The Tamil Nadu Resolution and new possibilities
By Rajan Philips
On Wednesday, 12 November, the Tamil Nadu State Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution calling on the Indian Government to persuade the Government of Sri Lanka to agree to a ceasefire with the LTTE and to commence negotiations to reach a political settlement. According to reports, the Indian Prime Minister handed a copy of the resolution to President Mahinda Rajapkase when the two met in Delhi. Mr. Rajapakse is reported to have turned down the request for a ceasefire agreement, while reiterating his commitment to a political solution and emphasizing his government’s efforts to deal with the humanitarian situation of the displaced people.
[Tamil Nadu State Assembly: Pic by: Media Ramu-Chennai]
President’s Rajapakse’s refusal to declare ceasefire is not surprising, but what is also notable is that there is increasing pressure on him to either bring the fighting to a quick end or to find an exit strategy while protecting the government’s military gains against the LTTE. The LTTE obviously wants a ceasefire right away while the government is insistent that the LTTE should surrender if it is serious about talking. It will be a while before the two parties dance their way to agreeing to do something other than unconditional ceasefire or total surrender. Until then, the war dance will continue.
The point of this article is that both the LTTE and the government are coming under not inconsiderable pressure to do something other than fighting. While the LTTE is facing mostly military pressure, the government’s difficulties, as I have alluded to sometime ago, are more non-military than military. More importantly, the Tamil Nadu resolution and its revived interest in the Sri Lankan matter raises new possibilities that could not have been anticipated only a couple of months ago.
It is not the content of the Tamil Nadu resolution that is significant; rather, it is the unanimity of its passage, the new level and nature of interest in Tamil Nadu, and the entirely different circumstances in which this interest is being manifested in contrast to the circumstances that preceded the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement and the Thirteenth Amendment.
The fact that the resolution was adopted unanimously by all parties in the Assembly should not be taken by anyone in Colombo as an act of ganging up on the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka by the Tamil Nadu political class. On the contrary, the unanimity among the main political parties of Tamil Nadu marginalizes and shuts up those on the lunatic fringe of Tamil nationalism who cannot figure out where their Readers-Digest reading of the history of the Tamil Chola Empire ends and where the reality of their living begins. The same goes for the paranoid among the Sinhalese who react by conjuring absurd images of Tamil domination over all of Sri Lanka if the LTTE is not destroyed.
Tamil Nadu after the Thirteenth Amendment
Whatever misgivings there might be even among moderate Tamils about the adequacy of the Thirteenth Amendment, especially after the demerging the Northern and Eastern Provinces, it is the Thirteenth Amendment that is going to be the foundation and the framework for any future political solution. It is certainly the framework within which India can and will act in regard to influencing developments in Sri Lanka. Both the external influences of New Delhi and the internal dynamic between Tamil Nadu and New Delhi will be governed by the Thirteenth Amendment.
The plurality of support in Tamil Nadu for a political solution in Sri Lanka is predicated on the consensus around the Thirteenth Amendment. Anything short will be rejected by every Tamil Nadu Party (including both Regional and All India Parties), and anything excessively more will destroy the unanimity. Sri Lankan Tamil busybodies would do well to stop barking up the dead tree of self-determination and start persuading Tamil Nadu to become a facilitator and insurer of the formulation and implementation of a political solution centred on the Thirteenth Amendment.
There is nothing sinister or subversive about involving Tamil Nadu to find a positive resolution to Sri Lanka’s national problem. The Sri Lankan Government has appreciated the concerns in Tamil Nadu for the welfare of the Sri Lankan Tamils, but not the welfare of the LTTE. There are enough examples around the world for multi-party external involvement in resolving internal problems – to wit, the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland, and the inevitability of multi-party involvement in any future resolution of the Israeli-Palestine conflict.
Obviously, for the involvement of Tamil Nadu to be positive and productive, it should be acceptable to the Government of Sri Lanka and beneficial to all Sri Lankans and not just the Sri Lankan Tamils. The immediate benefit of involving Tamil Nadu, in my view, is in helping to draw the LTTE out of its political isolation and engaging it in the political process. As it is, positive international pressure for a political solution is asymmetrically applied, with only the government being pressurized while the LTTE is pressurized only negatively – by way of outlawing and restrictions on its operations. The government, being the executive committee of the state, has a bigger responsibility to take positive initiatives and is more exposed to inter-governmental pressure. But at some point, sooner rather than later, the LTTE has to join the political process; or, it should be brought into it. Who is capable of doing that?
Others more resourceful than I am might suggest a superior alternative, but I cannot think of anyone other than Tamil Nadu being able to undertake this task. I am not suggesting that Tamil Nadu will succeed where others have failed, but it is a shot worth taking. As I said at the outset, this possibility could not have been foreseen two months ago, but now that Tamil Nadu has got interested the way it has new possibilities are emerging.
The possibilities I am projecting here are not based on good will and willingness on the part of the government and the LTTE; although they are necessary, they are not going to be there at the outset. There are objective circumstances that are beginning to force the two parties to look at options other than fighting, or to undertake them while carrying on fighting. The LTTE will have a hard time turning down an offer of mediation from India and Tamil Nadu, based on a reasonable basis for a political solution.
The LTTE would seem to be keener than the government to have a ceasefire, but it must not hope for ceasefire conditions like the one it had with Ranil Wickremasignhe, Any new ceasefire will include more stringent conditions. As a minimum, the LTTE should make a commitment to political solution based on the Thirteenth Amendment. I am not saying that the LTTE is waiting for someone to suggest before doing it. But there is no one better equipped to put this to the LTTE than Tamil Nadu.
The government is much less keen about a ceasefire than the LTTE, and is therefore laying down the unrealistic condition of surrender by the LTTE. But the prolongation of the war and the deteriorating economy are becoming serious impediments to the government’s current war-only, war-at-any-cost plan. The costs of war cannot be borne indefinitely especially when the economy is getting into deep trouble, and the people will not hold their patience indefinitely. Someone or something has to give somewhere.
There will also be increasing pressure from outside, to end the war and work towards a political solution. The pressure will grow as the Obama Administration hits the ground running in January – to end the war in Iraq and look for an exit strategy in Afghanistan. The world’s priority is no longer fighting costly and endless wars against terrorism that characterized the Bush era, or cheering obscurantist struggles for self-determination, but waging war against the global economic crisis. That is the message from the G-20 Washington Summit of November 15, and there will be little enthusiasm for supporting anything different.
(This is a modified version of the article published in the Sunday Island of November 16)