A controversy broke out earlier this month over the non-telecast of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin’s recorded video message at the ‘Naam 200’ event organised in Colombo to commemorate the 200th year of the arrival of Indian-origin Tamils in the island nation. There were allegations that the message was not telecast because the Indian government had objected to its inclusion in the programme at the eleventh hour. Historically, the Tamil Nadu Chief Ministers always had to tread a delicate path in their relationship with the island nation owing to the complexity of the problems faced by the Tamils there. It is perhaps not just a coincidence that no sitting Chief Minister has ever visited Sri Lanka.
It is worth recalling an instance in which a Chief Minister had planned a visit to the country but had to cancel it. In the late 1969, the then Chief Minister, M. Karunanidhi, informed a group of Sri Lankan journalists visiting Madras that he was planning a cultural tour of the country in January 1970 following an invitation from Tamil organisations there.
Opposition to the visit was immediate from some Sri Lankan political parties and Buddhist leaders. There were concerns that his visit would complicate the political situation and affect the elections planned in the island nation. The Sri Lankan newspapers discussed the issue, which was raised even in Parliament. Karunanidhi subsequently said that if the Sri Lankan government felt that his visit would affect the elections, he would cancel it. The visit did not happen.
In fact, Karunanidhi was not the first DMK leader to face such an opposition. Actor-politician M.G. Ramachandran (MGR), who was born in Sri Lanka to Indian parents, faced opposition ahead of his visit to adjudicate a beauty contest, along with fellow actor B. Saroja Devi, in 1965. The Sri Lankan government, however, allowed his visit, but kept a watchful eye on him. MGR received a rousing reception from the Tamils during his visit.