Palk Strait fishing issue in dire straits

8 April 2014 06:34 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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The talks between the representatives of the fishing communities in Sri Lanka and India are being continuously put off due to the intransigence of Jayalalithaa Jeyaram, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. She wants the Sri Lankan authorities to release all Tamil Nadu fishermen arrested by the navy for poaching in Sri Lankan waters before talks are held, while fishermen from her state continue to be arrested for the same offence. What she conveniently forgets or conceals is the fact that the latest batches of fishermen were arrested in Sri Lankan waters after an agreement was signed between the authorities of the two countries not to trespass into each other’s seas.

Two factors seem to be behind Jayalalithaa’s decision to block the talks. One is that it would be the Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen, and not their Tamil Nadu counterparts that are going to benefit most by the talks, since the bone of contention has been poaching by the Tamil Nadu fishermen in the Sri Lankan side of the Palk Strait.
The second point is that the tension in the seas between the two countries is one of the best trump cards played by the leaders of Tamil Nadu in order to have an upswing in their vote banks or to bolster an already sagging support base in the constituency. Hence, one can reasonably surmise that the talks between fishermen representatives will not take place at least until this month’s LokSabha elections are concluded.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa ordered all the Indian fishermen in Sri Lankan prisons to be released soon after India abstained during the vote on the US-sponsored resolution on Sri Lanka at the recently concluded UNHRC session. The order was made at a time when Jayalalithaa was shouting from across the Palk Strait against Sri Lanka for arresting fishermen from her state and she might have portrayed this magnanimity to the Tamil Nadu voters as a weakness on the part of the Sri Lankan leaders before her threats. Further, it is questionable as to whether India deserved such gratitude as it abstained from voting at the UNHRC not in Sri Lanka’s interest but in its own interest, especially owing to the Kashmir and the China factors. Had India’s action, irrespective of its motive helped defeat the US resolution or at least changed the mind of any other country during the vote, it would have somewhat deserved it.
Tamil Nadu leaders want the Sri Lankan authorities including the navy not to disturb the Tamil Nadu fishermen grabbing the aquatic resources belonging to the Tamils living in the northern part of the island. At the same time the same leaders cry on top of their voices in the name of the same Sri Lankan Tamils, sometimes resulting in self-immolation by emotionally hit people of their state. Since the issue has become a political tool for them there is always a threat by them to scuttle any attempt to resolve it.

Needless to say, the most civilised way to resolve issues is to put the heads of relevant parties together and make compromises. However, the engagements at the bureaucratic level seem to last till Doomsday, as Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru once put it at a discussion on the stateless people of Indian origin in Sri Lanka, with his Sri Lankan counterpart John Kotalawala. Hence it seems to be prudent to take the matter up at the highest political level, rather than the bureaucratic level or regional (state) level and agree upon a strategy.
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