Abstract: The issues facing the Tamils are many, mainly due to three reasons. One, they are struggling without a proper political leadership. Two, their economy has deteriorated leaving the ordinary people in dire straits, while their neighbours are improving; three, we have always been reactive than proactive with our Indian neighbour and, have consistently fail to understand its political-behaviour, stands and the policies and, importantly our Tamil brethren. We briefly explore the present situation and suggest that we should move our agenda forward with a leadership to match it. For this purpose, we also suggest five principles the Tamil political parties and militant groups must adhere to, based on empowerment of our people as the practical and philosophical parameter.
By Ravi Sundaralingam
It seems from some angles that there is no hope of a resolution for the ethnic crisis in Sri Lanka at least from the Tamils point of view, for the moment. The propaganda by the Sri Lankan media, picked up and amplified by the foreign news agencies is convincing enough that the war by the Sinhala state against the LTTE has become a great success and seemed moving towards a decisive phase. The ground situation tells us that the LTTE has abandoned large chunk of its de facto Tamil state and dispersing into the jungles, in a phased withdrawal, enduring only the necessary and calculated number of casualties. It is true, faced with the Sri Lankan military arsenal in terms of quality and quantity, an army one of the largest in the region, and at present the ‘international license to go after the Tigers’, LTTE would be militarily defeated if they stood up and faced their enemy, but why should they?
As for the LTTE it would want us to recall the comebacks it has made, against the Sinhala army and another time out-manoeuvring the mighty Indians, and so expect the Tamils to abide by them, but can they afford to? Anyone closely observing these LTTE comebacks would have noticed that every one of them was at great costs to the concept and strength of the Tamil struggle. The differences among the Tamil communities are now fully exposed and exploited by the state to its advantage, and each comeback has forced more of them to seek safety and economic life elsewhere, mainly in the Western province. Many dejected and desperate Tamils now live in Puthalam in large numbers among the Tamil speaking Muslims, who were callously ejected by the Tigers from Northern Province. The catchment areas and the age group have been dwindling for Tiger recruitment, as the people desert their lands. These military successes have also brought in the attention of the leading international powers, they in reality want to curtail the ascendance of the LTTE more than their concern about its terrorism, hence the banning of the organisation and its arms and freezing of its assets.
Whatever the Tamil peoples reasoning, hopes and real expectations are, the regional reality check has dawned on the combatants reminding them that the prevailing condition in the region is called India. The question is not whether India can establish its regional control euphemistically referred to as regional security, but what do the Sinhala state and the Tamils in Ceylon will get out from it, and give up for it? Until now, there is no doubt, it is the Tamils who are paying up front for something they are forced to buy without even knowing what it is, and it is a fact that it is the Tamils who have been suffering in the murkiness created by the policies of the Indians and the misconceptions and actions of the Tigers.
There are certain maxims in life, though not precise as in science, like the 2nd law of thermodynamics (it asserts that efficiency of any machine cannot ever reach 100%), which cannot be rewritten. One such edict teaches us that the art of fighting a war is not winning a few battles, but the war to win over the losing rebel army and the people who support it, otherwise one could only be contemplating genocide like the Anglo-Saxon invaders’ approach to the natives in Australia, Canada or USA.
The Americans as the superpower have been trying to disprove this historical truism, despite own failures in Vietnam, Indo-China, South America, and now Iraq and in Afghanistan, one of the poorest in the world where the richest, the Americans, believe the meaning of civilisation is being fought. Perhaps, because of their Anglo-Saxon roots and colonial heritage, USA and its Western allies still believe that with just the military might and the willingness to use it, and some control over resources they can institutionally subdue anybody of people anywhere.
Their want of trying is an affordable exercise to them, and even in failures they have their success, as they return the people they are fighting against to stone age by the carnage they generate to such an extent, even valuable resources the natives possess become totally useless for their immediate purpose; just watch the disintegration of the Iraqis. For countries like Sri Lanka however, fighting a war means only a war within their borders, as they are never going to be a power to project it over any other, even countries of the size of San Marino, nor have such a history to boast. Their pride, bravado, identity, and history are all about the fights with the tribes next door and exerting their numerical power over the smaller nations and minority communities within their territories, presented to them by their colonial masters.
