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November 30, 2008

BBC Radio Play: The Last Time I Saw Richard de Zoysa

Drama documentary about the life and death of the Sri Lankan journalist and TV newsreader Richard de Zoysa, who was abducted and killed in February 1990.

Set in the preceding years, when the Sri Lankan government was undertaking a bloody crackdown of the ultra-Marxist JVP organisation with which de Zoysa was suspected to be allied, this drama is based on interviews with those who knew and worked with him.

Click here to listen to the drama-available only untill Dec 5, 2008 GMT

Richard de Zoysa ...... Jehan Aloyius
Ravi ...... Wassam Ismael
Manorani ...... Tracy Holsinger
Rajiva Wijesinha ...... Sean Amarasekera
And Kandy ...... Nigel da Silva
Ranjan Wijeratne ...... Rohan Ponniah
Madura ...... Ruvin da Silva
Police Chief ...... Delon Weerasinghe
Ranjani ...... Subha Wijesikiwardena
Kusim ...... Mahomed Adamally
Young Richard ...... Hiran Abeysekera

Directed by Willi Richards.

Broadcast on:BBC Radio 4, 9:00pm Friday 28th NovemberDuration:58 minutes Available only until: 10:00pm GMT Friday 5th December

Director Willi Richards listens to playback during recording in monsoon

Sigiriya Heritage Site Must Not Become Gaudy Night Carnival

by Gamini Weerakoon

The Water Gardens of Sigiriya are once again being stalked by ghouls who want to make this unique landscape - a World Heritage Site declared by UNESCO - into a gaudy night carnival. This stunning manifestation of nature's beauty, left to itself for centuries after its ancient monarchs and monks departed, retained its unique features until discovered by the British who in their good sense left it basically untouched for future generations to take in its natural splendo-urs.

But with the creation of the so called Central Cultural Fund in the '70s, some academics and pseudo archaeologists have been attempting to contribute their two-cents worth and convert this pristine architectural wonder, adding on modern day vulgarities, to make it look a gaudy fun fair city. The ostensible purpose is said to be to earn scarce dollars from tourists for the government.

Last week a well known environment lawyer, Jagath Gunawardene, was reported objecting to the revival of the proposal for staging 'cultural shows' at the rock fortress for the purpose of attracting tourists. He had said that there were plans to put up spotlights on the famous rock. The rock is a part of an animal and bird sanctuary and loud music and bright lights would have a devastating effect, he had pointed out.

in a farming field

[Cranes in a farming fields in Sigiriya-pic by: Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai]

Even Shalin Falcons, an endangered species, breed in the crevices of the rock. There were deer, elephants and other mammals living in the sanctuary. The Ministry of Cultural Affairs has not put up an impact assessment report on the wild life. 'Nowhere in the world have they used cheap stunts as this to attract tourists to World Heritage Sites,' Gunawardene had said.

The proposals to 'modernise' Sigiriya became known around 2003 which resulted in a public uproar. Environmentalists, archaeologists, historians and nature lovers made vigorous protests against the proposed move which was called: 'Sunset Walk In Sigiriya.'

Sigiriya

[Sigiriya Frescos-pic by: Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai-more pictures]

The concept had been envisaged by two foreign experts, Sevin Sturia Hunges and Stein Rogers-Bull. It envisaged Sigiriya gardens to have daily visitors numbering 400; flood lights flashing down from the rock into the gardens below; electric trains to take tourists around the moat surrounding the rock; illuminated trees; soldiers dressed up in ancient regalia dating back to the days of King Kasyapa; music to be piped in to work up the tempo of sunset walk; choreographed nymphs dancing with water flowers in hand and ending up like the Apsaras in the frescoes above.

All this may be highly entertaining to tourists seeking cheap thrills and some of our noveau riche local-yokels but is this the culture we want to project to the outside world as Sri Lankan culture?

Perhaps the plans for the sunset walk may have undergone changes since 2003. But the people must be made aware of what will be staged. Sigiriya is not only the heritage of the Ministries of Cultural Affairs and Tourism but the heritage of all Sri Lankans.

Perhaps Sri Lankan culture is changing. No longer do we appreciate the simple and aesthetic values as is evident in the elegant sculptures and architecture of Anuradhapura. These simple but elegant values were retained by us till the '70s when loud music, loud colours and gaudy/vulgar shows became the order of the day.

Earlier Buddha statues sculpted from granite were far and few between and sculptors followed the ancient guidelines and traditions. Now it is the age of the Concrete Buddha. 'The taller, the better,' as a reader had recently pointed out. Perhaps they will match the cut-out political productions of Mervyn Silva at Maradana junction!

In 2003 definite alterations to structures at Sigiriya were attempted but after the outcry we are informed that they were halted. The question now is whether these 'improvements' will be renewed.

If 400 visitors are to be permitted entry into Sigiriya what would be its impact on the environment? Tourists may not come - for sometime at least. But what of the ubiquitous Hi-Ace van kothu-rotti eating generation polluting every known landscape of Lanka from Horton Plains to the beaches?

Would Sigiriya be inundated by them during the day and now at night as well?

Whither Archaeological Dept.?

The Archaeological Department dating back to the days of the legendary H.C.P. Bell and others was looking after our ancient cities and temples quite well till the advent of the Central Cultural Fund. The Archaeological Department, under the Antiquities Ordinance, had full jurisdiction over these sites but now the Cultural Fund that has emerged has muscled in and is collecting funds from visitors which is illegal.

Sliced Mangoes

[sliced magoes for sale in Sigiriya-pic: Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai]

Even poor vendors such as vatti-ammas are compelled to buy tickets and this money goes to this Cultural Fund. Tourists openly object to double standards - an exorbitant rate for them and another for the locals.

It would be of interest to readers what a Sri Lankan academic wrote to the Indian journal Frontline in 2003 on Sri Lankan architecture.

'We are concerned that archaeology had turned out to be a money spinner. There are some archaeologists trying to push out an agenda for a large private role in management of museums and World Heritage Sites. The priorities of our hoteliers and tour operators are totally different and I am not too happy about the integrity of the private sector in Sri Lanka. Archaeologists must be in control of the heritage sites for many good reasons. I have nothing against the private sector involvement in certain areas which we have strictly under our control."

The writer of those comments was Prof. Sudharshan Seneviratne, at that time, the head of the Peradeniya Faculty of Architecture. Today he is the Director General, Central Cultural Fund that much before his appointment to the fund, muscled into the Sigiriya complex.

The question that would interest readers is: Would Prof. Seneviratne be still concerned about 'archaeology turning out to be a money spinner'?

If so he should leave the natural environment of Sigiriya untouched, leave the Apsarasin peace and let the wild animals roam their traditional habitat freely.

Deep Penetration Unit Commander Jayasinghe Killed By LTTE In Oddusuddan Area

The sri Lankan army’s special force unit that operates deep inside territory controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) received a crucial setback last week when its commander Major.Lalith Jayasinghe was killed by the tigers in the Oddusuddan area of the Wanni northern mainland.

The unit specialises in infiltrating tiger – controlled territory clandestinely and launching attacks on important LTTE officials.

The unit also known as the Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) earlier is deemed responsible for a number of killings and claymore mine explosions inside tiger territory in the past.

The unit is also described as the deep penetration unit (DPU)in sections of the media.

Among successful operations conducted by the DPU are the assassinations of “Col” Shankar, Lt. Col Gangai Amaran and Lt.Col Charles.

In recent times an eight – member special squad led by special forces commander Lalith Jayasinghe has conducted many successful operations inside tiger territory even as fighting went on.

The killing of Jayasinghe has been reported by the Colombo Weekly “The Nation” of November 30th 2008-11-30

Given below is the relevant excerpt -

“Daring operations undertaken by the Army’s Special Forces are hardly mentioned in situation reports, as they meticulously avoid seeking any publicity.But we record this week the fall of one such brave officer. It is about the death of Special Forces Brigade Commander Maj. Lalith Jayasinghe who led an eight man team some 30 kilometres inside enemy lines in the Oddusudan area.”

“Due to the region being heavily watched by the LTTE, with there being a large presence of civilians in specially demarcated locations and amidst most difficult weather conditions, Maj. Jayasinghe’s team after taking out one target and while preparing to take on a second target in another location, had got into a firefight with a Tiger team that suddenly descended on their location.”

“In the firefight he had been wounded, but his team had managed to withdraw to a safer location in order to treat their commanding officer. But their pursuers had caught up with them and had again engaged them, thus ending the life of the brave major, and injuring another soldier. But the dedication of this team had been such that the remaining six members had beaten back the attackers and managed to return to their unit with the body of the major and the injured soldier.”

“Maj. Jayasinghe’s service to the Army had been such that he had been twice awarded the highest bravery medal given to a living officer, the Weera Wickreme Vibushana, while he was alive. In addition he had won a number of other fighting awards”

“The Nation” has also reported. That four soldiers were washed away by the raging floods in Thanangilappu in the Jaffna peninsula Here are the relevant excerpts:

“With heavy rains lashing the operational areas almost non- stop till Thursday, troops were stuck in knee deep muddy quagmires and attempts to advance in these terrains often led to injuries due to anti–personnel mine blasts.”

“What was worse was the inability to evacuate casualties and even the supply of warm meals to field units became a big problem. Often soldiers had no way of changing into dry uniforms. Some containers equipped with blowers sent to frontline units to dry wet clothes, proved woefully inadequate considering the large number of fully drenched soldiers.”

“The situation was such, that some units were literally marooned in flood waters. In one example about 200 soldiers who were surrounded by flood waters in Thanankilappu area had to wage a 13 hour battle to be saved from raging waters. On Wednesday at about 2:30 am, the soldiers of First Gajaba and Fourth Mechanised Infantry manning the defence line there, suddenly found themselves marooned in six feet of water. Their plea for rescue boats could not be immediately accommodated as there was a general flood situation in most areas of Jaffna. Finally, the first two rescue boats (both owned by civilians) arrived there around 11:00am. But each boat could carry no more than 15 at a time. Around 5:00pm four of the marooned soldiers were washed away by raging waters.”

“Navy rescue boats, which reached there in the evening, rescued the remaining marooned soldiers. But one sergeant and four others who had clung on to a log were picked up the following morning

November 29, 2008

Mumbai attacks: 60 hours of chaos and carnage

(AFP) For three nights, a small group of young but highly-trained Islamic militants managed to transform India's economic capital into a war zone, killing indiscriminately and hunting foreign hostages while holding off crack commandos.

[MSNBC Video-Recovery begins as Mumbai siege ends]

Indian security officials said at least a dozen attackers slipped into Mumbai by sea in two small dinghies on Wednesday evening, having been dropped off near the coast by a larger ship.

Indian media and intelligence sources said other militants may have already been pre-positioned in the city, including in two targetted luxury hotels, along with stockpiled arms and ammunition.

The siege was finally ended 60 hours later, with at least 195 dead and 295 wounded.
Among the first targets was the Chhatrapati Shivaji railway station, where at least two men unleashed automatic weapons fire and lobbed grenades into a crowd of travellers in the main waiting hall.

They left behind a pile of nearly 50 bodies -- and images of their own calm, composed faces caught by security cameras.

Evading capture as Indian security forces rushed to the station, the gunmen then attacked a charitable hospital for women and children, the Cama Hospital, shooting indiscriminately.

Again police responded, including the head of Mumbai's Anti-Terror Squad (ATS), Hemant Karkare, who was shot dead outside the hospital along with two other senior officers.

-- 'They shot at anything that moved' --

Another group struck at the Cafe Leopold, one of Mumbai's best-known restaurants and a favoured haunt of tourists and expatriates.

"They took weapons out of their sacks, lobbed three grenades and began shooting at anything that moved with their automatic weapons," Johana, a 24-year-old French tourist, told AFP.

Another group used a hijacked police vehicle for drive-by shootings, before moving on to the main targets -- symbols of Mumbai's wealth and multicultural character.

The objectives were two luxury hotels -- the Taj Mahal, one of Mumbai's most famous landmarks, and the Oberoi/Trident -- plus a Jewish centre and hostel for Israeli visitors.

The first sign guests and staff at the Taj had of the coming assault was the sound of gunshots and blasts from the hotel's swimming pool area.

Once inside, the gunmen began rounding up hostages.

"They were very young, like boys really, wearing jeans and T-shirts," one British hotel guest said of the attackers. "They said they wanted anyone with British and American passports."

The militants then made for the upper floors of the hotel, shooting at anyone in their way.
"It was really terrifying," said Brooke Satchwell, a 28-year-old Australian actress who hid inside a cupboard. "There were people getting shot in the corridor. There was someone dead outside the bathroom."

With the attack in motion, an unknown group calling itself the "Deccan Mujahedeen" said it was responsible.

The gunmen in both hotels had the better of initial clashes with the security forces, who struggled to respond to the multiple hostage situations.

Downtown Mumbai resembled a war zone.

It was then the turn of army commandos to move in and battle the militants in the hotels floor by floor, room by room.

-- Israelis murdered --

Throughout the day, Indian news channels switched endlessly from location to location as gunfire and explosions were heard, fires broke out and traumatised hotel guests made sporadic escapes to safety.

In the evening, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressed a stunned nation on television, vowing a tough response and warning "neighbours" who harboured militants -- a clear reference to arch-rival Pakistan.

As night fell again, Mumbai was under a security lockdown with the areas around the hostage sites cordoned off by the army.

Frequent reports that all the gunmen had been flushed out were repeatedly scotched by fresh gunfire and the sight of special forces units running into the hotel buildings.

As dawn broke on Friday, the focus switched to the office-residential complex housing the Jewish centre, as masked commandos abseiled onto the roof from a hovering helicopter.

They killed two gunmen -- only to find five dead Israeli hostages, including a US-based rabbi and his wife. The couple's son Moshe, who turned two on Saturday, was rescued from the attack by their nanny.

For the first time, the Indian government directly blamed arch-rival Pakistan for the militant attack.

"According to preliminary information, some elements in Pakistan are responsible," Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee said.

A number of Indian officials suggested the militants were from the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba -- notorious for a deadly assault on the Indian parliament in 2001 that almost pushed India and Pakistan to war.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said his country had "nothing to do with the attacks in Mumbai," and Pakistan's foreign minister appealed to India not to get "sucked" into a blame game and put the arch-rivals on a dangerous path to confrontation.

-- Fight to the death --

The other five-star hotel that was attacked -- the Oberoi/Trident -- was finally declared clear of militants late Friday, with scores of trapped guests rescued and 24 bodies found.

But in the historic Taj Mahal hotel, the battle raged through the night in a cacophony of intense gunfire and large explosions.

Shortly after dawn, commandos killed the last three remaining gunmen, ending the devastating episode.

"We said there were three terrorists ... and we have got three bodies," said J.K. Dutt, head of India's National Security Guard.

A total of 195 people are confirmed to have been killed and 295 others wounded. Twenty-two foreigners were killed, included the Israelis, five Americans, two French nationals, two Australians, two Canadians, a German, a Japanese, a British Cypriot, an Italian, a Singaporean and a Thai.

Eleven militants were confirmed dead and one captured. Around 15 security personnel were also killed.

Champika Ranawaka is a "Brown Sahib" Nationalist

by Izeth Hussain

We Sri Lankans are a tolerant people who allow wide latitude for the silliness of our politicians. But sometimes the silliness goes so far that even we Sri Lankans are outraged, and then the politicians go into denial mode claiming that they have been misreported by the media. For a long time Minister Ranawaka has reportedly made statements that have outraged our Muslims - perhaps he has outraged the Sinhalese just as much - but he now claims that he never made any statements against the Muslim community. If this disclaimer is a manifestation of the familiar denial mode, it is of no great consequence.

But it may be that Ranawaka actually sees nothing offensive to the Muslims in his statements. In that case they are manifestations of Brown Sahib nationalism, something that has to be taken very seriously as it can destroy Sri Lanka. (I will clarify what I have in mind about Brown Sahib nationalism, later) Ranawaka’s statements against the Muslims and other minorities have suddenly acquired a special salience because other notables have been saying the same sort of thing, probably because of a mood of Sinhala triumphalism resulting from the expectation that MrV Prabhakaran is going to be buried shortly.

The trend of those statements can be encapsulated accurately enough in the following one attributed to Ranawaka -”The Sinhalese are the only organic race of Sri Lanka. Other communities are all visitors to the country, whose arrival was never challenged out of the compassion of Buddhists. But they must not take this compassion for granted. The Muslims are here because our kings let them trade here and the Tamils because they were allowed to take refuge when the Moguls were invading in India. What is happening today is pure ingratitude on the part of these visitors.”

How on earth has Ranawaka come to have such peculiar notions about the peopling of Sri Lsnka? As far as I know no historian has thought up that one about the Tamils coming to Sri Lanka from South India because of pressure from the Moguls in North India. Down the millennia Sri Lanka has been peopled by conquest and a process of seepage mostly from India and the Middle East.

According to the founding myth of the Sinhalese themselves their ancestor Vijaya came from North East India and took over territory by expelling Kuveni and her people into the jungle - which certainly means that the Sinhalese are not indigenous to Sri Lankan soil, and don’t have the imagined “organic” connection with it. There is nothing odd about what the ancestors of the Sinhalese did. Practically all the peoples who now claim to be indigenous to a territory came into its possession through a brutal process of expropriation and genocide.

After that initial incursion by Vijaya and his men, waves of immigrants came mostly from South India and became assimilated as Sinhalese. The low-country castes of the Karava, Salagama, and Durawe, came from South India mostly after 1505. According to Kumari Jayawardena the Portuguese rulers encouraged their men to marry local females, so that many who today bear Portuguese names are partly of Portuguese descent. What those facts mean is that most of the Tamils are more indigenous to the Sri Lankan soil, have a more authentic “organic” connection with it, than a substantial proportion of the Sinhalese. The Muslims came originally from the Middle East, and mostly thereafter from South India. It is recognized that Sri Lanka has one of the most hybrid populations in the world.

Those are the facts about the peopling of Sri Lanka accepted by serious historians, as far as I know. How on earth has it come about that Ranawaka imagines that there were pristine pure Sinhalese in Sri Lanka from ancient times, and that immigrants were allowed into this country only after being allowed to do so on the basis of Buddhist compassion? I can think of only one explanation. It is that our Patali Champika Ranawaka, despite his pure Sinhalese blood, has become a Brown Sahib without knowing it. He imagines that the nation-state, a Western creation, a state formation that has prevailed only for a couple of centuries, existed in Sri Lanka from ancient times. Certainly nations and proto-nations have existed from ancient times, and also certainly Sri Lanka has had from ancient times the requisite components for a nation-state as few other countries have had. However, the nation-state is a modern phenomenon. It will help if I now provide the definition of nationalism given by Pierre-Andre Taguieff, the leading French authority on the race problem.

No definition of terms like “nationalism” ever commands unanimity, but his definition reflects accurately enough the broad understanding in the contemporary world of what is meant by the terms “nationalism” and the “nation-state”. He defines nationalism as a modern political ideology founded on the principle of the self-determination of peoples, or on “the right of peoples to dispose of themselves”, including the sovereignty of the people, the independence of the national territorial state, as well as the unity and the cultural homogeneity of the national population. There are revolutionary conceptions behind that definition which would have been anathema to traditional rulers.

They would never have accepted that the people are sovereign, or that they have the right of self-determination - meaning the right to set up their own state - or that national territory is bounded in a way that cannot be changed because of dynastic marriages and so on. In my view two factors - the people’s sovereignty and the national territory being regarded as sacrosanct - have made a far greater degree of unity possible for the nation-state than has been possible under any other state-formation. That is why the nation-state has proved to be so dynamic.

I believe that the nation-state is doomed to disappear for certain reasons. But in the present phase of history it is of great value particularly for small and weak nations like Sri Lanka. So why am I berating Ranawaka as a Brown Sahib nationalist? The problem is that there are two kinds of nationalism. In one, based on the French notion of citizenship, anyone who becomes the citizen of a country becomes the equal of everyone else even if he is a newcomer. It is a notion of nationalism that leads to the unity and emancipation of the people of a country. In the other kind of nationalism the majority ethnic group is supposed to have a very special, integral, “organic” connection with the sacred soil of a country, while the minorities who lack that organic connection will never be capable of authentic nationalism, and are for ever to be regarded as “visitors”.

It is a kind of nationalism that is one of the two major defining characteristics of contemporary fascism. It leads naturally to racism, and it can only lead to disaster in multi-ethnic countries such as Sri Lanka. Unfortunately for us the LTTE’s nationalism is of the same fascist kind.

The late Tarzie Vittachi, great journalist though he was, wrote a rather puerile book on the Brown Sahib, though it had at its core the useful notion that the Brown Sahib who imitates the worst of the West is a deplorable phenomenon. Ranawaka imitates the worst kind of nationalism spawned by the West, and that is why I call his a Brown Sahib nationalism. Are we capable of being inspired by the other kind of nationalism?

I take hope in the thought that when SWRD Bandaranaike - on being elected Prime Minister in 1956 - was asked by a foreign correspondent what he thought of the Americans, he replied that there could not be much wrong with a people who had produced a book like Huckleberry Finn. He was responding to the revolutionary ideology of the Enlightenment that had inspired that novel.

Three years earlier I myself, responding to the appeal of the same revolutionary ideology, wrote my first ever article on Huckleberry Finn, published in the Friday page of the Daily News by the late and great Regi Siriwardene. I have a suspicion that the future of Sri Lanka does not belong to Ranawaka and the JHU. More likely it belongs to SWRD Bandaranaike and Izeth Hussain.

