Posts filed under 'Tamiliana'
By D.B.S. Jeyaraj
Conferring awards and titles on each other has become a common feature in the life of Thamizh Canadians in recent times. Some individuals and institutions have made this practice a virtual cottage industry.There are however some notable exceptions to this general rule.
It was my privilege and pleasure to participate in such a ceremony last week (June 24th) in Toronto.Professor George .L. Hart, chair of Tamil Studies at California University, Berkeley was presented the “Iyal Viruthu” lifetime achievement award by the Toronto based organization “Thamizh Ilakkiyath Thottam” or Tamil Literary Garden(TLG)
The TLG is a non – profit organization founded in 2001. It is committed to developing Tamil literature internationally. Among its activities is the conferring of a lifetime achievement award or Iyal Viruthu to a “writer, scholar, critic or editor , who over a period of time has made a very significant contribution to the growth or study of Tamil literature”.
The “Iyal Viruthu” award comprises a commemorative plaque and an honorarium of 1500 Canadian dollars. It is awarded at an annual event jointly organized by the South Asia Studies Centre of the University of Toronto and the TLG. The recipient delivers a brief lecture before the award is presented.The lecture is organized by the South Asia Center.
Some of the past recipients were people like the editor/writer Sundara Ramaswamy, author Ganesh, critic Venkat Swaminathan and editor/ publisher Pathmanabha Aiyer. The award for year 2005 went to George Hart at a ceremony held at the Seeley Hall in Toronto University.Those familiar with his work and his efforts in promoting Thamizh studies would feel indeed that the man is worthy of the award.
It has been the good fortune of Thamilzh that many Western scholars have contributed greatly to its growth and development. The role of Western scholars in rediscovering the virtues of classical Thamilzh literature and reviving fresh interest has been particularly commendable.
George Hart belongs to a long line of such scholars who were greatly enamoured of Thamizh and helped promote modern scholarship of the language. Hart has written several books, monographs and papers. He was instrumental in establishing the Tamil Studies chair at Berkeley. Hart’s role in persuading the powers that be in India to confer “chemmoli” or Classical language status to Thamizh deserves praise.
I have read only two of his books. I have also read some papers and texts of interviews given by him. His impressive scholarship was not the only reason that motivated me in attending the event. It was my intention to meet him personally and express my gratitude for a remarkable gesture that helped me and many others several years ago.
The year was 1990. I had relocated to Canada from Sri Lanka the previous year. Journalism was/is both a profession and vocation for me. I was involved with a few others in reviving Canada’s first Thamizh journal “Senthamarai” that was practically defunct then. We made it a fortnightly and then weekly. I was its editor.
This was a time when desktop publishing was going great guns with the Thamizh Diaspora. Tamil fonts however had not been sufficiently developed then. In our case we relied on the Thamizh font developed by George Hart. This academic had not only pioneered this font but had with great magnanimity placed it on public domain. It was freely available to all users. Our publishing venture would not have succeeded then without george Hart’s generosity.
Subsequently others – many “Yaarlpaanam Thamizhar” included – perfected and developed fonts that were far superior to the pioneering effort of George Hart. But these were not free but sold for large sums. Like many others we too went in for the new fonts and the old font went slowly out of use.
But I have often wondered what we would have done then without George Hart’s font.The irony of a “material” Westerner providing his font free in order to foster modern Thamizh whereas other “Thamizhar” were making fonts and money simultaneously has not missed me.
It was against this backdrop that I met George Hart in person for the first time and conveyed my belated appreciation and gratitude. He modestly changed the subject and spoke of those days of font – making. Hart related how a Malaysian Thamilzh Muthu Nedumaran and he had embarked on this pioneering venture simulataneously yet separately.
George Hart grew up in Washington where his father was a Federal Judge. His fascination for languages began with Russian in high school. Then it was Sanskrit. Later came Thamizh. After obtaining his Ph D in Sanskrit from Harvard George Hart i went to Chicago university in Wisconsin to teach .There he came across the legendary AK Ramanujam .This was the beginning of his love affair with Thamizh.
Hart learnt his Sanskrit from KV Seshathrinathan and Thamizh from Irama. Subramaniam. His wife Kausalya who hails from Madurai the seat of the Sangam’s is a Tamil scholar too.His creditable achievement was in translating epic and heroic Sangham poetry into English. His role in helping Thamizh obtain classical language status in India was commendable.
Among his reputed works are
1.The Poems of Ancient Tamil, Their Milieu and Their Sanskrit Counterparts
2.A Rapid Sanskrit Method
3.The Four Hundred Songs of War and Wisdom: An Anthology of Poems from Classical Tamil, the Purananuru
4.Poets of the Tamil Anthologies: Ancient Poems of Love and War
5. The Forest Book of the Ramayana of Kampan.
He is currently engaged in translating the “Pathittrup Pattu”. In his lecture “Tamil as a Classical language” George Hart quoted extensively from the “purananooru”.It was a rare treat to hear him explain in Thamizh the intricacies of vintage poetry .The TLG is to be congratulated in its “Iyal Viruthu” choice for 2005.
Meanwhile the TLG also inaugurated two new annual awards for contemporary fiction and non – fiction.The ‘Best Fiction for the Year in Tamil’ award went to So. Tharman for his novel titled ‘Koohai’. the ‘Best Non-Fiction for the Year in Tamil’ went to CreA S.Ramakrishnan, who was the Managing Editor of Tamil – Tamil – English dictionary known as Tharkalath Thamizh Akarathi. They are to be awarded plaques and honorariums of 500 dollars each . Both recepients are from India and were not present in person.
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June 29th, 2006
by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
Another New Year dawns!
Subha Aluth Avuruddhak Wewa
Happy New Year
This April new year according to the traditional 60 year astrological cycle will be called the “Vyaya Varusham”. Once again the Kuyil – Koha will sing and the Oonjal – Onchilla swing as Sithirai – Wap unfolds.
With bombs killing innocent civilians and mobs burning people alive the new year celebrations seem a hollow farce. The ceasefire brokered by the much maligned Norwegians has despite its flaws averted bloodshed and destruction on a large scale for four years. In spite of the mutual bickering by politicians and politicised persons the ordinary people on both sides of the ethnic divide have certainly had the benefits of peace.
