AS the armed forces of Sri Lanka in their current offensive close in on the last stronghold of (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam) LTTE, feelings of unease and discomfort have begun to run high in New Delhi about its impact on India's Tamil population of southern states, especially Tamil Nadu. In Tamil Nadu parties on both sides of political divide and organisations of civil society joined by artists, intellectuals, writers and human rights activists have loudly protested against what they allege the violations of human rights of the Sri Lankan Tamils by the Sri Lankan armed forces and the failure of the Union Government to restrain Colombo from causing hardships to the civilians in the Tamil controlled areas. Although both India and Sri Lanka are trying their best to avoid any crisis that may erupt between them as in the past, the latest phase of ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka is bound to have serious repercussions on their bilateral relations. Although LTTE has been declared a terrorist organisation and banned in more than thirty countries, including India, the outfit continues to enjoy support and sympathy in Tamil Nadu where it used to operate bases for recruitment and training of cadre and collected vast sums of money. Following LTTE's hand in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi while he was touring the state for Lok Sabha elections in May 1991, India banned the militant organisation but groundswells of its support and supplies have not dried up in the state. Common ethnic links continue to bind the Indian and Sri Lankan Tamils together and the current outburst of protest in Tamil Nadu shows how close and immediate affect can the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka have on politics in Tamil Nadu lying across a narrow stretch of water from the Tamil dominated northern part of Sri Lanka. Majority of the state political parties have reacted strongly against the on-going military operation against LTTE, although the Congress, AIDMK and CPI-M maintain their opposition to the terrorist tactics of LTTE. But the wave of anger sweeping across the state has forced other political parties, including Chief Minister M Karunanidhi's DMK to take a position calling for immediate stoppage of the military operation in Sri Lanka and allow free access to the Sri Lankan Tamil community to humanitarian assistance sent from India and other sources. In order to put pressure on the government of PM Manmohan Singh to intervene and persuade the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa to halt military operation against LTTE, an all-party meeting was held in Chennai on October 14. A resolution passed at the meeting asked all the members of Parliament from Tamil Nadu to resign from their seats if the Union Government did not come forward to ensure a ceasefire in Sri Lanka within two weeks after the passage of the resolution. Tamil Nadu sends 39 members to Lok Sabha. Had the threat been carried out, it would have reduced the UPA Government into a minority government because last July it had survived a no-confidence motion by a margin of only 19 votes. Other resolutions passed at the meeting demanded that the military hardware by India to Sri Lanka not be used against the Tamils in Sri Lanka and the Centre intervene immediately to stop what the resolution called "the killing of innocent Tamils." The resolution rang the alarm bells in New Delhi, which immediately sent one of the most senior Congress leaders and seasoned Bengali politician, Foreign Minister Paranab Mukherji to Chennai to dissuade state government from carrying out the threat on MPs resignation. On assurances from Mukherji that the Union Government would do every thing possible to ensure the safety of Tamil civilians in the on-going conflict, Karunanidhi deferred the implementation of the resolution. At the same time the leaders of Congress-led UPA Government at the centre started issuing statements on the situation in Sri Lanka, which were clearly meant to put pressure on the government of President Rajapaksa to seek a negotiated settlement instead of going for a military solution of the ethnic conflict. Only a day after the Tamil Nadu lawmakers in the Parliament threatened to resign en mass, PM Singh issued a statement expressing his "serious concern" over the developments in Sri Lanka and urged Colombo to find a negotiated settlement rather than look for a "military victory." The Indian PM referred to civilian losses and the sufferings of an increased number of displaced persons as a consequence of hostilities in northern Sri Lanka , some of whom had arrived in the state of Tamil Nadu. A week earlier, National Security Advisor, M K Narayanan had summoned Sri Lanka's Deputy High Commissioner in New Delhi to convey the Indian government's concerns. As if that was not enough, Indian Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon summoned Sri Lanka's High Commissioner C R Jayasinghe to his office in New Delhi and told him that Indian government was worried about the course of the conflict on the island. Humanitarian effect of the conflict and the problem of essential supplies and food were mentioned by the Indian foreign secretary as areas of Indian concern, but he also reiterated Indian position that the longstanding ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka required a political settlement and not a solution through military means. In a statement read in the upper house of the Parliament (Rajya Sabha), Foreign Minister Mukherji assured the highly charged MPs that the Indian government had emphasised to Colombo to guard the safety and security of the Tamil population at every cost. In the statement Mukherji also reiterated Indian position on the Sinhali-Tamil conflict, advising the Sri Lankan government to exercise the option of settlement "within the framework of united Sri Lanka," through political means, instead of finding a military solution. Sri Lanka has tried to satisfy the Indian concerns by pledging to ensure the safety and security of the Tamil population in the war affected areas and facilitate the supply of essential goods and food items to them. Colombo also sent a special envoy to New Delhi to explain the situation arising out of the current military offensive against LTTE and remove the Indian apprehensions regarding the safety and security of the Tamil population. President Rajapaksa contacted PM Singh on the telephone following which the two countries decided to remain in close touch to diffuse the situation that carries potential for spoiling relations between the two neighbouring countries. In order to allay the Indian fears on the consequences of escalating hostilities, President Rajapaksa, in an interview with influential Indian daily Hindu, reiterated his commitment to finding a negotiated political settlement of the conflict that has ravaged Sri Lankan economy and caused the deaths of thousands of people during the last 25 years. "Let me reiterate," the president said, "that my government is firmly committed to a negotiated political settlement-based on devolution of power and ensuring the democratic, political, including linguistic rights of all our Tamil brethren within an undivided Sri Lanka." But he made it clear that talks would not be held with LTTE, whom he called terrorist and secessionist organisation. Stressing his government's resolve to clear the last two districts held by LTTE, he pointedly declared, "A military solution is for the terrorists; a political solution is for the people living in the country." Sri Lanka inherited Tamil question from its colonial past. The British during their colonial rule had brought large number of Tamils from the neighbouring southern India to work as labourers in the tea gardens and rubber plantations in the northern part of the island country. The Tamil community, ethnically and religiously different from the majority Sinhalese community, though only 18 percent of the total population of Sri Lanka continued to dominate the politics, culture, public services, education and business of the country until its interests clashed with those of the rising Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism. Since 1983 an armed insurgency led by LTTE is going on in the northern and eastern parts of the country. Attempts to bring this insurgency to an end through military means have not been fully successful in the past. For the first time, however, LTTE is on the verge of being defeated. But majority of the observers are of the view that even if LTTE is defeated militarily, the Tamil question will not vanish. The LTTE can simply go underground and with help from the Tamils of the neighbouring Tamil state of India can continue guerrilla fight for an indefinite period. The best course, therefore, would be to revive the peace process and settle this conflict within the framework of a united Sri Lanka. The writer is senior research fellow at the Islamabad Policy Research Institute E-mail: