- Chellamuthu Kuppusamy
Hot debates are floating around in the national capital New Delhi as well as in Chennai, and Colombo is keenly watching with plenty of curiosity. If you assume it is about LTTE and the eternal domestic conflict in that beautiful island, you are mistaken. What I am talking about is the Ram bridge issue.
Parts of India and Sri lanka were originally not part of Asian continent. Lemuria, as geologists call it, was a continent east of Africa or an extended part of that. It gradually moved and collided with Asian plate. The pressure created by that impact erupted the Himalayan mountains. Srilanka was part of the Indian subcontinent and over the years sea swallowed some of the low lying areas and thus separating Ceylon and India.
Even today that particular section of Bay of Bengal is not deep. (Great national poet Subramanya Bharathi sang, ‘lets us level sethu and build it to a street in order to reach Singala island’) It is very close to Rameshwaram and refugees often venture to swim across to reach rehabilitation camps, albeit being bad in condition, on our shores. This section of the see is known as palk straight, through which only boats can sail. Thinking of any ship is absolutely out of question.
Nagapatnam port, which is way in to the sea now, was focal point for sea trade of the powerful Cholas empire. After British established their presence in Madras (Chennai), it turned out to be their political and trade center of South India. Tuticorin is a harbor on eastern coast of south India and has been the port of Pandiya dynasties for centuries. Even now considerable direct trade takes place at Tuticorin port, which is a natural port unlike that of Chennai.
Well, how do all these matter to us, you might ask. If we look for three largest port in the word in terms of trade and activity, we find one of them in china. That is agreed as China is a massive country with huge population and plenty of international trade. However the surprise comes with the other two harbors.
One is Rotterdam in Netherlands, a country which flourished by trade even when the mighty British were conquering the entire world a couple of centuries ago. Holland is a tiny nation with around 15 million population. Their sea traffic is primarily dedicated to other European courtiers than Holland itself. Same can apply to the Amsterdam airport in that country, which is below see level.
Another port among the largest three is in Singapore, a city and a country, which raised itself among high per-capital income spot in the world. Much of its success came from its trade and service activities, as against any manufacturing and agricultural business. Their port creates lot of employment and plenty of income.
Singapore port is an important transit point. Most of the ships stopover for few hours and resume. Many Indian ships from/to the western coast are invariably among them. Ships operating between Europe and south east Asia are huge in number too.
Why do our ships halt at Singapore? Can’t we use one of the ports at our coat for this purpose? Yes, we can. Tuticorin is an obvious choice. But, if the ships stop over there, they have to go around Srilanka and then sail again. That makes it expensive and absurd. On the other hand, if pak straight is canalled deep enough to allow ships, life would be made simple.
It would potentially shift sizable port business from Singapore and Colombo to our shore. This has been the aspiration for nearly 135 years. Many attempts have been made in the past both in British India and Independent India to give a shape to this project. Due to various reasons, it was turned down or given up.
Sri Lankan government raised concerns and placed requests to New Delhi against the Sethu project for nearly more than 4 decades. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out the reason behind that. Surprisingly, India has assured at various occasions that this project, if (at all) gets implemented, will not affect Colombo’s economy. No one paid attention as to why we cared for other nation’s economy than our own.
This dream has (not fully yet) come true under the present Manmohan Singh government. More than Rs2,400 crores were allocated and reportedly the project is on progress. Ms.Jayalalitha opposed simply for the sake of opposing it. But, never mind. The show was on.
But, lately BJP, it’s parivars and some smalltime ludicrous personalities like Rama Gopalan have found Ramar Bridge, a bridge depicted in the Ramayana epic. They claim that Sethu project would destroy that bridge. They quote that Ramar bridge was built by orangutan army led by Hanuman to facilitate lord Ram reach the Lankan island to rescue his wife.
Ramar bridge was a natural formation as per geologists. Even assuming that there was a bridge, it should have been a stone bridge across the sea enabling trade and transport between India and the Lankan island mellenia, if not centuries, ago. Ove the years, it got sank into the sea. The very purpose of the bridge, even if it really had been there, has become obsolete many many years ago.
(Even going by the epic that it was made for Ram to confrot Ravana, what is the use of that now? Sita was already back and had agni bath to prove her purity. Now, Ram does not have to go back to Lanka again where he does not have any more wives captured. Even then the imaginary bridge is under the sea. How will he cross the sea?. He would better of taking a private jet)
All political parties aspire to gain control and be in power. But, taking religion and seting afire superstitious blief as a vehicle is certainly not the way. This becomes more severe when it turns against our economy and national prosperity.
In the late 1940’s there were three nations in south Asia freed from colonial clutches. These three nations, India, Pakistan and Ceylon (as Sri Lanka was called then) were led by three men educated in England namely, Nehru, Jinnah and Bandaranayahe.
But, unlike Nehru the other two gentlemen based their nationality and personal political success based on relegipous and lingual base. India remains the largest and greatest democracy in the world where democracy has been funny thing in Pakistan. Similarly, the island nation declared Buddism as the only allowable belief and Singala as the only language. It only aggravated and the state sponcered amry went on to demolish thousand of lives and tourched the greatest Jaffna library that served as the emblom of Tamil/Hindu tradition.
Fortunately, India was and still continues to be true a federal secular state, despite few horrible incidents forgotten along the sidelines of history. Thanks to our first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, multiple nationalities could coexist in this subcontinent under the same federal setup.
But, BJP and its allied forces are making an attempt to rewrite the history and present Savarkar in place of Mohandas Gandhi and Nehru. World histroy has seen nasty damages as religion was mixed into politics and administration. Some radical elements in few Islamic coutries seem to choose that path. BJP tries to match their act in every possible way. Any nation or tribe that wants to travel in the backward direction is destined to peril.
Congressmen may be corrupt and inefficient and that does not jusify making this subcontinent as a Hindu state. BJP arguably has more number of intellectual personalities compared with other political parties. But, mind if not directly properly would invite devil to dwell in there. Trust me, this view is not based on religious or political perspective, but on economical and rational.
These views are purely based on economical and rational viewpoint. No attempt is made to portay shipping minister T.R.Balu and his leader M.Karunanidhi, a shrewd politician as sacred cows. It will require a separate article to critize them.
If the sethu project is going to affect ecology, we need to investigate. But expert team has furnished feasibility report. Gladly we did not pay attention to Colombo’s outcry on ecological impact. If people argue that this project will affect fhishermen, that need to be carefully studied and find solutions. They may be real problems as well some politically motivated statement like that of Janalalitha.
But, if someone is trying to make politivcal milage out of relegious supersitions, we should go ahead, even if the bridge was constructed by Hanuman.
Some people augue that Sethu project would not really create any employment and improve the economy. Answer for that depends not only on the completion of the work, but also the port administration and easy to operate rules, just like Singapore. So, economic prosperity is not very sure without these additional changed. But, it is writing on the wall that it does not do any good to the economy by not going ahead with the project.