Now everything seems shaky. A president elected on a hardline mandate surrounded by hawkish secretaries, commanders and advisers on one side.A self – appointed national leader in command of a ruthless military machine on the other.A silent majority yearning for lasting peace and justice caught in the middle. Will the fragile peace crumble? is the question as both sides prepare for war while mouthing platitudes of peace.Hopes of a war free “vyaya” new year seem slender.
Heralding the “puthu Varusham” on that melancholy note let me return to my favourite grouse at the commencement of each traditional “aluth avuruddhu”. Its all about my pet phobia – the subtle and not so subtle moves to divide the Thamizh people on a religious basis at the beginning of each April new year.
[Pic: Sunrise in Thalaiyadi, Vadamaratchi, Jaffna District]
Look at the opening lines of a news story in a Colombo English daily.” Special arrangements have been taken by the police to maintain law and order during the Sinhala and Hindu New Year season by deploying an additional force of more than 400 policemen and 60 special emergency radio communication units in the Greater Colombo area.” it says.
Once again the Colombo media rides its hobby horse. It is “Sinhala New year” for the Mahajathiya but only “Hindu New Year” for the Sulujathiya.When it comes to the Sinhala people the new year is portrayed as being for both the Buddhists and Christians. When it comes to the Thamizh people the New Year is depicted as being for only the Hindus and not the Christians.
This may seem a trivial issue but it bothers many of us at this festive time. This April new year is one festival that is common to an overwhelming number of Sinhala and Thamil people in the Island of Sri Lanka. What is saddening and maddening is the recurring phenomenon of widespread attempts to divide the Tamils on a religious basis on this happy occasion.
[Pic: Sunset in Negombo]
With very few exceptions most Sri Lankan media in English and Sinhala refer to the April New Year as Sinhala and Hindu New Year. Instead of saying Sinhala and Tamil new year the reference is to Sinhala and Hindu. If the yardstick for this is the fact that Christian Tamils cannot subscribe to a Hindu new year then by the same token it is equally inapplicable to Sinhala Christians too. If so it should be Buddhist and Hindu New Year. Assuming an overarching Sinhala identity on the one hand and denying the same to Tamil on the other smacks not only of double standards but possesses designs to divide the Tamils on account of religion.
[Pic: Sunset in Koonithivu, Muthur]
Granted that the calculation of years on the basis of a 60 year cycle has its roots in “Hindu” astrology. It is also a fact that Christians following Western custom regard Jan 1st as the New Year.The reality however is that Jan 1st has become “universal” over the years. Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians all celebrate Jan 1st as New Year. The Christians may have their Watchnight services but nowadays most places of worship have special ceremonies to mark the occasion.
It is the 365 day cycle after Jan 1st that is followed by everyone in Sri Lanka and the world in practice. The April New Year has become more of a cultural event. The world is awaking up to the reality that all of us have multiple – identities and that the notion of “one land, one language, one race , one culture, one people” etc are outdated. All of us have different identities, interests and spaces. Multiple and plural are the realistic terms of the present and future.
[Pic: Sunrise in Galle]
The custom of having two new years is but one example of this “multi” in ourselves. As far as Tamil Christians were concerned the introduction of Christianity through Westerners did result in many following or aping their practice and customs. Neglect of our traditional cultural values was a regrettable legacy. Post – Colonialism however has brought about a fresh reappraisal There has been a conscious effort to identify with all things Thamil. The Post – Independence politics has accelerated this desire.
Thai Pongal and Sithiraip Puthaandu are seen as Tamil cultural festivals and not as Hindu festivals. If one were to go to our rural or semi – urban places one would find some Christians also participating and enjoying these festivals as their own. These festivals open up Tamil cultural space. It is however less pronounced in the cities.
Three things are now affecting this pleasant commonality. The state of affairs in the Country and modernisation is restricting the time devoted to the common cultural space in these festivities. The limited time makes people focus more on religion than the social aspects.
Secondly there is an increasing tendency on the part of Hindu Tamils to transform these cultural festivals into religious ones. This is notably so in the case of Thaipongal which was a non – religious event.
Thirdly the rise of religious fundamentalism among Christians particularly the new converts is creating a situation where people are abhorring and shunning these festivals as ungodly and pagan. Thus the cultural roots and legacy of us all is being undermined.
A Western missionary who served in Lanka once issued a call to “Ceylon” in poetic language. In that he envisioned a noble future for this Land where the races would blend and the people would march in unison to the beat of a single drum. Today in this environment of strife that vision seems a mirage.
Yet hope springs eternal. Even if we cannot ascend to sublime heights we can at least not descend to despicable depths. Even if we cannot unite on the basis of a broader identity let us not divide ourselves further on narrower identities.
It would indeed be a sad day for all of us if we gradually get pushed into singular grooves instead of living and experiencing this vast legacy of humanity to which we are all heirs .
Nearly sixty years have passed since Independence. We are yet to assume a true national identity. We have not transcended our imagined sense of ethnic community.
If this regressive process gains strength we will become Buddhists and Christians and Hindus and Christians. That day is still to dawn.
Until then (God forbid) we are Sinhala and Tamils enjoying our common legacy of April New Year. The “Sithirai” New Year is for Sinhalese and Tamils in Sri Lanka. It cannot be for Sinhala and Hindu only. This sustained effort to prolong this “divide” by the Sri Lankan media deserves the strongest possible condemnation. [Pictures Courtesy of HumanityAshore.org]
April 13th, 2006
Now that we have a President with a magnificient moustache in Mahendra Percy Rajapakse quoting a Tamil proverb about a moustached man who had a fall may not be inappropriate. “Kuppura Vilunthalum Meesaiyil Man padavillai” (no sand on the moustache despite falling flat ) it goes. The proverbial saying is about trying to save face in spite of a defeat. The man who fell flat on his face boasts that there is no sand caught in his moustache!
The Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) delegation suffered a massive political debacle in Geneva. Apart from failing to achieve any concrete decision on issues outside the Ceasefire Agreement the GOSL was unsuccessful in even effecting changes to the CFA.After taking up the position that the ceasefire agreement was bad in law, anti – constitutional and anti – national security the GOSL has formally accepted and pledged to uphold the same. Furthermore the GOSL has indirectly admitted to its “influence” over the so called Tamil paramilitaries or alternative armed groups and consented to end their operations and also disarm them .
