Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government received a blow Tuesday when a regional party withdrew from the ruling coalition, complaining the government was being too soft on abuses committed during Sri Lanka's defeat of the Tamil Tigers.
The human rights issues that arose during Sri Lanka's 2009 military action against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have cast a shadow over the future of Manmohan Singh government.
On Tuesday (March 19th), the Dravida Munnetara Kazhagam (DMK), the second-largest party in the ruling United Progressive Alliance, withdrew its support, weakening the Prime Minister's government coalition. Five cabinet ministers submitted their resignations.
According to the BBC, the party had wanted the Indian government to pass a parliamentary resolution condemning the Sri Lanka Army for atrocities, and to push for stronger language in an upcoming UN resolution, including the term genocide.
Under the resolution, the UN Human Rights Council would call on Colombo to launch an independent probe into allegations that over 40,000 people were killed – including many civilians – as the Sri Lankan Army overran LTTE-held areas in the last stages of the civil war.
India backed a 2012 effort at passing such a resolution and has been supportive of the current one as well, former Indian Ambassador G. Parthasarathy told Khabar South Asia.
"This time too New Delhi was in favour of a condemnation, but had wanted a slightly diluted text," he explained. "For instance, India was against economic sanctions and wanted to avoid strong language as a priority was placed on improving relations with Colombo."
Opposition won't join criticism of government
While the DMK chides the Singh government for not being critical enough of Sri Lanka, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) argues that the party is overstating the case.
"The final crackdown on the terrorist group LTTE indeed caused a lot of collateral damage," BJP national secretary Sheshadri Chari told Khabar. "But to say there was genocide is a bit too much because 65% of Sri Lanka's Tamil population was outside the war zone and the country's government did not touch them. At any rate, taking Indo-Sri Lanka relations forward should be the objective."
He ruled out the possibility of the BJP moving a 'no confidence resolution' in Parliament to topple the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government. "This issue does not have the support of either the people of Tamil Nadu or of India," he told Khabar.
But recently resigned DMK minister T.R. Baalu justified his party's stand. "The DMK's resignation has been backed by the wishes of millions of Tamil-speaking people not only in India and Sri Lanka but all over the world. We had no option but resign," he told reporters.
Subramanian Swamy, Janata Party President and an active campaigner against the LTTE, told Khabar, "The DMK was not clear about its objectives. Do they want another spell of insurgency in Sri Lanka or is it in favour of better relations between the ethnic Tamils and majority Sinhalas?"
Reduced seat strength in parliament
The DMK, which was in power in Tamil Nadu throughout the 138-day-long final fight in Sri Lanka, held 18 seats in the Lok Sabha. Its exit has reduced the seat strength of the UPA to 230 in the 543-strong House.
To get legislation passed between now and the next general election – scheduled for April or May 2014 – the government will need outside support. The two likely biggest sources are the Samajwadi Party (22) and Bahujan Samaj Party (21).
R. Raghunatha of The Hindu newspaper told Khabar, "The DMK's withdrawal will make no difference to the UPA because no other party is confident of facing an early election."
Finance Minister P. Chidambaram denied that the UPA government was facing dissolution. "The government will complete its full term with the support of secular parties outside the present coalition," he told reporters.