Archive for December, 2007

2008: Year of Pyrrhic victory or Political maturity

by Rajan Philips

In terms of numbers and resources, the phrase, Pyrrhic victory-meaning a short-lived victory that is undone by its costs and casualties-applies more to the LTTE than the Government of Sri Lanka. In that sense, it is the LTTE that is now paying the price for the Pyrrhic battle glories that it achieved in the past. But a comprehensive military victory for the government that is being declared as the goal for 2008 may well prove to be Pyrrhic in terms of the total political, economic and social costs, for the island as a whole and for a long time.

The origin of the phrase goes back to the third century before Christ, when King Pyrrhus, the last of the Grecian King in the tradition of Alexander the Great, won two costly wars against the Romans but could not prevent them from eventually overwhelming the peoples and principalities of Greece, Italy and Carthage. Western civilization moved on from its Hellenic roots to Roman hegemony. So does history brainwash us to believe in the grandeurs of war.

Historians are mostly to blame for the common tendency to portray wars in grand terms involving states and civilizations and ignore the real traumas and tragedies of people who suffer and perish in them. The most susceptible to this tendency are invariably the most powerful and the influential-the elites, who also suffer the least from the effects of war, and some of them hugely profit from it. The victims and sufferers of war, whether as soldiers or collaterals, are always the poorest and the weakest sections of society.

In the history of ideas eschewing violence and advocating non-violence as an alternative means of politics to waging war, South Asia boasts a great tradition from Gautama the Buddha and Emperor Asoka of old, to 20th century Mahatma Gandhi. Sri Lanka is very much part of this tradition with its own messianic beliefs. It is the manifestation of this tradition in modern times that the Political Scientist from Wales has called the “saintly language” of politics.

More often than not, the saintly language of politics has been ignored in twentieth century South Asia, which has been the theatre of some of the worst form of political violence and wars in the world. Mahatma Gandhi himself became the first political leader to be assassinated after independence, leading off a long line of victims from every South Asian country. Benazir Bhutto was the latest politician to join that tragic list.

Military Exuberance

As I wrote earlier in these columns, the LTTE is totally illiterate in this language, but the question is whether the State of Sri Lanka should pretend equal illiteracy or demonstrate at least a “reasonable use” of this language. No one is asking the State to preach non-violence to the LTTE, not to defend itself against LTTE attacks, or not to take pre-emptive strikes the LTTE. But is it the right approach for the State to mirror-image the LTTE and allow itself to be consumed by militarism to the exclusion of its political responsibilities? The New Year (2008) will mark 60 years of Sri Lanka’s independent existence as a modern state, and after sixty years should not the State act with political maturity rather than act out of military exuberance.

The highly infectious military exuberance manifests itself in different ways among different people. For some, who have never carried a catapult, let alone a gun, military exuberance could be a form of voyeurism for violence. Others, like Bush and Blair, invoke the almighty in support of their exuberance.

President Rajapakse has publicly dismissed the idea of a political solution prior to or independent of a military victory, and asserted that only a victory in war will lead to a political solution and force the LTTE to accept it. He has once again avoided giving us the benefit of what he thinks that ‘political solution’ could be.

Two different answers to that question were provided last week by two different sources, both reflecting the conflicting pressures under which President Rajapakse willingly labours. According to one, defeating the LTTE and destroying its leadership and military assets is a ‘must do’ for Sri Lanka in 2008. A cut-down-to-size and democratically converted LTTE could then join the political process, but within the framework of a reactivated post-demerger Thirteenth Amendment. The second answer rejects that there is even a Tamil problem in Sri Lanka except the terrorist problem of the LTTE, and that the first order of business is to eliminate the LTTE and then there is no harm in devolving power administratively at the Provincial level within the unitary constitution for the sake of economic development.

The debate over a political solution will turn out to be no more than an academic exercise in the aftermath of a comprehensive military victory for the government. What will be the compulsion for President Rajapakse after crowning himself with such a victory to implement any version of the Thirteenth Amendment? What will prevent him from going back to his earlier offer and lower the unit of devolution from the provincial to the district level? Why not just stipulate ‘zero’ devolution and ignore all the other changes in regard to language rights provided by the Thirteenth Amendment in theory but left unimplemented in practice?

Lest I be accused of being rather ungenerous to the President, the good reader should note that some of us-Burghers, Muslims, Tamils and Sinhalese, females as well as males-have been asking of the President for some time to tell us what he would consider to be a fair and just political solution, and what, in his opinion, is achievable now and what could come later. In the APRC that he himself created, he has a ready made forum to externalize his views. It is the President’s deafening silence that leads us to speculate seemingly ungenerously.

It would be disingenuous to argue in the same breath that the LTTE is not the sole representative of the Tamils and that no political solution can be proposed until the LTTE comes to the table. If nothing else, the memories of Neelan Tiruchelvam, Lakshman Kadirgamar and Kethish Loganathan deserve a more forthright response from the President than the stonewalling that we have seen so far. Glorifying Kadirgamar’s foreign policy initiatives and jettisoning the political solution that the man obviously stood for is an inexcusable insult to his memory.

Majority Argument

The President was not at all, as we recall, hedging or taciturn in declaring his commitment to uphold the unitary constitution because he owed it to those who voted for him to do so. The same logic appears to underlie the current military exuberance-84% of Sri Lanka’s 75% homogeneous majority supports the President’s war effort and therefore it would be undemocratic to question the northern march of the government’s forces. If this polling logic is going to be the basis for decisions about war, then why bother to prattle about language rights and made-in-Sri Lanka devolution.