The espoused economic reasons by the apologists, as in the case of Sinhalese, for invading into the lands belonging to the smaller nations and minorities, and turning colonisation as legitimate state policy tell us the failure of these people as innovators and masters of their economies; primitive in their inception, and not surprisingly primitive in ambitions. These utter failures become palpably obvious even to the ardent or secret anti-Indian Lankan, when India is flying its mega-size rocket to start off its long-term program of space exploration, Pakistan is filing in for bankruptcy and fighting a war within and with the invading Americans and Afghans to preserve the state and define its meaning; and Sri Lanka, well it has reached yet another orbit of hyperbole, undeterred by the noises rising from its giant neighbour. For such countries and nations learning this basic truth about wars, in our modern times, can only come through enforced experience.
Sri Lanka will soon learn this truth, as for now it wants to glorify itself by addressing the Tamils as the vanquished and the Sinhalese as the masters of the island by pursuing a military solution to the island’s ethnic crisis. To this extent its propaganda aims to use its recent military victories as a psychological tool with the sole purpose of convincing the Tamil communities, mainly those living abroad, that they should give up their support for the struggle. Amid all the propaganda of Mahinda’s Sinhala government, the claim that it has defeated the LTTE is the most dubious, but the lack of any offer of a political solution is critical. In such circumstances the call for the surrender of the LTTE is not aimed at LTTE, but at the Tamil communities, and the talk of an end game is aimed at squaring the circle with Indians.
It is sad that Sri Lanka has consistently failed to truly understand and accept that the Tamil grievances as real and are due to it peoples’ fallacious understanding of the island history and its oppression of the Tamil communities. The rise of the LTTE and its dominance of Tamil politics may have complicated and exasperated already existing problem, but the defeat of the LTTE certainly will not mean the elimination of the fundamental problems; the national question and the democratic rights of its minorities. Presenting the Tamils struggle and the LTTE as one and the same has only benefited the Sinhala chauvinist state and we can see the reasons why it wants to persist with that claim. Military defeat for a militarist outfit like the Tigers might only mean the inherent failure in their military strategy, and if more, their basic demand for a separate state for the Tamils, Tamil Eelam. Does this mean that Tamils are now have to come to terms with the ‘reality’ that the island belongs to the Sinhalese, because they are the dominant and victorious people as the xenophobic Sinhala leaders or some of the Tamil quislings began to suggest? Defeat or not for the LTTE, the Tamils have all the reasons to continue with their struggle against the Sinhala state, but in what form?
Many amongst us will slate India saying that it does not possess a consistent policy towards Sri Lanka and its ethnic crisis. While this may be true in part in its assertion about the national question, only a fool will say that India did not know its own interest in the island. India has intervened many times in Sri Lanka, militarily and politically: every time to save the state, which it had decided is part of its regional interest, a policy that is consistent and hasn’t changed a bit despite its support for the Tamil militancy in the eighties.
Indian policy makers follow the ancient philosophical position comes tradition of the Kshatriyas, like the great teacher Drona in Mahabarath. For whom the concept of a state is not how it is constituted, but what was at the beginning and, how and who should change it. It is like a big land bought with trees, bushes, animals and birds, and the question is how you go about making a living off that land while making a home within it, with minimum change possible? Drona wasn’t and wouldn’t have been concerned whether Dharmar or Duriyodana represented the state, or what it meant, but the state itself had a meaning.