Puerile attempts however are on to distort the actual reality of Geneva. The assertion that the CFA was amended is one such instance. Another exercise is the pathetic bid to separate the opening statement from the joint communique. The opening statement was a victory but the joint statement drafted by Oslo was a defeat is the stance. What is being glossed over is that he joint statement was not evolved in a vacuum. It merely reflected the actual position in the talks. However distasteful it may be for the Sinhala hardliners the reality is that the Rajapakse regime swallowed humble “odial kool” in Geneva.
This does not of course prevent vested interests from trying to propagate an illusion that everything was “Jayawewa” In Switzerland. There are bids to derive vicarious satisfaction from the imaginary discomfiture suffered by the other party.One of these attempts is the disinformation campaign that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil eelam (LTTE) was compelled to participate in Geneva talks due to pressure from USA.
Apart from the public statements by Jeffrey Lunstead and Nicholas Burns , Uncle Sam had supposedly conveyed a stern “or else” message via Erik Solheim to the LTTE. Terrified out of their wits the LTTE went with tucked tails to Geneva is the story plugged by some.
There is nothing one can do if people want to believe such propaganda but the reality was somewhat different. The International community has been equally pressurising the GOSL as well as the LTTE. Rajapakse has been told to desist from moving towards a military confrontation. He has been asked to continue with talks and pursue a political settlement.
The president has also been discouraged about some of his views like disavowing federalism, denying the multi – ethnic reality of Sri Lanka, ruling out the concept of the North – East being the historical habitat of Tamils and Muslims etc. Since Sri Lanka is a sovereign nation in name most of these moves are not publicised by the parties concerned to avoid political embarassment to the government.
In that respect another irritant caused by the Rajapakse regime to the International community notably the USA was the opposition to Norway and the attempt to replace Oslo as facilitator by New Delhi. It does seem unbelievable that Rajapakse failed to realise that Norway was backed by the entire West in general and the USA in particular.
In a sense Oslo is a projection of the USA in this sphere. For reasons of its own , chief of which is a marked reluctance to get its hands soiled once again in Sri Lanka, India is prepared to go along with the current arrangement for now. There is for the moment a convergence between India and the USA on Sri Lanka.
The LTTE position on talks and Norway was welcomed by the West. Its insistence on Norway as the venue for talks too was helpful to indirectly “educate” Rajapakse of realities. Japan’s own ambition to hijack the facilitator role by exploiting the impasse and suggesting an alternative Asian venue may have been very desirable to Rajapakse but was certainly irritating to the others.
While the LTTE by its earlier intransigience on the venue for talks proved helpful in bringing home truths alive to Rajapakse that organization too was criticised for its unhelpful attitude in other areas.. Pressure too was exerted. The difference being that the direct and indirect pressure on Colombo was not highlighted for obvious reasons as opposed to that on the LTTE.
The LTTE is not a sovereign nation but an entity that has acquired belligerent rights. If Colombo continues to be obstinately stupid , Tamil Eelam could be a reality in the future but as for the present it does not have any international support or recognition.
The LTTE however deserved public chastisement for its own blunders felt the international community. As noted in these columns earlier the USA is performing the “hard talk” (Bhetha) role in this peacemaking exercise. Hence the harsh comments by Lunstead and Burns.
Why did the international community particularly the USA single out the LTTE for such harsh comments? The fault lies in the LTTE itself. The tigers extricated themselves from earlier messes and came out with the Interim Self – Government Authority (ISGA) proposal. Whatever the merits or defects of this proposal it deserved discussion and debate.
But Chandrika Kumaratunga upset the thambili cart exactly at this juncture. She whipped up a campaign against it and went on to dissolve Parliament. An alliance was formed with the “national socialist” Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna on a hawkish platform.
After winning the elections Kumaratunga was ready to be flexible on the ISGA but found herself shackled by the JVP. The end result was that nothing worthwhile happened. Even the tsunami tragedy failed to bring about unity. The GOSL was badly exposed as being discriminatory towards the tsunami affected North – East.
The P- TOMS took a long time to evolve but never got off the ground thanks to the JVP and the Supreme Court decision. It appeared that Colombo was increasingly incapable of addressing the needs of the North – East through existing structures.
The International Community is no lover of the LTTE. Even Oslo makes love to Kilinochchi through necessity and not through ideological affinity. The LTTE with its intolerant neo- fascism and anti – democratic authoritarianism is repugnant to the West and even other democratic developing nations.
It regards it as being “terrorist” with some countries legally proscribing its activities on their soil. Nevertheless the International community “tolerates” the LTTE and is prepared to engage in “limited” business with the tigers. It also encourages Colombo to interact with the LTTE .
This has led to predictable resentment in Southern Sri Lanka, Why are these countries asking us to be flexible with the LTTE while being rigid with other terrorist entities is their grouse. On the other hand LTTE and pro – LTTE elements are disappointed that some countries have banned the LTTE while promoting the tigers in the peace process. Despite these misgivings the International community is acting on certain principles and set plans with regard to Sri Lanka and its self – made ethnic crisis.
The first of these is the unity, territorial integrity etc of Sri Lanka. At the same time the IC wants the minorities particularly the Tamils to have their rights restored in a democratic, pluralistic federal or quasi – federal set up. As far as the LTTE is concerned the International community abhors its current attitudes and approach. Yet it is prepared to do business with it for certain reasons chief of which is that the tigers through their tactics and methods have thrust themselves on to centre stage and made themselves virtually indispensable.
They have developed themselves into an effective fighting formation capable of retaining territorial control. They have proven their strength in both offensive and defensive operations. They have demonstrated their destructive power through operations like the Katunayake attack. By eliminating Tamil leaders and terrorising others into submission or insignificance the LTTE remains the chief if not sole representative of the Tamil people. Engaging the LTTE in a peace process therefore becomes imperative.
The west would hope for two things. One is for the LTTE to transform itself into an acceptable democratic entity over a period of time. The other is for it to fade away or lose its power gradually even as the peace process develops further. A “leadership change” too may be on the cards if possible.
