During his visit to Tamil Nadu to repair ties with ruling AIADMK, BJP's master strategist and Home Minister Amit Shah on Saturday sought to give credit to Narendra Modi government for construction of 50,000 houses sponsored by India for Tamils in Sri Lanka. 

At a ceremony, hosted by Tamil Nadu CM Edappadi Palaniswami and his deputy O Panneerselvam, for foundation laying and inauguration of several development projects, Amit Shah gave credit to PM Modi for construction 50,000 houses under the project. 

"When Modi ji visited Sri Lanka, he didn't forget Jaffna. He visited Tamil colonies there and met with Tamil brothers and sisters. He laid foundation stone for providing them with houses. Over 50,000 Tamils will get houses and damaged temples will be rejuvenated in Sri Lanka," Home Minister Amit Shah said. 

Amit Shah's claim vs facts 

The scheme Shah referred to, the Indian Housing Project, was announced by then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during the state visit of President Mahinda Rajapaksa to India in June 2010. The project was to cost Rs 13,72 crores to the Indian government, one of the biggest Indian assistance scheme in any country abroad. 

A Memorandum of Understanding was signed in January 2012 between the two governments covering various aspects of project implementation.

"A Memorandum of Understanding was signed on 17 January 2012 between the two governments covering various aspects of project implementation," reads a post on the website of Consulate General of India in Jaffna. 

The houses have been built for resettlement and rehabilitation of people displaced by the war, mostly Tamils, in northern and eastern provices of Sri Lanka. The newly-constructed houses enabled families of estate workers to move out of the cramped, colonial-era line rooms, into individual units. 

In 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi virtually joined a ceremony organised to hand over the lot of housing facilities to benificiaries under the Indian House Project. 

Sri Lanka
A gathering greets Prime Minister Narendra Modi' during his visit to Sri Lanka in May, 2017.

During his visit to Sri Lanka in 2017, PM Modi announced the construction of 10,000 houses in upcountry areas. These houses were in addition to the 50,000 houses committed by the Indian Housing Project. "Continuing people oriented developmental assistance, Letter of Exchange for construction of additional 10,000 houses was signed, increasing India's grant commitment in the plantation areas to 14000 houses," the Indian mission had tweeted.

During his visit to Sri Lanka in 2019, PM Modi said, "We are delighted that under the Indian Housing Project, 46,000 houses have been constructed for the internally displaced in the Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka. There is good progress in the construction of 14,000 houses for Tamils of Indian origin in the Up-Country region".

People in Jaffna watch the address of PM Modi at the launch of nationwide expansion of emergency ambulance service in 2018.

Significance of Sri Lankan Tamils in Tamil Nadu

Saturday's statement of Home Minister Amit Shah bears significance, especially in Tamil Nadu where Bharatiya Janata Party is struggling to expand its footprints keeping in view the next Assembly elections. 

The matter of Sri Lankan Tamils, who bore brunt of Sri Lanka's civil war waged by now defunct Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LITTE), is a sensitive and emotional issue for Tamil Nadu politics. 

Thousands of Malayaha Tamils were taken to Sri Lanka by the British for working in tea plantations in Central and Southern Sri Lanka. They still continue to toil in the tea estates, under rather exploitative conditions. The workers help Sri Lanka earn crucial foreign exchange, but their own housing, sanitation, education and health needs remain largely neglected.

A camp of Tamil refugees in Tamil NaduWikimedia Commons

Shah's statement is even more important now given the presence of nearly 59,000 Tamils who fled war and shettled in several part of Tamil Nadu and living in camps. They are hoping to get Indian citizenship under the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) brought by the Narendra Modi government last year. 

Bracing up for next Assembly elections

BJP is gearing up to expand its base on a war-footing in Tamil Nadu to gain strength in the next Assembly election. Currently, BJP is in alliance with the ruling AIADMK. The relation between the two parties, however, strained after the state government banned its "Vel Yatra" citing possiblity of communal tension. 

Despite the ban, BJP has been holding "Vel Yatra" public meeting and courting arrest in multiple locations when police authorities deny them the permission to proceed with the yatra.