IT began with a headline, one that got Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa to send an angry letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and almost torpedoed India-Sri Lanka ties. On August 1, an article appeared on the Lankan defence ministry website, blaming Jayalalithaa for her “tantrums” and for writing frequent letters against Sri Lanka to Modi. The headline that got her upset went: “How meaningful are Jayalalithaa's love letters to Narendra Modi?”
“Tamil Nadu Chief Minister may learn sooner than later that Narendra Modi is not a puppet to dance to her tantrums or threats. She should not attempt to embarrass Mr Modi by her unjustified outbursts,” read the article that was pulled the same day it appeared. A day later, the Lankan government offered an unqualified apology to Modi and Jayalalithaa.
So what were the letters Jayalalithaa was writing and what were her “outbursts” about?
Of the 24 letters she wrote since Modi took charge on May 26 and until her response to the headline, 12 related to Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu fishermen who stray into Lankan waters. She wrote about the “prolonged detention” of fishermen by the Lankan navy, the “destruction” of their boats and equipment, the dispute on the maritime border and the denial of visas to UN investigators probing alleged war crimes.
The first letter, written on June 1, two days before her first meeting with Prime Minister Modi in Delhi, was to demand the intervention of the PMO to secure the release of 33 Indian fishermen arrested that day. It concluded: “May I look forward to early action?” In that letter, Jaya also blamed the “passive and immobile policy paralysis that characterised the approach of the UPA government” and how her previous efforts to settle the fishermen issue had been ignored by the Centre. On June 4, the PMO replied, seeking the Tamil Nadu government’s “cooperation” to settle the issue by releasing Lankan fishermen in prisons.
The prompt response would have gladdened Jayalalithaa, for she had expressed her annoyance with Modi’s predecessor Manmohan Singh, to whom she had written 139 letters and whom she accused of maintaining a “stoic” and “apathetic” silence on attacks on fishermen from the state.
On June 19, she wrote to Modi, “As a reciprocal gesture of goodwill, we have released all the Sri Lankan fishermen who were in our custody.” But she lamented that the previous night, the Lankan navy