In a caste driven society with a clear consciousness about tribal, national, regional distinctions those who are the counsel for the Indian state, perhaps, feel that they alone are responsible for keeping “things together” for the politicians to change them in their great wars, whatever that may be along the timeline. “Keeping things together” means there can be interference to change the dynamics, but there can be no interference to change the aggregate or overall content at the outset. Keeping things together in India means preserving the power of the state irrespective of its meaning, not allowing anyone or people to take overall control such as to dictate terms to the political institutions of the time, which can go through changes in a time allowed ‘natural’ way: evolution and not revolution. An exemplification can be found in the extremely contrasting modes of Great Asoka’s approach to his people yet, the underlying theme for a certain type of dynamics, via good conduct, and the aim to preserve the state run through both of them; one, according to him, his desire to create, ‘the hell on earth’ to extend and preserve the state power, and two, convinced by the Buddhism and of its view on non-violence and sanctity of life, his direction to the state’s officials to erect pillars carved with its main teaching all over his state, and to create an army of state-informers to ensure people behave accordingly. For those unfamiliar with the great Indian epics from North or South, its history, and with no intimate or respectful relationship with its people, all these will sound contradictory in terms and logic: “absolute nonsense”.
Indian policy at work has always that basic tenet of our argument: India, “interferes to preserve” than “interferes to destroy” that doesn’t mean it is averse to changes. In Sri Lanka, India intervened to preserve the state, which it perhaps considers as an envelope that hold ‘something inside’ or ‘things together’. It came in to save the state from the JVP attempts to overthrow it, but was willing to save its leadership when they were at the point of extinction and later work with them to alter the dynamics within the state. It supported the Tamil militancy to prevent the state being overrun by alien influence, according to its own definitions, but will support the state against the LTTE to prevent the tigers dictating terms to the state entirely by military means. It argued and worked for the preservation of a Hindu-Monarchy in Nepal, but once it realised the same can be achieved, probably in a more effect way, accepted the Maoist and their allies, without much of a fuss.
Though Indian policy making hasn’t deviated from this basic belief, in the manner it has been advocating its action has gone through considerable changes, mainly due its ever improving self-confidence. In this sense at the beginning of it interference in the Sri Lankan crisis India perhaps, had self-doubts about advocating anything concrete philosophically and sociologically to the Lankans, while it has so many historical questions itself. Regional interests then strictly guided Indian policies, while they were also going through adjustments due to global changes, and of its concern to the reactions in Tamil Nadu. And allied to these policies, an element of aggression was also added as a policy in order to enforce them. The lack of self-confidence can always be detected by the aggressive mannerism and violent tendency, and not allowing any room for discussions or diplomacy: another social maxim that applies to peoples and individuals. Whether in Thimpu, Bangalore or Delhi no quarters were given to the Sri Lankan or Tamil sides for too much discussions, as the overall outcome in each case was predetermined.
It is noticeable, even at its lowest confidence level India was mindful not to give the Tamils the equal parity with the established state, instead entered into a bilateral agreement on their behalf. We don’t see the possibility of a change in this policy even though we have been consistently arguing for a tripartite agreement between India, Sri Lanka, and the Tamils. Then again India is not the same that went into a bilateral agreement on behalf of a people belonging to ‘another country’ and sent it troops to supervise its enactment. It is a confident middle class India, recently emboldened by its nuclear deal not just with the USA, which not so distance past imposed sanctions in protest against India’s atomic tests, also with the French who are American’s competitors in the business even before the US Senate ratified the 123 agreement. In other words, India has all the reasons to believe it has the full licence to impose its will in the region.
If Indian policy makers are steadfast about the sanctity of a state, irrespective of its constitution, they are equally determined how the changes can be made to it. The cliché, “no military solution to a political crisis” repetitively mentioned in every communication, one feels carries the same weight as India’s willingness to save the Lankan state. India has confirmed its personnel are with the Sri Lankan army, its generals routinely visit the fronts, perhaps even share ideas, provides satellite images to the state, trains and equips its army, helped to deplete LTTE’s military supplies and to destroy its storage deports in the high seas, and even said to be the cause for the decline of Tiger’s navy. It was in part responsible for the splitting of the Karuna faction from the LTTE, and tactically accepted the de-linking of the Eastern province, in contrary to its demand in the Indo-Lanka accord, just to discredit LTTE’s demand for sole-representation and its de facto state. Beyond its military and diplomatic support for the Lankan state, it has been providing financial aid to Sri Lanka, at crucial times, all this has built a factor of trust and reliability as far as the Sri Lankan state is concerned.
