Standing up to Tamil chauvinism

BY B.P. Sanjay| IN Media Practice | 20/10/2008
The Hindu is attacked by political elements for its editorial stand on DMK’s support to the Tamil Tigers.
B P SANJAY examines media responses to the stand taken by Tamilnadu politicians.

The Hindu’s location in Chennai makes it more sensitive to political and other reactions within the state to developments in Sri Lanka. Its extensive coverage of the turmoil in the island nation in the newspaper as well as its magazine Frontline has been topical, erudite, appreciative and critical of our policies towards Sri Lanka in the context of the rather long ethnic conflict. The recent article by Malini Parthasarathy, Dangers of Tamil Chauvinism evoked responses by "fringe elements" that indulged in "mischief and violence" at the Erode bus stand in Tamil Nadu. They attacked the person in charge of this distribution point, and burnt copies of the group’s newspapers.  Condemning the incident and expressing satisfaction of the police action, the editor in chief issued a statement and described the incident as an attack on freedom of expression.


Malini Parthasarathy, braving the dominant political climate and rhetoric in the state, forcefully argued that the pressure tactics of a desperate LTTE should not come in the way of India’s sound foreign policy of staying away from Sri Lanka’s internal affair. "Time appears to have stood still for most Tamil Nadu’s politicians who seem completely insulated from the complex ground realities that mark India’s new political landscape. India’s political establishment and civil society are anxiously grappling with the enormity of the horrific new threat to Indian society — terrorism — fast becoming an everyday reality on the streets. But oddly enough, seemingly oblivious of the contradiction, political parties in Tamil Nadu, led by the MDMK and the PMK, have recently plunged into high-pitched activity aimed at garnering support for the LTTE, a deadly terrorist organisation."  The symbolic resignation of DMK MPs and Central Ministers compounds the pressure tactic on the already beleaguered polity that runs the Government.


This stand or view of the newspaper does not seem to have gone well with what the editor describes as the fringe elements of Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam (PDK) that spearheaded the attack and burning of newspaper copies.


Media’s concern with the stand taken by TN politicians was also reflected in another story in the TOI, "TN Politics Could Endanger India Unity."  The newspaper quoted a front page story of Island from Sri Lanka that described the expression of concern by TN political parties as "contradiction of India’s own policy on terrorism." It called it "latent separatist tendencies" in the southern state.  TOI further quotes the newspaper and states that LTTE has managed to hold India to ransom. In a related editorial, Pipe Down Please, the TOI while sympathizing with thousands of civilians caught in the crossfire between the Sri Lankan troops and LTTE describes the ultimatum served by TN politicians as one bordering on brinkmanship. "Sri Lanka is an independent country and India’s policies on its internal policies are limited. Colombo considers the LTTE as a terrorist outfit-so do India and many other countries-and believes that it is close to defeating the Tigers."


This argument is also shared by  Parthasarathy in her article: "The Sri Lankan army, just two kilometers away from the LTTE’s administrative capital, Kilinochchi, has successfully encircled the Tigers and their leader who are virtually trapped in their bunkers. For the first time in years, the Sri Lankan government appears to be on the brink of a major success in its battle with terrorism. There is now the very real prospect of the capture of the elusive LTTE chief, Velupillai Prabakaran, who is behind the assassination of a former Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi." Online searches of Colombo’s reaction to TN’s political responses barring the diehard perspectives do seem to endorse the situation as an internal matter.


Media, especially standard newspapers, have a responsible role in being responsive and alert to reactions and critiquing populist and political rhetoric. In this case the rather unhappy intervention of India in Sri Lanka through IPKF etc including the expensive price we paid by way of the tragic assassination of our former Prime Minister, seems to have been a factor in its current stand.


The Hindu fraternity with 3528 employees and four million readers seems to have boldly stated its views against the attack on the newspaper and its editorial stance on a matter that is bound to have ripples in the domestic, bilateral and international domain.


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