In a clear instance of disconnect, the Press Information Bureau’s Chennai wing said Friday that all the Sri Lankan airmen being trained near the Tamil Nadu capital were being sent back. The external affairs and Indian defence ministries in New Delhi denied any such action – but not officially, an Indian media reports.
“All Sri Lankan trainees are being sent off today (Friday) from this (Tambaram air force) station as per instruction of Ministry of Defence,” said a one-line statement issued by the Press Information Bureau’s Chennai wing around 2 p.m.
This was construed as the Indian central government bowing to the political pressure exerted by Tamil Nadu’s ruling AIADMK and opposition DMK against the training being provided to the Sri Lankan airmen.
But in the evening, the ministries of external affairs and defence in New Delhi stated that no action had been initiated against the trainees, adding that they would not precipitate a diplomatic row by sending the airmen back.
An IAF officer also noted that the Sri Lankan trainees were only being shifted to another air base in Bangalore – reportedly to Yelahanka – for the next phase of training, after having completed the Tambaram phase.
However, neither the two ministries nor the IAF were willing to come on record to state their positions on the issue.
Reports of Sri Lankan air force personnel being trained at the Tambaram air base on the outskirts of Chennai have raised the hackles of all Dravidian political parties and their leaders in Tamil Nadu.
These include AIADMK chief and Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa, DMK chief M. Karunanidhi and MDMK leader Vaiko.
The DMK is a partner in the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) at the centre.
These leaders have demanded the immediate expulsion of Sri Lankan Air Force personnel being trained in Tamil Nadu.
Jayalalithaa had said this training was being given at a time when the Tamil Nadu assembly passed a resolution that India and other countries should impose economic sanctions against Sri Lanka for committing war crimes.
“When the international community is raising its voice that India should urge Sri Lanka to accord equal rights to Tamils, the news of Sri Lanka Air Force personnel (coming) for nine months training at the Tambaram air force station (near here) is like piercing (our) heart with a spear,” she had said.
She said the training and that too in Tamil Nadu “is not only inappropriate but also anti-Tamil”.
Former chief minister Karunanidhi also condemned the training and demanded the trainees be sent back.
Tamil parties have accused the Sri Lankan military of committing atrocities on Tamil civilians during the final stages of the war against the separatist Tamil Tigers that ended in May 2009.