A major reason for the West’s leniency towards the LTTE is due to recognition of the fact that the root cause of the Sri Lankan problem lies in Sinhala chauvinism and resultant policies. Though Sinhala revisionists would have us believe that the Tamils are the aggressors impartial analysis decrees otherwise.
Historically the victims of Sinhala oppression have been the Tamils. The cry for separation and armed struggle arose because of this. The LTTE is only a virulent by – product of this. The emergence of the national socialist JVP and Sinhala supremacist JHU help reinforce these beliefs. The election of Mahinda Rajapakse on a chauvinist mandate is another pointer.
So for the west or even India to crack down on the LTTE and leave the field clear to the Sinhala fascists and chauvinists is simply not on at this point of time. This is something the Sinhala hardliners fail to understand and if recent history is an indication never ever will. The best friends of the LTTE are the Sinhala chauvinists. If there is one segment of Sri Lankan society that is not under LTTE threat it is this chauvinist element. The LTTE needs them badly.
The western nations also understand that the LTTE cannot be a direct threat or danger at any time. The historical evolution of the Tamil liberation struggle never regarded the West as an enemy but always as a friendly force. The violence of the LTTE would not be deliberately directed against the west though accidents or unintended consequences may occur.
In that situation the violent methods of the LTTE do not pose a direct threat to the west. The threat if any is on par with the reprehensible ideology of the Sinhala chauvinists. Though the LTTE may be banned in the USA and Britain no hard action is likely to be taken against its members for the time being.
What the LTTE or even its opponents have failed to realise is that it is the plight of the suffering Tamil people that is of paramount importance. The fundamental truth is that despite 25 years of armed struggle the Tamils are yet to get their rights. The tigers for all their proud boasts of negotiating from a position of strength have failed to win any meaningful rights, worse still is that the armed struggle has caused much upheaval in Tamil society, destroyed its economy, brutalised values and dispersed it demographically to the South and various parts of the globe.
If the Tamil predicament is to be resolved it can only be done through a political settlement. For that credible negotiators are needed. The LTTE is the only force available now. So despite doubts and misgivings the International community wants to work with the LTTE. So the LTTE is being accepted not because of its merits but only due to concern for the overall Tamil plight. The more the fighting continuing the more Tamil refugees will reach the West.
With the west realising that the LTTE is there to stay and cannot be wished away, its approaches are being reoriented. The most important reappraisal of these being the accommodation of the LTTE in its scheme of things. Given the corruption, poor governance and mismanagement of the war the West and even India have come to realise that Colombo is never going to win the war. Actually the Country is coming apart and continuing the war can only lead to de facto dismemberment.
It is to prevent division that the West took an active interest in the peace process. Opposing division does not mean suppressing the Tamils.Unfortunately the Sinhala hardliners are yet to understand it and are ranting and raving against Oslo and by extension Washington.
The West is now concerned about restoring stability to Sri Lanka. The deteriorating trend has to be arrested and reversed. To do that there should be an absence of war even if a genuine peace is not guaranteed. For this the LTTE has to be engaged in a peace process. To keep the tigers in the process some concessions at least had to be made.
This is what Chandrika Kumaratunga and Lakshman Kadirgamar failed to comprehend due to personal reasons. This is what Ranil Wickremasinghe , Milinda Moragoda and GL Peiris understood so thoroughly and followed through.. This is what the Sinhala hardliners failed and fail to understand even now.
The peace proces initiated by Wickremasinghe succeeded to some extent in containing the LTTE for a period of time. Kumaratunga upset this delicate equilibrium and ousted Ranil. One whole year passed after the April elections in 2004 but nothing tangible was achieved.
The tsunami averted the LTTE going to war but the state failed miserably in alleviating the affected tsunami victims of the North – East. The stagnation reinforced the view that alternative structures were needed to address the problems of the North – Eastern people.
The time was ripe for the ISGA proposal of the LTTE to be examined seriously. It is a moot point as to whether the ISGA would or could have been accepted in the form it was presented. The climate however was conducive for the concept being accepted with some modification and diligently implemented. For one thing some commitment on human rights, pluralism and democracy would be necessary.
The LTTE was becoming more acceptable as a “strategic partner” of the Sri Lankan government in the bid to stabilise Sri Lanka and invigorate its economic growth. This entailed a substantial share of the economic cake to the North – East too. For this the ISGA had to be set up under the LTTE.
The LTTE was on the threshold of new power and respectability when it committed the first of its three great recent blunders. Foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar was assassinated. This resulted in grave doubts being cast about its reliability. You do not assassinate the foreign minister of a regime with which you are partners in a peace process.
One consequence of this was the limited European travel ban.Even more than the ban was the serious dent caused to the refurbished image of the LTTE in International perception. Erik Soheim’s spontaneous outburst”This is insane” upon hearing of the incident speaks volumes of the negatve impact caused.
The second big blunder was the enforced boycott of Presidential elections in Tamil areas by the LTTE. This affected Wickremasinghe’s chances of victory. It is no secret that the west was rooting for Ranil. Besides it was Wickremasinghe who could have helped usher in the ISGA with the LTTE at its helm.
Instead of supporting Wickremasinghe the LTTE had ensured that a Sinhala hardliner won. Had Rajapakse won without a boycott it would have been a different scenario altogether. But now Wickremasinghe had lost due to the tigers.This was not conduct becoming of a would be strategic partner in shared governance. Besides the methods used to enforce the boycott was anathema to the West.
The third colossal blunder was the undeclared war of the LTTE. Velupillai Prabakharan assures Rajapakse in his great heroes speech that he would grant him time. Yet with the EPDP killing two tiger supporters in Neervely a so called “peoples war” was launched against the security forces.
Though the LTTE was overtly and covertly involved the blame was shifted on the people saying a civilian militia called the Tamil resurgence force was retaliating against a pervasive security force presence. With claymore mines exploding few believed the LTTE was not involved.
The LTTE hit an all time low in irresponsibility by claiming that the people and not they were responsible. Similiarly it had disclaimed responsibility for the boycott saying the people were to blame. By saying the civilians were attacking the security forces the LTTE exposed the people to security force retaliation. It was now “open season” on the Tamil civilians.