When collectively viewed it seems India has decided that in order to have a solution to the island’s ethnic crisis, the LTTE has to be brought to size, for which it feels the time is right. That means there will be room for the Tigers only as a guerrilla force and not a conventional force threatening to militarily dismantle the Sri Lankan state, or in a position to dismiss all other political factors and factions as irrelevant ‘traitors’. Does this preclude all possibility that the people of the island, Sinhalese or Tamils have forever lost their right to change the nature of the state? Or do they need the Indian’s consent to do so? As far as the Indian policy makers are concerned, they don’t see the contradiction in an armed struggle against the state, but how it argues for a new augmented state, but does this suffice for the citizens of another country? How can Indian policy makers demand or impose a condition that their own citizens would not accept?
At present this seems this only a theoretical and spurious debate for a small people caught up between a fire and a storm, and has no consequence to their predicament. There are those who spend their time counting the few countries that have escaped the clutches of such regional or global conditions; Kosovo and East Timor are the two often mentioned Abkashia and South Osscestia are two more additions to the list. What they fail to see, these are born out of special circumstances, which evolved due to global changes in geo-politics based on economic developments. Can anyone actually see the likeness, between our situation and any in the list above let alone the likelihood of our circumstances changing into such momentous conditions?
On the other hand, if there is no conventional military threat to the Lankan state, India can question the need for the state for such an arsenal and personnel, and therefore can demand a scaling down, which will put and end for the need of alien military aid.
If our information and calculated speculations are confirmed facts, then this logical reasoning can be extended, and we can confidently suggest that India will continue this process to reign in the Sinhala state and bring them down into their spectrum as well. The trust and reliability they have built with them, along the Indian idea of a state, and the economical interdependency built over a long period, which will become stronger in the developing global economic scenario, may be tools India feels that can help to fine-tune a state already in transition with the 13th amendment. If need be, there is always the excuse of the Tamil Nadu factor and the support for Tamil militancy, which can be used to knock a few ideas the Lankans have into shape. But, are they enough to make a state, which is primitive in its construct as much as in practice to behave the way and yield a solution to the ethnic crisis, at least as much as the India wants? We have serious doubts about this as a concept or proposition, as much as we recognise the basic aims of the Indian policy makers, especially those in Delhi. But, how do we approach them or have a dialogue to convince them of their misconceptions about Sri Lankans? If some of the Tamils feel that their own mother has mugged them, having imposed the leadership of LTTE on them one can understand a sense of proportion in their argument.
Question of a leadership than leaders
During our current phase, some of our intellectuals have started to write and profess their newfound wisdom: “Tamils are exposed”. And those recently parachuted into the ‘struggle’ without a bit of knowledge of our struggle or India or Tamil Nadu, suddenly feel overcome by the talk of differences among the Tamil communities, and they desperately want to poly-fill those social cracks patently obvious and laid bare for everyone to see. So, they utter their immortal words, “the Tamils are now exposed as a consequence of the defeats the LTTE has suffered”.
What these people with opaque eyes don’t see, their preset minds will never comprehend is that ‘it well and truly happened a long time ago’: exactly when the Tamils were forced to accept the leadership of the LTTE. Is this a rhetorical statement and no more? Well think about it, if India is promoting or allowing an organisation, with one-man leadership, willing to commit atrocities beyond the call of duty, with an utmost commitment to a separate Tamil state, which it has said it will never allow as it penetrated the Tamil militancy with the offer of military assistance, what were they thinking about? Did it mean India accepted even as early as that, it has to accept the inevitability of an LTTE like natural born killers to become leaders of a separate state in their backyard? If these thumb-screwing intellectuals, doubling up as sofa-generals are still persisting with their borrowed military theories like dodgy second-hand car dealers, that the Tamils can assert military superiority over the numerically vastly greater, internationally recognised state, then how can anyone blame the leadership of the LTTE, which doesn’t know anything other than absolute violence to understand the scale and the insurmountable task it faces? However, they continue to spin out their dreamt up scenarios of economic collapse and self-destruction of the Sinhala political system, new global conditions with the election of Obama, and collapse of the capitalist system worldwide. According to these soothsayers, when an opportune time arises the LTTE, even if they are left with only 300 members (Remember Granma Crossing; were there 5 or 9 revolutionaries with Castro?), would prevail against all odds, armed with only clubs and machetes. However, they conveniently forget that even if one such fantasy should come close to be true, there is always India to close the doors on them: it will not allow the military defeat or the economic or social collapse of the Sri Lankan state. This is not something we like or wish, but our observation about the regional reality.
