New Delhi: A huge row has errupted over the invitation to SAARC leaders for Narendra Modi's May 26 swearing-in as many of the South Indian leaders have opposed this idea.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa termed as "unfortunate" the invitation extended to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to attend the swearing-in ceremony of India's new prime minister Narendra Modi.
The MDMK and DMK also opposed the invitation, while the Congress and the BJP supported the invitation move. The DMDK and the PMK did not react yet.
"We had hoped that the new government... would be sympathetic to the cause of Tamils and friendly to Tamil Nadu," Jayalalithaa said here in a statement.
She said the "unfortunate move" of inviting Rajapaksa "has deeply upset the people of Tamil Nadu and wounded their sentiments all over again".
"This is tantamount to rubbing salt into the wounds of the already deeply injured Tamil psyche," she added.
Heads of government of all eight SAARC countries, Sri Lanka included, have been invited to attend Monday's swearing-in ceremony of Modi as India's new prime minister. Besides Rajapaksa, leaders of the Maldives, Afghanistan and Nepal have accepted the invite.
Jayalalithaa said it would have been better if the "ill-advised move" had been avoided, keeping in mind the relationship the Modi government would like to have with the Tamil Nadu government.
"There has been a general election and a new government is to take charge in a few days but this in no way alters the already existing strained relations between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka," she said.
Jayalalithaa has turned a bitter critic of the Rajapaksa regime over the death of thousands of innocents in the end stages of Sri Lanka's war which crushed the Tamil Tigers in 2009.
She denounced the Congress for its alleged pro-Colombo policy while seeking votes in the Lok Sabha election. The Congress was washed out in Tamil Nadu while her AIADMK won 37 of the 39 Lok Sabha seats.
Jayalalithaa said Thursday that the Tamil Nadu assembly had passed resolutions during the last three years on the "war crimes" in Sri Lanka.
"We had demanded an economic embargo on Sri Lanka and urged that India should take the lead in bringing a resolution in the UN for those accused of war crimes and genocide to be brought before the International Court of Justice and that they should be made to face trial," she said.
Among the Bharatiya Janata Party allies in Tamil Nadu, MDMK general secretary Vaiko opposed the decision to invite Rajapaksa.
In a letter to Modi, copies of which were released to the media here, Vaiko said the news of inviting Rajapaksa for the swearing-in-ceremony was like a thunderbolt for him.
"With tears in my eyes and with folded hands I request you to prevent Rajapaksa from attending the swearing-in ceremony and provide a comforting belief to the Tamils," he said, adding officials in the Indian external affairs ministry "who betrayed the interests of Sri Lankan Tamils with their wrong advice for the past ten years, have ill-advised you to invite Rajapaksa".
The MDMK leader also said the Sri Lankan presidents were not invited for the swearing-in of Atal Bihari Vajpayee as prime minister and later when the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) governments took office.
Two other parties - PMK and DMDK - that fought the general elections with the BJP are silent on this issue. Incidentally, PMK is one of the strongest parties to espouse the cause of Sri Lankan Tamils.
On the other hand, DMK's spokesperson T.K.S.Elangovan said Modi should understand the feelings of Tamil Nadu people, and could have avoided inviting Rajapaksa.
BJP's state president and the party's lone Lok Sabha MP from the state, Pon Radhakrishnan, however, defended the decision to invite Rajapaksa as the island nation is a SAARC nation.
Similarly, Tamil Nadu Congress chief B.S.Gnanadesikan, supporting the invitation, said if the welfare of Sri Lankan Tamils has to be secured, talks have to be held only with Rajapaksa.