The Rajapakse regime was cunning enough to use armed Tamil groups in unleashing state terror on the Tamil civilians.While the security forces were being commended for their restraint in the face of provocation by the LTTE “paramilitary” personnel aided by security forces targeted civilians suspected to have LTTE links.
At least 65 persons went missing or were abducted. 43 were killed. Almost all of them were supporters of the LTTE or were related to tiger cadres. This created a fear psychosis and over 16, 000 persons sympathetic to the LTTE fled the Govt controlled areas and sought refuge in the LTTE areas. The so called “peoples war” fizzled out.
The most important lesson for the LTTE in this was that there was no international outcry against these deliberate targeting of Tamil civilians. It was as if the tigers had brought it upon the people by crediting the people with the earlier violence. Even blatant human rights violations like the murder of Joseph Pararajasingham in the Cathedral during Christmas mass and the gruesome execution of five innocent youths in Trincomalee went uncondemned.
It was this “peoples war” debacle and its consequences that impelled the LTTE into going for talks on the ceasefire. Anton Balasingham openly admitted that the leader had “climbed down” (Irangi Vandhu) only because of the plight of the people. It became very necessary for the LTTE to bring an end to the violence unleashed on civilan supporters by the security force aided armed Tamil groups.
It was also necessary to utilise the breathing space gained to seek an end to this so called “paramilitary” phenomenon. The very same LTTE that ignored the CFA provisions and unleashed violence on civilian supporters and members of the non – tiger groups was now demanding that the ceasefire be upheld. The roles were reversed.
The International community realised that the LTTE had been given a stinging blow. This served their plans as tiger arrogance had been taken down a peg or two. If Mahinda Rajapakse was taught a lesson by the LTTE on the importance of Norway and Erik Solheim the paramilitary operations had brought the LTTE down to earth also.
The climate seemed conducive to grant the tigers an opportunity to redeem themselves. To their credit the LTTE availed themselves of the second chance.
This decision of the LTTE to go for talks on the ceasefire was given a boost by an unexpected quarter. The story circulated in Colombo that the LTTE was given a stern message by the USA through Erik Solheim is only partly true. There was certainly a message but it was not entirely one – sided. The message was of three components.
Firstly the LTTE was “requested” to attend the Geneva parley with a proviso that the International community would back its demand that the paramilitaries be de – fanged. It may be recalled that almost all recent statements by the International community had referred to the need for controlling or curbing the armed groups.Thus the paramilitary question was like a quid pro quo .
Secondly the LTTE was informed that any attempt to disrupt the peace process and unilaterally resume war would be severely condemned. Moreover if the LTTE did start a war then the International community would be duty bound to strengthen the Sri Lankan security forces to its pre – ceasefire level. Also any perceptible shift in the balance of forces in the LTTE’s favour would be redressed immediately by the International community.
Thirdly the LTTE was assured that the International community would try and persuade the GOSL to implement whatever agreed upon in Geneva. If Colombo defaulted or went back on the agreement the International community would take a serious view of it. This could result in other creative solutions within the parameters of broad policy being considered. This of course ruled out division but was open ended on a greater role for the LTTE.
Thus the LTTE went to Geneva motivated by its own self – interests as well as due to International pressure. The tigers did not go to Geneva because Uncle Sam had sent shivers down their spines as alleged by some. International pressure was on both sides though for strategic reasons the USA came out hard on the LTTE for public consumption. The lesson for Colombo in this is that it should comply with all what it agreed to in Geneva.
Unfortunately the GOSL does not seem to have grasped these realities and is engaged in subverting and defaulting on the promises made in Geneva. As pointed out in these columns last week the regime is in not prepared to throw away what it regards as its trump card in combating the LTTE. The GOSL in keeping with the conduct of various regimes in the past will continue pating lip service to the Geneva agreement while sabotaging it underhand.
Of crucial importance in this enterprise would be a provocative strategy aimed at making the LTTE “quit” in disgust. This it is hoped would absolve the Government and lay the blame squarely on the tigers.From Karuna faction violence to the Amendment controversy a grand design to provoke the LTTE and undo Geneva can be detected.
What is important for the LTTE is to realise the gravity of the situation and not be suckered into a trap. The LTTE has just managed to come out of the International dog house because of its readiness to participate in Geneva talks.
The LTTE which undermined itself greatly in International perception due to blunders like the Kadirgamar assassination, enforced boycott and peoples war is now in the process of rehabilitating itself through Geneva.
It would indeed be a terrible mistake for it to get irritated or provoked by Colombo and the Sinhala hawks to unilaterally withdraw from Geneva talks as urged by a vocal section of its supporters.
Instead it should stay the course in Geneva and not lose sight of its objectives. Whatever the speculation in media circles about Geneva the LTTE should not announce withdrawal.The tigers must press for the de- fanging of the armed Tamil groups as pledged by the government in Geneva.
This also entails a strict guarantee by the LTTE that it would not conduct an assassination spree against unarmed non – tiger groups. The state if it really has concern for these “paramilitaries” should absorb them as regulars in the army and station them elsewhere.
It is important to realise that de- fanging the paramilitaries does not mean abandoning them or handing them over to the LTTE. It is only the violence unleashed by these groups that should end during the peace talks and not the physical survival of these groups.
It is also necessary to distinguish between the political role and military roles of these groups. While military functions should end they should be free to do politics as they wish. In this respect all claims by the LTTE about who and who comprise the so called paramilitaries should be carefully analysed.
The GOSL pledge in Geneva of curbing the paramilitaries is something it cannot go back on.The LTTE should canvass for international support in pressuring the GOSL on this. The tigers would do well to avoid getting entangled in diversionary controversies like “was the CFA amended or not debate” and focus on tangible results.
Hopefully what the LTTE should do in its own interests and in the interests of the Tamil people is to participate fully in the Geneva talks.By doing so it would at best achieve its aims or at worst expose the regime . By participating in the peace process the LTTE can become the “strategic partner” that the West wants it to be.
Whatever the ultimate outcome of Geneva the tigers would not lose if they stay and only if they stay the course without quitting as in the past.By exercising patience the LTTE can achieve results which it can never aspire to through war.The ball is in the LTTE court.
