Sri Lankan Tamils and Tamil Eelam - I
by Thamizhchelvan on 14 Sep 2013 5 Comments

Present scenario: It is more than four years since the LTTE was crushed, and it is sad and unfortunate that the Sri Lankan Tamils are yet to see a lasting solution to their continuing problems. President Rajapakse has not lived up to the commitments he made during his victory speech; Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) and the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) which control the Sri Lankan Diaspora are trying to revive Tamil militancy; the UPA government is inadequate and has no idea how to go about the issue; Tamil Nadu political parties including the ruling party are not interested in anything constructive but are continuing their political dramas; the separatist outfits keep harping on a separate Tamil Eelam.


The United States is moving against Sri Lanka through the UNHRC, not in the interests of the Island Tamils but as a check against China’s growing influence in Sri Lanka and to facilitate the Church’s agenda for a secessionist Tamil state. 


This scenario serves as another great opportunity for the Generic Church to play its divisive game to achieve its long time agenda of creating a Tamil Christian Nation. In the absence of the LTTE, the Generic Church has unleashed all its forces such as human rights organizations, NGOs, Tamil separatist outfits, Dravidian parties, writers and columnists to achieve its objective.


Human rights organizations focus on the ‘war crimes’ and ‘human rights abuses’ allegedly perpetrated by the SL Army; the NGOs work over time in evangelical activities and convert the vulnerable war torn people in the guise of service; Dravidian parties (ruling and opposition) and separatist outfits keep the Eelam agenda alive in Tamil Nadu besides exerting pressure on the UPA government at the center; writers and columnists use the media, print as well as web, to build mass opinion in favour of a separate Tamil Eelam. 


While Tamil Nadu and the SL Diaspora are attempting to give life to the Eelam cause, the Sri Lankan government and Buddhist clergy are trying to Sinhala-ise the Island. As a result, the poor hapless Tamils in the island nation are bearing the brunt of Sinhala chauvinism. After suffering for more than three decades and losing everything, they have developed hatred for war and the separate Eelam demand, and yearn for a peaceful life in their own land. They desire only a political solution without affecting the sovereignty of a united Sri Lanka. Any sensible government would ensure this and take the war-torn country on the path of progress. Rajapaksa’s government has miserably failed, but the responsibility must be shared by the Indian government and the State of Tamil Nadu.


Sri Lanka’s missed opportunity


There cannot be two opinions on Rajapaksa’s decisive action against LTTE; it deserved to be decimated. But regarding the rehabilitation of the Tamils, his government should have gone on a war footing for rehabilitation and ensured a peaceful livelihood for the Tamils. He had a great opportunity to implement the 13th amendment, which could have thwarted the attempts of the US and UNHRC to act against SL. He could have earned the respect and admiration of the Tamil community and ensured a united Sri Lanka in the real sense, after almost six decades. Had he attempted to implement the 13th amendment immediately after winning the war against LTTE, he would not have faced opposition from the Sinhala people as they saw him as a hero then. But he wasted more than three years and gave more than enough time to Sinhala chauvinists and the Buddhist clergy who are now bent upon scuttling the implementation of the 13th amendment.  


On the contrary, his subsequent actions have dismayed the Tamils:

-        He bifurcated the NE province to make separate entities of North and East;

-        He banned singing the national anthem in Tamil;

-        He dragged his feet on the rehabilitation process;

-        He gave permission only to Christian organizations like Caritas to serve the internally displaced Tamils in the army controlled camps;

-        He ignored India and flirted with Pakistan and China;

-        Internally within the country, he earned the wrath of a section of the populace by insulting and harassing former Army Chief Sarath Fonseka who had made a major contribution to the nation during his tenure in the military;

-        He impeached the first woman Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Shirani Bandaranaike, for ruling against the government, particularly the two bills (Town and Country Planning Amendment Bill and Divi Neguma Bill) proposed by minister Basil Rajapaksa, the President’s brother;

-        He encouraged corruption and nepotism.


India’s missed opportunities


The Tamil civilian protests started only after the “Sinhala Only Act” was introduced by Prime Minister Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike in 1956. Repeated protests by Tamils and suppression by the regime slowly snowballed into civilian riots. The first major riots took place in May 1958 (“1958 Riots”).     


Although there were incidents of civilian riots intermittently between the 1950s and ‘60s, India never felt the need to interfere as successive SL governments exercised control over the prevailing situation. However, as the situation deteriorated and led to the formation of extremist militant groups and armed struggle in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi felt it appropriate to support and train the nascent Tamil militant groups - a huge blunder by the Government of India.


