE has been defeated, Tamil parties in Sri Lanka are keener to wrest more provincial powers under the Lankan Constitution and fringe groups in Tamil Nadu are more fervent about prosecuting Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa for war crimes.
“Eelam remains the long-term goal for parties like us…. But for Karunanidhi, Eelam becomes visible only when he is in the Opposition. The way he remained Delhi’s willing and silent ally while the Lankan army decimated Tamils in 2009 exposes the hollowness behind his present interest in Eelam,” said Mallai Sathya of the MDMK, whose leader Vaiko has been a vociferous votary of Eelam.
Between 2006 and 2011, when pro-LTTE parties demanded more effective intervention by India, Karunanidhi, then in power in the state, had declared that the Centre’s line — backing the Lanka crackdown on the Tamil Tigers — was the DMK’s as well.
Karunanidhi, whose party shares power at the Centre, even urged pro-LTTE voices to tone down the anti-Sinhala rhetoric lest it fanned anger against Tamils in Sri Lanka.
“When Jayalalithaa, during the 2009 Lok Sabha campaign, raised the pitch on Sri Lanka’s war against Tamils and promised to send the Indian Army to save them, the same Karunanidhi had accused her of politicising the issue…. Karunanidhi’s sudden interest in Eelam is nothing but a ruse to divert attention from the sibling war in his own family,” said Seeman, the founder of the group Naam Thamizhar Iyakkam.
Congress leaders view his sudden love for Eelam as a possible exit plan out of the UPA. “He probably feels that rather than fight the 2014 (Lok Sabha) elections with a discredited Congress, he might align with other parties like the Left, Vaiko and Vijayakanth,” an MP said.
However, the Lankan Tamil issue has never had an impact on elections in the state.