March 12th, 2006
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam made its presence felt in Sri Lanka’s fifth Presidential election by disenfranchising a large segment of the North – Eastern Tamil people.Despite dubious claims to being the sole representatives of the Tamil people the LTTE had to unleash a “terror” campaign against innocent civilians to enforce what it called a “purakkanippu” or boycott of the Presidential poll. Though the violent intimidation enabled the LTTE to prevent many Tamils from voting it was unable to ensure a total boycott in many places.
While posters and leaflets calling for a boycott were widely circulated a systematic campaign of violence and terror also commenced prior to the poll. A series of explosions took place. In Jaffna grenades were thrown at five EPDP party offices on the eve of polls. Grenades and bombs were also thrown at Police patrols, army sentry posts, vehicles etc. A youth was tortured and beaten to death publicly at the Hindu College grounds. In Batticaloa a sub – post mistress who allegedly refused to hand over polling cards was brutally hacked to death..A climate of terror prevailed.
This terror continued from the early hours of the morning on election day. Bombs were thrown at Govt offices, polling booths, security posts and vehicles. Tyres and palm fronds were set on fire at key junctions and roads. Roadblocks were set up.Youths roamed streets looking out for potential voters. The LTTE motor cycle squad patrolled roads. People on the roads were threatened. Many old people going out to vote were assaulted. Vehicles including buses were stoned or set on fire. Civilian voters and officials were injured in deliberate grenade attacks on polling stations. A few people returning after voting were set upon. One man had his inked finger cut off. The message was unmistakably clear – Dont vote.
The Sri Lanka Democracy Forum in a statement had a serious charge. It said ” LTTE cadres appointed by the New Left Front as polling agents (normally used in elections to challenge fraud and can only be appointed by a party with a candidate in the elections), were used by the LTTE to intimidate voters inside polling booths and to identify voters who could then be targeted for retribution”.This was a dangerous development indeed.
Buses had been arranged for voters from LTTE controlled areas to come to Govt controlled areas and vote in the cluster booths. With a tiger enforced boycot none dared to come.In this climate of fear Jaffna district only had 1. 5 % voting. Of these Kilinochchi division completely under tiger control had only one person voting.Officials and Journalists mobbed this solitary voter who claimed he had travelled by motor cycle, car and bus. It is however felt the man had been sent deliberately by the tigers to survey the situation. The only vote cast “from” Kilinochchi was for Wickremasinghe. Funnily enough the election staff finished counting this single ballot only at 9. 13 pm which means five hours to count one!
In Batticaloa armed LTTE sentinels guarded access roads, bridges and ferry points to prevent people from tiger controlled regions coming over and voting. Roadblocks were set up. Fires raged. A tiger cadre interviewed by a news agency said that the decision to boycott elections was made by the people themselves. “We had nothing to do with it” he said. Continuing further he said “But we will not allow them to vote”.
In some places people were “persusaded” to burn their voter cards in a bonfire. A few of these demonstrations took place in the presence of European election monitors. The EU monitors also withdrew from Chenkalladdy and Valaichenai due to the violent climate.Though voting percentages dropped slightly the situation in the East and Vavuniya – Mannar were not bad as in Jafna – Kilinochchi – Mullaitheevu.
The enforced boycott was ostensibly to demonstrate to the world at large that the Tamil people were disillusioned by Presidential candidates and had nothing to gain from a new President. The Tamils belonged to Tamil Eelam and were unconcerned about Sri Lanka was the message sought to be conveyed.. Though the decision to be neutral and boycott polls was supposedly a people based decision it was obvious that the LTTE directed events. It was also clear that the LTTE did not want one particular candidate to win. The reasons for this stance are rather interesting and warrant a close scrutiny.
The LTTE initially stated that it was neutral in the Presidential stakes and would play no role in it. It said that the Tamil people were free to exercise their franchise if they desired or refrain from voting. The Tamil people were politically mature and would act appropriately the LTTE said.
As time went on the LTTE detected a groundswell of support among Tamil people for United National Party Candidate Ranil Wickremasinghe. The LTTE then changed its stance slightly and began berating both Mahinda Rajapakse and Ranil Wickremasinghe.Both had failed the Tamil people and were unworthy of Tamil support they said.
In spite of all this the visible trend was a landslide of Tamil votes for Wickremasinghe. This spontaneous Tamil support was due to several reasons. Foremost among them was the hawkish policies of Rajapakse and his pacts with the hardline Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna and Jathika hela Urumaya. The Tamil people abhorring a return to war felt quite rightly that a victory for Mahinda would hasten a resumption of armed hostilities.
There was also a feeling of gratitude for Wickremasinghe. It was he who de – proscribed the LTTE and entered into a ceasefire with the tigers. Besides Ranil advocated negotiations with the LTTE and was in favour of exploring a federal solution. His economic policies were also attractive.It was also realised that Wickremasinghe depicted as a traitor to the Sinhala people by his opponents for his dovish policies faced the risk of losing Sinhala votes on account of this.It was therefore necessary for Tamils to vote for Wickremasinghe to offset this it was felt.
The Presidential poll was of crucial importance to all minority communities. The hawkish Rajapakse and hardline cohorts posed a grave threat to their interests. The need of the hour was for the minorities to rally firmly behind the minority friendly candidate as a counterpoint to the extremist Sinhala – Buddhist juggernaut threatening to crush them underfoot.
The Muslim Congress, Ceylon workers Congress, Up Country Peoples Front, Western Province Peoples Front were all aligned with Wickremasinghe. Even the Catholic Bishops indicated indirect support.The Sri Lankan Tamils like the Muslims, Plantation Tamils and Catholics felt Wickremasinghe was the better of the two major candidates or from another perspective the lesser evil.
The LTTE however was unhappy about this natural proclivity on the part of Tamils in particular and the minorities in general to support Wickremasinghe. Viewing the situation only from its narrow, sectarian perspective the LTTE preferred a Wickremasinghe defeat and Rajapakse victory.
There were many reasons for this perplexing approach. The most important one was that a hardline Government in Colombo was seen as more conducive to an outbreak of war. It was felt that international opinion would be firmly opposed to such a regime. This in turn was expected to be beneficial to the LTTE.