BBC Audio: Uncovering the abduction and killing of civilians in Sri Lanka

BBC's Roland Buerk reports on the lengths to which the Sri Lankan army and its proxies have gone to ensure victory in their war against the Tamil Tigers:

[MP 3 Audio-BBC Crossing Continents~ Featuring interviews with Sri Lankan Ministers Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Keheliya rambukwella, Tamil Parliamentarian R. Sambandan, Father Henry Miller, Human Rights Activist Sunila Abeysekara, TMVP leader Karuna V. Muralitharan and several Sinhala and Tamil civilians]

Reporter: Roland Buerk ~ Producer: Colin Pereira

[BBC Radio 4 - On the ground reporting from around the world which focuses on the human dimension of the big international stories]

November 28, 2008

Why is Kollywood supporting Lanka Tamils?

by Pushpa Iyengar

When Ajith, a rare Tamil film star who eschews politics, said he'd be skipping the Nov 1 fast the industry was organising in support of the Lanka Tamils, he was in for a shock. The London theatre which was to release his latest film, Aegan, was ransacked. Chastised, Ajith lost no time joining other big stars—Rajnikanth, Kamalahaasan, Vikram, Vijay, Surya—at the fast in Chennai on November 1.

The star should have known that Aegan was produced by Ayngaran International, an international film distribution and production company owned by influential London-based Sri Lankan Tamil K. Karunamoorthy. He is a man who is not only well-connected to the Kodambakkam film industry but is also known to be close to top DMK leaders.

[Ajith speaking at the Nov 1st fast in Chennai]

While the overseas market was earlier limited to Malaysia and Singapore, which have Tamils of Indian origin, the ethnic strife in Sri Lanka has led to Sri Lankan Tamils relocating to Canada, the UK, Europe and US as well. Many of them have got into film distribution and production. One estimate puts the Lankan Tamil share of the Rs 1,200-crore Tamil film industry at more than 30 per cent. "Ayngaran has a very deep relationship within the Tamil film fraternity and has over 90 per cent marketshare internationally," says Karunamoorthy. He estimates the overseas market for Tamil films to be one-quarter of the box-office collection for Bollywood films.

Earlier this year, Ayngaran pulled off a casting coup by signing Rajnikanth and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan for Aendhiran (Robot), which Karunamoorthy is producing for Rs 100 crore-plus, the most expensive Tamil film so far. That's how big he is, say industry sources, and if he sympathises with the Lankan Tamil cause, the entire industry has to sympathise with the Lankan Tamil cause too.

Hence the impressive star turnout at protest rallies and fasts. In fact, when actor Madhavan could not be present at the fast since he was shooting in London, he issued a statement explaining his absence. Kamalahaasan called off his birthday celebrations on Nov 7, saying, "An individual's birthday loses credence when genocide is practised in our neighbouring island with renewed vigour."

Not to be outdone, Rajni too has signalled that his birthday on December 12 not be an occasion for merriment. "When every Tamil heart is wounded over the sufferings of our Lankan brethren, it is inappropriate to celebrate my birthday," a statement from his office said. "This," says Tamil writer A.R. Venkatachalapathy, "shows that the stars know the pulse of the people and know that the sufferings of Tamils in the island have struck a genuine sympathetic chord."

Not so, say the cynics, the stars shine because it's a great photo-op. Art critic Sadanand Menon puts the star turnout to opportunism. "Deep down," he says, "they succumb to the politics of charisma. In their book, LTTE's Prabhakaran fits the bill. There is a secret desire to enact roles that have shades of Prabhakaran, which is why our heroes have titles like Captain and Commander."

Interestingly, while politicians—even CM M. Karunanidhi, who has threatened repeatedly to resign over the plight of Tamils—have run out of steam, the entertainment industry, including TV actors and producers, has kept the momentum going. Thughlaq editor Cho Ramaswamy has a humorous take. "Stars can put on any kind of emotion at a director's command," he says."Here the director is Karunanidhi. In Tamil films, an emotional scene is followed by comedy. That will happen here too." [courtesy: Outlookindia.com]

What follows after re-taking Kilinochchi?

by Shanie

Government spokespersons have once again claimed that the military is poised to enter Kilinochchi at any moment now. These spokespersons have also contested reports that there is a humanitarian crisis involving the internally displaced in the Vanni. Former President J R Jayewardene once famously declared that as Executive President he had the power to do anything except to make a man a woman. The present day spokespersons will no doubt be able to present a case, if it suits their propaganda, why a man is indeed a woman. The claims of these propagandists and apologists are only matched by the disinformation of the apologists for the LTTE among the Tamil diaspora. Both enjoy the same credibility.

In conventional operations, the ragtag fighting cadres of the LTTE are no equal to the Sri Lankan security forces, with their vastly superior training and arms and the co-ordinated air, sea and ground thrusts. There is no doubt that in due course, they will capture territory now controlled by the LTTE – which means they will re-take Kilinochchi very soon. But we must remember that this is not the first time that Kilinochchi is being taken from LTTE control. The IPKF reclaimed the area and Government re-took control after the withdrawal of the IPKF from the North. The LTTE again re-established control after the Elephant Pass debacle in the mid-nineties.

But what follows after re-taking Kilinochchi? The civilian population has now moved to the east of the Jaffna-Kandy (or A9) road. Extending the war to that part of the Kilinochchi/Mullaitivu districts is going to cause a further disruption and loss of civilian lives. Even if the war were to be halted after the re-taking of Kilinochchi, holding on to the western sector now under Army control will not be easy since the LTTE will switch to guerrilla warfare. This will be a repetition of the East where the civilians are now experiencing a free-for-all among a plethora of armed groups, including the LTTE. In previous occasions, the security forces were viewed by the civilian population as an army of occupation by the civilians. This impression was not altogether fair by the security forces as they had only to perform a military duty in difficult circumstances. It was the political leadership that should have, both by words and political action, made a more determined effort to win over the civilian population.

A Political Initiative

This then is the task before President Rajapaksa. When he came into power three years ago, he enjoyed, as did his predecessor Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, the goodwill and hope of many civilians among the minorities. But all that seems to have evaporated so quickly. They seem to see him now as going along, for whatever reason, with the Sinhala supremacist agenda. Key members of his Government are on record as saying that our country belongs to the majority community. President Rajapaksa has not disassociated himself from these statements.

In 1985, following the collapse of the Thimpu talks, a ‘left’ alliance of the LSSP, CP and SLMP headed by Vijaya Kumaratunga, leader of the Sri Lanka Mahajana Party, issued a joint statement, where they stated: "Our three parties are of the firm opinion that a negotiated settlement would be more easy to achieve if the government and its spokespersons as well as the Tamil and other organisations and the extremists conduct themselves in the perspective of the highest interests of all the people of Sri Lanka and not primarily or solely as the representatives of any particular community in Sri Lanka.

"It is also essential that the government comes forward with new proposals which take account of the desire of the Tamil (and Muslim) people to be ensured conditions which will protect them against violence to their persons and property, discrimination, injustice and affronts to their self-respect."

President Rajapaksa has shown little urgency in proposing a political package to satisfy the political grievances of the minorities. His repeated statements that a political settlement will be considered only after the defeat of the LTTE have sounded ominous. Adding further fears to the minorities are statements attributed to parties of his government that the defeat of the LTTE is ‘the political solution’. When he appointed the APC, the APRC and the Experts Panel, many believed he was genuine in trying to find a consensus political package, even though he did not invite the TNA, the elected representatives of the Northern and Eastern Tamils, to the all-Party groupings, the only parliamentary party so left out. When the Experts Panel produced a report that did not conform to the Sinhala nationalist agenda, it was rejected. The APRC has been dragging its feet and obviously cannot come up with proposals that conform to the same agenda. Otherwise, their report will also, like the Experts’ Panel report, end up in the back-burner.

Building Trust

A pre-requisite for a political settlement is the building of trust with the minorities. It is here that this Government has totally failed. There was a feeling among the minorities, even among those politically opposed to them, that Presidents Premadasa and Kumaratunga wanted a political settlement that was just and fair by all communities. This unfortunately has not been the case in respect of the present Government. Trust-building is not only with the minorities. The people of all communities must be prepared, the right mood created for the acceptance of a political package that is just and fair by all. Every community must be prepared to make some sacrifice, must be willing to make some compromise on their grievances in the cause of lasting peace and unity.

Some of the Sinhala nationalists in Parliament openly give vent to their supremacist agenda. One such figure in a newspaper article claims that no other state in the world provides food to enemy forces as does Sri Lanka. He was obviously referring to the " food convoys being sent to the (Tamil) people in the Vanni. To him, the Tamil people are the enemy. He probably thinks that the Tamil civilians should be starved into submission. Izeth Hussein is right when he says that even though these parties by themselves have little electoral strength, their propaganda can affect the psyche of the ordinary Sinhala people. Similarly, even if the LTTE cannot hope to win an election, their propaganda will have an effect on the psyche of the ordinary Tamil people. Pirapaharan has engaged in the rhetoric that we have been used to in his annual ‘Great Heroes Day’ speech. He repeats that the only alternative is a separate state for the Tamil people. We believe that the vast majority of the Tamil people reject the idea of separation. We also believe that the LTTE, or for that matter any of the other armed groups, do not have any electoral strength and will be unable to win a free and fair election. But the extremists, on both sides of the ethnic divide, mutually support each other to create an ‘anti-other’ mood among the respective communities, knowing full well that they lack electoral support to win any seats in Parliament on their own strength.

Ethnic Cleansing

The LTTE supremo who in his Heroes Day speech waxes eloquently about the discrimination and injustice being faced by the Tamils, has no word to say about the expulsion of the Muslims from the North. These displaced Muslims observed the eighteenth anniversary of their expulsion with a rally at the Negombo Town Hall two weeks ago. They have placed certain very reasonable demands when the time is ripe for re-settlement. But in the meantime, they remain a forgotten community, living under appalling conditions in IDP Camps mainly in the Puttalam District.

The manner in which the Muslims have been treated by the LTTE is a foretaste of how minorities will be treated, if ever there is LTTE rule. They will be no different from their soul brothers in the south. (ENDS)

[This is an excerpt from the column "Notebook of a Nobody" written by "Shanie" in "The Island" of November 29th 2008]

Prabakaran's speech leaves Sri Lankan state only two alternatives

by Dayan Jayatilleka

It ain’t over till it’s over, or as the Americans put it, in a reference to the opera, it ain’t over till the fat lady sings. The Mahaveera Day 2008 speech by Velupillai Prabhakaran, one of the world’s most notorious and certainly tubbiest terrorist leaders, demonstrates that there can be no solution to Sri Lanka ’s conflict so long as he remains alive and active, and has not been brought to justice. In our case it ain’t over till the fat laddie swings.

In the first place the man is an outrageously unrepentant liar and assumes that everyone suffers from amnesia. In his speech he says that “It may be noted that during the long history of our struggle, we have not conducted any act of aggression against any member state of the international community”. Let us forget for a moment that Sri Lanka is a member state of the international community, a fact that is proved by his complaint in the same speech, of the military and diplomatic assistance that Sri Lanka has obtained from members of the international community on precisely that basis. The man obviously believes that the assassination by suicide bomber of India’s former Prime Minister and (at the time) leader of the Opposition, Shri Rajiv Gandhi, former chairperson of SAARC, son of legendary former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and grandson of the iconic first Prime Minister of independent India, Shri Nehru, is not “an act of aggression against any member of the international community”!

In the second place he lies about the history of negotiations, about the absence of an alternative. There were alternatives for the last two decades or more. In September 1987, the Sri Lankan –or Sinhala, as he would put it—armed forces in the North and east had been confined to barracks, the Indian peacekeepers were the buffer between the Sinhalese and Tamils, and an Interim administration covering the Northern and eastern provinces had been created by Executive fiat. Of the twelve seats on that council, seven, including the chairmanship, were offered to the LTTE, and yet Prabhakaran refused. He opened fire on the IPKF by October 10th that year.

Jump cut to 2003. He had arrived at a ceasefire in 2001, not because he was winning as he claims in this speech (doubtless referring to the Katunayaka attack) but because, several months after Katunayake, the Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols of the Sri Lankan Special Forces had begun to pick off his command structure—in short because he was taking some hard hits. In April 2003, forty plus states and multilateral agencies were to attend a donor conference in Tokyo to which the LTTE had been invited. Taking exception to its non-invitation to Washington DC , (to the sympathetic nods of Colombo ’s academics and coffee club cosmopolitans) it chose to boycott the Tokyo meeting. No other terrorist or insurgent movement would have done so. Instead, any other movement would have gone to the meeting, used it as a platform and protested its non-invitation to Washington . Prabhakaran did not, because he wants all or nothing and thinks that he, his cause and his movement are entitled to such special status.

Following the LTTE’s pull out from that last “peace process”, Tiger spokesman Anton Balasingham declared in writing that there had been no agreement to explore internal self-determination amounting to federalism within a united Sri Lanka . This provoked the usually mild and compliant Norwegians to release the minutes of the sessions at which this agreement had been arrived at.

If federalism was what he wanted, Prabhakaran had a clear choice: not walk out of the CFA process, not renege on the understanding to explore federalism and not enforce a coercive boycott of the Presidential election of 2005 at which the opposition candidate, in collaboration with the sitting (but outgoing) President, was committed to a bipartisan consensus for a federal constitution.

This is one of Prabhakaran’s many consistencies: the sabotage of any possibility of reform, the assassination of reformists, the foreclosure of reformist alternatives, and then the Big Lie of the absence of alternatives as an excuse to continue or resume large scale armed violence and terrorism.

The other consistency echoes and re-echoes throughout his speech this year. This is the reiteration of a fundamentalist case. There is Tamil land, from ancient days, and there is Sinhala land. The Sinhalese have no right to be present on the Tamil land. Axiomatically the Tamil land must translate itself into an independent sovereign country, Tamil Eelam. There is not the slightest glimmer of any possible solution, however far-reaching, within a united country, a single Sri Lanka .

The international community which boycotts and blockades the elected Hamas administration in Gaza because it does not recognise the right of existence of the state of Israel must eschew all contacts with Tamil separatism which does not accept the bottom line that that any solution – however radical -- must be within the borders of the legitimate sovereign state of Sri Lanka.

Prabhakaran’s speech reiterates the zero sum character of the game. There is nothing in that discourse that is negotiable. It leaves the state only two alternatives: Capitulation and withdrawal or fight on to reunify and reintegrate the whole territory of this small island.

In his speech Prabhakaran clearly indicates where he places his bets: Tamil Nadu, and through Tamil Nadu , India , and Tamils the world over. It is a pan-Tamilian appeal, with hints of a Greater Tamil Eelam as single psychological space, if not an immediately political one.

The Mahaveera speech 2008 coincides with the multiple terrorist attacks in Mumbai. There is a pernicious theory which distinguishes between international terrorist networks of “jihadis” and terrorist causes which are home grown and have territorial aspirations. This is nonsense. Every terrorist organization has some territorial referent, whether it is Kashmir or Palestine . As Prof Robert Pape’s research (his data base contains every single terrorist act committed any where in the world going back decades) concludes, every terrorist cause, especially every terrorist cause that deploys suicide killers, sees itself as fighting for the liberation of some territory from some alien domination or presence in one or more geographic location, be it the Taliban, Al Qaeda (US troops on Islamic soil including in Saudi Arabia), Islamic Jihad or the Tamil Tigers.

It is not that no distinctions are observable or legitimate as between various armed movements, but these boil down to the distinction between those who resort to the witting use of lethal violence against non-combatant targets and those who avoid such use. That is the distinction between terrorism on the one hand and armed insurgency, guerrilla warfare, or armed liberation struggles on the other. Terrorism is a method. It is deployed in the service of an array of causes and springs from an array of inspirational sources or distortions of such sources.

Terrorists are not necessarily those who only target civilians. Most terrorist organizations target armed forces at one time or another, while also going for non- combatant “soft targets”. Al Qaeda, the Taliban, the various “jihadi” organizations in areas of Pakistan and Kashmir, attack variously the armed forces of the US and its allies, Pakistan and India —but this does not exempt them from the appellation of terrorist because they also kill the unarmed and the innocent.

Terrorists learn from each other just as medical researchers or athletes or musicians do. They learn from each others’ example and behaviour, tactics and techniques. This is quite irrespective of the differences in their causes and ideologies. South Asia is one of the world’s most volatile and dangerous regions, not least because of the presence of nuclear weapons. Ethnic, religious tribal and kinship ties move across state borders. This draws states into the internal affairs of others. If the states of South Asia do not adopt a consistent policy towards terrorist movements; if there is no united front of states against terrorist movements, all states and societies in the region will suffer, with deleterious consequences for far-flung areas of the globe including the most powerful and affluent.

Prabhakaran is one of the best known names in South Asian and global terrorism. The LTTE is a well-known terrorist “brand”. The fate of the LTE will send a signal throughout the region and the world. Prabhakaran’s speech demonstrates that he is unrepentant in his maximlaism, fanaticism and political fundamentalism. He displays once again and even more than before, the syndrome that most fanatics do: that of Hubris. Hubris, as we know from the ancient Greeks, attracts Nemesis. Prabhakaran and his Tigers have left us no choice if we are to save this island from being split apart on ethnic lines and descended upon by pan Tamil expansionism. Nemesis is awaiting Prabhakaran in the form of the spearheads of the Sri Lankan armed forces, fighting in the mud and rain, but closing in. It must never be forgotten though, that Kilinochchi is the penultimate prize. This war can only end the way it did in Angola with the death of Jonas Savimbi and in Chechnya with the death of Djokar Dudayev and Shamil Basayev. It can only end in the jungles and townships of Mullaitivu where Prabhakaran retreated and recovered from the IPKF and then from the Sri Lankan army after Riviresa. Let none, no factor or force, internal or external, stop or delay Prabhakaran’s rendezvous with Nemesis.

(These are the personal views of the writer).

Rain and floods add to the misery of IDPs in Vanni

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the floods are worst in five districts: Jaffna, Mannar, Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu in Northern province, and Trincomalee in Eastern province. Three reservoirs are at risk of overflowing, and vehicle movements across the north are being obstructed by flood waters and bad road conditions, thus hampering the progress of humanitarian convoys.

Free movement of aid delivery is also hindering the arrival of much needed help for the civilians. The Sri Lankan government should immediately lift its September order barring humanitarian agencies from the Vanni conflict area in northern Sri Lanka so they can assist thousands of persons displaced by flooding from Cyclone Nisha, Human Rights Watch said on Nov 28th.

War displaced civilians seeking refuge in open lands and in temporary huts in low-lying areas were forced to move into shelters in schools, temples, churches and public buildings in Vanni due to heavy rain and floods.

VF121.jpg

[pic: Virakesari-Nov, 27, 2008]

The residents of Vaddakkachchi, Puliyampokkanai, Visuvamadu, Chundikkulam, Piramanthan, Punnai Neeraavi, Red Barna, Thearaavil, Udaiyaarkaddu, Vallipunam and Puthukkudiyiruppu have suffered great loss of goods due to the heavy floods.

Thirty huts belonging to Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in a temporary settlement located next to Kilinochchi Kumaarasamipuram Government Tamil Mixed School in Visuvamadu have been completely washed away by the floods.

At least six deaths in Vanni and five in Jaffna district have been reported as of Nov 28th, due to the floods caused by storms coupled with torrential monsoon downpour.

Defiant Prabakaran ready to continue fighting

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

The nineteenth “Great heroes day” (GHD) was observed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on Thursday November 27th. In recent times the most important event for the LTTE has been its annual ‘Maaveerar Naal’ or “Maaveerar Thinam”held each year. [click here to read the article in full - in Daily Mirror.lk]

November 27, 2008

Heavy rains delay Awaited Capture Of Kilinochchi Town

By Sunil Jayasiri

Since the capture of the strategically important LTTE stronghold in the Western flank of the A-9 (Jaffna-Kandy) main road – Pooneryn- the public are anxious and eager to see the Sri Lanka Army hoist the national flag over the Tiger administrative capital – Kilinochchi.

On Wednesday, many sections including the media were in a dilemma as to whether the armed forces captured the Kilinochchi town or not. There were many inquiries from the defence officials in this regard throughout the day, as it was the birthday of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. Although the media expected the government to announce the capture of Kilinochchi on Wednesday, it did not take place .According to ground sources several small teams are in Kilinochchi town, where armed LTTE cadres continue to fire at troops with heavy weapons. With the capture of Pooneryn the army is marching toward Kilinochchi from three directions.

Unfortunately however heavy rains have slowed down this foward march .Roads, paddy fields and , jungles were flooded hindering military operations. Another difficulty facing the military are the land mines scattered all over the area, laid by the fleeing Tigers. The flood waters had dislodged these landmines and carried them all over the area.

With the heavy rains that started last week and is continuing ,several temporarily built huts of the military, that were used as small operation centres in the operational areas too had been washed away. Moreover the heavy winds throughout the day have also prevented any major military offensives in the Kilinochchi theatre except for exchange of fire using heavy weapons.

There were reports that a few soldiers had gone missing with the commencement of the rainy weather, but later they had reported back to their respective duty places. Sources further added that many irrigation tanks within the newly captured areas as well as in LTTE-held areas were overflowing making the routes impassable.

It is also reported that people, displaced in uncleared areas were facing tremendous difficulties as their temporary lodging places were under water. Some of them who managed to escape to cleared areas a few days ago had informed the military that due to floods civilians were unable to come to cleared areas using roads such as the Puliyankulam-Nedunkerni road which had gone under water. They had also reported that a large number of people are ready to come to cleared areas.

Since capturing the LTTE entry/exit point at Omanthai more than 300 civilians had crossed over to the cleared areas using the A-9 on a daily basis. The LTTE have relocated their entry/exit point to Oddusuddan. On Wednesday ICRC officials tried to travel to the LTTE point at Oddusudan but were unable to do so due to floods.

The rains appear to have lessened since Wednesday. However despite the heavy rains the 59 Division in Welioya and Task Force III in Mankulam and Oddusuddan carried out offensives but troops in other battle fronts could not carry out major offensives.However, fighting ensued between troops of the Task Force 1 (TF1) based in west of Kilinochchi and the LTTE, North of Adampan and East of Nevil general areas, resulting in soaring LTTE casualties.

On Wednesday, troops of the 58 Division ambushed a Pajero jeep on a road linking the Pooneryn -Paranthan road and captured it along with two motor bicycles that were providing security to the jeep. During the attack LTTE cadres in the vehicles had fled the scene. But the troops opened fire at the fleeing Tigers causing fatal injuries. The Military believe that a senior LTTE leader was also in that jeep and the motor bicycles were providing security to him. The jeep had been modified to travel along jungle tracks.

In the recent times, several senior LTTE leaders came under various attacks. LTTE’s top military leader Sornam managed to escape a claymore attack on the vehicle he was travelling a week ago.

In Kilinochchi area, another senior LTTE Leader ‘Stanley’ was killed due to the military attack last weekend. Stanley was the one time deputy military head of breakaway Leader Karuna Amman, who is now a Parliamentarian.

The three frontal surge of the Task Force 1 has caused the LTTE to thin out its forward defence lines. The advancing infantrymen are now positioned at the 5th and 6th mile posts along the Pooneryn -Paranthan road. Soldiers of the 3 Gemunu Regiment, 9 Vijayaba, 8 Ceylon Light Infantry (CLI) and 10 CLI of the 57 Divisions were heading toward Kilinochchi from the north of Akkarayan, while soldiers of the 17 Gemunu Watch, 12 Gemenu Regiment and 8 Sinha Regiment were marching towards to Paranthan from west of Paranthan area.

The third formation was heading to Kilinochchi from the Adampan area through the north of Akkarayan village.

The troops are now some seven kilomtres away from the Kilinochchi town. However, small teams frequently carry out attacks on the Tigers within the town area. Ground sources said that the LTTE was using their remaining hardcore Tigers to hold the town using maximum fire power, as losing Kilinochchi will affect them badly. Capturing Kilinochchi will facilitate the troops to further cut off LTTE supplies to Elephant Pass, Pallai and Muhamalai, where intensive fighting is taking place.Already, a large number of LTTE cadres, who were in the Muhamalai front had been called to Kilinochchi to fight against the advancing military. Compared to other captured areas, LTTE cadres were carrying out ‘Do or Die’ style operations in order to protect their administrative capital. Further, losing the town will affect the morale of the fighting cadres as well as the Tamil diaspora around the world.

The LTTE had placed every resource at its hand to hold the town in order to prevent troops entering it especially on Wednesday and Thursday, as Prabhakaran’s birthday fell on Wednesday and the Mahaveer Day was on Thursday.

However, battlefield information revealed that during the next week, troops will be able to capture the Kilinochchi town area. State intelligence reported that this time the LTTE Leader made his ‘Mahaveer Speech’ in an undisclosed location, as done earlier, and recorded and aired it through their clandestine Voice of Tiger radio. It is learnt that Prabhakaran was hiding in the Viswamadu area northeast of Iranamadu, where a large number of displaced civilians are currently taking refuge.

Due to constant movements from one hideout to another, the Tiger leader had recorded his statement on an earlier date, intelligence sources confirmed.

Further fighting was reported south of Adampan, northeast of Pudumurippu and north of Murukandi areas on Wednesday, with a step-up of heavy artillery and mortar attacks by the 57 Division troops. Troops met with less LTTE resistance in these areas according to military sources who added that floods have restricted the movement of LTTE heavy artillery along the defences.

The LTTE built bund from Kilalay lagoon to Iranamadu covering Kilinochchi and Paranthan area, were breached by the troops in several places forcing the LTTE to retreat further to the north and east. The LTTE tried to recapture these military captured areas, but they hade been unable to do so due to heavy resistance from the military.

However, though the military made a tactical withdrawal from the bund due to heavy attacks by the LTTE they later re-captured it. [courtesy: Daily Mirror.lk]

Full text of 'Great Heroes Day' address 2008

Full text of LTTE's official translation of the Tamil speech of LTTE leader Mr. V. Pirapaharan:

My beloved people of Tamil Eelam,

Today is Maveerar Naal – our Great Heroes Day.

On this day of purity we remember and honour our dearly beloved heroes whose supreme sacrifice for the liberation of our motherland continues to fills all our hearts.

It is for us a commemoration day of reverence when we pay homage to our brave and valiant heroes who have transformed our land from one that was for many years subjugated by foreign rule into a defiant land refusing to submit to the will of the alien oppressor.

This is our national day on which we engrave tenderly in our hearts the memory of our great heroes who died and whose sacred aspiration was the redemption of our land so that our people may live in freedom and with self-respect.

Our heroes loved this land deeply. From the moment they fixed their eyes on the redemption of our motherland to the moment they closed their eyes permanently, the sacrifices they made have no parallel in the history of the world. No country but ours had at any time encountered such wonderful dedication as expressed in the actions of our valiant heroes.

It was on this land that our heroes were born. They grew up here and lived here. It was on this land that their footsteps have their imprints. The air they breathed is mingled with this land. From time immemorial, from generation to generation the Tamil people lived on this land. It was this land which our heroes loved deeply. Our heroes died for this land and are at rest in its bosom. The land where they are embedded, belongs to us. It is our own land. But an arrogant Sinhala nation stands adamant and is determined to occupy and conquer this historic land. All human suffering springs from unbridled desire. Unless one extricates oneself from the clutch of greed, one will not free himself from the fetters of sorrow. With its greed for land, Sinhalam has entered a militaristic path of destruction. It has sought to build the support of the world to confront us. It is living in a dreamland of military victory. It is a dream from which it will awake. That is certain.

My beloved people!

The land of Tamil Eelam is confronted with an intense war as never before. Rearing its head in different parts of Wanni, the war is gathering momentum. As the Sinhala state is committed to a military solution, the war is becoming intense and widespread. The underlying intent of the Sinhala state is to wipe out the national life and resources of the Tamils and subjugate the Tamil nation under alien Sinhala military despotism. With this in view, it is executing its war plan at full gallop. Pooling together all its military resources and arsenal, and with all its national wealth to buttress it, the racist Sinhala state has waged a fierce war on our land. Our freedom fighters, have dedicated themselves to unbending resistance against this war of aggression launched by the racist Sinhala state. With various countries of the world buttressing the genocidal war on the people of Tamil Eelam, we are waging a defensive war for the freedom of our people.

Today, our movement has embarked on a historic journey, hazardous and strenuous. In this historic venture, we have encountered numerous turns, twists and confrontations. We have faced forces much mightier than ours. We have had direct confrontations even against superior powers, stronger than us. We have withstood wave after wave of our enemy attacks. Standing alone, we have blasted networks of innumerable intrigues, interwoven with betrayal and sabotage. We stood like a mountain and faced all dangers that loomed like storms. When compared to these happenings of the past, today’s challenges are neither novel nor huge. We will face these challenges with the united strength of our people.

This land which the Sinhala state is trying to occupy and enslave, has never belonged to it. This land is ours. Ancient Tamil civilisation stood long and firm on this land. Our ancestors lived and belonged here. Our ancient kings built kingdoms and dynasties and ruled from here. On this land where the roots of our nation have sunk deep, we wish to live in peace and with dignity and make decisions on our lives without the intervention of foreign rulers.

From the day that British colonialism was replaced with Sinhala oppression, we have been struggling for our just rights - peacefully at first and with weapons thereafter. The political struggle for our right to self-determination has extended over the last sixty years. During this period our struggle has gone through different shapes, developments and advanced to maturity. In the beginning, it was a peaceful and democratic struggle by our people for justice. The racist Sinhala state resorted to armed and animal like violence to suppress the peaceful struggle of the Tamil people for their political rights. It was when state oppression breached all norms and our people faced naked terrorism that our movement for freedom was born as a natural outcome in history. We were compelled to take up arms in order to protect our people from the armed terrorism of the racist Sinhala state. The armed violent path was not our choice. It was forced upon us by history.

Even though the armed struggle was thrust on us by inevitable needs, yet we wish to stop the war and seek a peaceful resolution to the national question of our people. Our freedom movement is always ready for it. We are not opposed to a peaceful resolution. We have never hesitated to participate in peace talks. From Thimpu to Geneva, under diametrically varied historical circumstances, we have adopted peaceful methods and participated in talks in order to win the political rights of our people.

Although we acted honestly and whole heartedly, to find a peaceful resolution to the national question, all talks were futile. The intransigence of the Sinhala state, its dishonest approach and its faith in military solution were the cause for failure of the talks. Even at a time when we had produced spectacular achievements in battle fields and broken the back-bone of the Sinhala armed forces, we participated in the peace negotiations facilitated by Norway. Bringing the war to an end, we participated with honesty and diligence in the peace negotiations which protracted for six years.

We continued to exercise patience at the military rampages and provocations by the armed forces. It is not that we trusted the racist Sinhala state to respect our people’s fair claims and advance justice, but it was to expose the hypocrisy of the Sinhala state and at the same time to impress upon the international community our commitment to peace, that we participated in the negotiations.

During the peace talks convened in different capitals of the world, there were no attempts to resolve the day-to-day needs of the Tamil people or to negotiate a resolution to the underlying national question. Sri Lanka made use of the opportunity of the peace talks to attempt to weaken the LTTE and hoodwink the Tamil nation and the international community. Using the talks as a masquerade, the Sinhala state made preparations to wage a major war on the Tamil nation. Making use of the cease-fire and the peace environment, the Sinhala state resuscitated its devastated economy and rebuilt its military might that was in shambles. It concentrated on heavy recruitment, refurbishing its arsenal, strengthening the armed forces and conducting military exercises. While the Tamil nation was engaged in peace-building, the Sinhala nation dedicated itself to preparations for war.

Meanwhile, some countries which identified themselves as so-called Peace Sponsors, rushed into activities which impaired negotiations. They denigrated our freedom movement as a terrorist organisation. They put us on their black list and ostracized us as unwanted and untouchable. Our people living in many lands were intimidated into submission by oppressive limitations imposed on them to prevent their political activities supporting our freedom struggle. Humanitarian activities pursued by our law-abiding people in many countries, well within the purview of the law of the land, have been belittled and curtailed. These activities were aimed at providing humanitarian aid to helpless victims of genocidal attacks by the Sinhala Sri Lanka state in Tamil areas. However, these humanitarian activities were branded as criminal activities in those countries. Representatives of the Tamil people, along with community leaders were arrested, jailed and insulted. The explicit bias shown by the activities of these countries affected the talks, in its balance and in its consideration of our status as an equal partner. This further aggravated the racist attitude of the Sinhala state. Sinhala chauvinism was encouraged to raise its head with impunity and inevitably push the Sinhala state further on its war path.

The Sinhala state shut tight the gates to peace and waged its war again on the Tamil nation. The cease-fire agreement facilitated by the international community was abrogated unilaterally by Sinhala Sri Lanka. Strangely no voice of protest was registered by any peace sponsor. Not even as a formality. Nor was any concern expressed. In contrast, some countries from the international community are providing an abundant supply of war materials, military training and expert advice, all for free. This has encouraged the Sinhala state to aggravate its genocidal war against the Tamils with a terrorist audacity.

Today, the Sinhala state has, as never before, placed its trust on its military strength, on military modalities and on a military solution. Its desire to impose its military despotism over the Tamil homeland and order a stringent military rule over the Tamils, has increased. As a result, the war has gathered intensity and momentum. In truth, this is not a war against the LTTE as the Sinhala state professes. This is a war against the Tamils; against the Tamil nation. In short, a genocidal war.

This war has affected Tamil civilians more than any body else. By turning the heat of war on our people and by burdening them with immeasurable sufferings, the Sinhala state is aspiring to turn our people against the LTTE. By closing the trunk-line roads, embargoing food and medicine and by suffocating people in tight military encirclements, the government has unleashed barrages of bombardments and shelling. Having lost their private lands and the serene life on them, our people have been reduced to destitution and live as wandering refugees. They have been forced to carry the cross of eternal suffering from birth to death. Struggling with disease and misery, malnutrition, ageing and untimely death, our people are steeped in suffering. With the solitary purpose of breaking the unbending will of our people, the Sinhala state has unleashed waves of oppression on them and subjected them to grievous injustice. A huge economic war has been declared on our people, their economic life shattered and their day-to-day living impaired. In Tamil areas under military control, hundreds of people disappear or killed, every month. In Sinhala areas, disappearance and killing of Tamils have become a normal routine.

Tamil areas under military occupation are encountering an accelerated agenda of genocide, today. Death, destruction, army atrocities and open prison-life in one’s own land, are the unendurable suffering our people have to suffer, as an order of the day. Arrest, imprisonment, torture, rape, murder, disappearance and clandestine burial in unknown graves form a vicious circle in which the lives of our people is enmeshed. Yet, our people have not lost hope. No measure, however punitive, can withhold their will to resist. Their yearning for freedom remains strong. No aerial bombardment can wipe out their determination to attain their freedom. Our people are used to carrying the cross of suffering. They are used to facing destruction and loss, daily in life. This suffering has further tempered their will to be steadfast in their aspiration. With such impetus, the urge for freedom has gathered momentum as never before.

Facing a great confrontation for such a long period, we have sacrificed so much and fought for so long, for nothing else, but for our people to live in freedom; live with dignity and live in peace. We are conducting this struggle with the unrelenting support of the Tamil people, the world over. Besides, our struggle does not contravene the national interest, geo-political interest or economic interest of any outside country. The inherent aspirations of our people do not in any way hamper the national interests of any country or people. At the same time, it may be noted that during the long history of our struggle, we have not conducted any act of aggression against any member state of the international community.

Our freedom movement, as well as our people, have always wished to maintain cordiality with the international community as well as neighbouring India. With this in view, we wish to create a viable environment and enhance friendship. We wish to express our goodwill and are looking forward to the opportunity to build a constructive relationship. Cordially I invite those countries that have banned us, to understand the deep aspirations and friendly overtures of our people, to remove their ban on us and to recognise our just struggle.

Today, there are great changes taking place in India. The dormant voices in support of our struggle are re-emerging aloud again. There are also indications of our struggle becoming accepted there. The positive change in environment gives us courage to seek renewal of our relationship with the Indian super power. The earlier approach and interventions of India were injurious to the people of Tamil Eelam, as well as to their struggle. The racist Sinhala state, with its intrigues, conspired to bring enmity between our freedom movement and the earlier Indian administration. The conflict arising out of this environment aggravated into a major war.

It was because we were firmly committed to our conviction and freedom for our people, that friction erupted between our movement and India. However, at no stage did we ever consider India as an enemy force. Our people always consider India as our friend. They have great expectations that the Indian super power will take a positive stand on our national question.

Not withstanding the dividing sea, Tamil Nadu, with its perfect understanding of our plight, has taken heart to rise on behalf of our people at this hour of need. This timely intervention has gratified the people of Tamil Eelam and our freedom movement and given us a sense of relief. I wish to express my love and gratitude at this juncture to the people and leaders of Tamil Nadu and the leaders of India for the voice of support and love they have extended. I would cordially request them to raise their voice firmly in favour of our struggle for a Tamil Eelam state, and to take appropriate and positive measures to remove the ban which remains an impediment to an amicable relationship between India and our movement.

My beloved people!

No great changes have taken place in the Sinhala political panorama. Politics there has developed into the form of a demonic war. In a country that worships the Buddha who preached love and kindness, racist hatred and war-mongering vie with one another. We can listen only to the throbs on war-drums. No sane voice is being raised either to abandon war or to seek peaceful resolution to the conflict. In Sinhalam, from politicians to spiritual leaders, from journalists to ordinary people, their voice is raised only in support of the war.

The Tamil Eelam nation does not want war. It does not favour violence. It is the Sinhala nation that waged war on our nation which had earlier adopted the path of ahimsa and asked for justice through peaceful means. When the SAARC leaders of our region met in Colombo, we expressed our goodwill and declared suspension of hostility. On the contrary, it was the Sinhala nation that rejected our overture, ridiculed us and continued with the offensive. It is the Sinhala nation that has laid down unacceptable and insulting conditions. It is the Sinhala nation that is continuing with the war.

The Sinhala nation is conducting a major war of genocide against us in our land, the news about which is denied to the outside world. Successive Sinhala regimes have hoodwinked the international community with a series of deceptions. Commencing with the round table conference, the list of deceit has now stretched to include the All Party conference of late. During this period the international community remains cheated. The Tamil national question was also left to drag on with no positive resolution offered. Meanwhile, the Sinhala nation has used its armed forces to set the Tamil land, ablaze. It has wiped out peaceful life on Tamil land, making Tamils destitute, displaced and wandering. Sinhalam has refused to offer the basic rights of the Tamils, split the Tamil land into two, installed anti-Tamil armed groups in the seat of administration while conducting a tyrannical military rule. It is now continuing with the war, offering to submit its plan to offer a solution only after the LTTE is defeated. Does Sinhala nation want to offer a solution only after the Tamils are suppressed and killed? Does it want to wipe out the true representatives of the Tamils and their bargaining power before offering a solution? The Sinhala nation is refusing to acknowledge the historic homeland of the Tamils. In such a situation, how will it offer a just solution to our people?

When it comes to the Tamil national question, the Sinhala nation is adopting only one policy. It is obviously a policy of suppression. Even the tinge of hope our people had that the Sinhala nation will abandon its path of violence and offer justice, has now evaporated. No political transformation has taken place during the last sixty years in the Sinhala nation. Therefore, hoping it will happen in the future is futile. Our people are not ready to trust Sinhala nation again and get cheated.

It is true Tamil Eelam is a small nation on the globe. However it is a nation with great potential. It is a nation with a characteristic individuality. It has a distinctive language, cultural heritage and history. Sinhalam seeks with its military might to destroy all these. It seeks to destroy Tamil sovereignty and replace it with Sinhala sovereignty. As the freedom movement of the people of Tamil Eelam we will never, ever allow Sinhala occupation or Sinhala domination of our homeland.

Whatever challenges confront us, whatever contingencies we encounter, whatever forces stand on our path, we will still continue with our struggle for the freedom of the Tamil people. On the path shown by history, on the command of the circumstances of today, we will continue with our struggle till alien Sinhala occupation of our land is removed,

At this historic juncture, I would request Tamils, in whatever part of the world that they may live in to raise their voices, firmly and with determination, in support of the freedom struggle of their brothers and sisters in Tamil Eelam. I would request them from my heart to strengthen the hands of our freedom movement and continue to extend their contributions and help. I would also take this opportunity to express my affection and my praise to our Tamil youth living outside our homeland for the prominent and committed role they play in actively contributing towards the liberation of our nation.

Let us all make a firm and determined resolution to follow fully the path of our heroes, who, in pursuit of our aspiration for justice and freedom, sacrificed themselves and have become a part of the history of our land and our people.

November 26, 2008

India's day of infamy

by B. Raman

The war of civilisation between the Muslims and the infidels has begun in Indian territory.

So said the first statement issued in the name of the so-called Indian Mujahideen (IM) in November,2007, after the three orchestrated explosions in three towns of Uttar Pradesh outside local courts.

We saw the latest round of this war in Mumbai on the night of November 26, 2008, as an unestimated number of terrorists - divided into small groups and wielding hand-held weapons and improvised explosive devices (IEDs)--- literally took control of Mumbai and targeted with frightening precision famous hotels preferred by the rich of the country and foreign tourists, railway stations, a hospital and many other places scattered across this business capital of India.

It is not just 9/11. It is not just Madrid,March,2004. It is not just London,2006.

It is --- I am using the present tense because the situation is still not under control at 5-30 AM despite the Army's assistance being sought--- an act of terrorism, the like of which the world has not seen before. Mind boggles as one tries to think and figure out how the terrorists could have planned and carried out terrorist strikes of such magnitude, territorial spread and ferocity without our intelligence and police having been able to get scent of it. Like what the Vietcong did during the Tet offensive

The iceberg of jihadi terrorism to which I have been drawing attention since November,2007, in article after article, in interview after interview , in discussion after discussion has struck not only Mumbai, but the Indian State.

The iceberg moved from UP to Jaipur. From Jaipur to Bangalore. From Bangalore to Ahmedabad and Surat. From there to Delhi. From Delhi to Assam. From Assam to Mumbai now-----despite the claims made by the Mumbai Police some weeks ago of having discovered and crushed a plot of the IM to carry out strikes in Mumbai.

The Government of Manmohan Singh reacted to the repeated warning signals of the moving iceberg since November 2007, in the same way as the Bush Administration reacted to reports about the plans of the Al Qaeda for an of aviation terrorism in the US; in the same way Megawati Sukarnoputri reacted to reports of the activities of the Jemmah Islamiyah; and in the same way Khalida Zia reacted to reports of the plans of the Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen .

Bovine. It just did no react. It was in a total denial mode.I wrote and said again and again ----hand over all the investigation about the IM to a central investigating agency for a co-ordinated investigation instead of their being investigated by the police in a piecemeal manner in different States ruled by different political parties. No reaction.

From a localised threat, jihadi terrorism has become a pan-Indian threat with a pan-Islamic ideology. Deal with it with a pan-Indian strategy, I said. No reaction.

The terrorists arrested some weeks ago in Mumbai, three of whom were IT experts well-placed in trans-national companies, pose a new dimension of the threat. Seek the help of the US, I said. No reaction.

I drew attention to an article of Hamid Mir, a journalist of Pakistan, which spoke of Indian Muslims going to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban against the US and which also said that India is one of the routes being used by foreign jihadis going to Afghanistan.No reaction just as Rajiv Gandhi did not react to repeated wake-up calls from the then Afghan President Najibullah that Muslims from Kashmir were being trained by the Afghan Mujahideen.

In October, when I had come to Delhi for a seminar two diplomats from the EU countries sought an appointment with me for a discussion on the IM.They expressed their surprise and concern over the fact that the Indian intelligence and police seemed to know so little about the IM despite their having arrested many perpetrators of the previous blasts and interrogated them.

Is the IM the name of an organisation or of a movement? Is it one or many organisations in different States acting, like the International Islamic Front (IIF) of Osama bin Laden, as a united front autonomously where they can and unitedly where they should? Who constitute its command and control? Where are they? In India or outside? Nobody knows for certain.

I could not sleep the whole of last night. One question, which kept bothering me again and again was: how safe are our nuclear establishments and material?

Till now, we were greeting with glee Pakistan's incompetence in dealing with terrorism. We can no longer do so. We have become as clueless as Pakistan.

I wanted to write much more, but my mind doesn't work.As I watch on the TV what is happening in Mumbai, I shiver and sweat at the thought of what is waiting to happen tomorrow and where. (27-11-08)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi,and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: seventyone2W@gmail.com)

Multiple terror strikes by "Deccan Mujahideen" kill 80 and injure 348 in Mumbai (Bombay)

Indian commercial capital Mumbai (Bombay) witnessed a major terror strike on Wednesday Nov 26th with explosions and firing reported from several places. Reports said 80 people were killed and 348 injured. Unconfirmed reports put the death toll at more than 80.

Taj Palace Hotel and Gateway to India

Taj Palace Hotel and Gateway to India

Anti-Terrorist Squad chief Hemant Karkare, two senior police officers and 78 others were killed in coordinated multiple blasts and gunfire in a dozen areas including at iconic landmarks CST railway station and two five star hotels--Oberoi and Taj

A little known outfit "Deccan Mujahideen" claimed reponsibility for the attacks.

[A Night of Terror in Mumbai-NY Times in Pictures]

Maharashtra Director-General of Police A.N. Roy confirmed that there were seven attacks, three of them encounters.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh condemned the terror attacks in Mumbai and assured Maharashtra state authorities of all help to cope with the situation and dispatched National Security Guard commandos to supplement the efforts being made by the local police and the CRPF.

The Prime Minister’s Office said Dr. Singh was in touch with Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and was monitoring the situation.

About 200 people were holed up inside a hall in the Taj Hotel here as they were advised by the hotel staff not to go out because of the attack by terrorists.

They are holed up in the hall in the old wing of the hotel since 9.30 pm on Wednesday, when terrorists struck.

Army moved in to assist local police in flushing out terrorists holed up in Taj and Oberoi hotels. 200 NSG commandoes were also rushed to Mumbai.

ATS chief Karkare(54), who is probing the Malegaon blasts case, was gunned down when he was leading an operation at Hotel Taj against terrorists who had taken 15 people, including seven foreigners, as hostages. He was hit by three bullets in his chest. One MP Krishan Das and 200 people were stranded in Taj hotel.

Member of Parliament,Krishna Das, who was among those held up, said they had been advised not to move out of the hall till the police clears the place of terrorists.

He was having dinner with some friends in a restaurant of the hotel when he heard gunshots. The guests ducked under the table from where they had fleeting glimpse of terrorists firing indiscriminately

More than ten top business executives were stuck on another floor in the hotel.

Another senior Police officer Ashok Marutirao Kamte, a 1989 batch IPS officer, was killed while fighting terrorists at Metro Cinema in the city along with encounter specialist Vijay Salaskar who also gunned down as one of the worst terror strikes brought Mumbai to the knees.

As indiscriminate firing and explosions at iconic landmarks showed no signs of easing since the first attack at Leopold restaurant in Colaba area at about 9.30 PM, hospitals like GT and Cama where gunfire was reported were also targeted. Police and eyewitnesses said AK-47s, rifles and hand grenades were used at will by an unspecified number of terrorists.

Sixty bodies and over 200 persons injured were brought at St George's Hospital, hospital sources said. Seven bodies were brought to GT hospital while two bodies were brought to Cooper hospital. Four bodies were brought to Mumbai hospital.

A.K. Sharma, Railway Police Commissioner, said two or three persons, carrying AK 47 rifles and grenades entered the Chattrapati Shivaji Terminus with AK 47 rifles at 8.35 p.m. and opened fire indiscriminately and the panic-struck people rushed out. He said 10 people were feared dead and 30 injured. “The situation is still not resolved. However, there has been no firing for the last 45 minutes,” Mr. Sharma said.

Eyewitnesses, who claim to have seen at least one person dead, said two gunmen fired several shots and then rushed out of the station towards the Special Branch Office.

Rakesh, who had come with his wife and child to board a long distance train, said he heard shots and saw many people with blood stains on them. He rushed out with his family and took refuge in a building opposite the station.
The entire area has been cordoned off and no vehicles were allowed near the station. Commandos and special police teams were trying to get the situation under control. Random shots were still heard from the station at the time of our going to press.

Sunil Babbar, a policeman of the MRA station close to the CST station, was returning home when he was summoned back. He tried to enter the station but heard two explosions and immediately rushed out to get police reinforcements.

Many of the injured have been rushed to nearby hospitals. Several blasts were reported across the city from places in South Mumbai and suburbs such as Vile Parle.

Two low-intensity explosions and firing were reported outside The Trident Hotel. Forty people were taken hostage inside the hotel, even as occupants and staff were being evacuated. At 11.15 p.m., the firing had not stopped and smoke was billowing from the hotel lobby. A constable on the spot said a third blast took place in the hotel lobby. He said commandos had gone inside. A police officer said two persons were injured. They were taken to hospital.
Firing was also reported outside Leopold Café at Colaba. Windscreens of cars were shattered and bloodstains seen all over.

Sheikh Pasah, an eyewitness, said: “I was on the other side of the road, going to have dinner when I saw people firing. Then I saw a girl drop on the road. They fired from outside and then went inside and opened fire. They were carrying long rifles, [probably] AK 47.” Mumbai Police Commissioner Hasan Gafoor said the police operation was still on.

Three persons, employees of the Taj Hotel in South Mumbai, were shot dead and two others died in a bomb blast in a taxi on Dockyard Road.

Maharashtra chief minister Deshmukh said he was in touch with the Centre. He said he had talked to Home Minister Shivraj Patil, who assured him that the Centre would provide all the assistance required by Maharashtra. Sources said leader of the Opposition L.K. Advani called up Premier Dr. Singh twice to ascertain details of the terror strikes.

Dr. Singh said the security apparatus had been pressed into service to deal with the situation. The BJP leader said the incidents demonstrated how grave the situation was in the country and there was deterioration with each passing day. Mr. Advani asked the people to remain united at this time of national emergency.

[Compiled from News Agency and newspaper reports]

Army enters Kilinochchi as Tigers withdraw suddenly

In a sudden and dramatic development the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) began withdrawing from the heavily fortified northern town of Kilinochchi while soldiers of the Sri Lankan armed forces started moving in cautiously into the town area.

The partial withdrawal strengthened expectations that the LTTE had started withdrawing from Kilinochchi town.

This however was not to be and it is now surmised that the withdrawal was partal and temporary caused mainly by the heavy rains,gale and floods.

The Government’s plans to hoist the national flag in Kilinochchi town on Nov 27th 2008 and for President Mahinda Rajapakse to announce the capture of Kilinochchi in an address to the nation also came to naught.

Selected journalists who were to be taken to Kilinochchi were also disappointed.

A top defence official told a foreign journalist “The rains have spoiled our party”.

According to authoritative sources the LTTE had begun vacating certain areas of Kilinochchi during the night of Tuesday November 25th.

This was after soldiers of 57 – 2 brigade entered the general area of Kilinochchi town near the Bus depot junction.

The soldiers had earlier broken out from Akkarayankulam and reached Konavil junction. Thereafter the troops had reached Puthumurippukulam and proceeded via the tank bund to reach Kanagapuram and then moved towards the Bus depot junction.

Simultaneously troops from 58 division had fought their way through Paambukaman from Kunchuparanthan area and moved towards Paranthan junction. Paranthan is 4 miles to the north of Kilinochchi.

Once troops began entering Kilinochchi town LTTE cadres had begun withdrawing in some sections .

Mortar fire by the LTTE had begun decreasing gradually with all fire ceasing by the afternoon.

Troops however were planning to move into Kilinochchi town interior cautiously.

The idea was to “envelope” the town peripherally instead of plunging in right away.

The LTTE withdrawal had made the army suspicious of an ulterior motive . So troops were not rushing in but commenced treading warily.

Small groups of soldiers began moving around cautiously within Kilinochchi town precincts.

A possible counter – strike by the LTTE was also not ruled out.

Heavy rains and flash floods had hindred both the army and LTTE in fighting.

It is also believed that the LTTE withdrawal from certain areas of Kilinochchi town and environs was only temporary due to adverse weather conditions.

Three days of torrential rain may have played a part as all tiger defensive positions have been flooded.

The tigers were also finding it difficult to move their mortars and heavy artillery.

Many LTTE bunkers and firing positions were flooded or washed away.

Some sections of the Army feel that the tigers would return to former positions after weather conditions improve.

Incessant rain resulting in Kilinochchi town being flooded has restricted troop movement and hampered the
Army’s plans to move into the town.

Soldiers of the 58 and 57 divisions moved towards the general area of Kilinochchi from three directions and later spread out widely to several positions on the outskirts.

The LTTE had constructed an “L” shaped earth bund extending from Paranthan – Pooneryn road to the South of Kilinochchi town.

The army however succeeded in breaching the bund in seven different locations.

According to informed sources the army was getting ready for the long haul as they expected the LTTE to defend fiercely .

The LTTE lost “Col” Stanley who was in charge of tiger defences along the Paranthan – Pooneryn road in the fighting along with around 150 tiger cadres.

Meanwhile Defence affairs spokesman and cabinet minister Keheliya Rambukwella told journalists in Colombo that the “fall of Kilinochchi was imminent”.

November 25, 2008

What would Prabhakaran say on Great Heroes Day ?

by T. Sabaratnam

What would  LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran say tomorrow when he addresses the Tamil people after paying homage  to the 22,000 cadres who died since the armed struggle began in 1982?

At 6.05 p.m., the exact hour the first cadre died on November 27, 1982, Prabhakaran will light the ‘Eekai Sudar’ (The Light of Self Sacrifice) and follow that up with a statement outlining his future course of action.

When he resurrected the 2000-year-old martial tradition of the Tamil people in a secret location in the Nithikaikulam jungle in the Mullaitivu district in 1989, he was under siege by the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) and was faced with the problem of dwindling cadres. He gathered around him 600 of his cadres and paid homage to the 1,307 fallen fighters killed since November 27, 1982 when Shankar died with his head on his lap at Madurai.

Addressing the cadres at that simple ceremony, Prabhakaran said: “Today is an important day in our struggle. Today we have started the Hero’s Day in order to pay homage to the 1,307 fighters who sacrificed their lives to attain our sacred objective of Tamil Eelam. We have started this for the first time. You know that many countries in the world honour their freedom fighters by remembering them. We too have decided to proclaim a day of remembrance.”

Since that austere observance and the extemporaneous statement, the maveerar ceremony had grown elaborate and the plain statement had become a policy declaration. Last year, he vowed to continue the war and argued his case for a separate Tamil state. “We are a people who boast ancient, distinct and distinguished characteristics. We possess our separate identities and have lived maintaining distinct national infrastructure. We lost our independence only when we were conquered by foreigners through war,” Prabhakaran said. He added that they took up arms because the non-violent struggle their leaders waged had failed to yield results.

He called for the support of the entire Tamil race for his struggle.  He exhorted, “I call on the 80-million Tamils to rise together and commit themselves to attain our goal of Tamil Eelam on this blessed day, the day on which we honour the valour of our heroes.”

The entire Tamil race has now emotionally risen together. What will be Prabhakaran’s next objective?  It may become clear tomorrow.

In Tamil Nadu and among the Tamils in other countries things are moving fast. In Tamil Nadu, pro-LTTE activists, Vaiko, Ramadoss, Thirumavalavan and Nedumaran, have begun their effort to turn the Tamil emotional upsurge into LTTE support.  Vaiko and Nedumaran are leading that campaign. Vaiko, in a hard hitting statement, dubbed Sri Lanka’s rejection of the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly’s resolution calling for a ceasefire as a slap in the face of the 1000 million people of India. He had also said that Manmohan Singh’s Government is unable to pressurize President Mahinda Rajapaksa because it was behind his war policy.

Nedumaran has unleashed a severe attack on Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi. He accused him of bolstering the Manmohan Singh regime at the cost of Tamil interests. They had managed to push Karunanidhi into a tight corner.

On Sunday, Karunanidhi gave vent to his frustration in his acceptance speech at the function where San Thome Literary Society, a prestigious Roman Catholic literary organisation, presented him with its Achievers Award. He said that he would consider the achievement of peaceful life for Sri Lankan Tamils as his greatest and last achievement.

He expressed his frustration in these words: “We see before us a race being destroyed. Which race? The race that once ruled that country.  We see the people of the race being destroyed in the country which Raja Raja Cholan conquered and ruled.” Then he highlighted his frustration thus: “We are placed in a pitiful state. We are placed in a state that we are unable to help them.  We are in the plight that we are unable to stretch our hand to help them.  This situation should change. It should be changed. Tamils in Tamil Nadu and the Tamils worldwide should demand in unison that change.”

Ramadoss acted quickly. He met Karunanidhi and worked on his frustration. That resulted in the summoning of the All Party Leaders’ Meeting which was going on when this column was written yesterday morning. It was considering the next step it should take to pressurize Delhi into action. Meanwhile, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has entered the fray. Its Tamil Nadu branch chief Ila Ganeshan issued a statement last week promising the Tamils the party’s support and vowing to solve the Sri Lankan Tamil problem within six months if it was elected to power. He said that promise would be included in the BJP election manifesto. With Kilinochchi under siege, Prabhakaran is bound to exploit this development. What will Prabhakaran say to the Tamil people whom he addresses endearingly as “My people”?

Can Kara in Britain or Shalwar in Lanka deny education?


Sarika Satnam

By M.S. Shah Jahan

She spent nine weeks in isolation in a classroom alone except for a teaching assistant and working from notes which she was instructed to copy. The school canteen was barred to her and so were its corridors whenever they were being used by other pupils. She was not allowed to join her friends in the playground and had to be accompanied by a teacher when she went to the toilet. All because her determination to wear a 5 mm thick steel bangle known as ‘Kara,’ which is one of the five outward signs worn by Sikhs to show their faith, was considered by her school to be an act of defiance.

Fourteen year old Sarika Satnam Singh who is of Welsh, British and Punjabi parentage, was a student of Aberdare Girls’ School. She became an observant Sikh after travelling to India in September 2005. It was not until April 2007 when a teacher noticed her Kara that she was asked to remove it in line with the school’s "no jewellery" policy which allows pupils to wear no more than watches and simple ear studs.

Sarika asked for an exemption because the bangle was not jewellery. But the school refused and said if she continued to wear it she would be segregated. She was suspended in November 2007 and in February she began attending another school that allowed her to wear the Kara. In the mean time she filed a case on a discrimination claim on her former school. Sarika argued the Kara bangle — a slim steel bracelet — is important to her as it is a symbol of her Sikh faith.

Her lawyer Anna Fairclough told Justice Stephen Silber that the Kara was as important to her as it was to England’s spin bowler Monty Panesar, who has been pictured wearing the bangle. She said: "This battle was already fought 25 years ago and Sarika shouldn’t have had to go through that again, it’s a shame that each generation has to fight the same battle. The school on the other hand argued that the bangle, which she said was less obtrusive than some watches, could be seen as a "symbol of affluence."

School guilty

Justice Silber, a High Court Judge in London declared on July 29 the school was guilty of indirect discrimination under race relations and equality laws. He said he had been told the Kara bangle was regarded as vital to the Sikh religion. It denoted "God’s infinity" and was effectively a "handcuff to God" and many watches which were allowed at the school were more expensive than the simple plain steel Kara, he said. "In this case there is very clear evidence it was not a piece of jewellery but to Sarika was, and remains, one of the defining focal symbols of being a Sikh," he further commented.

He said his decision had already been made known to the school authorities, who had agreed to take back Sarika. The judge also refused the school permission to appeal, although it can still seek permission from the Court of Appeal.

The governors and head teacher of the school said in a statement that the decision to defend their action was taken after careful consideration by all concerned, and in good faith. "It was not taken lightly. We regret that this action became at all necessary. The school said it would consider the judgment in detail. We note the comments of the judge regarding the advice offered to the school."

Liberty, a human rights movement which backed Sarika, argued the school had breached race relations, equality and human rights laws. They said it also contravened a 25-year-old law — a lords’ decision which allows Sikh children to wear items representing their faith, including turbans, to school. "Our great British traditions of religious tolerance and race equality have been rightly upheld today and symbols of faith should be allowed in schools as long as they don’t cause a safety hazard."

After the judgement, Sarika said: "I am overwhelmed by the outcome and it’s marvellous to know that the long journey I’ve been on has finally come to an end.

"I am so happy to know that no-one else will go through what I and my family have gone through and no other pupil will ever get banned from wearing their Kara again. I just want to say that I am a proud Welsh and Punjabi Sikh girl."

Buddhist school

Let me come back from Aberdare Girls’ School in Welsh to Sir Baron Jayatilaka Vidyalaya in Colombo 10, the former is known as a Christian institution while the latter is known as a Buddhist institution. But Sir Baron Jayatilaka is an Anglican name, the word Sir is not of Lanka’s Swabhasa and Jayatilaka is Sanskrit.

Even though many Buddhist scripts are in Sanskrit and Pali in addition to plenty of Hindu literature neither is the official language of Buddhism, unlike Arabic to Islam and Hebrew to Judaism. On the whole there is no Buddhist identity in the name of the above school.

Lankan Buddhists have been big hearted to accept Christian names along with their Sinhala names and, I may say, still half the Buddhist population here carry Christian names, a phenomenon which we do not see in any other Buddhist country.

School uniform

What does a school uniform stand for? It is a concept of one simple white dress for all to wear and to avoid showing one’s affluence to others. Apart from that it is not a fashion parade or representing a dance group. Is there any particular dress code for Buddhist schools?

How can one say sticking to Western dress is reflecting Buddhist culture? In rural areas it is said, traditional ‘daham pasala’ clothes and ‘lama sari’ too were permitted. Religious tolerance and race equality have not only been a British tradition but also a Buddhist tradition too. But how many practice it here?

Is exposing the feminine form obscene? Which religion denies the right of a female protecting her body? Bikini wearing Western women consider hip showing of the Indian women’s sari sexy. In Europe some time ago when topless female dances were the ‘in’ thing, some social minded elders protested saying "it was we who taught the African women to cover their chests and now how can our own women expose it on stages"? It faded away.

Shalwar Kameez

When a British school accepted a court order, here in Lanka some racial minded politicians are trying to change the Education Department’s Circular of 12/12/1980 that allowed Muslim schoolgirls to wear the shalwar kameez which covers them from top to bottom except the face. The racists’ notion is that uttering slurs on other communities would make them champions of their own community. Will disfiguring another’s face make you look better? No.

While Lanka is fighting a severe ethnic conflict, hitting the villain and throwing his parents to the street under the name of ‘humanitarian operation,’ these religiously labeled war mongering politicians are trying to burn the candle at both sides by maligning Muslims and objecting to age old religious practices including the call for prayers and slaughtering of animals. Land expropriation in the east seems to be their pet project — robbing Packeer to pay Palitha.

World history

But the Mantra in this era is change. But these fly by night politicians don’t change. They are in general devoid of a sense of duty. They don’t read world history and biographies of world leaders; ignorant of what is happening in the length and breadth of the globe. How many of them know Uncle Tom’s Cabin has reference to today’s US politics?

All these octopuses earn huge amounts of money utilising their political clout. They live like kings; spend like kings and think like kings and nothing beyond, forgetting the fact that every king like Louis XVI will face a revolution.

Look at the budget debate. Many do not know what to speak in parliament. Government MPs quote the two month old global economic crises as a cause or curse for the ills of this country, unmindful of the Central Bank governor’s boast that we were solid like the Gibraltar rock because we followed a sound economic policy which the West did not. Our ears are deaf to hear their sound. When people start scratching street waste bins only we will know where these propaganda pundits would fly.

While tourism is struggling like a dying horse, the concerned minister had said "we will bring one million tourists to our country next year." It is said Indians transiting to the Gulf are also counted as tourists. I ask readers to keep this newspaper and meet the minister next November. But who knows where he would be.

Finally, the Kara bangle did not deny an education to Panjabi Welsh Sikh girl Sarika in Britain. Will the Panjabi dress of shalwar kameez deny education to Shahida and Sharifa in Sri Lanka? Let us wait and see.

November 24, 2008

Can the Army seize Kilinochchi by LTTE "Maaveerar" Day ?

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Even as fierce fighting rages between the Government of Sri Lanka(GOSL) armed forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the North the multi – crore rupee question doing the rounds in politico – military circles is whether Kilinochchi town could fall or be taken by November 27th 2008?

[LTTE rebels fire their weapons at Sri Lankan soldiers in the village of Akkaraayan-via Yahoo! news]

In short, could the army seize the former de-facto tiger administrative capital of Kilinochchi and raise the national flag on the LTTE’s “Maaveerar thinam” or Great Heroes day that falls on November 27th each year?

These crucial questions have gained much significance against the backdrop of intense fighting going on in and around the general area of Kilinochchi between the armed forces and the tigers.

Symbolic Value

Kilinochchi i town is not of great military value when compared to some other areas like Poonagary (Pooneryn) or Aanai Iravu (Elephant Pass). However it is of immense symbolic value as the LTTE had utilised it as a de – facto administrative capital locating most of its key offices and departments there.

This made it a prize target for the Rajapakse regime that has been waging war against the tigers in the North – East as if invading an alien country.

In that context the Government was keen on capturing Kilinochchi as a “trophy” and engaging in tremendous propaganda in the South.

Change of Plan

Though Kilinochchi was targeted many months ago with October 15th as D- day the deadline could not be met due to various factors such as massive LTTE resistance, adverse weather conditions, political turmoil in Tamil Nadu and strategic revision of objective priority by the GOSL.

When Basil Rajapakse went to New Delhi as President Rajapakse’s special envoy “unofficial” advice was given in the Indian capital that the planned Kilinochchi offensive should be deferred or suspended.

Consequent to the Basil Rajapakse mission there was a fresh military approach in Colombo. The new design was to refrain from a frontal assault on Kilinochchi and instead take control of key areas surrounding it.

Thus the LTTE would find itself out – manoeuvred and encircled and would find itself forced to abandon Kilinochchi without the expected “mother of all battles” ever taking place.

The expedited campaign to take control of the A – 32 highway or Mannar – Pooneryn – Navatkuli was seen as part of this strategy.

Fall of Pooneryn

After the capture of Pooneryn the armed forces embarked upon a mission to take Paranthan and Elephant Pass on the A – 9 or Jaffna – Kandy road.

[This handout picture from Sri Lanka's Defence Ministry dated November 15, 2008 shows government troops in the town of Pooneryn]

This resulted in the army venturing out from the Kilaly – Eluthumadduvaal – Nagar Kovil axis in the peninsula and taking the first line of LTTE defence at Muhamaalai.

The army also progressed up to 15 km along the 26 km long Poonagary – Paranthan road officially classified as B357 by the road development authority though earlier maps refer to it as B69.

Though the 55 and 58 divisions did achive military gains it was felt that it would require several more weeks at least before Elephant pass or Paranthan could be taken.

Prestige

There was some “impatience” in the corridors of power in Colombo about this delay.

Moreover the Kilinochchi issue continued to be an irritant as the LTTE had gone to town in several media interviews that Kilinochchi would never fall.

One journal in Tamil Nadu published a quote from LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabakharan that Kilinochchi will never be taken by the army.

There was also a need to demonstrate to the South that the armed forces were right on top by capturing Kilinochchi deemed important in terms of prestige.

With passions in Tamil Nadu being reduced it was felt that an attempt to take Kilinochchi would not cause much impact.

With the LTTE’s “Maaveerar thinam” or great heroes day (GHD) drawing near there was renewed interest in taking Kilinochchi before that day.

This was to prevent the tigers from using the deserted town as a venue for GHD celebrations and also to prove a point by raising the lion flag in the tiger capital.

Humiliating LTTE

Much propaganda mileage could be derived in the south from the spectacle of raising the flag in Kilinochchi on Maaveerar day.

t was also another way of humiliating the LTTE and playing to the Sinhala chauvinist gallery.

With these objectives in mind the armed forces have been tasked with the goal of seizing Kilinochchi by November 27th.

Plans are afoot to hoist the lion flag in Kilinochchi at the same time that LTTE leader Prabakharan lights the sacrificial flame on Great heroes day.

Already posters are being prepared to announce the capture of Kilinochchi on November 27th.

Two Operations

In order to achieve this objective by Nov 27th the armed forces have launched two major operations on Sunday November 23rd.

In one operation soldiers of 58 division attempted to proceed along the axis of Paranthan – Poonagary road and move South – east towards Kilinochchi.

The road is bi-sected at a place called Nalloor (not to be confused with Nallur in Jaffna) by the Kudamurutti river that falls into the Kilaly lagoon.

Areas to the west of Kudamurutti are called Poonagary Nalloor and those to the east are called Paranthan Nalloor.

The road also forks in this area with one branch going south –eastwards to Karadipokku junction close to Kilinochchi town and the main road going east reaching Paranthan at the 161st milepost on the A – 9.

Paranthan lies four miles to the north of Kilinochchi.

Task Force One.

The LTTE offered stiff resistance to the 58 division attempting to reach Karadipokku junction in the Uruthirapuram – Kunchuparanthan area.

[LTTE clearing mission near Kunchuparanthan on Nov 24th - pic by : LTTE]

It is reported that fierce fighting occurred in the vicinity of the Uruthirapuram Sivan temple.

Latest reports however indicate that troops of 58 division or task force one have moved further to reach the LTTE constructed earth bund at a point to the north of Adampan.

(This adampan in the Akkrayan GS area of Karaichchi AGA division of Kilinochchi district is not to be confused with Adampan in Manthai West AGA division of Mannar district).

The LTTE has constructed another 18 km long “L” shaped earth bund cum trench defence line in areas extending from South of Kilinochchi to South – west of Paranthan

After bitter combat infantrymen of 17 Gemunu Watch (17GW) 12 Gajaba regiment (12GR) and 8 Sinha Regiment (8SR) have breached the tiger bund in there positions to the north of Adampan.

57 Division

Meanwhile the other operation on two fronts was also launched by personnel of 57 division in the early hours of morning on Sunday Nov 23rd.

In a twin –pronged move troops from 12 Sinha Regiment (12SR) and 9 Gemunu Watch (9GW) broke out from the Akkarayankulam area and engaged the tigers in Puthumurippukulam to the South of Adampan.

In a second manouever of the same operation troops of 8 and 10 Sri Lanka Light Infantry (SLLI) broke out of positions to the north of Kokavil and moved towards Thirumurugandy. Both Kokavil and Thirumurugandy are on the A – 9 highway but 57 division troops are moving parallel to it along the axis of an inner road.

According to reports the 57 has gained about a km with much of the fighting being conducted in the “ Ariviyal nagar” colony area of Thirumurugandy.

Both sides have given out some details of casualties and have predictably exaggerated figures for the opposite side while giving out low estimates about their own. These need to be taken with more than a pinch of salt.

Operation Riviresa

Nevertheless there is fierce fighting going on in the area as the LTTE is determined not to let Kilinochchi fall before the Great Heroes day.

This to some extent is reminiscent of what happened in 1995 during”operation Rivireasa” in Jaffna. Then the soldiers were poised to take Jaffna town before November 27th on GHD.

The LTTE that had decided to withdraw from the peninsula continued to resist as it’s notion of prestige did not permit the fall of Jaffna town before GHD .

After Nov 27th passed the tigers began withdrawing and Anuruddha Ratwatte hoisted the national flag on December 5th 1995 at the Durayappa stadium.

Nov 27th D-day

Politico – military observers detect a similiarity now as the LTTE seems to be defending positions intensely so as to prevent Kilinochchi from falling before “Maaveerar Thinam” .

Likewise the GOSL seems equally determined to smash tiger defences and take Kilinochchi so that the national flag could be raised on Nov 27th or great heroes day.

Thus Kilinochchi town bereft of civilians is literally and metaphorically is caught in the crossfire as its D –day of destiny draws near on November 27th.

D.B.S.Jeyaraj can be reached at: djeyaraj2005@yahoo.com

Tamils Still Want Safety, Security and A Future In This Country

by Rajavarodhayam Sambandan

Excerpts from the speech delivered by R. Sampanthan, Member of Parliament, Trincomalee District and Parliamentary Group Leader, Illankai Tamil Arsau Kadchi (TNA), during the recent Budget Debate:

[File Pic ~ R. Sampanthan MP, at a press meeting on Dec 10th, 2007 at the Galle Face Hotel]

The Tamil people have since 1956, through their democratic verdicts overwhelmingly supported the right to internal self-determination in the areas of their historical habitation. Initially, even several Muslim leaders were elected from the Eastern Province on the Federal Party ticket. If the demand of the Federal Party for a federal arrangement was accommodated, many more members of the Muslim community would have been returned on the Federal Party ticket. The government should realize that not merely did it not accommodate the legitimate aspirations of the Tamil people in keeping with their democratic verdicts, you subjected them to several pogroms over several decades when there was no violence whatever on the Tamil side. That was your answer to our legitimate aspirations and our democratic verdicts, to the nonviolent Satyagraha campaigns that we engaged in.

Several decades later after the armed struggle commenced, some areas in the North-East went out of government control and when elections were held you did not want to locate polling booths in such areas. You did not want the electoral process to take place in areas not under your control. You clustered such polling booths and located them in government controlled territory, some considerable distance away from the residence of the voters. But, it is true that the LTTE discouraged voters living in areas under their control from voting in clustered booths located in areas under government control. The losers were Tamil candidates, such as myself and several others like me–nobody else– certainly not any one of you.

Nevertheless, the Tamils who were returned at those elections were returned on the basis of the same policy – the right to internal self-determination in the areas of their historical habitation.

At the 2001 Parliamentary Elections, when the peace process had virtually commenced and the Norwegian facilitators were functioning in the country, the Tamil people in large numbers in the uncleared areas attempted to come through the army checkpoints and vote at the clustered booths in the government-controlled territory. They were prevented by the armed forces from crossing the checkpoints and voting. Several of these persons filed fundamental rights applications in the Supreme Court and I believe about five or six of them, from both the North and the East, were awarded damages by Justice Mark Fernando, then a senior judge of the Supreme Court. Who subverted democracy by preventing these Tamil people from voting? Was it not the government of which you were a member? And you have the impudence to talk about restoring democracy to the Tamil people.

At the 2004 Parliamentary Elections these Tamil people in the LTTE controlled areas who were able to cross the checkpoints voted liberally. There may have been some irregularities–but these people were voting for the first time after several decades.There was however, not the slightest doubt about whom the people wanted to elect. Twenty out of twenty-one Tamil members elected from the North and the East were from the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi. The Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi also obtained two seats on the National List on the strength of the vote they polled in the North-East. The twenty-two of us in parliament are unquestionably the representatives of the Tamil people of the North-East, which unfortunately, your government does not want to acknowledge in view of the agenda that you have.

Having conducted a disgraceful and shameful election in the Eastern Province, you have the temerity to talk about the election of the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi Members in 2004. We know what happened at the Eastern Provincial Council Election. On my recent visit to Trincomalee, I met with some people from the North of my district where several booths had been clustered during the Provincial Council Elections.

Many voters had left the villages and had gone away to other parts of the country or had left the country. At 5 o’clock in the morning, on election day, I was told that a bus and 25 other vehicles arrived in that particular village where the booths of several villages had been clustered and that about 150 people alighted from these vehicles. Then they had gone into several houses in that village, used their toilets and their water facilities to freshen themselves and set about stuffing the ballot boxes.

Still, you could not win a single seat. Not one Tamil Member from your party was elected in Trincomalee. That was the way you got about conducting elections; that was the way you conducted the Eastern Provincial Council Election. In fact, there have been certain actions filed in court and I believe, when those hearings take place more facts in regard to the manner in which you conducted the Eastern Provincial Council Election will come to light and it will be proved in court how young fellows, members of a paramilitary group were moving around with weapons and having their own way.

All these matters will come to light. And you have the impudence to say that you conducted a proper election.

Before I deal with development and devolution, the other two concepts of this government towards the resolution of this national question, I should place on record the government’s multi-faceted position on the people who inhabit this country, their status in this country, their rights in this country, and other relevant issues.

When I last spoke in Parliament during the Second Reading of the Budget, I placed on record details of several events that have occurred in the Wanni after the special envoy, Basil Rajapaksa went to New Delhi and gave an assurance to the Central Government in New Delhi that Tamil civilians will not be harmed. I also placed on record pictures of several events to prove that people had been killed; non-combatant civilians had been killed; had been injured; houses destroyed or damaged; temples damaged and even the Kilinochchi Hospital had been damaged.
Despite the assurance of the President, all these things have happened. I placed on record in this House, in the course of an Adjournment Debate in September, 2007, the names of 261 Tamil persons who were killed in the Eastern Province during the course of your military activities in the Eastern Province. Have you paid compensation to any one person?

I called upon your government to appoint a commission of inquiry comprising three retired members of the higher judiciary, a Sinhalese, a Tamil and a Muslim with the Muslim as the Chairman to go into that question and ascertain the truth. Have you done that? You see, you say one thing but you never act accordingly. This has been your history.

We know of the ‘Mahinda Chintana.’ We know of the two pacts the President signed with the JVP and the JHU before the presidential election. The ‘Mahinda Chintana’ and the pacts signed with the JVP and the JHU are only for a unitary state and no ISGA, no P-TOMS arrangement, nothing whatever. They are all at complete variance with the position that the President has taken in an interview to the ‘Hindu’ where he talks of a political solution and the equality, liberty, fraternity and all that type of thing. The positions taken up by him when he contested the presidential election are in complete variance with the concepts he has defined.

Of course his main military man, and I would say his main political man have enunciated their positions.

You are merely trying to assuage the international community who are constantly, whether it be India, the USA, the co-chairs, the European Union or any other country, wanting you to come to a political solution, emphasizing the need for political proposals that can lead to a solution. In fact, I quoted when I spoke in Parliament last during the Second Reading debate, Mangala Samaraweera’s press interview where he said that the President had assured the Prime Minister of India that the final political proposals will be made public before the end of August 2006–two years ago. Of course, the President cannot defy the international community. He has got to keep on saying something. I saw the Prime Minister speaking on TV last evening. He was also striking a slightly different note.

You are hoping that you can show the world that the Tamil people have come to your side and that by political conviction, they have embraced the ‘Mahinda Chintana.’ Then you can tell the whole world “we are doing development, we do not need devolution, and everything is in our hands.”

We urge the government to rethink this whole question. I knew this problem would arise and that is probably one of the reasons why I called for a division, to make sure who was where, and what the government’s reaction to that would be. We are not ‘koti’; I am not a ‘kotiya.’

Of course, I negotiated with Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. There is no question about it. I did not hide that. The whole world knew about it. The whole world knew that I was very seriously involved. The Prime Minister knew. So, sir, we are interested in the cause of our people. We are interested in this problem being resolved in a manner where our people will be secure, safe and will have a future in this country.

We still want that.

But, if you cannot give us the right to internal self-determination in our areas of historical habitation, then, international law says that we shall be entitled to the right of external self-determination. Please remember that! And, do not think that you can shout down reason, that you can shout down justice and that you can suppress us.

That will be a mistake.

India & Barrack Obama

By B. Raman

(These comments were sent by me in response to a query from a leading Washington DC-based think tank on Indian perceptions of President-elect Barrack Obama).   

There were initial concerns in India over the likely implications to India's national interests during an Obama Presidency. These concerns arose from the following factors:

(a). Obama's initial opposition in the Senate to the Indo-US  civilian nuclear co-operation agreement, though he subsequently supported it.

(b). The reportedly active role played by Richard Holbroke and Madeleine Albright in advising him on foreign policy issues during the election campaign. Both were seen in India as advocates of a more intrusive role by the US in matters such as a settlement of the Kashmir issue and addressing the Pakistani concerns over the increasing Indian presence in Afghanistan.

2. The fact that a large number of influential Americans of Indian origin had supported the Bush administration and that many of them---except Americans of Indian origin in Chicago--- had switched their support to Hillary Clinton during the primaries also influenced Indian perceptions of Obama.

3. These concerns are likely to be mitigated by reports that Obama is likely to nominate Hillary Clinton as his Secretary of State. She enjoys a positive image in the Indo-American community as well as in India. It is remembered that the Indo-American community played an active role in her campaign to win the election to the Senate. They remained loyal to her during the entire primary campaign and switched their support to Obama only after she had withdrawn from the race.

4. There were ups and downs in India's relations with the US during the presidency of Bill Clinton. During his first term he was viewed as insensitive to India's interests and concerns. This perception got strengthened after his negative reaction to India's nuclear tests in 1998. The Kargil military conflict between India and Pakistan in 1999 saw a thawing of the cold vibrations, which had set in between India and the US. What was seen as his support for India and his criticism of Pakistan for violating the Line of Control (LOC) in Jammu & Kashmir and the active behind the scene role played by him in pressuring Pakistan to withdraw its troops from Indian territory in the Kargil area contributed to a change in the Indian perceptions from negative to positive. This change was reflected in the extraordinarily warm welcome he received during his visit to India in March 2000.

5. Despite this, the Clinton Administration, like other Democratic Administrations that preceded it, thought of  India more tactically than strategically.-----more in terms of American business interests in catering to India's large middle class than in terms of the role which India can  and ought to play in the Asian---and ultimately global--- stage in the years to come.

6. It goes to the credit of President George Bush and his Secretary of State Condolleezza Rice that they started thinking of India more strategically than tactically---- as an Asian power on par with China, as a power to be reckoned with and as a power with a tremendous potential for playing a benign role on the world stage. The remarkable improvement in Indo-US relations under the inspiration of Bush and Rice---- adequately reciprocated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh--- has been a turning point in Indo-US relations since India became independent in 1947.

7. Will Obama continue with the Bush-Rice policy of dealing with India strategically and strengthening their relationship or will he revert to the traditional tactical Democratic reflex? This was the question that bothered many Indian opinion-makers as they heard with concern speculation about the likelihood of Holbroke or Albright becoming the Secretary of State. There is a sigh of relief over reports of the likelihood of Hillary Clinton taking over as the Secretary of State. She has enjoyed positive vibrations with influential Indians and Indo-Americans. There is a confidence that Indo-US relations will be safe in her hands.  One has to wait and see whether this belief proves to be correct or mere wishful-thinking.

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: seventyone@2gmail.com)

November 23, 2008

If Mahinda is Winston Churchill, Ranil is Clement Attlee

by Dushy Ranetunge

In the general election, every vote counts. It would be a grave mistake indeed to think that anyone could carry a general election by playing exclusively to the Sinhala nationalist gallery or a military constituency.

Mahinda Rajapakse is aware of this. Gothabaya Rajapakse once informed me of certain disagreements he was having with his brother, with Mahinda emphasising that there is a political angle and not just a military one.

Recently in Europe, a senior diplomat inquired as to my opinion of developments in Sri Lanka. I replied that like Winston Churchill, Mahinda might win the war, but to win the peace, we might need the First Earl, Clement Atlee of 5th Lane, Colombo 3.

Winning the war requires a certain mindset to be empowered and certain painful changes to the socio economic structure.

If the LTTE had militarised Tamil society in order to fight the "Sinhala-Buddhist" state, then a mirror image of it has taken place in the South, with the present regime having to militarise Sinhala society in order to fight the LTTE with all the resultant baggage and consequences.

An unfortunate by-product of all this is the prevalent Sinhala centric pronouncements and expectations, regrettably emanating from the defence establishment and predictably from certain fringe political formations of the majority community.

After rumblings in India, this constituency seems to have folded their flags and crawled back under the stones, grudgingly.

Since the electoral numbers are stacked so tightly, the administration is hesitant to put forward any meaningful package of devolution at present, fearful that it will be accused of dividing the country (rata bedanawa). A devolution package at this stage would cause dissent and chip away at the Rajapakse support base.

During the Summer, I met Kiriella of the UNP at the Ambepussa Resthouse on our way to Kandy. He was of the view that Rajapakse will win a second presidential term, but that the UNP has a good chance at a general election.

Mahinda Rajapakse may be aware of this.

He may also be aware that the UNP will capitalise on the Mervin Silva factor. It is not surprising that legal action has been filed against Silva, on the run up to a general election. Legal action may be used as a mitigating factor, to appease those who are outraged about Mervin. The Mervin Silva factor has not only outraged the English speaking intelligentsia, but also the Sinhala constituency, the strata represented by Rupavahini staff. This is what used to be the bedrock of the Rajapakse constituency. Silva’s behaviour is abhorred universally and he is identified with Rajapakse with the resultant tarnishing. Imagine an election poster with Mervin Silva, with the caption "do you want to vote for this lot?"

Legal action also seem to be being used to neutralise the proxies of the LTTE, the TNA. Several TNA MPs were questioned by the Terrorist Investigations Department this week, presumably with a view of bringing formal charges for breaching provisions of the constitution in relation to advocating separatism. TNA members have a history of advocating separatism, especially on platforms in Europe and North America, with the Sri Lankan authorities turning a blind eye so far.

The other tool in the UNP arsenal, cost of living, is to be reduced by the government in the run up to the election. But will it be adequate?

Perhaps the most potent tool in the UNP arsenal is Janaka Perera. If the government cannot protect the war hero Janaka Perera, how can it protect ordinary citizens would be a cry that would stir the electorate. The fact that both husband and wife died together would stir emotions, which the Rajapakse’s would not be able to defend.

The Rajapakse administration wants elections soon, and has factored in the expected economic downturn next year. Here in Britain they are expecting deflation instead of inflation next year, while Germany has officially already gone into recession.

Military victories are very much in the Rajapakse administrations favour, but it is doubtful if they have factored in the high casualties expected within the next three months, which are already on the rise and its implications on the electorate.

The war cannot be fought without high casualties. But as casualties rise, it may reflect negatively in the ballot box, as a means of directing their sorrow and anger of losing loved ones or losing limbs.

Winston Churchil won the war and lost the elections. Margaret Thatcher won the war and won the elections. The deciding factor was casualties. Casualties of the Falklands war was bearable for the British electorate. If Thatcher had got involved in a long drawn out war like Iraq or Afghanistan with high casualties, she too would have lost.

Rajapakse’s war has momentum. This will be in his favour.

The priority and focus of the electorate in the coming general election should not be the past or the present, but the future. The most relevant question for the electorate is ``who can win the peace?’’

Can the advancement of a perception that Sri Lanka is a Sinhala country win the peace? Such a position would alienate the entire minority constituency and by not taking a stand on the issue Rajapakse may have done just that. Ranil also kept quiet, but the people who made these comments, are identified with Rajapakse and not Ranil. Other than the minorities, many Sinhalese too would have found the comments to be in bad taste. The speaker of the Sri Lankan parliament was of the opinion that these were not comments that should have been made in public even if they are in ones mind.

The achievements of the armed forces are quite profound, but the Sinhala centric political comments that have emanated from the military establishment has seriously tarnished their kudos amongst the intelligentsia. In the eyes of a substantial segment of the population, the army is viewed not as a professional army of the republic battling terrorism for freedom and liberty of its citizens, but as a Sinhalese tribal force enforcing Hutu – Tutsi style tribal will. Even members of the other armed forces may have cringed away from these "Sinhala" comments, going by their deafening silence.

There were always inherent dangers of a predominantly Sinhala force fighting a predominantly Tamil force. Those in authority under the present watch obviously did not realise these finer points and the need to be seen to be vigorously impartial and independent, rather than tribal.

This lack of awareness of the finer points, seem an inherent weakness in the Sri Lankan establishment and will cost votes at the general election.

When the Chief Justice appeared on TV doing his Buddhist thing, many viewed it as poor judgement for the CJ of a republic to be identified with a particular religion to such a great extent. For those who had doubts, the remand order of the Buddhist monk over the loudspeaker issue, instantly restored his balance and integrity and that of the Supreme Court.

They say that justice alone is inadequate. Justice needs to be seen to be done. The same goes for independence and integrity.

 More recently the Foreign Ministry was having photo exhibitions of LTTE atrocities in Western capitals. Whoever thought this one out has absolutely no idea about international opinions about the Sri Lankan conflict or the Western mindset. The LTTE used to have similar exhibitions all over Europe and it seems that the limits of Sri Lankan imagination are restricted to copying the LTTE and committing the same mistakes. Sri Lanka can never beat the LTTE, when it comes to photo exhibitions of atrocities. Can Sri Lanka have a photo exhibition of atrocities to counter the `83 riots or white van disappearances? Further more the Western mindset would cringe from such exhibits. Western TV and newspapers would not even dream of publishing the horrendous pictures publicised in Sri Lankan media as they would consider such exhibits as being vulgar and unacceptable as they aspire to a different quality of life.

When I used to visit these LTTE photo exhibitions in Europe and North America, I used to smile to myself in the realisation that the LTTE were shooting themselves in the foot for their ignorance of the Western mindset. It was like the Tutsi’s having a photo exhibition of atrocities committed by the Hutu’s.

Now the Sri Lankan government is doing the same. Hutu’s having a photo exhibition of atrocities committed by the Tutsi’s.

A more appealing photo exhibition would have been to publicise the development in the East. A child solder under the Prabakaran regime, now going to school under Mahinda Rajapakse’s regime, would have caught the imagination of the Western mindset and that is something which the LTTE could never compete with. It would also have had a unifying effect among the communities, rather than the perception of the Hutu’s showing pictures of Tutsi atrocities and vice versa.

All these inherent weaknesses send signals to the electorate and the international community including Tamil Nadu and India. The gentle guiding hand of Lakshman Kadirgamar is surely missed.

In 1959, Senerath Paranavithana wrote "The higher culture, including the languages, brought to these regions by the Sinhalese as well as the Tamils, was adopted in varying degrees by the people of a stone age culture, who were there before their arrival. Thus the vast majority of the people who today speak Sinhalese or Tamil must have ultimately be descended from those autochthonous people of whom we know next to nothing."

As Paranavithana has correctly pointed out, both the Sinhalese and Tamil speakers have an equal stake in Sri Lanka that go back to the beginnings of history, and those who advocate otherwise can never win the peace. They will place Sri Lanka in a perpetual state of conflict and militarisation, reducing her to poverty.

Like the mindset required to win the war, winning the peace also requires a certain mindset that understands the pain of a peoples who feel battered, abused, rejected and unappreciated because of an accident of nature resulting in them being born to a particular ethno linguistic identity. They do not view Rajapakse as a liberator, saviour or a hero.

Parachuting in of Pillayans, Karunas and Devanandas will only be a temporary stopgap, and will not last the test of time. Fundamental attitudes need to be challenged and changed. Power needs to be substantially devolved to democrats rather than tyrants with an eye on improving the quality of governance for all.

Peace can only be won, when all the peoples in Sri Lanka feel secure, valued and they feel a sense of belonging. They need to be stakeholders, not mere tenants, as some want them to be. In the absence of this, the divide in Sri Lanka will grow wider and deeper as is happening at present.

Malin Abeyatunge writing in the "Island" this Wednesday under the heading, "Be humble in victory" has suggested that instead of a week of celebrations for the army’s return to Pooneryn, there should be prayers at temples, churches, kovils and mosques. How refreshing and enlightening an idea. This will unite all communities, unlike the celebrations planned, which would be viewed as Hutu’s celebrating while the Tutsi’s look on, repeating the same mistakes.

Those who fail to understand the above phenomena are whistling in the dark.

The challenge faced by Rajapakse and others that may form governments in the future is to transform the present military machine into an economic machine and forging national unity as never before and facilitating the emergence of a new stronger Sri Lankan identity, empowering all its many peoples.

Sri Lanka will find that winning the peace is far more difficult than winning the war. 

November 22, 2008

Some Comments on the Legacy of the Late Senator Murugeysen Tiruchelvam, QC.

Senator Tiruchelvam’s Legacy - Selected Speeches of and Tributes to Senator Murugeysen Tiruchelvan QC. Edited by Ram Balasubramaniyam

Vijitha Yapa Publications, Sri Lanka, Novmber 2007

328 Pages.

19th November marked the 101st birth anniversary of the late Senator Tiruchelvam who passed away 32 years ago today—22nd of November, 1976. Born in 1907, the young Tiruchelvam grew up in Malaya where his father Mr.Vishwanathan Murugeysen was one of several Ceylonese members of the British colonial administration in that country.

Soon after the end of World War I in 1918, Mr. Murugeysen sent his two elder sons Tiruchelvam and Rajendra to St. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia. It was felt that St. Thomas’ was superior in academic standing to any institution at that time in Malaya. It is a sad reflection of our general post-independence decline as a country that today most young Sri Lankans do it the other way around—they go to Malaysia in search of better educational opportunities!

Mr. Tiruchelvam entered politics in the early 1960s after a significant career as a government legal officer. During that long career, as Ranil Wickremesinghe pointed out in a radio talk delivered on the second anniversary of Senator Tiruchelvam’s passing on 22 November, 1979, he served as the Magistrate in Negombo, Panadura and Galle. He was subsequently appointed the Assistant to the then Legal Secretary, Sir Alan Rose. Later he became the Deputy Solicitor-General and in 1957 rose to the position of Solicitor-General. His colleagues during his stint as Solicitor-General were Victor Tennekoon, Rajah Wanasundera, H.L. de Silva and V.S.A. Pullenayagam . According to Neelan Tiruchelvam, his father worked very closely with these colleagues of his forming ‘a formidable team in taking on the best in the unofficial Bar’. It is acknowledged in legal circles that in many a complex case on Constitutional Law and Administrative Law, they outclassed the unofficial Bar.

Enters politics

Mr. Tiruchelvam entered the turbulent world of politics in the hope of contributing further to the greater good of our country as did his son, the late Neelan Tiruchelvam, at another decisive juncture in the history of this island. The senior Tiruchelvam was a close confidante and principal political strategist of the founder-leader of the Federal Party, Mr. S. J. V. Chelvanayakam. Murugeysen Tiruchelvam, one of the few local politicians we could refer to as a statesman, was a Cabinet Minister and a distinguished Senator prior to the abolition of the Upper House of our Parliament with the coming into being of the First Republican Constitution of Sri Lanka. He was the only Federalist to become a Cabinet Minister in this country. His early years in politics were shaped by struggle and civil disobedience. In 1961, when the Federal Party staged a mass satyagraha as a protest against the implementation of the Official Language Act popularly known as the ‘Sinhala Only Act’, Mr. Tiruchelvam and a number of other members of the Federal Party were jailed by the government of Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike. They languished in Panagoda for over six months!

In 1965, when the United National Party (UNP) and the Federal Party entered into a coalition, in the aftermath of what came to be known as the "Senanayake-Chelvanayakam Pact" that sought to introduce devolution of political power and special provisions for the Tamil language, Mr. Tiruchelvam was appointed to the Senate and received the Local Government portfolio in the Dudley Senanayake-led Cabinet of the National Government that came into office that year. Senator Tiruchelvam was instrumental in the passing of the Tamil Language Special Provisions Bill into law in 1966 and he contributed significantly to the eventual creation of a University in Jaffna.

Due to serious differences of opinion within the National Government stemming from the governments inability to implement key provisions of the "Senanayake-Chelvanayakam Pact" and a dispute with the Prime Minister on what has been described as ‘the Konneswaram Temple issue’, Mr. Tiruchelvam resigned from his Ministerial post and the Federal Party dissociated itself from the government of the day in 1968. Mr. Tiruchelvam continued in the Senate until its abrogation in 1972. He remained throughout his political career a resolute champion of the rights of the Tamil citizens while remaining a strong advocate of a united and plural Sri Lanka. In this context, it is important for all Sri Lankans to bear in mind that the late Senator Tiruchelvam was a determined opponent of the Vadukkodai Resolution of 1976 that called for a separate state of Tamil Eelam and in fact advised Mr. Chelvanayakam against adopting it as is well known and as attested to by Attorney-at-Law Ramalingam Balasubramaniyam. The latter was the former Private Secretary to the late Murugeysen Tiruchelvam while he served as Minister of Local Government and the editor of Senator Triuchelvam’s Legacy Selected Speeches of and Tributes to Senator Murugeysen Tiruchelvam QC ( Vijitha Yapa Publications, Colombo, 2007).

What came to be the last few months of Senator Tiruchelvam’s life were spent defending the accused in the famous Trial-at-Bar of 1976. Messrs Amirthalingam, Sivasithanmparam, Ratnam and Thurairatnam, four notable Tamil politicians of the day, were charged with sedition for defying the First Republican Constitution. Mr. Tiruchelvam together with two other lawyer-politicians - -S.J.V. Chelvanayakam and G.G. Ponnambalam - - successfully defended the accused in the case. It was Tiruchelvam’s sagacity and quiet diplomacy that made possible the appearance of the leaders of the Federal Party and the Tamil Congress, sworn political adversaries, to appear together in a common cause at the Trial.

Tiruchelvam died on 22 November 1976, aged 69. His was a productive life well lived and with his passing Sri Lanka lost a strong and passionate voice devoted to peace, moderation and national unity. Of the several contained in the publication edited by Mr. Balasubramaniyam (referred to above), I should like to dwell briefly on three key speeches delivered on the floor of the Senate of Ceylon by the late Mr. Tiruchelvam. They deal with bilingualism (Towards Bilingualism in Ceylon), federalism (Federalism, the Key to a Multi-Ethnic Ceylon) and dangers of partisan Constitution-making ( Constituent Assembly will Pave the way for Dictatorship).

Towards Bilingualism in Ceylon significantly was Senator Tiruchelvam’s maiden speech in the Upper House when ours was a bi-cameral legislature. It was an impassioned re-assertion of the crucial need of bilingualism in our country for the preservation of inter-ethnic harmony within it. Senator Tiruchelvam’s re-visiting of this issue in 1965 that has been debated and discussed ad infinitum in our political circles since 1944 was on account of the unfinished Parliamentary business that began in 1956 when the Official Language Act No. 33 of 1956 was introduced. It was planned that the implementation of the Act would be stretched over a period of five years, till 31 December, 1960, a period which, as K. M. de Silva has pointed out (see his Ethnicity, Language and Politics: The Making of Sri Lanka’s Official language Act No.33 of 1956, Ethnic Studies Report, Vol. XI, No. 1, January 1993) , ‘Bandaranaike expected to use to devise or negotiate modifications and adjustments to make the change in language policy palatable to Tamils.’ It was Mr. Bandaranaike’s deviation from his earlier principled position with regard to the issue of Swabasha, the blatant and disgraceful political expediency of the United National Party and, as has been pointed out by Senator Nadesan, the belligerent reaction in place of what ought to have been a measured response of the Federal Party and the Tamil Congress, that paved the way for the emergence of the disastrous linguistic nationalism that has since tragically bedevilled Sri Lanka and all but destroyed our social fabric today. Senator Tiruchelvam in the course of his speech refers to Mr. Bandaranaike’s contribution to the debate in the State Council of 25 May, 1944, during which the latter said:

Tamil as official Language

I do not see that there would be any harm at all in recognizing the Tami language also as an official language. It is necessary to bring about that amity , that confidence among the various communities which we are all striving to achieve within reasonable limits. Therefore, on the second point, I have no personal objection to both these languages being considered official languages; nor do I see any particular harm or danger or real difficulty arising from it.

He then proceeds to quote from a statement made by Mr.Bandaranaike in the House of Representatives on 25 April, 1957:

We feel that at least in certain areas in the Northern and Eastern Provinces - -

I am speaking very generally now – it will be understood that subject to

further closer consideration and discussion with others, the Northern and

Eastern provinces should have the option of doing the official part of their

work also in Tamil if they so wish.

It is thus clear that Mr. Bandaranaike was not a fanatical linguistic nationalist and like most sensible Sri Lankans he was of the view that it would be fair and reasonable that the people of the northern and eastern provinces should have the option of doing the official part of their work also in Tamil, if they so wished, without prejudice to the "Sinhala Only" Act. Bandaranaike was the prisoner and eventually the victim of the political and language extremists both within and without Parliament. The triumph of the language extremists led by K.M.P. Rajaratne, L.H. Metthananda and F. R. Jayasuriya and supported vigourously by certain bhikkhu activists prominent among whom were the infamous Mapitigama Buddharakkhita and Beddegama Wimalawamsa, resulted in the government of the day back-pedaling on this very sensitive piece of legislation.

At a press conference held at his private residence in Colombo on 30 May, 1956, Mr. Bandaranaike sought to exercise a degree of damage control. He admitted during the conference that it was difficult to cover all that may be considered legitimate in the envisaged Language Bill and to spell out in it his Party’s commitment to ‘the reasonable use of Tamil’. He attempted to assure the country and the Federal Party that once the Bill is passed ‘we will have time to address our minds to the practical working of the Act and the difficulties that may arise from time to time’. Bandaranaike also held out the promise of the Regional Councils Bill which he planned to present soon in which provision would be made for ‘the decentralization of administration’ (see The Ceylon Daily News, 31 May, 1956).

It must be noted for the record that unlike from 1970 onwards when they let themselves down dreadfully, the leading Marxists in 1956 stood on the right side of the barricades. During the debate on the Official Language Act which began on 4 June and went on until the wee hours of 15 June when the vote on the third reading was taken, Dr. N. M. Perera, Dr. Colvin R. de Silva, of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party and Dr. S. A. Wickremasinghe and Pieter Keuneman of the Communist Party made outstanding contributions. It was during his memorable speech that Colvin R. de Silva argued that a two-language policy would help integrate the country, while a single language would eventually divide it. In a slogan that has ringing relevance to us even today, De Silva famously observed: two languages, one people; one language, two peoples. Handy Perinbanayagam (1899 – 1977) was the only other I know of who subscribed to the same philosophy. He never abandoned his faith that Ceylon should be a single political unit with two official languages. He used to say, ‘What Sinhala is to the Sinhalese, Tamil ought to be to the Tamils. A minority need not be subordinate to the majority in a free country’. At a time when English was the language of government and of prestige, Handy Perinbanayagam and K. Nesiah were the two lone voices that dared to fight for the children’s right to learn in the mother tongue and a people’s right to be governed in their own language long before this kind of thinking became the orthodoxy.

Advocates federalism

On 20 July, 1966, in a speech he made following the Throne Speech, Tiruchelvam argued for the establishment of a federal Ceylon which, he claimed, would strengthen democracy and address the problems of Ceylon Tamils and other minorities of the country. Apart from the Council for Liberal Democracy and the small but consequential Liberal Party that came into being in the 1980s, no other post-independence Sri Lankan political entity has supported the call for a federal Sri Lanka as a likely solution for our continuing national political tragedy. It is significant to note, however, that long before Tamil political leaders of the calibre of a Chelvanayakam or a Tiruchelvam advocated federalism, the young S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike in the mid-1920s and the Kandyan Sinhalese representatives during their submissions to the Donoughmore Commission in the late 1920s, were early advocates of a federal Sri Lanka. The Kandyan Sinhalese proposed a federal Ceylon with 3 Provinces including a Province for the Northeast. The Kandyans were concerned about the influx of low-country Sinhalese to the Kandyan region.

Tiruchelvam the ardent believer in federalism ended his speech in the following manner:

If we, the Federal Party, are going to get federalism—our object is federalism:

we believe in federalism; the only solution for a multi-racial society like ours is federalism—it can only be got from the Sinhalese people with their free will and

good will alone; in no other way. I want to make that clear.

Here is proof, if proof is needed, of the unwavering moderation that the late Senator Tiruchelvam epitomized throughout his brief political career. Some of his younger colleagues in the Federal Party would have fared far better and achieved greater results had they emulated the late Senator’s or a Handy Perimbanayagam’s pragmatism. It needs also to be noted that the 13th Amendment to the Constitution has enabled Sri Lanka to make slow but substantial progress both in regard to bilingualism and devolution of power in the country. The LTTE, however, by their seemingly endless campaign of violence continues to act as a major impediment to the implementation of provisions in place for the furtherance of bilingualism and the devolution of power.

On 30 June, 1970, Senator Tiruchelvam during his Address of Thanks to the Throne Speech presciently warned the country of the destructive potential of the United Front (UF)Government’s disastrous economic policies. A few weeks later, on the 7th of August, he was on his feet again during the Second Reading of the Ceylon Constitution Amendment Bill to protest against the creation by the Government a Constituent Assembly, consisting solely of the members of the House of Representatives, to draft a new Constitution. Whilst lamenting the exclusion of the Second Chamber from the Constituent Assembly, Senator Tiruchelvam warned that this move was unconstitutional and would lead to a Parliamentary dictatorship. Turning its back on the concept of the separation of powers, the UF government arrogated to itself executive, legislative and judicial powers and treated with schoolboyish disdain the legitimate concerns of its Parliamentary Opposition. In a recent conversation with me a former senior public servant told me that he had asked the then Minister of Constitutional Affairs, Dr. Colvin R. de Silva, why the government to which he belonged was embarking on such an ill-advised course of action. This official had specifically pointed out the strong undesirability of the abolition of Section 29 (2) of the Soulbury Constitution in effect at the time and that of the Public Service Commission. Dr. De Silva, normally an open and amiably candid man, had not responded to these observations at the time the were made. Subsequently, after the LSSP had departed from the UF government, he had done so and admitted that both he and his coalition partners were helpless as the Prime Minister and the all powerful Minister of Justice( who later took on the portfolio of Finance as well ) had insisted that the new Constitution should be in keeping with their priorities and in accord with the overwhelming mandate they had received from the people! I wish I could give the late Dr. Colvin R. de Silva the politician the benefit of the doubt! I am confident that as an educated human being his conscience would have pricked him but the seasoned politician in him would have looked upon this authoritarian act of the government, for which as a Cabinet member he was collectively responsible, as another instance of the ends justifying the means. As for the supposed ‘mandate’ given by the people with which the UF government sought to justify their majoritarianism, I should like here to give the last word to that fine liberal democrat, the late Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake who has observed:

There are some things in every true democracy which no mandate can ever destroy. Even if a majority agrees, the freedom of speech, the freedom to organize political parties, the freedom of the press, the right to vote to elect your representatives at periodic and regular elections; these are features which cannot ever be abolished. Even if a majority agrees, a country which deprives any man of these fundamental rights and liberties, is not a true democracy, is not even a really human society. A free people should not be condemned to state slavery under cover of an alleged mandate (emphasis mine).

The Soulbury Constitution had included Section 29 and an independent Public Service Commission as minority safeguards. Not only did the First Republican Constitution abolish many of the minority safeguards, but worse, it also entrenched majoritarianism in the supreme law of the land. It undermined the secular character of the state by giving Buddhism the foremost place and the language of the Sinhalese was made the sole official language. While the Soulbury Constitution deliberately doubtless had not explicitly specified the nature of the State, the new constitution proclaimed that Sri lanka was a unitary state. Thus the First Republican Constitution of 1972, as the late senator Tiruchelvam characterized it, was not only an exceedingly autocratic document but as Rohan Edrisinha(2000) has argued it was also ‘a major landmark in the process of national disintegration’( see his Sri Lanka: Constitutions Without Constitutionalism A Tale of Three and a half Constitutions).

In conclusion, I wish to quote from two of the tributes included in Senator Tiruchelvam’s Legacy. The first of these is the late Neelan Tiruchelvam’s to his father and the portion I have selected illustrates the liberal outlook of the late Senator. Here is Neelan on his father:

He [Senator Tiruchelvam] was liberal in outlook. My marriage was an unconventional one. Sithie, my wife, was in the same class with me at the Law Faculty. I married her in 1969, a few months after I had been admitted to the Bar.