Qadri Ismail, in his recent path-breaking book on Sri Lankan politics, vigorously questions the role of numbers in democratic political decisions and the unequal consequences for those who are in a majority and those who are not. I have disagreed elsewhere with his argument that this anomaly is inherent to the principles of representative democracy, but there is no question that these principles have been repeatedly violated in Sri Lanka for forty of our sixty years of independence. The Thirteenth Amendment, in 1988, represented a partial attempt at reversing some of these violations. The Kumaratunga presidency coincided with the introduction to our own political discussions some aspects of the current thinking on the functioning of democracy, particularly in regard to giving political saliency in the structures of the State to those who are marginalized or fewer in numbers. With the 84%/75% assertion, in support of the war effort, we are back to where we started sixty, if not seventy seven years ago. Hector Abhyavardhana used to call this approach the Prussian version of democracy and national consolidation.

The homogenous-majority assertion specifically targets the Western countries, reminding them that Sri Lanka is no synthetic Yugoslavia but a state formation of some antiquity and continuity (whatever they might mean), and reminding the government that it should not yield to Western pressures and slow down the war effort. Ironically, the West is the favourite scapegoat not only for the cheerleaders of the war effort but also for the leadership of the LTTE, which too has been whining for sometime about the West’s indifference to the government’s aerial attacks in the North and East. The LTTE’s protests would have carried some credibility if it had earlier paid even a token attention to the repeated admonitions from international organizations about the LTTE’s record on human rights. The advocates of the government’s war effort are now insisting that the government show the same indifference to human rights complaints by outside agencies as the LTTE has been doing all along.

Pitfalls of victory

The main practical problem with a politically uninformed military victory is about what comes after the victory. The aftermath of the defeat of the JVP has no relevance to the LTTE and the Tamil situation. The JVP arose as an aberration and for all the destructions it caused it did not make any major dents on the structures and institutions of the State and the Sinhalese society. The defeat of the JVP and the readjustments thereafter were therefore manageable and normalcy was restored rather quickly.

The LTTE and the government’s ‘wars’ against it, on the other hand, have destroyed much of the institutions of the State especially in the North and devoured the Tamil social structures beyond recognition and repair. Tamil people have evacuated en masse, and the physical habitats of the remainder have been ravaged by war and displaced, for the most part, by military and LTTE garrisons. In the face of overwhelming government offensive and without a negotiated settlement, the LTTE forces are more than likely to melt away into the surrounding communities carrying whatever weapons they can with them. The LTTE may be destroyed as a formal fighting force, but only to be replaced by dispersed pockets of resistance, anarchy or lawlessness.

The glaring but still unaddressed absence of Tamils and Muslims in sufficient numbers in the armed forces will finally catch up after a military victory, when the government embarks on restoring law and order and normal life in the North and East. The Eastern Province is already proving a handful, and if the North also has to be managed post-victory, the government’s resources will be spread miles wide and inch deep. Quite apart from the expenses involved, there will be little progress to show on the ground.

The situation may not be as bad as in Iraq or what was in East Timor, but will point in the same direction. It is unlikely to be as contained and as positively evolving as in Northern Ireland now or in Punjab earlier. The experience over the last two decades has shown that deteriorating situations in the North and East cannot be confined to those areas, but that it will be only a matter of time before they spill over into Colombo and the rest of the country.

The alternative path of offering a just and fair political solution and combining it with military firmness will be the more difficult path for the government to take than that of pursuing a military victory. But that will be the path of a State that has attained maturity after sixty years and of a leadership that is genuinely sincere and not cunning in regard to offering and implementing a political solution. There is no denying that the government can move only so much and for it to be effective the LTTE too should reciprocate. It is here that the government, demonstrating political flexibility and military firmness in equal measures, could turn to the international community to bring relentless pressure on the LTTE and force the organization to slowly embark on the path that the IRA in Northern Ireland and the Sikhs in Punjab took in their respective situations.

Such a course of action, combining political flexibility and military firmness, is not beyond the realm of possibility even for the Rajapakse regime. Should President Rajapakse take this course, he is sure to get the support of more than 85% out of all Sri Lankans, not just 75% of them. All of this could happen in 2008, but won’t.

Comments (9)

The call to compassionate inclusivity

A Christmas Message from the Rt Revd Duleep de Chickera, Bishop of Colombo

Christmas, the festival that celebrates the birth of Christ has been largely misunderstood over the years. Today it mostly suggests festivity and self-indulgence with some peripheral sharing and giving. This popular emphasis does little to change people and relationships for the better, and is limited to a few days known as the “season”

The essence of the Christmas story is that God becomes a human and reconciles estranged humans, to demonstrate the value of humanity and call humans to live in reconciled, just, and integrated community. This is the Biblical understanding of peace.

Consequently Christmas calls for a radical shift in our world-view if we too want peace. Because God became human and lives amongst humans, humans are to see the face of God in “the other” and strive towards a truly human community. In a nutshell, Christmas is the call to compassionate inclusivity.

Through this Christmas message, God in Christ proclaims good news for Sri Lanka. We are called to establish a reconciled, just and integrated society in which no one is violated or excluded. We are reminded that the socially excluded and economically exploited, the traditional and historical enemy, and the feared and hated oppressor can come together in a redefined freedom. We are taught that for this to happen grievances are to be addressed and healed and hostile relationships restored through repentance and forgiveness.

In practice this would require peace negotiations between the GoSL and the LTTE, the strengthening of trust between Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim, the recognition and affirmation of the forgotten, smaller, ethnic communities in our midst, and reconciliation between victim and oppressor, exploited and exploiter.

I urge our leaders and people to take note of the Christmas message and to be transformed and transform our beloved Sri Lanka into a land of peace where violence, corruption, discrimination and fear will be a thing of the past.

On behalf of our Church I wish all our people, specially the poor, the frightened, the harassed and the displaced of all communities, a new dignity and a new freedom this Christmas. May the New Year bring us all sustainable integration and fulfilment.

With Peace and Blessings.

The Rt Revd Duleep de Chickera
Bishop of Colombo

Comments off

Perspectives on Politics and Prabhakaran in Sri Lanka

‘HASTENING SLOWLY’ : Perspectives on Politics and Prabhakaran in Sri Lanka:

by Col R Hariharan (Retd.)