Tamils started to be exposed when the Indians realised that we are as many peoples among Tamils as the number of militant groups landed on their shores; when these groups competed with each other for the patronage of the Tamil Nadu political parties, and showed their preparedness to kill amongst and talk and do nothing but violence. Tamils were exposed when India was able to promote the petty and innate ambitions, and naked aggression of these groups as a ploy to pre-empt a politically united national framework to evolve, finally allowing for the eradication of every group by a process of, Indian influenced ‘natural selection’. Tamils were exposed when Indian strategists decided that they should not and shall not allow a Tamil leadership that can develop a democratic decision making process within itself as a group and outside as a people, so that there is political directive all the time, especially at difficult times. The evidence for this can be seen every time LTTE begins to lose militarily, wherein its voice begin to fade and Tamils sink into the darkness filled by empty slogans and noise of the outsiders, the so called supporters. We may ask, if Tamils were not exposed as early as that, why do we need the Tamil Nadu politicians to raise their antics to save them, or plead for the India or the international community to come to their rescue, whenever we feel the LTTE is losing or not getting the attention from anyone to our plight?
Worse still are these people’s expectations of the LTTE. Real Tigers for all their faults are humble enough and knew where their weaknesses lie: in their assumptions about peoples, nation, and humanity, and socio-economic expectations, but pursued them regardless because they truly believed in their military capabilities, and believed that it alone will overcome all their deficiencies. If the international conditions, particularly the Indians weren’t prevailing they could have even established some military supremacy over the Sinhala army momentarily, like the Eritreans during a brief period over the Ethiopians. However, no other Tamil militant group would have chosen the military path as it did, and would have ever produced men and women of valour as the LTTE. The individual feats at the fronts, the pain and endurance, the enormous sacrifice they are ever so willing to make are marks of the LTTE that have been etched on our people’s history despite the noise of their enemies, mainly their own creations.
But, the sad truth is that these victories and sacrifices were never translated into anything tangible over the long period the Tigers had taken control of the Tamils’ lives, and their bogus supervision over our peoples’ destiny. It is this fact above all else, their voracious killing spree and suppression of opponents and discussion, total disregard for human kindness and humanity, proves that the military prowess alone and, unfortunately their great sacrifice, mean nothing in the international arena. Tamils’ military superiority over the Sri Lankan state can only be established in a bubble, when the international community restrict the Sinhala state’s vigour and ability to fight. When these true facts are known, when the ordinary men and women, in most cases teenagers, of the LTTE have laid their lives without questions, to expect them to continue with their sacrifices without any positive results, is the most treacherous of crimes. These expectations of the LTTE by the so-called supporters are nothing but an absolution and abandonment of their own self-responsibilities, and it is beyond humane beliefs. It is time, instead of the pretentious support for the LTTE, just by giving some money and parroting the slogan for Tamil Eelam, some of these people should put their heads above the parapets and be counted. Don’t forget, the present phase was brought about the LTTE’s decision to select Mahinda as the Sinhala President over Ranil, it is alleged, after receiving sack full of Dollars from Rajapakse family.
Tamils are exposed, yes, because of the Indian interference, misadventure of the LTTE and their persistent believe in a failed military strategy, false belief in a nation without the thought of building one, and many other subjective conditions we can list, but most of all they are exposed because of the lack of leadership, a fact Tamils must rectify if they are to advance.