I informed him on the 18th of February that I intend marrying her the next day. It was a civil ceremony held at my father’s house at Rosmead Place. The registrar was nervous when I asked him to come, wondering what sort of reception he would get from my father. My father was initially in a state of shock but quickly adjusted. My mother, as always, was very supportive and her usual ebullient self. Later my brother who is a surgeon, married a Christian, Junia Wirasinghe, a family practitioner. My sister Janaki married a Buddhist, Jayantha Wanigatunga. We are a very pluralistic family.Then there was Ginoris, our Buddhist chauffeur who was deeply attached to my father. On Vesak day he decorated our house and lit it up with Vesak kudus. It was probably the best lit house down Rosmead Place, better, I think than the Bandaranaike residence!

And here is a significant extract from the tribute paid Senator Tiruchelvam by Mr. Ronnie de Mel, the then Minister of Finance and Planning, during a radio talk on 22 November, 1981, to mark the 5th death anniversary of the late Senator:

I consider it a privilege to pay this tribute to a gentleman and a politician of the highest calibre. There is only one criteria and one alone to judge a leader. Was every simple act of his in public life in the interest of his country and his people? Mr. Tiruchelvam will surely pass this test. We need in this country, men whom the spoils of office cannot buy, and men who possess opinions and a will. We need men who love honour and men who will not lie. Such a man was Mr. Tiruchelvam. May his life and work be an inspiration to all of us. He needs no earthly monument. He has left behind for posterity a monument more lasting than a bronze.

MHM Ashraff: A "doer" with an innovative approach to politics

by MHM Salman

Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em.” Shakespeare - Twelfth Night

Many commentators have portrayed Mr. Ashraff as a visionary, political thinker, humanist, poet etc. My attempt here is to go down memory lane and briefly recount a few instances of his innovative approach to politics. In his brief but eventful political career spanning for 14 years many notable achievements were made. He set very high standards in politics in terms of innovativeness and delivery of benefits to people. He had unlimited supplies of energy within him to achieve things. A man born to do things. In short a “doer”.

Mr. Ashraff was born to a well known family in Sammanthurai and studied at Wesley High College in Kalmunai. Later he studied law at the Law College and joined the Attorney General’s Department as a State Counsel. After a brief stint at the Department he settled down in Kalmunai and established a lucrative legal practice. Confirming Socrates that “Man is by nature a political animal” Mr. Ashraff dabbled in politics at a very young age. Initial political associations were with the Federal Party and the SLFP. When Mrs. Bandaranaike visits the East it was Mr. Ashraff who would translate her speeches. For the Federal Party his contribution was more substantial. However the political affiliations with the TULF (Alliance including the Federal Party) sour when the attempt to install a Muslim as the Chairman of the Ampara District development Council failed. Mr. Ashraff had reasonable expectation that this request would be allowed, as he had publicly supported the TULF that was seeking a mandate from the people to establish a State of Ealam.

May be the sense of frustration and guilt pushed Mr. Ashraff to change course and start a new journey. The SLMC had a quiet birth and even quieter infancy. The focus was taking the message of Islam among Muslims. Sounds like taking coal to Newcastle. However, there were compelling reasons and the circumstances were ripe. One issue close to his heart was the dowry system which had become a social evil. Even during Mr. Ashraff days the dowry issue was a hot topic among his close circle of friends. In fact they had taken a secret wow among themselves not to take dowry. True to his spirit he followed the wow.

Be that as it may, the relatively mundane life of people was shattered by the events of July 1983. This was the beginning of a troublesome period for Muslims in the East. Intimidation, demand of ransom and Physical violence were on the increase. Repeated requests that they be left alone was of no avail. Resistance was met with more violence and the long enduring cordial relationship between communities began to sour. Soon there was communal violence where number of people was killed. Mr. Ashraff himself was one of the first to be forced out due to the threats against him.

Mr. Ashraff resurfaces in Colombo in 1985 after fleeing Kalmunai to escape violence. I was introduced to him as an apprentice in early 1986. At this time he too was undergoing a tremendous changeover in his life. He was trying to settle in after being pushed out of the East. Deep inside him Political animal was also rearing the head. Coterie of followers were also hovering in Colombo and urging him to revive SLMC and enter in to active politics. Life in Colombo was also a blessing in disguise as it offered him the opportunity and the background to launch his political project.

In the late 1986 the SLMC was declared as a political party at “Pasha Villa, Dematagoda. At this historic meeting Mr.Ashraff publicly declared that the party “wishes to function as a national political party to achieve its objectives and to participate more effectively in the political affairs of Sri Lanka”.Some of his apprentices, including me doubled up as usherers and served meals and refreshments to participants. To my surprise I found out later that he had nominated me to the Politbureau of SLMC as the Assistant Editor. That was the first and the last time I had ever held a position in the SLMC.

The ideology of the SLMC was built on the call for unification of Muslims in Sri Lanka and influences them to adapt to laws of Shariah. Articulation the vision of the SLMC Mr. Ashraff said a true Muslims cannot be part of different political entities. As long Muslims are divided, he argued, unity was a distant dream. He asserted that that Muslims had two options: To serve the majority parties and face humiliation or join hands with a Muslim party and strengthen it. If the Muslim chooses the latter option, he claimed, twin objective could be achieved. Muslims would have an independent political representation and such an entity could guide the Muslims towards the tenets of Islam and also win them political rights.

To drive home the political point Mr. Ashraff publicly remembered with gratitude the roles played by late Mr. Chelvanayagam and Mr. Amirthalingam. It was Mr. Chelvanayagam who raised the issue of killing of Muslims in Puttalam by police in 1976. When Muslims were targeted for violence in Galle, then leader of the opposition Mr. Amirthalingam raised the matter in Parliament. This was in spite of several high ranking SLFP and UNP Ministers and MP in Parliament. Mr. Ashraff alleged none of the Muslim political leaders had the courage to rise above party politics and raise the issue in Parliament or outside.

Angered by this comments and the growing popularity of SLMC among people Political opponents (Muslims) were determined to block his path. Conspiracies and plans were hatched to sabotage the forward march of the SLMC. In order prove the point the story of a wood cutter was related. A wood cutter with an axe in hand was approaching two trees. The small tree (son) was afraid and started crying and said to the big tree (father) “this man is coming to cut us in to pieces”. The big tree had said “It was not the man but one of us helping him to do that” and pointed to the handle of the axe which was made from a branch of a tree.

Whilst the SLMC was slowly gaining grounds, the country was plunging deep in to the abyss of conflict. Foreign policy and the bad execution of military operations alienated Sri Lanka from friends. Geo-political interests moved India to intervene. Finally the Indo-Lanka Accord was signed to bring about a settlement to the conflict. The signing of the Accord resulted in unprecedented opposition and violence across the country. Muslims of the East had a different line of argument. Mr. Ashraff charged that that the Accord had rendered Muslims of the East as political slaves overnight. Accusing the government of arbitrarily agreeing to the amalgamation of the North and East he said it was a betrayal of Muslim interests.

However when the elections were announced for the NorthEast Provincial Council the SLMC decided to contest raising many an eyebrow. The decision was based on sound reasoning. By this time the SLMC had already contested provincial council elections and boasted of having elected 12 members. The other factor was that to the SLMC the East was the backbone of political power of Muslims. The party wanted to test the popularity and political strength. According to a very senior SLMC member Mr. Ashraff explained the reason for contesting the elections with this pithy remark “when the devil governs the country, the rule is to eat decayed corpses”. The SLMC managed to win 17 members and the members were mere onlookers in a political saga that was unfolding which culminated in a unilateral declaration of independence.

Presidential elections of 1988 were held amid unprecedented violence and intimidation. Two intense armed conflicts were raging. One struggle was to create a state of Ealam in the North and East and other was to topple the government and capture power. Media termed the conflicts as terrorism in the north and extremism in the south respectively. During this period incidents of gross human rights violation and anti-democratic activities were taking place.

Political parties joined forces to create a movement called Democratic Peoples Alliance (DPA). The SLMC too joined the DPA and Mr. Ashraff played an active part. However due to differences of policy the SLMC withdrew from the DPA.

This was the time the UNP presidential candidate Mr. Premadasa was looking for political support outside UNP to consolidate his candidature. SLMC was also boasting of a vote bank of around 200,000 throughout the country and Mr. Premadasa was keen to tap the vote bank.

Mr. Premadasa’s friendly overtures persuaded Mr. Ashraff to support his candidature. Perhaps this would have been one of the toughest political decisions for Mr. Ashraff as he had already committed to support the candidature of Mrs. Bandaranaike by then. At a hurriedly convened National Convention of the party a somber Mr. Ashraff announced “Vote for anyone, but Mrs. Bandaranaike”. Support to Mr. Premadasa also came at a heavy political price. Mr. Ashraff successfully negotiated the reduction of the district cut-off point at Parliamentary elections paving the way for weaker political parties to elect MP to Parliament. Thin majority with which Mr. Premadasa was elected pointed to the crucial role played by the SLMC.

Parliament was dissolved immediately after the presidential elections as decreed by President Jayewardene. Parliamentary elections were held proportional representation system. From day one an extremely violent conditions prevailed all over the country. In certain areas voting was considered an act of treason by extremist factions. For the SLMC it was an opportunity to test the waters nationally. The party contested all the districts in the East and Jaffa and Vanni Districts. In certain other districts SLMC and ELJP contested as an alliance. Digamadulla, Batticaloa and Vanni districts elected one MP each and the SLMC was entitled to nominate one MP in terms of the total number of votes polled. Mr. Ashraff polled 56,464 votes at an average of was 92.07% which was a record.

Mr. Ashraff tenure in Parliament as an MP was interesting and productive. The first indication of his skills was evident the way he handled the hecklers with ease like a veteran in his inaugural address. From there onwards he was unstoppable. Volume of speeches he made as an MP on variety of subjects was so amazing. He used Parliament as a forum to speak out on issues affecting the country and Muslims. Mr. Ashraff also lobbied very hard and managed to get office premises for SLMC inside Parliament building.

The year 1990 was a black year for Muslims. LTTE had indulged in some senseless violence against Muslims. Killing of Hajj pilgrims returning home and massacres at mosques had left a profound negative impact on Muslims. The most horrendous crime LTTE committed was the ethnic cleansing of more than 15,000 Muslim families from the North. Violence against Muslims continued unabated and more innocent Muslims were massacred in the East and also interior villages in the Polonnaruwa district. An exacerbated Mr. Ashraff demanded weapons from the government for self defense. When things became intolerable Mr. Ashraff vented his feelings in Parliament and said’ I will be the happiest if I can die in battle at the time of slitting the neck of this bloody Prabakharan.”

SLMC was helpless in the face of relentless violence against person and property of Muslims. Their inability to intervene was frustrating to Mr. Ashraff. Part of the reason for this was the powerful Muslim lobby within the UNP thwarting all his moves. People in the regions were not contended with SLMC being the voice alone; they wanted tangible results on the ground and violence stopped.

Within the party too there were repercussions. Mr. Ashraff was also greatly disturbed by the refusal of some MP to follow the party policy. Some MP was openly rebelling against party whip and his authority. This had cascading effects in the party and several party loyalists left the SLMC in disgust. In the meantime the people wanted SLMC to take political power. There were persistent rumours that he was joining the government. In spite of drawbacks the SLMC retained power in majority of local authorities in the East; however Mr. Ashraff had to resign from Parliament as per a pledge.

Next turning point was the unexpected death of President Premadasa. The attitude of the UNP leaders forced Mr. Ashraff to forge a political alliance with Ms. Chandrika Kumaratunga. Both signed the Chandrika-Ashraff agreement. It had two clauses dealing with the solution to the conflict and the settlement of displaced persons. Though many tried to paint a different picture the agreement was solely based on principle.

For the Parliamentary elections of 1994 the SLMC was a constituent member of the PA, but through an electoral agreement the party independently contested all three districts in the East under the tree symbol. The SLMC also independently entered in to an electoral pact with the Liberal party. After the elections Mr. Ashraff decided to appoint Mr. Asitha Perera of the Liberal Party to Parliament despite heavy lobbying by party members to appoint a Muslim. This appointment had also created another controversy which continued for a long time.

In the PA government Mr. Ashraff became a very powerful Minister. He held two important portfolios with wide ranging subjects. Political power created an impact on Mr. Ashraff and also on the rank and file of the SLMC.

Mr. Ashraff truly believed in the adage- Politics is the art of the possible. As a Minister he moved with full force on a journey yet unparalleled in the history by any Muslim politician. He was a workaholic and also never short of ideas. Energies and resources were then mobilized to projects and programme to serve the people. A well oiled machine worked round the clock. Nothing could stop him when he was determined to accomplish something. Not even the laws or regulations. Sometimes regulations were disregarded for good reasons. Out of hundreds of instances I vividly remember two.

Port has always been the employment agency for politicians. Mr. Ashraff looked at employment from a different angle. After studying statistics he was determined to correct a historic injustice caused to Muslims. He argued that Muslims are 7% of the population and but Ports Authority had employed only few hundreds, a figure he thought that was much less that the entailment of Muslims. When he wanted to recruit the officials pointed out to rules and circulars. Official advice was brushed aside with justification. In the end thousands of unemployed youth belonging to all communities were recruited.

Payment of an ex gracia amount to employees of a sugar factory near Ampara was another act of bravery. The matter was not even remotely connected with his Ministry. When Mr. Ashraff was informed that employees of the factory had not been paid for months due to mismanagement he immediately sprung in to action. That was also the Sinhala New Year festival time. Ministry officials were summoned and a decision was taken to make a payment. It was a humanitarian gesture on the part of a great humanitarian.

As a minister Mr. Ashraff did not follow conventional governance. All officials were allowed to work independently. Meetings were held with officials regularly to plan and for review. Innovative methods were used to secure funds to construct the South Eastern University at Oluvil. New procedures were introduced to allow displaced families to own a plot of land and build a house of their own. Newly married displaced couples were granted Marriage prosperity Allowance and displaced students were offered Educational Prosperity Scholarships. Oluvil Port Development was inaugurated amidst controversy.

His alliance with PA was not smooth always. Intermittently disputes arose with the President Kumaratunga and her Ministers with regard to policy and politics. In 1995 Mr. Ashraff felt betrayed when President Kumaratunga removed the Northern Province and the Essential Services Commissioner from his Ministry portfolio. As if to rub salt on old wounds the President again removed certain functions from his Ministry portfolio. This resulted in a stand off between them. Later it was amicably settled. Mr. Ashraff whilst conceding that the President had power to do anything insisted that the President should have had the courtesy of informing before doing that. He also had running disputes with Muslim Ministers in the Cabinet.

In the midst of politics and official duty Mr. Ashraff found time to study and further his professional status. He obtained his Masters and was made a Presidents Counsel later. At the time of disappearance he was getting ready for his doctoral studies. His knowledge of Islam was astounding. He wrote poetry and short stories and composed songs. On long journeys he sang as well with us.

Indefatigable spirit of Mr. Ashraff was evident when he singlehandedly fought for the creation of Urban Councils for Kalmunai and Kattankudy. At the Local Government Ministry Mr. Ashraff explained the political reasons for the request. Ministry officials contended this could be done through an amendment to the Constitution or through a resolution in Parliament. Mr.Ashraff position was that the Minister by a Gazette notification could do that. The Attorney General too was consulted then and there and the position of Mr. Ashraff was proved correct.

Mr. Ashraff was basically a man from the Eastern Province. Born and lived among major part of the youth among Muslims and Tamils. He was comfortable in the Tamil-Muslim ethos. His initial political affiliations were with the Federal party and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. Even after the adoption of Vaddukkodai resolution, he remained loyal to the TULF and its policies.

Politics and high office had brought him to interact with Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims from different strata of society. They loved him for his charm and sincerity. Perhaps this is the beginning of his ideological shift from Muslim politics to national politics. This shift was carefully crafted and filtered in to the SLMC and people. Perhaps Mr. Ashraff was genuinely concerned about the limitations and strongly felt that he could play a much bigger role in the affairs of the country. However the name tag “Muslim leader” crippled him where he was.

Ideology of NUA was conceived at a turbulent time of political culture in Sri Lanka. Partisan politics, personality clashes and the antagonism made him to search for alternatives. Division of people on religious and ethnic lines disturbed him. Core objective of NUA reflected the inner feeling of Mr. Ashraff on some of these issues. For NUA was built on the pillars of Sri Lankan identity, democracy without opposition, simplicity and equality. The hardcore members of the SLMC were very much opposed to NUA. They felt he was ignoring the SLMC and devoting considerable amount of time to this new project.

The alliance it self was a creation of a genius.Two political parties Sri Lanka Progressive Front and the SLMC were the partners. Mr. Ashraff referred to the SLMC and NUA in family terms. He said NUA was the child and the SLMC was the parent. NUA Constitution lay down that the Leader SLMC shall be the Leader NUA. He was to comment later that “we only create Constitutions like this.” After the formation of NUA Mr. Ashraff vigorously promoted a Sri Lankan identity and also took great pains to learn Sinhala and also openly proclaimed that only a person who is competent in Sinhala, Tamil and English has the right to call himself a full citizen of Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile on the political front too disturbing developments were taking place. Mr. Ashraff openly stated that his alliance was with President Kumaratunga and not with PA. The settlement of the conflict in the North and East was very much high in his agenda. The issue of amalgamation was a contentious one. To the SLMC the referendum in the East was forced on the people making them politically insignificant. He was also aware that the response of political parties to the amalgamation was based on history, myth and emotions and argued that the Muslims of the East cannot be sacrificed for this purpose.

When the PA and UNP negotiated on the political package it was a real test of his ability to take the correct decision at the correct time. The decision on the Unit of devolution was decided at the last stages of the negotiations. Contrary to expectations Mr. Ashraff compromised on the separate power sharing formula for Muslims and agreed to interim council for a period of ten years. He himself also agreed to draft safeguards for Sinhalese and Muslims in the Interim Council for the North and East. Certain people within the SLMC was deeply disturbed, however he stood firm and defended the position taken at the negotiations.Not stopping at that he defended the constitutional bill in Parliament for more than three hours.

Parliamentary elections 2000 were tumultuous period for Mr. Ashraff and also to the SLMC. By this time he had already obtained the resignations of party secretaries of SLMC and NUA and had also decided to swap the party symbols. These changes were directed from Saudi Arabia. More surprises were in store for the SLMC when he arrived back.

Mr. Ashraff was just emerging out of a stand off with the President and the PA over remarks made by Mr. Fowzie and others. On arrival radical changes were introduced to the party constitutions and office bearers of the two parties were also re-constituted. These changes were made with little or no consultation with the party hierarchies. To the surprise of SLMC hierarchy the NUA was brought forward as the lead party relegating the SLMC to the backseat. No one in the party dared to oppose or resist.

All the preparations and far reaching changes made to the party constitution suggested that Mr. Ashraff was getting ready for something big and unusual. In fact he was determined to prove a point or two. He was still smarting at the comments made by Mr. Fowzie who said that he was a “cardboard king maker” and challenged the SLMC to contest independently and return with five MP. Mr. Ashraff was determined to return with at least 12 MP to Parliament.

The electoral alliance with the PA also ran in to disputes and he clashed with the PA hierarchy very often. Selection and inclusion of candidates to contest was the most controversial issue. The PA leadership changed agreements without his knowledge causing controversies. During this period he send me and a colleague to a private nursing home to meet the Secretary to PA Mr. D.M.Jayaratne, who was recovering from a neck injury sustained due to a road accident, and get his signature the nomination paper for Digamadulla district. Mr. Jayaratne was in pain and could not talk properly. Somehow we managed to convince Mr. Jayarante, who then personally spoke to President Kumaratunga, and settled the matter. Failure to get his signature would have been fatal to my colleague and me.

One trait of Mr. Ashraff was his dogged determination. On certain issues he was highly opinionated. Late Rev. Soma Thero once accused him of settling Muslims in the Deegavapi vihara property and of vandalizing Buddhist archeological monuments in the surrounding areas. Mr. Ashraff felt very hurt that a respected Monk was leveling baseless allegations against him. Media too attacked Mr. Ashraff and eventually both Mr. Ashraff and Soma Thero agreed to have a public debate on television. Many close advisers and friends tried to dissuade him from appearing in a live debate with a prominent Buddhist monk of repute. However he insisted and the debate went on as planned. Mr. Ashraff was complimented later for the respect shown to Reverend Soma Thero. Even today this debate rank as the finest political debate on television.

This article is not complete without recording Mr. Ashraffs involvement in the Deegavapi controversy, which rocked the entire country and the government. Deegavapi saga has its beginnings in 1987 with the eviction of hundreds of Muslim farmers from a place called Ponnamveli. According to Mr. Ashraff the government having chased the Muslims out brought Sinhala families from Kegalle district and settled them in the land hurriedly. The plight of the evicted Muslim farmers was raised regularly in Parliament and outside by SLMC. However this matter remained unresolved for a long time. Mr. Ashraff was a Minister he was determined to correct the injustice caused to Muslim farmers.

The controversy erupted when an over enthusiastic official attached to his Ministry tried to push things too fast. Mr. Ashraff defended the officer, who was an honourable gentleman, took the responsibility for himself. The plight of the evicted Muslims remains unresolved even today.

Some critics, including senior members of the SLMC, were of opinion that the NUA was an extravagance, waste of time and money. Some term it as an aberration. Some even go to the extent of suggesting that the proximate cause for his disappearance was NUA. Whatever it may be the struggle of Mr. Ashraff is unparallel and without equals. Even today the SLMC and NUA owe their existence to Mr. Ashraff. That is proved by the fact that his speeches and photographs are used by the SLMC, NUA and other Muslim parties in the East for propaganda purposes.