The recent success of President Rajapaksa in cruising his budget proposals with a combination of carrot, stick, muscle power, rhetoric and backroom deals (ultimately they always come to light in Sri Lanka) through a divided house has underlined his strategy of ‘hastening slowly.’ This phrase, an oxymoron (a rhetorical figure of speech in which contradictory terms are used together), aptly describes not only the budget process but also the happenings in Sri Lanka, whether it is the Security Forces operations, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam’s leader Prabhakaran’s Heroes’ Day response, the elusive an all party formulation for devolution, or the government’s handling international outcry on human rights violations in the country.

All the issues in Sri Lanka appear to travel at their own pace with a Karmic lack of urgency. Undoubtedly, the country is paying a high price for not considering time as an irreplaceable resource in nation building.

Budget success and its aftermath

The marathon budget debate and the crucial voting pattern had many interesting and some disturbing sidelights. The last minute decision of the Jathiya Vimukthi Peramuna’s (JVP) to absent themselves at the time of voting on the budget after all their sabre rattling against the President’s ‘corrupt regime’ showed their true colours. Leftists the world over have refined the art of double speak (our own Communist Party Marxist is a past master in this). So in a way the JVP’s action showing up their true Marxist credentials in this respect was not surprising. Their action to bail out President Rajapaksa showed that the President’s war agenda had the full approval of the JVP. Moreover, with the threat of a possible general election if the government was voted out must have made the JVP nervous. Already the President had been successful not only in retrieving the SLFP flock that had been migrating to the JVP but in closing the Sinhala ranks behind him. So clearly the JVP like other political parties did not want to be caught on the back foot in facing an election right now.

Perhaps the President had either uncannily assessed the JVP correctly, or had worked out an arrangement of sorts with the JVP well before the budget session. This is evident from the confidence many members of the ruling alliance showed. Moreover, this was underlined in the casual disdain with which the ruling alliance treated the ill-timed cross over of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) led by veteran politician Rauf Hakeem to the opposition benches. Even there, the ruling party appear to have done its homework as it managed to split the SLMC votes.

The SLMC is no stranger to splits which had been plaguing it regularly. Hakeem’s dispensation as the leader of party had never been unanimously accepted by all ranks of the SLMC after its dynamic leader and adroit politician Mohammad Hussein Muhammad Ashraff was done to death in 2000. The split in the SLMC thus comes as no surprise. It showed that after all these years in politics, the Muslim politicians have not regained the unity that Ashraff had forged and continued to wallow in a narrow agenda of their own gains.

Retributions in handling political dissent appear to have become the order of the day. More disturbing was the absence of strong reaction from political parties on what happened to those who oppose the rulers in Colombo. Three opposition Tamil National Alliance (TNA) members were absent on the day of budget voting. Their relatives in the east were earlier reported to have been kidnapped by the members of Pillaiyan group of the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Padai (TMVP) apparently to prevent them from participating in the voting. The innocent victims were released immediately after the parliament voted on the budget. Surprisingly the political parties’ reaction to the kidnapping and arm twisting of the TNA members did not go beyond making speeches. They appear to have accepted the nefarious act as part of the occupational risk of posing a threat to the ruling powers.

The ham handed treatment of Hakeem in withdrawing his security detail immediately after he joined the opposition ranks and the subsequent ‘visit’ of the Inland Revenue Department to an ice cream parlour run by his wife show the depth to which political antipathy has descended in Sri Lanka. Another vocal critic and parliament member Mano Ganesan is in the same boat losing his security detail. Unfortunately, Sri Lankan politics appear to be copying some of the less creditable methods practised by some of the notorious political parties of India.

Even without a budget voting crisis, the Rajapaksa government had gained an unsavoury reputation for arm twisting during the last two years. After the infamous episode of Teren Alles, the latest victim of ‘coercive persuasion’ is a non-political person. The Sri Lanka government is withdrawing the work permit of Peter Hill, the British chief of the Sri Lankan, the flag carrier airline of the country, ostensibly for not taking care of ‘majority shareholders interest.’ But it appears to be too much of a coincidence that this had come about after the airline could not download 35 passengers to accommodate the Presidential entourage flying to the UK on a private visit recently.

Prabhakaran’s Heroes’ Day speech and after

An undercurrent of Velupillai Prabhakaran’s Heroes’ Day address of November 2007 is his slow realisation that the world outside Vanni has changed enormously from the sunny days of February 2002. With increasing curbs on help from Tamil expatriates reaching the LTTE from overseas, Prabhakaran has suddenly discovered their value to his struggle. With the LTTE’s cavalier treatment meted out to some of its long term expatriate supporters and the arrest of key LTTE operatives in countries like France and the UK, his discovery of their contribution has not come a day sooner.

But certain hardy perennials like India bashing for the LTTE’s sins and maladies of Sri Lanka Tamils have continued to figure in the Heroes Day address. This year was no exception. But this year he took to task the international community also for their “partisan and unjust conduct.” Even in 1987 India’s interest in Sri Lanka and in taking up the cause of Tamils went beyond the assertion of power in its neighbourhood. By oversimplifying it as hegemonic, Prabhakaran had been making it difficult for the Tamil constituency in India to push India to regain its enthusiasm for the subject. Now with closer India-Sri Lanka ties and the indelibly etched public memory of LTTE bomber doing its former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to death, Prabhakaran’s job at impressing Indian public has become even more difficult. It is high time Prabhakaran realised that the LTTE strategies have ceased to impress not only the Indians, but also the international audience. Without changing his script it is not clear how he expected the people and government of India to bend over backward to accommodate and support his brand of “solution” for Eelam Tamils. His intransigent attitude to international concerns has made it difficult for even international NGOs to do so. The same applies to the international community.

