Lion-hearted Lanka
by Sandhya Jain on 06 Jan 2009 0 Comment

In a world that dithers in the face of minority separateness and secessionism, tiny Sri Lanka has demonstrated lion-hearted resoluteness in crushing the three decade old Tamil insurgency, refusing to surrender to minority unreasonableness in order to maintain national unity. For an India which made its armed forces fight with one hand tied, first at the Golden Temple in Punjab, and later by limiting the theatre of action in Kargil, there are many lessons to be learnt.

Once President Mahinda Rajapaksa decided to take on the Tamil insurgency, he refrained from imposing either a political agenda or impossible constraints upon his armed forces. Ignoring international (especially Indian Tamil) concerns about civilian casualties, he allowed the progress of well-coordinated air, navy and ground operations. In barely three months of intense operations, Colombo has successfully uprooted the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam from their Kilinochchi stronghold, forcing them to flee to the jungles of Wanni and Mullaitivu.

This is more than a symbolic victory, as Kilinochchi was the ‘capital’ from where LTTE functioned as a virtual state. Flight has down-sized it to a guerrilla force whose days are numbered. It will retain nuisance value for a while, but the aura of invincibility is gone.

Doubtless Colombo was supported by the JVP, the Buddhist Sangha, and the majority Buddhist Sinhalese who have been concerned at the threat to the island’s civilisational ethos, territorial integrity, and LTTE’s external links, especially with the West-based diaspora groups. Tamil Nadu political parties often project Lankan Tamils as Hindus to get Indian sympathies or as ‘ethnic’ Tamils to garner local support; but Tamil Lankans are equally Christian and Muslim.

President Rajapaksa also received support from civilian Tamils fed up of the murderous LTTE. It is pertinent that two-thirds of the Lankan Tamil population has, since independence, lived in areas controlled by the government and in close proximity to the Sinhala majority. Much of the Colombo business and social elite is Tamil, though Tamils are otherwise concentrated in the north, east, central and western parts of the country. 

It would be safe to say that the separate Tamil Eelam is now as distant as Khalistan, once an Indian nightmare. Velupillai Pirabhakaran and his Tamil Tigers are now fighting for their very lives. Soon Lankan forces will move to regain Elephant Pass, the entry to Jaffna peninsula, and reopen A-9 Highway which connects the nation with Jaffna city, capital of the Northern Province, which was recaptured by the Chandrika Kumaratunga government in 1995. 

Having already retaken the LTTE naval bastion, Pooneryn, in November 2008, Colombo has virtually neutralized the LTTE threat to the Jaffna peninsula and cut off its supply lines. Thanks to effective naval action, the Tigers are experiencing serious difficulties in moving troops, obtaining supplies, and launching attacks. Now, with Kilinochchi in hand, the Sri Lankan forces have secured an unbroken link from the south up to Pooneryn, near the neck of Jaffna peninsula. 

Action will now shift to Mullaitivu on the north-east coast, which the Tigers captured in 1996. The Mullaitivu jungles are reputed to be a deadly maze of booby traps, but it is impossible to defeat a determined army which is already pressing in from the east, south and west. Going by precedent, Pirabhakaran may meet the fate of Jarnail Singh Bhinderanwale; certainly he will prefer death to capture and trial. This moment in Sri Lanka’s troubled history vindicates President Rajapaksa’s decision to formally abrogate the ceasefire with LTTE in January 2008; it also establishes the reputation of Army Chief Sarath Fonseka as one of the great Generals of the 21st century.

It is now imperative that Colombo does not lose at the table what the sweat and blood of its soldiers have won on the battlefield (like India in 1971). Regardless of Indian and international opinion, Sri Lanka has no reason to negotiate a political solution with the LTTE; that criminal organisation must be decimated in totality.

But once the military action is over, Colombo must consider a devolution package for its Tamil-majority areas, the modalities of which should be negotiated with Tamil parties which have participated in its political life. Indian Tamil politicians have no locus standi in the island nation, and need not be entertained. A pan-Tamil sentiment is as dangerous to Sri Lanka and India as pan-Islamism and Christian evangelism. In any case, the DMK’s ‘resignation drama’ of October 2008 was only to placate LTTE cadres that might be hiding in southern Indian jungles. This non-event saw Mr. M. Karunanidhi’s daughter Kanimozhi and other MPs send their resignations from the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha to the chief minister – where the buck stopped, predictably. DMK members of the Union Cabinet simply stayed put.

However, New Delhi does have a legitimate role in the peace process. It must ensure that a victorious Colombo does justice to the Tamils of Indian-origin who were sent to Lankan tea estates as indentured labour and denied citizenship even after 60 years of independence. 

New Delhi also has much to learn from Colombo’s successful military offensive against the Tamil insurgents. Geo-politically, it was India’s responsibility to take care of the security of its neighbourhood, but scandalous abdication of its natural leadership compelled Sri Lanka to turn towards Iran, Pakistan, and China. President Rajapaksa used his November 2007 Teheran visit to signal that Colombo was not dependent solely upon India or the West. In contrast, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh deliberately misbehaved with a friendly Teheran at Washington’s behest, until Mumbai 2008 made him realize (at least momentarily) that Teheran is a natural pillar of India’s political stability.

The overture to Islamabad was clearly to send a message to a somnolent South Block, which slumbered away. It will, however, be interesting to see if the Muslim-dominated Amparai province gets a better deal than other Tamil areas.

The Sons of Heaven, or the Celestials, as Amitav Ghosh dubbed them in his celebrated Sea of Poppies, could hardly wait to be asked, and are now the bosom pals of the nation at the tip of India’s sensitive coastline! Beijing will doubtless use this relationship to challenge American hegemony, enjoy deep sea fishing rights, and forage for marine wealth on the ocean bed. It is a winner in every sense of the term.

The author is Editor,

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