On the other hand the LTTE was resentful and suspicious about Wickremasinghe. It was worried about the overwhelming Tamil support for him. It did not want a replay of the 1994 scenario where Chandrika Kumaratunga came to power with tremendous Tamil support. Also the tigers feared the international clout of Wickremasinghe. In the event of war the World at large will support Colombo. It was felt that an amenably flexible President would reduce valid reasons for resuming war.There has been simmering dissent in tiger circles for long that Wickremasinghe’s ceasefire was a calculated device to weaken and debilitate the LTTE in the long run.
It was to some extent where the perceived interests of the LTTE diverged from the real interests f the Tamil people. The ordinary people did not want war and so preferred the best possible candidate who would avoid war and talk peace and power sharing with the LTTE. Common sense decreed that Wickremasinghe was better in that respect. It did not matter whether Wickremasinghe would deliver or not. Given Rajapakse’s standpoint and allies Wickremasinghe was certainly the better of the two. Actually it was a case of Hobson’s choice.
The LTTE however had a different perspective. For the tigers Rajapakse was the better option than Wickremasinghe. The interests of the LTTE took precedence over that of the welfare of the Tamil people. Wickremasinghe was more dangerous in a war situation as opposed to Rajapakse.While the Sinhaa electorate thinks tht a Southern Veeraya like Rajapakse sent shivers down the tiger spine the reality was different. It was a victory for Ranil decried by his adversaries as a weak traitor who posed a threat in LTTE perception. Given a direct choice the tigers preferred Rajapakse as a “weak and ineffective” President.
This led to an ironic contradiction . The Tamil people wanted a President to talk peace with the tigers and prevent war while the tigers wanted a President who could disrupt peace and bring about war. In such a situation the franchise of the people became a casualty.This was the crux of the matter.
So the LTTE found that despite their covert signals the Tamil people were planning to support Wickremasinghe overwhelmingly. This then led to a situation where the tigers were forced to target Wickremasinghe more directly. Senior leader KV Balakumaran openly attacked Wickremasinghe and made it clear that he was the more “dangerous” of the two. Political Commissar SP Tamilselvan followed suit. The tiger and pro – tiger media launched an intensive offensive against Ranil.
A parallel exercise undertaken indirectly was an orchestrated campaign urging Tamils to desist from voting.Since the international community was observant the LTTE could not openly call for a boycott. So a number of front organizations notably student outfits took up the cry.
Still the detectable tendency as far as the people were concerned was to vote and vote for Ranil. This was due to a realisation based on common sense that Wickremasinghe had to be supported to prevent Sinhala – Buddhist hegemony and resultant war. Whatever the LTTE desire the ordinary Tamils grasped shrewdly that it was in their best interests to back Wickremasinghe. It was not as if Ranil was a positive choice. But compared to Rajapakse the people preferred him.
So the tigers had to raise the ante further. They were compelled to call a press conference after a joint meeting with their minions the Tamil National Alliance.It was announced there that the “People” had decided to boycott polls. The LTTE – TNA were simply expressing their wishes.But Sambandan gave the game away when he said that he hoped the people would accept their thinking. It was clear that the boycott was being imposed on the Tamil people.
Despite these moves the tigers had to officially maintain a position of “detachment”. The fiction that the people were going to boycott was publicised to a great extent. Yet it was necessary to pay lip service to the notion that the Tamil people were free to decide whether they wanted to vote or not. The people will choose wisely was hinted at heavily. Unfortunately for the LTTE the Tamil people were still of the opinion that they should vote in large numbers for Wickremasinghe.
With rival groups like the EPDP and Karuna faction urging a large voter turn out it was becoming a matter of prestige for the LTTE. The controversial comments made by Navin Dissanaike and Milinda Moragoda added further complications. It was now becoming necessary to enforce a boycott and deprive Wickremasinghe of victory. He had to be taught an unforgettable lesson was the tiger line of thinking.
It was now out in the open and the tiger hand behind the boycott call was becoming exposed. A call to declare election day a day of mourning and for people to stay indoors was made through a student front. Even public servants on election duty were asked to stay at home.
The pro – Mahinda elements had been accusing Ranil of a tie – up with the LTTE and charged that the tigers were going to delver the Tamil vote en bloc to Ranil. Now they changed track and began gloating that the tigers were now trying to sabotage Ranil. It was comical indeed to see people reverse their stances overnight and expose the venom they had against Ranil.
Well – wishers of Wickremasinghe and sections of the International community were aghast. Many lines of communication were opened with Kilinochchi. Several International community representatives and local politicians appealed to the LTTE. Representations were made to Anton Balasingham in London. Up Country Peoples Front leader Periyasamy Chandrasekeram went to Kilnochi. After meeting Thamilselvan he returned to Vavuniya and spoke on the telephone with Ranil. He then went to Kilinochchi again to meet the LTTE political commissar. Some TNA Parliamentarians also took up Ranil’s case.
As a result of these efforts the LTTE hierarchy in Kilinochchi gave an assurance that the tigers would not enforce a boycott. They would merely call for a boycott but not adopt any further action to actually instil a boycott. They would leave the matter entirely to the people. They would not stand in the way of voters wishing to exercise their franchise.
This was welcomed by the UNP. Wickremasinghe did not want any deal with the LTTE. All that he wanted was for the LTTE to efrain from enforcing a boycott and leave the choice in the hands of the Tamil people. The UNP was sure that the Tamil people would vote in large numbers for Ranil if the tigers did not impose a boycott.
So Colombo newspapers ran stories of a change of heart in the LTTE. The LTTE website “Tamilnet” wanted an interview with Wickremasinghe to clarify the position. He refused but gave an extensive interview to a Colombo newspaper and Television explaining his stance.Wickremasinghe took great pains to elaborate on his position on the Tamil question. This eased the minds of many who were troubled by the comments of Milinda and Navin. In the process Ranil may have alienated some Sinhala voters.