This years Heroes’ Day speech probably had more inputs from Prabhakaran than earlier years when the late Anton Balasingham used to draft them. Considering this, the speech brings out the tragic reality that everyone had suspected-Prabhakaran remained as recalcitrant as ever. Unfortunately, this attitude is ingrained in most of the other leaders of the LTTE.

In 2005 Anton Balasingham’s comments on Heroes Day speech showed how the LTTE always looked at the world through a prism of conspiracies. “Talking is difficult than fighting. We can directly fight and destroy the enemy and achieve victories. We have done that. But talking is a different type of struggle. There will be mines. There will be entangled network of conspiracies. There will be conspiracies to trap the Tigers to take a different direction from their goal. It is now crystal clear that the Sinhala leaders will never put forward a just resolution to the Tamil national question. The uncompromising stance of Sinhala chauvinism has left us with no other option but an independent state for the people of Tamil Eelam,” he said, referring to the Sinhala majority that dominate the government and the military.

As long as the LTTE continued in this vein, with military victories becoming costlier to earn, the march to death and doomsday would continue. And the LTTE’s continued refusal to adapt its approach to a dynamic regional and global situation has only strengthened the military lobbies of Sri Lanka but also had made a mockery of all those who strive for peace in Sri Lanka. In a way it only vindicates what President Rajapaksa has been doing with his war-in-peace strategy. And the woes of the Tamil population caught between the war of the Tigers and the elephant continues.

(Col. R Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia, served as the head of intelligence of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka 1987-90.He is associated with the Chennai Centre for China Studies.)

Comments (9)

Why Indian Policy Towards Sri Lankan Tamils Changed

Great Heroes Day Speech 2007: Rhetoric and Reality-2:

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

True to form, LTTE leader Velupillai Prabakharan is harshly critical of the Indian role in Sri Lankan Tamil affairs. He is however extremely economical with the truth while criticising India. Apart from being unwilling or unable to understand India’s compulsions , the tiger supremo also omits the negative contribution of the LTTE towards this sad state of affairs.

[LTTE Leader commemorating war heroes at an undisclosed location in Vanni on November 25, 2007-Photo: TamilNet]

As stated before in the previous instalment of this article, there is no denying that Indian involvement in Sri Lanka was motivated by its own enlightened self-interest. Though the nature of its role in Sri Lanka has changed over the years the elementary compulsion of enlightened self – interest remains still.

Indian policy towards Sri Lanka then was based on the twin principles of safeguarding the unity and integrity of Sri Lanka on the one hand and ensuring the rights of the Tamils on the other. Nowadays it still emphasises the unity and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. There is however a sharp change in the other. India is for a just solution acceptable to all sections of the people and not merely the Tamils.

Why is there a change? Firtly India through greater experience of Sri Lankan realities has concluded that imposing a Tamil – friendly solution on the rest of the country is not feasible. Apart from taking legitimate concerns of the Sinhala people into account New Delhi also realises that an important ethnicity like the Muslims has to be taken note of also.

Muslims in India do not perceive themselves as being different to Hindus and Christians of their fellow linguistic group. Thus Muslims in Tamil Nadu see themselves as “Islamiyathamilar” or Tamil Muslims. This is the case in Kerala, Karnataka or any other Indian linguistic state.

But in Sri Lanka due to historic reasons the Muslim self – perception is based on a religious identity. Though the majority of Muslims speak Tamil and substantial numbers are living in the North – East they do not see themselves as “Tamil Muslims” like their counterparts in India. Instead they see themselves as a distinct ethno – religious group that has both a convergence and divergence of interests with the Tamils.

Indian policy makers were not fully aware of ramifications regarding the Muslim “identity” in Sri Lanka during the eighties. Hence their policy then focussed on Tamils pre- dominantly. But now India knows that the Muslim question has to be treated separately and equitably. There can be no viable solution without them. India also does not want the most docile Islamic group in South Asia to be radicalised unnecessarily.

More importantly Indian economic policies have also changed. In the eighties India had not liberalised its economy, but from 1993 it has. New Delhi has broadened its horizons vis a vis Sri Lanka. It seeks greater co-operation and co-ordination with Sri Lanka on a number of matters.

For this an all embracing policy towards the Island is required. No longer can it view Sri Lanka through the Tamil prism alone. India is expanding its economic role in Sri Lanka to a great extent. It does not want to be tied down to Tamil concerns alone.India wants an all encompassing greater role in the Island.

Prabakharan tries to depict this as an Indian “fault” alone. His sycophants will project this as proof of his prophetic vision.The truth however is not so simple.

One reason for the revised Indian policy is the conduct of the LTTE and related consequences. India underestimated the LTTE considerably and also badly misjudged its motives.

Militarily India understimated the LTTE and thought a “swift, surgical strike “would be enought to marginalise it. That was not so. But where India misjudged the LTTE was in assuming that the organization would always act in the best interests of the Tamil people. There it erred and erred badly.

The LTTE may claim to fight and sacrifice for the Tamil cause. The misguided souls who die for their leader may think they are serving the Tamil cause. But the LTTE is sectarian and the hierarchy grossly selfish.

The interests of the LTTE come before the Tamil people. The interests of LTTE cadres are secondary to those of the leadership. The interests of the leaders are secondary to those of the supreme leader Prabalharan.

This is why Prabakharan was able to make a tactical peace with Premadasa and co-operate with him to negate all gains made through the Indo – Lanka accord. Instead of making or helping the N – E provincial council work the LTTE sabotaged it and finally made it defunct.

The LTTE was very keen on getting the Indian army out of North – East Sri Lanka. Again this was primarily due to its own interests. Prabakharan was prepared to collaborate with the traditional enemy to get rid of what he perceived as the greater enemy.

[A. Amirthalingam]

Many people including this columnist thought then that this tactic was a masterstroke of Prabakharan’s genius. Experienced leaders like Appapillai Amirthalingam argued strongly against such a notion. This writer often recalls with sadness the bitter arguments he had with Amirthalingam on the issue.