Indira Gandhi encouraged and trained Tamil militant organizations to gain the support of MG Ramachandran. This worsened the situation in both Sri Lanka and India, as it turned out to be a case of catching a tiger by its tail. Both MGR and Indira Gandhi passed away in the mid-1980s, but their blunder caused heavy damage to both nations in general and Sri Lankan Tamils in particular.


Rajiv Gandhi, who took up the mantle with the sole qualification of being the Prime Minister’s son, signed the Indo Sri Lankan Accord in July 1987 in an attempt to put an end to the armed conflict and control the migration of Tamil refugees into India. As mandated under the Accord and also on the request of Junius Richard Jayewardene, Rajiv Gandhi sent the Indian Peace Keeping Force to disarm all militant organizations and make them participate in the administration of the northeast. As the LTTE wanted to dominate the Interim Administrative Council, it refused to cooperate and this led to repeated skirmishes between the LTTE and the IPKF. The Tigers were actually not interested in peace and indulged in attacks on Sri Lankans and waged guerilla warfare against the IPKF.


At this juncture, it must be clarified that Rajiv Gandhi didn’t order the execution of Prabhakaran when he came to meet Maj-Gen Harkirat Singh in September 1987. At that time, the IPKF had no plans of fighting the LTTE. Reliable sources within the IPKF say that the decision to fight the LTTE was taken only after the insurgency escalated and 12 LTTE leaders captured by the SL Army took cyanide pills and died, and subsequently the Government of India announced a reward on Prabhakaran dead or alive.


It is reliably learnt that the para-commandos missed Prabhakaran by a whisker once when they raided his camp. The Government of India, acting in the national interest, ordered the Indian Army to get Prabhakaran, dead or alive. The LTTE led by Prabhakaran was liquidating leaders of other Sri Lankan Tamil political parties besides killing thousands of innocent civilians, both Tamil and Sinhala. It had eliminated hundreds of soldiers of the IPKF, and was recruiting Tamil children into the terrorist outfit to train into future LTTE terrorists. 


Meanwhile, Ranasinghe Premadasa, son of Richard Ranasinghe, became the third President of Sri Lanka; in India, Rajiv Gandhi lost the elections and VP Singh became Prime Minister. The LTTE had a tacit understanding with Premadasa and continued the fight against the IPKF. In 1989, Premadasa asked India to withdraw the IPKF and VP Singh obliged under pressure from Karunanidhi, the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. By March 1990, the IPKF completely withdrew from Sri Lanka and within three months the LTTE turned against Premadasa and assassinated him in May 1993. It previously eliminated Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991. Thus, the move of sending the IPKF proved disastrous with the loss of 1255 soldiers. It was a disaster because New Delhi did not have an end objective in sight when it sent in the IPKF and therefore had no well-defined exit plan or time frame for their exit.  


New Delhi should have resisted the pressure from both Colombo and Fort St. George and mandated the IPKF to crush the LTTE and should have withdrawn the IPKF from Sri Lanka only after compelling the Sri Lankan government to implement the 13th amendment. This would have checked the influence of China over Sri Lanka and brought a lasting solution to the civil war and asserted Indian supremacy in South Asia. But this did not happen.


Later, although the Jayalalithaa government in the state and the Narasimha Rao government at the center checked and controlled LTTE activities in the country to a large extent, the Indo Sri Lanka relationship could not see marked improvement as Eelam War III erupted in the island nation. Both Sri Lanka and India blundered by allowing western forces to play a role in the ethnic crisis in the name of mediation.


Only after the BJP-led government came to power did the SL Tamils issue receive some kind of attention. Ranil Wickremasinghe, second son of Esmond and Nalini Wickremasinghe and nephew of Lakshman Wickremasinghe, Bishop, Church of Sri Lanka, was Prime Minister. He cooperated well and the peace process brokered by Norway was supervised by the NDA government. In February 2002, Prabhakaran signed the cease fire agreement (CFA), as did Ranil Wickremasinghe. However, both prime ministers lost their respective elections, which caused a set back to the peace process.


