Chennai: Sri Lanka’s war against the Tamil Tigers buffeted country’s politics on Thursday after regional party DMK, sympathetic to the rebels shut down a key electoral swing Tamil Nadu state in the middle of Lok Sabha elections.
The 12-hour strike called by the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) is seen as an attempt to garner votes by being sympathetic to the Tamil cause in Sri Lanka.
The regional political parties in the state face pressure to protect Sri Lankan Tamils, who are closely linked to about 60 million Tamils in the state across a narrow strait from Sri Lanka.
DMK has upped the rhetoric against the Sri Lankan military ahead of voting in Tamil Nadu next month.
On Thursday, shops and business remained closed in Tamil Nadu and traffic stayed off the road - a shutdown experts said had more to do with the polls than concern for Tamil refugees.
“The strike call is a feeble attempt by (DMK chief) Karunanidhi to show the people that he is concerned about the happenings in Sri Lanka,” Cho S. Ramaswamy, a political commentator, said in Chennai.
The Sri Lankan war has caught the Congress party in a bind. It needs to please ally DMK and win voters, without being seen as going soft on the Tamil Tigers who are blamed for the assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.
With 39 parliamentary seats, Tamil Nadu is a big prize in the general election, and the DMK swept the state in 2004, a performance the Congress hopes Karunanidhi’s party will repeat.
Sri Lanks’s military said troops now control all but 13 sq km (5 sq miles) of the island, where the LTTE and its founder-leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran are fighting a last stand in their war to create a separate state for the Tamil minority.
More than 100,000 refugees have emerged from the war zone this week, overloading the relief machinery.