Now with the wisdom of hindsight one realises that what Amirthalingam said was right and what Prabakharan did was wrong. The plight of the Tamil people today is pathetic and deplorable.

The LTTE and others of their ilk find fault with the earlier moderate leadership for failing to deliver through 30 years of non – violent struggle. True! But what has Prabakharan delivered through 30 years of armed struggle?

The previous political strategy of agitation cum negotiation did not succeed but the condition of the Tamil people was comparatively not bad either. Though Tamils had many grievances the bulk of the community lived in the Island with reasonable rights and self – sufficiency.

The armed struggle on the other hand has threatened the very existence of the Tamil people on the Island. 1. 2 million Tamils are abroad forming the global Tamil Diaspora. Of those living in Sri Lanka 54 % are living outside the North-East. Economy is in shambles, culture is eroded, education is affected, employment is restricted. Social fabric is torn apart. Values are brutalised.

All this could have been avoided and Tamils could have lived with self-respect and dignity if the Indo-Lanka accord was implemented.

That sections of the Sinhala polity were opposed to the accord and wanted to undermine it are not disputed. But what deserves to be condemned is the LTTE role in undermining the accord in collaboration with Colombo.

Having done all this the LTTE leader now faults India and chides it for not helping the Tamils. Apart from distorting reality Prabalharan tries to portray New Delhi’s attitude as being anti-Tamil whereas it is anti – LTTE. India sympathises with the Tamil predicament but is unwilling and to some extent unable to do much due to the LTTE factor.

If India is perceived to be leaning more towards Colombo the cause of such consequential change is the LTTE itself. Prabakharan instead of confessing “Mea Culpa” strives to absolve himself and blames India instead.

If Prabakharan is really a political wizard as his followers say he would have understood the parameters of Indian policy towards Sri Lanka. He would also have assessed the underlying rationale of the entity that is India.

The creation of Pakistan was based on the theocratic ideal. Religion was the basis on which territorially non – contiguous Pakistan was created. The East was Bengali yet Islam was seen as the binding glue.

Despite partition on religious lines, “Nehruvian”India did not succumb to religious fundamentalism. India was secular and stood for secular ideals. Re-organizing states on a linguistic basis reduced intra – tensions considerably.

While secular India stood the test of time , Pakistan fragmented . Religion was not enought to override ethno – linguistic conflict. Naturally India had a vested interest in helping dismember Pakistan.

But this was not so as far as Sri Lanka was concerned. Here India wanted to unite and not divide. Again this was due to its own self – interest.

Creating a separate Eelam would have meant perpetual hostility between the Tamil and Sinhala states. India would have had to back the Tamil , Hindu majority state. But this would have led the Sinhala state to fall into the arms of powers hostile to India.

In the eighties India was paranoid about many things including Washington, Tel Aviv, Islamabad and Beijing. It was in India’s interests therefore to keep Sri Lanka intact and increase its influence.

But this was not all. After Independence a strong separatist movement had flourished in Tamil Nadu. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham (DMK) had abandoned the demand formally after secession was outlawed by the Central government in the aftermath of the Indo – Chinese war. But the party had resolved before that development to disavow separatism

This was mainly due to linguistic re-organization of states. The DMK with its anti-brahmin, populist platform saw an opportunity of capturing state power. When the DMK gave up separatism its founder -leader Annadurai stated “We are giving up our demand but not the reasons that led to such a demand”.

The DMK rode to power in 1967. One of the first things it did was to change the state’s name from Madras to Tamil Nadu or Land of Tamils. Annadurai died in 1969 and was succeeded by Muttuvel Karunanidhi. The DMK split in 1972 and cine idol MG Ramachandran formed the Anna-DMK. MGR became chief minister in 1977. After his death his film-actress paramour Jayalalitha Jayaram took over .

It is a feature of Tamil Nadu that either the DMK or ADMK has been ruling the state since 1967. More importantly the Dravidian parties have often joined central government coalitions and shared power in New Delhi. Today there are 12 central government ministers from Tamil Nadu. They are from the DMK, PMK and Congress.

There was a time when the DMK sloganeered “Vadakku Vaalhirathu :Thetku Theigirathu” (TheNorth is flourishing, the South is decaying). Today the Southern states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh are prospering. Chennai, Bengalooru, Hydrebad and Thiruvananthapuram are centres of power.

Thus the Tamil Nadu of today is well integrated into the Indian fabric. Separatism is a thing of the past. But prudential policy makers in India know that nothing can be taken for granted. Given the emotive content of ethno-nationalism secessionist tendencies may emerge if grievances are not remedied.

So New Delhi is wary about demonstration effects of secessionism in the region. This is acutely felt in the case of Sri Lanka. A Tamil state in the Island could trigger off demonstration effects again. It could energize the separatist fringe elements in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere. At the same time New Delhi knows that the Tamil problem has to be solved in a united Lanka to manage possible tensions in Tamil Nadu.

In such a situation there can be no question of a separate state in Sri Lanka. The best that Tamils can hope for is a North-Eastern province with quasi – federal powers. The Indo-Lanka accord laid down the foundation for it. It was up to the Tamils to build on it with Indian support and solidarity.

But , tragically that chance was blown. If the LTTE had o-operated then and Colombo had been perpetually intransigient and unresponsive then a case for Eelam could have been made. Even then there could have been no sudden rupture. A Cyprus type of situation where a de-facto Eelam existing within a de – jure Sri Lanka and relying on India may have emerged. But this is an academic question now.

When the LTTE began fighting the Indian army the consequences were immense. In the first place the image of the Indian army was badly dented. This in turn de-moralised the forces. Also it provided encouragement to all groups and anti-systemic elements fighting the Indian state. The demonstration effect on Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Assam and other North-Eastern states was massive.

