Reaffirming India’s support for the Sri Lankan Tamils, Congress president and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi on Tuesday said New Delhi would continue to press Colombo for constitutional amendments to ensure equal rights and status to ethnic minorities in the island nation.
“In our neighbourhood, there is no issue closer to our heart than the Sri Lankan Tamils’ issue. There was significant progress last year and India had committed and provided large sums of money for their rehabilitation,” Ms. Gandhi said here at a joint election rally with DMK President and Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi.
In her first campaign meeting for the April 13 Assembly polls, Ms. Gandhi said India will continue to do whatever it could for rehabilitation of Tamils displaced in the war against LTTE.
“We are pressing the Government of Sri Lanka to make changes (in the Constitution) to ensure equal rights and status to Tamils,” she said.
On attacks on Indian fishermen allegedly by the Lankan Navy in Palk Straits, Ms. Gandhi said Colombo had assured that the incidents would not recur.
“We are deeply pained that some lives of fishermen have been lost. We have been assured that there would be no firing in the future and we will continue to work to ensure this commitment is met,” she said.
Sharing the dais with Mr. Karunanidhi for the first time after the arrest of former Union Telecom Minister A Raja in the 2G spectrum allocation scam, Ms. Gandhi heaped praise on the DMK veteran saying “we will continue to look upon him for his counsel as his contribution towards Tamil Nadu is unparallelled.”
She said Tamil Nadu was one of the “front-ranking” states and Chennai a “well-deserved fast-growing industrial hub.” “This state ranks the best in education and healthcare and is a pioneer in implementing welfare measures for Dalits and MBCs. Many states follow Tamil Nadu in addressing the needs of these people,” she said.
All these achievements were possible because of “effective governments” at the Centre and the state, she said and assured the “full support” of the UPA government to the DMK Government.
She said that the state annual plan which stood at Rs 9,675 crore in 2005-06 had risen to Rs 17,500 crore in 2010-11 which was an indicator of development.
Appealing to the electorate to vote for “performance” and to those “who delivered” the promises, Ms. Gandhi said “last time you voted for performance and believed in it.” Sonia said the Congress had aligned with DMK as it “shared” its vision of inclusive development.
“The UPA Government wanted the benefits of the inclusive development to reach all sections of the society. I want to assure that both the Central and state governments will work towards faster growth, greater achievement and inclusive development,” she said.
Earlier, Mr. Karunanidhi demanded restoration of fishing rights of Indian fishermen around Katchatheevu islet, ceded to Sri Lanka by India in 1974, nationalisation of inter-state rivers and making Tamil as one of the official languages of the country and transfer of Education from the Central List to State list.
Referring to these demands, Gandhi said “we will work together to achieve the requests put forward by Karunanidhi.” Karunanidhi also demanded that the Centre expedite court cases relating to inter—state river issues like Mullaperiyar, Palar and Cauvery.
He also urged Sonia to consider the converted Christians at par with Dalits and extend all benefits to them besides a political settlement to the Sri Lankan Tamils issue.
PMK founder Dr S Ramadoss and VCK leader Thol Thirumavalavan also addressed the gathering.