The UPA government failed to rise to the occasion, and in Sri Lanka, Percy Mahinda Rajapaksa went on the offensive during the Eelam War IV and finally decimated the LTTE by May 2009, with maximum help from China and Pakistan. Even after the decimation of the LTTE, the UPA government was not proactive on the issue, and as it was mired in corruption and scams internally, it failed miserably in external affairs due to policy paralysis. This led to Sri Lanka moving closer to China and Pakistan, and India yielding to pressure from western countries to go along with them against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC. Any sensible government would have acted pro-actively, not only in the interests of the hapless Tamils of Sri Lanka but also in the national interest. The UPA gave scant regard to both.


Dravidian parties and their dramas


Ever since civil war broke out in Sri Lanka in the early 1980s, the Dravidian parties have been playing politics and have done absolutely nothing constructive in the interests of Sri Lankan Tamils. They have used the issue only to gain political benefits here in Tamil Nadu.


Though initiated by MG Ramachandran, Karunanidhi was the main culprit in taking up the separatist agenda of Tamil Eelam set by external forces. He allowed the LTTE to gain foothold in Tamil Nadu and to roam around freely with weapons. His party was even indicted by the Jain Commission for its role in Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. Even as the Vajpayee government was proceeding in the right direction, he and Vaiko’s MDMK and Dr Ramadoss’ PMK, ditched the NDA in 2003 for selfish reasons. Later, after joining the UPA, the DMK continued its dramas, totally ignoring the interests and aspirations of the SL Tamils.


On the other hand, the Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK shifted its stand on the ethnic issue and started supporting the agenda of “Separate Tamil Eelam”, calling the LTTE “fighters” instead of “terrorists”. After regaining power in 2011, she facilitated the passing of a resolution in the state assembly calling for amnesty for Rajiv Gandhi’s killers and for a “public referendum” on Tamil Eelam, knowing well that such resolutions passed in state assemblies have no use.


She allowed pro-Eelam parties like MDMK (Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam), PMK (Pattali Makkal Katchi), VCK (Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi), etc., to campaign in favour of revival of LTTE though it is officially banned in India. She gave a free hand to separatist outfits like Nedumaran’s Tamil Nationalist Movement (TNM), Sebastian Seeman’s Nam Thamizhar Katchi (NTK), Kolathur Mani’s Dravida Viduthalai Kazhagam (DVK), etc.


In May 2013, when NTK leader Seeman brought Kashmiri separatist leader Yasin Malik to Tamil Nadu to talk in favour of a separate Tamil Eelam, supporting the revival of an armed group like LTTE in a public meeting, Jayalalithaa remained a mute spectator and allowed him to get back to Kashmir. While soft pedaling the Church sponsored protests against the commissioning of Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant, she also allowed the PMANE (People’s Movement against Nuclear Energy) leader SP Udayakumar to launch the “Tamil Students Movement” backed by the Church, for separate Tamil Eelam, from the premises of Loyola College.


The few hundred strong “Tamil Students Movement” boycotted classes and unleashed violent protests on the streets. Instead of taking stern action, the Jayalalithaa regime knowing well that the majority of the student community was not interested in the so-called Eelam cause, facilitated the TSM to carry on with their protests for several days across the state by closing down students hostels attached to colleges. 


While the TSM was an attempt by the Church sponsored separatist forces to bring the student community to the streets a la 1983, the fishermen community has been perennially used to create confrontation between India and Sri Lanka. As observed by Radha Rajan, editor, Vigil Online, traditional fishermen have a very sound knowledge about the seas and know the ocean boundaries of both Sri Lanka and India. They are not crossing over to Sri Lankan waters without knowledge and out of innocence, but they are pushed from behind by vested interests from Western countries who want to create confrontations between India and Sri Lanka and keep the issue alive.


While incidents of Sri Lankan fishermen crossing into Indian waters are very rare, why are Indian fishermen sneaking into SL waters so often? The fact that Tamil fishermen used to help the LTTE by ferrying them and smuggling arms, ammunition and fuel during the conflict must not be forgotten. All political parties in Tamil Nadu indulge in sordid politics of one-upmanship on this issue.    


As Jayalalithaa continued with her separatist pro-Eelam politics, despite being Chief Minister, Karunanidhi developed cold feet and feared he would lose his “Leader of Tamil Race” status. To reassert his status, he revived the dead and forgotten Tamil Eelam Supporters’ Organisation (TESO) to ‘show’ that he and his party has not lost their focus on the SL Tamils issue.


In such a confused scenario, the Sri Lankan Tamils remain a hapless lot with no solution in sight. 


(To be continued …)

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