Worse still was the impact on Tamil soldiers of the Indian army as well as Tamil Nadu. When the Indian army was deployed a sizable number of soldiers were Tamil speaking personnel from the Madras regiment. They were of great use for public relations in the early period. But after war erupted many of them underwent schizophrenia in loyalty and became suspect. Many were recalled.

In Tamil Nadu pan – Tamil sentiments were revived. Fringe Tamil groups espousing separatism received a fillip. DMK leader Karunanidhi with an axe chopped a TV publicly to symbolise his opposition to “Dhoordharshan” TV that was allegedly engaging in anti-Tamil propaganda. Later as Chief Minister he refused to welcome returning IPKF soldiers in Chennai

Thus the fears of the Indian establishment about Tamil Nadu secessionism were revived. Despite fighting the Indian army the LTTE was not seen as an enemy in Tamil Nadu. The Chief minister maintained relations with the movement. But later this was used as an excuse to topple the DMK government in 1991.

Things may have taken a different turn but for the LTTE. In another act of political stupudity the arrogant Prabakharan overreached himself and ordered the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. This was done on May 21st 1991 in Sreeperumbhudoor in Tamil Nadu. Once it became known the LTTE was responsible Tamil Nadu in particular and India in general were horrified.

Karunanidhi was trounced and Jayalalitha came to power in Tamil Nadu. The Congress formed a government in New Delhi. There was a massive crack down against the LTTE in Tamil Nsdu. The movement was banned in 1992. Many Sri Lankan Tamils suffered as a result in India.

More importantly the mood in Tamil Nadu changed. Killing Rajiv in Tamil Nadu was a violation of the “virunthombal” hospitality tradition in Tamil culture. Tamil sentiments turned against the LTTE and by extension the Tamil cause. Even now there is tremendous sympathy for the Tamil plight. But this will not translate into active support or pressure.

Persons like Nedumaran, Vaiko, Veeramani, Subha. Veerapandian, Thirumavalavan, Ramadoss etc will manifest support in differing degrees but there is no mass support. The main parties like DMK, ADMK and Congress will not lend meaningful support though Karunanidhi will indulge in theatrical gestures sporadically. The Tamil Nadu Congress is firmly opposed to the LTTE.

With the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty continuing to play a prominent role in Indian politics there is absolutely no chance of any dispensation in New Delhi showing flexibility towards the LTTE. Even six years of BJP rule could not alter the status quo. Moreover the LTTE supporters queer the pitch further by anti – brahmin and anti-indian rhetoric. Boasting about chasing the 4th largest army is not helpful in wooing New Delhi.

Indian policy makers see the past as an act of betrayal by the LTTE. The IPKF-LTTE war and subsequent hostility towards India by pro-tiger elements among Sri Lankan Tamils has taught India a bitter lesson.

New Delhi knows that notwithstanding all assertions of loyalty towards India the Tamils dominated by the LTTE cannot be taken for granted. As long as the tigers remain the self-imposed sole representatives of the Tamils , policy makers in New Delhi will not intervene actively.

Adopting a pro- active Tamil friendly attitude is not desirable from an Indian perspective as long as the tigers rule the Tamil roost. The LTTE is likely to exploit any leniency and capitalise on it. Empowering the LTTE is anathema so Tamils at large continue to suffer.

The challenge before India is to explore ways and means of resolving the Sri Lankan ethnic crisis without helping the LTTE in any way. At present New Delhi assists Colombo militarily to combat the LTTE while applying covert pressure on Colombo to devise a political solution.

India also feels it can exert control over Colombo more easily than over the LTTE. JR Jayewardena bowed to India at a critical juncture. Premadasa resisted but after his demise Kumaratunga and later Wickremasinghe accepted Indian supremacy. Mahinda Rajapakse shows signs of defiance but goes through the motions of paying obeisance to New Delhi.

In the case of the LTTE it has been consistent defiance. Democratic regime change alllows for change and flexibility in Colombo. Continuous dictatorship causes sterile rigidity in Kilinochchi. In the case of Rajiv Gandhi a lowly naval rating struck a blow but the LTTE hierarchy got him assassinated.

The situation is confounded further by the Rajiv murder. The LTTE leader and Pottu Amman are proclaimed offenders. New Delhi wants them deported to stand trial. This prohibits any official contact between New Delhi and Kilinochchi as long as the Praba – Pottu duo runs the LTTE.

Under these circumstances Prabakharan is right when complaining about Indian attitudes towards Sri Lanka. But he is drastically wrong in attributing reasons for it. The tigers by acts of omission and commission are largely responsible for this state of affairs. India is not anti – Tamil but anti – tiger.

If the situation is to be transformed the key factor will be Tamil Nadu.Presently there is little for the LTTE to hope for as tensions are being adroitly managed. Currently New Delhi is actively helping Colombo to combat the tigers but there is hardly a protest other than the Vaiko. Nedumaran chorus.

On one level Prabakharan is being stupidly arrogant in expecting India to change and accommodate the LTTE. This is virtually impossible and to demand such accommodation is an exercise in futility.

But on another level he is not stupid but arrogantly correct in assessing the stupidity of his followers. Prabakharan knows that he is persona non grata with India. There is no chance of rapprochement as long as he is there.

If he is a leader who puts his movement and people above himself Prabakharan would either quit or surrender to India. Another option is to go in for a genuine settlement.

This he will not, because Prabakharan knows he is finished if he does so. So he indulges in rhetoric to obscure reality and impress upon his followers that war has been thrust upon them. He knows they are suckers.

Arguably the war waged by the LTTE is not to protect the Tamil people but to perpetuate Prabakharan’s hegemonic hold over the LTTE and the Tamil people.

This then is the situation which the LTTE has created and perpetuates..Yet Prabakharan in his speech is neither remorseful or repentant. Instead he chastises others.