It was against this backdrop that the enforced boycott took place amid intimidatory violence and terror. The LTTE that had assured “non – interference” in the poll broke their promise. The LTTE launched a vicious campaign to prevent Tamils from voting thereby damaging Ranil’s chances of victory. As far as the Wickremasinghe camp was concerned the LTTE had betrayed them. Frantic attempts to communicate with Kilinochchi failed. The LTTE in one more instance of doublespeak maintained that they were not interfering while goons did their utmost to restrict voting. Thamilselvan glibly parroted the refrain that the people were boycotting on their own.
The LTTE claims the boycott to be a tremendous success. Superficial observations by some journalists support this premise. Some came out with the blatantly wrong comment that Tamils in Colombo had also heeded the tiger call and refrained from voting. The Tamilnet distorted and exaggerated this observation.The facts however are otherwise.
Polling divisions within the City and suburbs like Wattala and Dehiwela have large Tamil and Muslim concentrations. Wickremasinghe won from all these. His majority in Colombo West, Central, North and East were high. If Tamils boycotted in large numbers these results would not have been possible.The margins would be lower.
The Up Country Tamil vote also was overwhelmingly for Wickremasinghe. This was seen in polling divisions with substantial Tamils in Kandy,Nuwara Eliya, Matale and Badulla districts. It was the Tamil majority Nuwara Eliya – Maskeliya polling division that gave Wickremasinghe his biggest majority.
Even in the East the electoral divisions of Kalkuah, Batticaloa and Paddiruppu voted for Wickremasinghe. Though the LTTE prevented voters in the hinterland west of Batticaloa lagoon from voting Tamils in the littoral east of the lagoon voted in large numbers. The LTTE tries to make out that votes for Wickremasinghe were from the Muslims. This is incorrect. Paddiruppu for instance is 99% Tamil. Kalkudah is 65% Tamil. Batticaloa is 75% Tamil. The votes this time were more than in 1999 Presidential election.This was the case in Tamil majority Trincomalee electoral division.
While Tamils who voted in the East were supportive of Wickremasinghe it was the Muslim vote that got divided to a certain extent. While the SLMC succeeded in delivering the majority Muslim vote to Wickremasinghe people like Athaullah, Ferial Ashraff, Segu Issadeen, Anwer Ismail, Ameer ali and Najeeb Abdul Majeed etc used their personal influence to deliver some votes to Mahinda.
The Tamil voters in tiger controlled areas of Wanni were not allowed to vote by the tigers. This resulted in votes dropping significantly. Yet Tamils in Govt controlled Mannar and Vavuniya voted in large numbers. These areas were overwhelmingly supportive of Ranil.
Ironically for the LTTE the only Northern electoral division voting for Mahinda was Mullaitheevu the tiger citadel and heartland. While Tamils were prevented by the LTTE Sinhala settlers in Army controlled Weli – Oya were able to vote. Thus Mahinda got more votes than Ranil there.
It is widely rumoured that MP’s like Sivanathan Kishore, Selvam Adaikkalanathan, R Sambandan etc worked “clandestinely” to ensure Wickremasinghe got votes. In Batticaloa the Karuna factor also helped. While Karuna asked people to support Rajapakse he also wanted people to vote for anyone of their choice. This “mixed” signal strengthened the people’s resolve to vote.
It is therefore crystal clear that the LTTE enforced boycott was not a huge success. Votes dropped only in areas under LTTE control or where they retained great influence. Even there the tigers had to deploy systematic violence to prevent voting. In all other areas the Tamils voted in large numbers particularly in Batticaloa district, Trincomalee, Mannar, Vavuniya, Colombo and the Up Country.. The Tamils clearly voted for Wickremasinghe.It is indeed noteworthy that the eleven electoral districts won by Rajapakse were predominantly Sinhala while the eleven won by Wickremasinghe were districts where the minority communities were in a majority or at least a sizeable chunk.
The bulk of the security forces in the North – East and Sinhala government officials were supportive of Rajapakse. The boycott favourd Mahinda because the Tamils if allowed to vote would have opted for Ranil. There was a convergence of interests therefore between the LTTE and Rajapakse in implementing an effective boycott. The overall majority was 186, 000 plus.. If the Jaffna, Wanni and Eastern Tamils had voted in full strength there was every chance that Wickremasinghe would have got an extra 250 to 300, 000 votes. This would have clinched his victory. Ranil was cheated of success by the LTTE betrayal.
Though the tigers and their minions are waxing eloquent about their success and ability in determining the victor it is indeed a moot point as to the total political cost incurred. It may have been a different picture if the tigers ensured victory of a dovish candidate. Here the felines have helped defeat the “dove” and helped instal the “hawk” as president. Furthermore they have betrayed the man who de – proscribed them and signed a ceasefire pact. Bitter irony for Ranil is that it was the ceasefire which gave the LTTE much clout in Jaffna.
With the EU monitors present the LTTE blundered greatly in enforcing a boycott.In the first place the LTTE demonstrated that their writ does not extend to all sections of the Tamil people and that a boycott could succeed in the North only due to terror and violence.
Depriving Tamils of the franchise was certainly not a plus point for the LTTE. What is worse is that this disenfranchisement was made possible through a campaign of violence and terror. The LTTE had exposed their insincere commitment to a negotiated settlement by helping defeat Ranil and enabling Mahinda win.Under these circumstances the LTTE action can only bring negative repercussions. The temporary EU travel ban may become permanent. It is also possible that the EU could bring about a permanent ban on the LTTE. If that and a lot of other things happen this boycott can only be counterproductive.
The Tamils have for long lamented the disenfranchisement of Up Country Tamils by a Sinhala dominated Government in 1949. It is portrayed quite correctly as a grave violation of a fundamental right. Today the self – appoited sole representatives of the Tamil people have deprived a segment of the North – Eastern Tamils of their franchise rights. The tigers are likely to learn , in more ways than one, that this disenfranchisement was a colossal blunder.
What is important however is that the Tamil people be spared victimisation for no fault of theirs. It must be realised that the people if unfettered would have voted for Ranil. The Northern Postal votes and voting pattern in other areas indicate this. A serious development of this election is that Rajapakse has won the bulk of Sinhala vores while Wickremasinghe got most non – Sinhala votes. The new President must realise that he has no mandate from the minorities particularly the Tamils. Rajapakse must display considerable sagacity in coping with this situation.
November 20th, 2005