If we are correct in our understanding of the India’s Lankan policy, we are not entirely convinced of its ability to deliver. There is always the nagging feeling, what if the Sri Lankans call it a bluff and go for a military solution despite Indians’ wishes and their actions to prevent it? If the USA can come around to make a nuclear deal with the Indians, despite their protestations of their nuclear ambitions only a decade ago, why can’t the Indians accommodate the Sinhala state, because they have to, after demolishing the Tamils of Ceylon as a people with traditional homelands and as a sizeable minority to maintain ethnic pluralism in the island? Obviously, we do not know of all the tools and parameters India may have to control the actions and activities of the Lankan state.
If the Indian council in Delhi is entirely soundproof to the cries of pain and foul of our long-suffering people in Ceylon, and willing to wipe the history and the memories in their dealing with the Lankan state, then they might even be prepared for the sacking of the Tamils as a people in the island and accept what the Sinhala chauvinists want. Then, they would have accepted a change beyond redemption, contrary to their basic belief we have highlighted; the dynamics in the island no more, only a static position would be the result. Would India sincerely prefer the imposition of such a scenario and its implications on itself?
However, we as a people suffering under Sri Lankan oppression, and the unfulfilled promises of the Indians and their policies have no need to search for the answers or thrust them. Meanwhile, though as Tamils we will feel enraged and argue about the moralities of these actions, we also know they are as unproductive as thrust in others. What we should not forget is our responsibilities towards our people, and try to adopt our efforts with an understanding of these Indian actions in a regional context and the underlying theme within them. It is with this knowledge we can survive this atrocious phase to continue with our peoples struggle for full democratic rights. For this we need to construct a leadership for all times, and a socio-political strategy allied to an armed struggle if necessary in which all our peoples can be fully take part, and have a sense of belonging.
When in our community have questions about leadership, it is often misunderstood and taken as sly remarks against one or another leader. Individually and collectively they all fail to understand it is about a collective decision making process as leaders of different communities and groups, and within their own groups and communities. Because of our economic underdevelopment these two positions are often in conflict and confusion ensues. However, we can transcend beyond these barriers, if the intellectuals and community leaders, especially among the Expatriate communities, play their roles responsibly, without primitive partisan views and unintelligible theoretical responses.
Can there be an acknowledgement that asking for more sacrifice from any particular group and our eternally suffering Tamil speaking communities is inappropriate and is a horrid way of shirking of our responsibilities? Can we accept, whether we like it or not, we are now exposed than ever, without the support of anybody in the international communities, other than our Indian brethren for better or worse? Can we accept that there is no nation to talk about, unless we are prepared to build one and defend it for the benefit of all those live in it? Can we also understand, despite our wishes, there are international and regional conditions that cannot be changed by us alone, a small aspiring people without a nation and any international support beyond empty words, and diplomatic jargons and double-talk? Our choice in some sense simple enough: one, we persist with our hope that the LTTE will alone deliver; two accept that Sinhalese reign supreme in the island and surrender to the chauvinist power as an inevitability; three, we accept there is India and the regional reality it brings therefore, work with it to advance our cause without getting entangled in philosophical discourses. But, if we are to make any choice that we can call it our own, then we need to build a leadership that can understand and articulate our ever evolving internal and external conditions with the responsibility it deserves. If such a feat is possible, it could have only come through the understanding and acceptance of the following principles.
The leadership of the Tamils must accept that the,
Sri Lankan state has to be fundamentally reconstituted to accommodate the aspirations of all its peoples,
fundamental tenets of the Thimpu principles in its entirety must be enshrined within the new constitutional framework,
full implication of their regional responsibilities,
nation building is more important than the assumption of a nation, therefore, empowerment of our people as communities and individuals are the immediate priorities, and
action program must incorporate the content and the concepts of all the five points, with an inbuilt priority given to the fourth point, above.
We hope that those feel that they are born leaders and those in the front for the limelight forever playing the second fiddle as supporters of our peoples’ struggle are responsible and courageous enough to take our call for discussion further in a constructive manner
Ravi Sundaralingam is the Academic Secretary of ASATiC and can be reached at Academic_secretary@gmail.com