Apart from blaming India the LTTE leader takes on the International community too. This may appear to be the rhetoric of an irrational mind but there is method in his “madness” too. [to be continued]

[EDITORS NOTE: The first instalment of this article was posted on Dec 8th. The third instalment will be posted next week]

Related:Great Heroes Day Speech: Rhetoric and reality-I

Comments (65)

President Rajapaksa agrees to make ‘province’ unit of devolution in Sri Lanka

By P.K. Balachandran

In a significant move that could help bridge the ethnic divide in Sri Lanka and lead to a lasting political settlement of the Tamil question, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has agreed to make the “province” the unit of devolution instead of the “district”, as proposed by his own Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) earlier.

“The President has agreed to make the province the unit of devolution,” moderate Tamil leader and government minister K.N.Douglas Devananda told foreign correspondents in an interaction here Thursday night.

The ruling SLFP’s proposal to make the “district” the unit of devolution instead of the “province” had dismayed the Tamils, including the most moderate, because the community had been struggling for the past 60 years for a federal constitution in which a Tamil speaking northeastern province would enjoy a reasonable degree of autonomy.

“A new devolution package which will be an improvement on the existing 13th constitutional amendment will be presented in two or three months’ time,” Devananda, who heads the Eelam Peoples’ Democratic Party (EPDP), said.

“The proposal will be officially made before the arrival of the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Sri Lanka for the 60th.anniversary of the country’s independence in February next year,” he assured.

Singh has been invited to be the chief guest at the gala function planned for Feb 4, but the invitation is yet to be accepted.

Devananda said that he had convinced President Rajapaksa that a permanent political solution was a long way off, and that it would be better to build on the existing structure, step by step, rather than grope in the dark for an elusive, radically new constitution.

“Any drastically new constitution will not get the required two thirds majority in parliament,” he had told the president.

The 13th amendment, which was enacted following the India-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987, had created provincial councils with a modicum of autonomy. But it left the Tamils dissatisfied as the provisions were either inadequate or not implemented.

Since then, moderate Tamils have been demanding what is called “13th amendment plus” as their minimum requirement.

But Rajapaksa’s SLFP went back even on this, and proposed district-level devolution and panchayati raj, instead of provincial autonomy, in an apparent bid to stem the consolidation of the Tamils in the island’s northeast.

Devananda said that all that needed to be done now was to enhance the powers devolved to the provinces under the provincial councils act, in stages.

“The opposition United National Party (UNP) should have no problem accepting It was a UNP government which enacted the 13th amendment, in the first place. I have spoken to the senior leaders of the SLFP and they too are amenable. Even the ultra-nationalistic Jathika Hela Urumaya and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, which opposed the provincial councils, are now for the continuation of the system.”

“The All Party Representative Committee (APRC) under Prof.Tissa Vitharana is in fact working out a devolution package which will be 13th amendment plus,” Devananda pointed out.

He proposed a two-pronged approach to solve the Tamil problem.

“On the one hand, the war against the Tigers (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) should continue, because they are terrorists. But simultaneously, the political demands of the Tamil people must be met. The LTTE and the Tamil people must not be clubbed together,” Devananda said.

“I will not support a war without a simultaneous move towards a political settlement,” he clarified.

“The government should immediately set up an Interim Administration in the northeast for a six months to a one year period. This administration must be political because only a political administration will be able to feel the pulse of the people and bring back normalcy after all these years of war. I want to be the head of such an administration,” he said.

He had proposed the setting up of an Interim Administration under his leadership to Presidents Chandrika Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapaksa, but both had wanted to talk to the LTTE and settle the matter with it, disregarding his warning that the LTTE would not negotiate in good faith.

“All that Prabhakaran (the LTTE chief) wants is a piece of land for him to rule dictatorially. He is not a Nelson Mandela or Yasser Arafat. He is more like Pol Pot and Hitler.” Devananda, who had survived a staggering 12 attempts on his life, said.

“Prabhakaran has to be killed if there is to be a political settlement of the Tamil question,” he stressed.

“But if Prabhakaran comes to the negotiating table genuinely, I will withdraw from politics. But the reality is, he won’t come and I won’t go!” he quipped.


Comments (11)

Explaining Prabakaran’s persistent defiance

by V. Suryanarayan

Was the LTTE supremo’s latest Heroes Day speech an illustration of characteristic defiance or an expression of a significantly weakened situation on the ground and increasing international isolation? Can there be a political way out of the vicious cycle?

Thousands of Tamil guerrillas were “standing ready to fight” and “we will overcome the hurdles before us” and “liberate our motherland,” thundered Velupillai Prabakaran, concluding his Heroes Day speech on November 27, 2007. A few minutes before the LTTE supremo began his speech, the Sri Lankan Air Force demolished the building that housed the Voice of the Tigers. Three weeks earlier, in a similar operation, Tamil Selvam, the leader of t he political wing of the Tigers, was killed. What is more, the rest of the world was tightening its screws on the terrorist organisation, with Washington in the lead, banning the activities of Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation, one of the major fund-raisers of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Was Prabakaran’s speech an illustration of his characteristic defiance, intended to boost the sagging morale of the cadres and supporters? Was he hiding his despair and frustration behind the high-flowing rhetoric? Before dwelling on the text and the context, it is necessary to highlight certain important elements of his behavioural pattern over recent years.

The Heroes Day (Maveerar Nal) is celebrated with great pomp and show in the LTTE-controlled territory and also in countries where there is a substantial Sri Lankan Tamil presence. The lighting of the lamp by the supremo is to remember and commemorate the martyrs who have sacrificed their lives for the cause of Tamil Eelam. Sri Lanka watchers eagerly wait for this event, for the speech is an official prognosis of the immediate past and also contains indicators of future policy.

In his first Heroes Day speech (November 27 is also Prabakaran’s birthday) following the withdrawal of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), he made two important pronouncements: 1) Those who betray the cause of Tamil Eelam must be killed; and 2) if ever Prabakaran betrays the cause of Tamil Eelam, “you must kill him.”

For all his passionate commitment to the cause of Tamil Eelam, he was influenced by Anton Balasingham, his comrade-in-arms for several years. On a number of occasions, the LTTE’s Political Advisor persuaded Prabakaran to make a tactical retreat from the goal in order to win international sympathy. Here are two notable instances:

When Chandrika Kumaratunga was elected President, she was very keen on bringing about “ethnic reconciliation” and expressed her readiness to initiate discussions without preconditions. In his book, Politics of Duplicity-Revisiting the Jaffna Talks, Balasingham recalled that Prabakaran was “sceptical” of Chandrika’s gestures and felt they were only a gimmick to win the support of Tamils as well as Sinhalese. It was Balasingham who advised his leader that it would be “politically prudent” to initiate a dialogue with Chandrika to find out how “genuine” she was in resolving the ethnic conflict.

Balasingham also played a key role in the conclusion of the ceasefire agreements between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government. Subsequent peace talks led to the Oslo Declaration, where the Tigers committed themselves to “explore a federal solution within a united Sri Lanka.” Professor G.L. Pieris, the leader of the Sri Lankan delegation, is on record that Balasingham was specifically asked whether agreeing to explore a federal solution meant the Tigers had renounced the military option. Balasingham replied “no,” because that was their “fallback position.” He added: “Why do you want to dwell on that because we have every hope and expectation that the journey that we have embarked upon will take us to the destination that we desire.” He continued: “Why is it necessary for you to look at the worst side of things and be pessimistic?”

I have focussed on the “moderating influence” of Balasingham on Prabakaran, because, for many years, the Political Advisor drafted the Heroes Day speeches. The present team of speechwriters clearly lacks Balasingham’s political savvy and finesse. Not surprisingly, the speech delivered on November 27, 2007 was a litany of accusations and complaints against the rest of the world; the only innocent person was Prabakaran; and the only just goal was the independence of Tamil Eelam, which can be attained only through violent struggle.

The major thrust of Prabakaran’s speech was the charge that the international community was collaborating with Colombo in marginalising the LTTE. The “partisan and unjust conduct of the international community” has undermined the confidence the Tamil community has reposed in it. The steady erosion of the parity between the Tigers and the government; the slow but steady construction of an ‘international safety net’ by the Sri Lankan government; the exclusion of the LTTE from major international conferences organised by donor countries; and what is more, despite occasional protests against human rights violations by the government, their readiness to strengthen the government’s military capabilities-all these were frustrating experiences for the Tigers.

Prabakaran has turned a Nelson’s eye to an equally important reality. The killing of political opponents, the attacks on the civilian population, the forcible recruitment of children into the guerrilla army-these inhuman acts have created a sense of revulsion against the Tigers in several parts of the world.
Mischievous and misleading

From an Indian perspective, the LTTE supremo’s reference to the international community “making the same mistake that India made many years ago,” the charge that Indian intervention in Sri Lanka was part of its “regional expansion,” and the assertion that the provisions of the India-Sri Lanka Agreement of July 1987 did not even devolve powers as the “Banda-Chelva Pact” did are not just mischievous. They go against ground realities. There can be legitimate criticism of many aspects of India’s relations with Sri Lanka relating to the ethnic conflict. However, it must be acknowledged that the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution was the first significant step towards devolution of powers to the provinces. It was an attempt to have a new constitutional arrangement for sharing power between the majority and minority communities. What led to its failure were the sharp divisions within the Sri Lankan government, the opposition of the Janata Vimukti Peramuna (JVP), and the intransigence of Prabakaran. Absence of a Sinhala consensus and given the violent opposition of the Tigers, the 1987 accord became a source of discord in Sri Lanka.

Equally relevant is Prabakaran’s unwillingness to understand and, where possible, exploit the contradictions within Sinhala society to the advantage of the Tamils. He has referred to the “implacability” of Sinhala chauvinism, adding that the Sinhala state was not interested in finding a peaceful solution; its objective, on the other hand, was to “occupy the Tamil homeland, destroy its resources and enslave the Tamil nation.” The revolt within the LTTE and the use of the rebel faction by the Sri Lankan armed forces, coupled with the ascent of Mahinda Rajapaksa to power with the support of the JVP and the Sinhala Urumaya, has put the clock back as far as peace prospects are concerned. The Supreme Court-ordered de-merger of the north and the east; the closure of the A9 highway; the downgrading of the proposals made by the Tissa Witarana Committee; and increasing emphasis on a political solution within a unitary state are clear indicators that the chasm dividing the Sinhalese and the Tamils has widened. Tamils living in Colombo and adjoining areas were subjected to untold humiliation when many of them were recently detained for interrogation. If the military pressure on the LTTE is not accompanied by political reforms, the reservoir from which the Tigers recruit their cadres might expand in a significant way.

In its recent report, the University Teachers of Human Rights (UTHR) has highlighted the irreconcilable positions of the two contending parties. The LTTE would continue to argue the futility of a political settlement with Sinhalese governments that were incapable of honouring commitments made earlier. On the other hand, those who advocate a military solution would point to the intransigence of Prabakaran and rationalise the loss of human lives as the inevitable consequences of a war imposed by a secessionist and terrorist organisation on the state.

In Sri Lanka today (as W.B. Yeats memorably said in The Second Coming), “the best lack all convictions, while the worst/are full of passionate intensity.” While the Tigers, maddened with arrogance, have set themselves on the path of destruction, the government seems determined to follow the military option, which, even if successful, can lead only to the peace of the graveyard. The question is whether anyone can display the courage, vision, and strategic and tactical skills to navigate a just and sustainable political way out of this vicious cycle. [Courtesy: The Hindu]

(Dr. V. Suryanarayan is a leading scholar on the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict. He retired as Senior Professor and Director of the Centre for South and Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Madras.)

Comments off

« Previous entries Next Page » Next Page »