Political journey of Mr. Ashraff also induced Muslims to believe in democracy and non-violence. It is also a living tribute to Mr. Ashraff that even today Muslims are staying away from violence or terrorism in spite of grave provocation and harassment. It was the life of a selfless politician who was once campaigning for a state of Ealam and then standing firm to preserve the independence and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. The political legacy left behind by Mr. Ashraff was unique. An analyst will find contradictions and contrasts; however his mission was to accomplish many things in a sorter period of time. He was a man in great hurry.

Mr. Ashraff left all of us at a very crucial period. It was a period of transition. He was going through a truly a painful transition himself- from the leader SLMC to lead a much secular mass movement. Few days before he left on that fateful journey he told a media person over the telephone that “with a heavy heart I am bidding farewell to communal politics”. Two of us were present on this occasion. On hearing my colleague, Attorney MM Abul Kalam, was visibly upset and angry. He was angrily telling me “how could the leader tell that”. I told my friend lets ask him later.

November 20, 2008

Mahinda has increased his salary by 40% charges Mangala

Former Foreign minister Mangala Samaraweera has charged that President Mahinda Rajapakse had increased his salary by 400% within four days of being elected President.
 
Mr. Samaraweera  said, "Upon being elected President on November 19th, 2005 Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa, on November 23rd, had got his salary increased four-fold, a proportion unseen from the time of President J.R. Jayawardene. This is mentioned on page 1,210 of the Hanzard."
 
Mr. Samaraweera was speaking at a media briefing titled "Three years for Chinthana: Country is lost" in Colombo today (Nov. 20th).
He further said "As President -- J.R. Jayewardene, Ranasinghe Premadasa, D.B. Wijetunga and Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga -- all received Rs. 25,000 as their salary."
 
As President Mahinda Rajapaksa celebrated his third year in office, 79 of his closest relatives hold top government positions, including as ministry secretaries, parliamentarians, presidential advisors, diplomats and chairmen of corporations, said leader of SLFP Mahajana Wing,  Mangala Samaraweera.
 
Commenting on the capture of Pooneryn, Mr. Samaraweera said, "The government has been saying in the past couple of days that our security forces have captured Pooneryn area. On most occasions, it was painted as an achievement of the President himself. We must pay out tribute to the heroic soldiers who fought and laid down their lives to recapture Pooneryn area."
 
"But, 15 years ago, we similarly celebrated the taking of Pooneryn. This is mentioned in Dinamina. It is an irony of fate that it was captured on 15th November 1993 when D.B. Wijetunga was president, with Ranil Wickremesinghe as prime minister."
 
"That day too, we captured Pooneryn at the cost of a large number of lives in the security forces. Today as well, we have gained it by sacrificing members of the security forces of yet another generation. We may feel happy that Pooneryn has been captured from time to time, but we still cannot provide a solution to the national conflict."
 
"This is an endless war. Newspapers do not publish these things. You will not be allowed to publish these either. I know that by last Tuesday, 235 injured soldiers were brought to Colombo National Hospital. It was reported that 85 were brought to Kalubowila, 90 to Jayawardenepura and more than 300 to Military Hospital. Also, the bodies of more than 200 brave sons of this country were brought to Jayaratne Funeral Directors. This government is preparing to sacrifice any number of lives to hide all these and cover up its inabilities."
 
The SLFP (M) leader also commented on the state of the economy.
 
"The IMF and the World Bank held a joint meeting in Washington on October 10th to discuss the collapse of the global economy. At that meeting, they released a report on 160 countries. Of those 160 countries, Sri Lanka is among the 28 weakest of economies. The other countries include Eritrea, Ethiopia, Tajikistan, Madagascar, Rwanda, Malawi and Haiti. Three years of Mahinda Chinthana, and our country has fallen to the level of these countries. I am not saying this. It is the World Bank report that says so."
 
"We have not yet felt the effect of the global economic collapse. At present, we are feeling the economic crisis brought about by the waste, corruption and fraud of the Rajapaksas. It is only when we prepare to celebrate New Year in April that we will feel the burden of the world economic crisis. The Central Bank governor recently admitted that foreign reserves had declined by 30 per cent within three months. We will have to take money in suitcases to buy goods for Sinhala New Year. By that time, the value of the Rupee will be depreciated that much.

M.N. Nambiar: Legendary "Villain" of Tamil Cinema

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Article on MN Nambiar can be read on Daily Mirror.lk

Manjeri Narayanan Nambiar or M.N.Nambiar (89) as he was generally known passed away after prolonged illness around 1.00 pm , at a private nursing home in Chennai on Wednesday November 19th 2008. The remains were taken to his residence at Gopalapuram for fans and members of the film fraternity to pay their respects to the legendary “villain” of Tamil cinema.

Rare individual

Nambiar was a rare individual who played villainous roles on screen while remaining a virtuous person with saintly qualities off-screen. Contrary to his villainous screen persona, Nambiar was in real life a teetotaler and vegetarian and, above all, a man who upheld ethical values without any scandal or gossip ever being attributed to him.

He was also a great devotee of Sabarimalai Shree Aiyappan and undertook annual pilgrimages to the shrine for over 65 years. He was one of those instrumental in popularising the comparatively unknown deity over the years. He initiated mountain-trekking pilgrimages at a time when it was not ‘fashionable’ to worship Shree Aiyappan on the scale it is being done today. As a result, he was hailed not merely as a ‘Guruswamy’ but a ‘Mahaguruswamy’ by Aiyappan devotees.

Recently, former film actress and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha Jayaram worshipped at the octogenarian’s feet and sought his blessings on her 60th birthday. Tamil superstar and Aiyappan devotee Rajnikanth is another who regularly got himself blessed by the Mahaguruswamy.

Ironically, Nambiar, in spite of his unblemished character, was perceived as a dastardly villain by millions of movie-goers on account of his on-screen image while others guilty of off-screen villainy were hailed as good men due to their screen performances.

In this, Nambiar was like P.S. Veerappa, another actor who played the villain in Tamil cinema while being of exemplary virtue in real life.

The ‘villain’

To those Tamil cinema fans like this writer who grew up on a diet of Tamil movies, the demise of Nambiar evokes a sense of deep sorrow. Just as much we relished the great heroes like M.G. Ramachandran, Sivaji Ganesan or Gemini Ganesh, we also appreciated the actors who played villainous roles opposite them.

Without these villains, the heroes could not make their mark. How could the lead actor perform his heroic deeds and win rounds of applause if the villains did not battle it out with guns, swords and fists or abduct the beautiful heroine?

Ramayana without Ravana or Mahabharatha without Duryodhana is unimaginable. Likewise, a Tamil movie without a villain or henchmen cannot be visualised. Villains were an integral part of moviedom.

Their impact was so great that the word ‘villain’ was adopted as a Tamil word ‘villan,’ with its amusing feminine equivalent ‘villi’ for ‘vamp.’ We jeered the villains and cheered the heroes.

The older generation of villains faded away and a new breed is taking over but then for some of us, ‘old is gold’ indeed. The villains who faded away or transformed into actors playing character roles have all gone one by one.
P.S. Veerappa, T.S. Baliah, M.R. Radha, S.A. Asokan, R.S. Manohar, O.A.K. Devar and S. Ramadas have all passed away and now it is the turn of Nambiar. He was the last of the great villains of Tamil cinema.

Each actor had a distinctive trait or mannerism. Veerappa was known for his raucous laugh; M.R. Radha for his swift change of voice from squeaky and high-pitched to guttural rasps; and R.S. Manohar would thrust his chest out and impose his personality.

His specialty

As for Nambiar, his speciality was the way in which he would shake his head from side to side with a scowl and/or grimace. He would arch his eyebrows, expand his nostrils, screw up his mouth in a leering smile or merely purse his lips tightly.

This was enough to project a sense of evil and terror. Sometimes the lighting was dimmed to enhance the ominous threat. Chilling, powerful music in the background added to the fear. At times he would wear false, protruding teeth. When he grinned from ear to ear with those wolfish dentures, the effect was truly menacing.

Recollecting Nambiar’s facial expressions revive nostalgic memories in this writer. Imitating actors is a phase many of us have passed through in childhood. Sivaji’s dialogue, MGR’s action, Veerappa’s laughter and Chandrababu’s slapstick are but some of these.

One of my favourite acts during childhood was to imitate Nambiar’s threatening facial expressions. Upon hearing of his death I could not resist a few attempts before the mirror. Hmmm!

Apart from his facial expressions, Nambiar could also deliver his dialogue with appropriate modulation. He would lower or raise his voice when necessary. Even his hoarse whispers were terrifying.

Unlike many of the present actors, these ‘oldies’ could speak perfect, fluent Tamil with correct diction and pronunciation.

Nambiar was ethnically a Malayalee but like those of his era could speak other ‘Dravidian’ languages like Tamil well. Nowadays, even ‘Tamil’ actors and actresses cannot speak Tamil properly.

Nambiar could also play the ‘cool’ villain without engaging in melodramatic histrionics. He could also act the womanising playboy who seduces suavely and then ditches the unfortunate damsel.

A true master

Like most actors of the older generation he mastered swordplay, wrestling, stick-play, horse-riding, etc. This enabled him to play a realistic, swashbuckling villain on the screen.

It is as villain that Nambiar established himself as an actor. But the great thespian has played other roles like comedian, hero and character artiste on screen. Interestingly, the ‘macho’ Nambiar has also acted as a woman and girl on the stage during his formative years.

In a stage and screen career that spanned more than seven decades Nambiar has acted in more than 850 films with different generations of actors. Most of them were in Tamil but some were in Malayalam and Telugu. He has also acted in a Hindi and English film.

It is difficult indeed to single out specific roles from a galaxy of stellar roles played out over several decades. Nevertheless, I shall mention some outstanding ones lingering in memory.

In ‘Ambikapathy,’ the classical villain was the poet Ottakoothan known for his rivalry with poets Kamban and Pugalenthi. Kamban was played by the veteran M.K. Radha while Nambiar played Ottakoothan. Nambiar also played the crafty maternal uncle villain in ‘Uthama Puthiran.’ Sivaji played a dual role in this movie based on ‘The Man in the Iron Mask’ by Alexander Dumas.

Making an impression

Another movie where Nambiar made an impression despite a small role was in A.P. Nagarajan’s ‘Thillana Mohanambal,’ where he played the Maharaja of Madanpoor who was eying the danseuse played by the gorgeous Padmini.

Nambiar also played villain in a historical movie made by Nagarajan starring Sivaji Ganesan. This was ‘Raja Raja Cholan,’ where Sivaji essayed the titular role while Nambiar played Baladevar, a cunning counsellor. The clash between both was like an intricate game of chess and the verbal duelling was captivating. It was truly a clash of titans.

Nambiar also played the ambitious Dewan in ‘Sivantha Mann,’ made by maestro Sridhar. Sivaji was the hero. Nambiar also played villain remarkably in two other Sridhar movies. One was in ‘Then Nilavu,’ starring Gemini Ganesh and Vyjayanthimala. Nambiar acted as a sophisticated cheat and impersonator.

The other was ‘Nenjam Marappathillai,’ starring Kalyanakumar and Devika.In this film on the rebirth theme, Nambiar played a villain crazed with the revenge motive who tries to disrupt a union between two souls in two incarnations.

Nambiar has played villain to MGR in a number of films. Some of the notable ones are ‘Ulagam Sutrum Vaaliban,’ where he plays a karate expert assassin; another one was ‘Vettaikaran,’ where Nambiar played double as bandit and estate manager.

Nambiar played the bandit chief Kaangeyan to MGR’s Kathiravan in ‘Puthiya Bhoomi.’ The names were not so subtle references to the Congress called ‘Kaangiras’ in Tamil and the DMK with its symbol of Sun also called Kathiravan in Tamil.

Among other noteworthy MGR movies where Nambiar made a strong impact were 'Nadodi Mannan', ‘Enga Veetu Pillai,’ ‘Naan Aanaiyittaal,’ ‘Theiva Thaai, ‘Thirudathe,’ ‘Raman Thediya Seethai,’ ‘Pallandu Vaalha,’ ‘Aayirathil Oruvan’ and ‘Arasa Kattalai.’

Early days

Nambiar, who was born on March 7, 1919, hailed from Chirakkal in Kannur District in present day Kerala state. The name Nambiar is a caste identity. The Nambiars are a sub-caste of the pre-dominant Nair caste in Kerala.

It is believed that Nambiars are a mixture of the Namboodri (Brahmin) and Nair castes. They are concentrated mainly in North Malabar in the Kannur region. The Manjeris are a Nambiar clan with claims of a martial lineage.
Young Narayanan Nambiar’s mother tongue was Malayalam but he opted to join a Tamil drama troupe at the age of 13. He joined the Madurai Devibala Vinodha Sangeetha Sabha run by the famous “Nawab” Rajamanickam Pillai.

This was one of the famous ‘Boys Company’ drama troupes, so called because all actors were mainly young boys who played both male and female roles. Young Narayanan Nambiar learnt to speak perfect Tamil and played many roles, including that of women.

His monthly salary then was just Rs. 3, of which he sent Rs. 2 regularly to his mother. Board and lodging was the responsibility of the troupe.

After three years of stage acting, Nambiar got his first screen break. A film company called Parameswar Sound Pictures produced in 1935 a film titled ‘Bhaktha Ramadas’ at the Ranjit Studio in Mumbai (then Bombay).

All the actors were males and several from ‘Boys Company’ were recruited. Nambiar, then 16, played two or three roles in the film. He was paid Rs. 75. The director was Murugadas Swamigal.

Unexpected boost

Thereafter, Nambiar did not get any more screen roles for many years. Meanwhile, his stage career received an unexpected boost when lead actor K. Sarangapani quit Rajamanickam Pillai’s troupe.

Now Nambiar began to get better and prominent parts to play. His drama career began taking off. Soon Nambiar passed teenage and sought a place elsewhere in more ‘mature’ troupes. He joined the ‘Shakthi Nataka Sabha’ of “Shakthi” Krishnaswamy.

One of the roles played by Nambiar was that of the cruel monarch in ‘Kaviyin Kanavu,’ a play about the poet Kalidas. S.V. Subbiah played the poet. The play, written by S.D. Sundaram, was a runaway hit. Nambiar’s name gathered fame in drama circles.

It was then that Nambiar and Subbiah caught the eye of Producer Somasundaram of Jupiter Films. “Jupiter Somu,” as he was known, placed both on a contract for his production company. This was in 1946.

Nambiar’s first movie was ‘Vidyapathy.’ This was based on a detective novel written by Vaduvoor Duraiswamy Iyengar and directed by A.T. Krishnaswamy, who also wrote the screenplay.

Nambiar played an evil Brahmin role. His wife was played by M.S.S. Bhagyam. Subsequently Nambiar and Bhagyam were paired in other light, comedy roles. But the duo was not a hit like N.S. Krishnan-T.K. Mathuram or Kali. N. Ratnam-C.T. Rajakantham.

Big break

In 1947, Nambiar got his big break as hero in the film ‘Kanjan’ (Miser). It failed miserably. He was relegated again to secondary roles. Nambiar played ‘friend’ to M.G. Ramachandran in ‘Rajakumari’ (Princess). He also played the scheming uncle Shakuni in ‘Abimanyu.’

Then 1949 saw the film ‘Velaikkari’ being made. The story and dialogue was by DMK founder and ex-Chief Minister C.N. Annadurai. A.S.A. Samy directed it. Nambiar played a dual role acting as the landlord’s son and a crafty priest. His Harihara das Swamy role attracted widespread attention.

Nambiar’s stock rose and the turning point came when the legendary T.R. Sundaram of Modern Theatres sought him out. He was placed on a contract as was the custom then.

In 1950, Nambiar acted as the conspiring Rajaguru in ‘Manthiri Kumari,’ for which the dialogues were written by M. Karunanidhi, the present DMK Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. The movie was a roaring success. Nambiar had arrived.

This was followed by ‘Thigambara Samiyar,’ another screen version of a Duraiswamy Iyengar detective novel. M.N. Nambiar played the title role and adopted 11 different disguises for the film. It was a novelty then and Nambiar’s acting skills were recognised widely.

In 1951, Nambiar played the villainous title role in ‘Sarvathigari’ (Dictator).It was a re-make of an English movie, ‘Gallant Blades.’ Nambiar’s skill as swordsman was praised.

Interesting anecdote

Nambiar was one villain actor who could fence on equal terms with M.G. Ramachandran. An interesting anecdote relates to this.

When the movie ‘Aayirathil Oruvan’ was being made in 1965, MGR sustained a cut on his little finger when a sword-fighting scene between both was being shot. MGR bled profusely. Nambiar apologised and MGR graciously accepted it.

One year later the film ‘Arasa Kattalai’ was being made. Another fencing sequence was being shot. This time it was MGR who nicked Nambiar’s little finger.

As Nambiar was being bandaged, the actor wisecracked, “Settan marakkavillai. Mannikkavum illai” (brother has not forgotten or forgiven). MGR, of course, claimed it was an accident.

Meanwhile, Nambiar was also cast as comedian in some movies. Notable among them was ‘Marmayogi,’ but he did not click in comic roles.

In 1952, an English movie, ‘The Jungle,’ directed by William Burke, was shot in India. It was a USA-India co-production starring Rod Cameron and Marie Windsor. Nambiar also acted in it, playing the villager Mahaji.
T.R. Sundaram of Modern Theatres also tried out Nambiar as hero in the film ‘Kalyani’ in 1952 with B.S. Saroja as heroine. It was a disaster. Some years later Sundaram used him as hero in another movie, ‘Kavitha.’ That too flopped.

Road to success

But Nambiar began zooming to success as a villain on screen. He acted in a vast number of roles with different actors playing the hero. He also acted as second hero and also in ‘grey’ roles where the characters were not clearly black or white.

In some of these roles, Nambiar played the brother to the hero who teams up with the villain and then repents; in others he played the lover or husband to the hero’s sister and is antagonistic to him.

Among such roles Nambiar made his mark as MGR’s brother-in-law or lover of his sister in films like ‘Arasilankumari,’ ‘Nallavan Vaalvaan,’ ‘Parisu’ and ‘En Kadamai.’ In these Nambiar played opposite Padmini, E.V. Saroja, Ragini and L. Vijayalakshmi.

[“Ondru Serntha Anbu Maarumaa? Unmai Kaadhal Maari pohuma?”]

A Sivaji film where he played a role in similar vein and shone was as Kannan in ‘Makkalai Petra Maharasi.’ M.N. Nambiar was paired with M.N. Rajam (no relative).

A highlight of that film was the song ‘Ondru Serntha Anbu Maarumaa? Unmai Kaadhal Maari Pohuma?’ picturised on Nambiar and Rajam. It was composed by K.V. Mahadevan and sung by P.B. Sreenivas and U. Sarojini.

In some other films Nambiar was depicted as a bad guy for most of the time, only to be revealed near the finale that he was in reality the good guy. But it was as the archetypal villain that Nambiar excelled. He played them all with consummate ease.

He did not identify with any particular actor, director or producer and avoided being categorised as belonging to a certain camp.

Sivaji, MGR, Gemini, SSR, Anandan, Jaishankar, Ravichandran, A.V.M. Rajan, Muthuraman, Kalyanakumar, Muthuraman, Sivakumar, Bhagyaraj, Kamalhasan, Prabhu, Rajnikanth, Vijaykanth, Arjun, Prashanth, Vikram and Manoj – he acted with them all.

Renaissance

Nambiar had a filmy renaissance in 1982 when Bhagyaraj cast him in a refreshingly different role in ‘Thooral Nindru Pochu.’ The wrestling match between Nambiar and Bhagyaraj coupled with the drunken song ‘En Soha Kathaiyai Kelu Thaaikulame’ were the highlights of this film.

Thereafter, Nambiar played a number of character and comic roles. His last film role was with Vijaykanth in ‘Sudeshi,’ released in 2006.

He has acted in a number of TV serials. He has also appeared frequently on TV with his reminiscences of Tamil film. He was perhaps one of the oldest and most articulate actors of Tamil cinema.

Udappu

Ayappan Temple in Udappu, North Western Province, Sri Lanka [Pic: HA]

He also spoke regularly on TV about Sabarimalai Ayappan. He embraced controversy in an uncharacteristic manner by refuting claims made by some actresses about Ayappan temple.

Nambiar did not forget his first love: the stage. He formed the drama troupe Nambiar Nataka Mandram and staged plays. Two such ones were a revival of ‘Kaviyin Kanavu’ and a comedy, ‘Kalyana Supermarket.’

In tribute

He was a deeply religious man and led an austere, pious life, despite being in the tinsel world of Kodambakkam. He was admired and respected for this.

Nambiar is survived by two sons and a daughter. One of his sons, Sukumaran Nambiar, is a stalwart of the Bharatiya Janata Party in Tamil Nadu. Nambiar, however, steered clear of politics while being an ardent nationalist.

He was ailing for some time and was hospitalised. Nambiar passed away peacefully on November 19 at the age of 89. The last of yesteryear Tamil screen villains has breathed his last! We, his rasikas, can only think of the past and pay tribute to his memory.

D.B.S.Jeyaraj can be reached at: djeyaraj2005@yahoo.com

"Prabakaran's Tamil Nationalism is like Bad Cholestrol but Mine is Good Cholestrol " Says Douglas Devananda

(Douglas Devananda, a veteran of the Tamil armed struggle is well known to all Sri Lankans as the politician who has survived the most number of LTTE assasination attempts. In this interview, he speaks to C.A.Chandraprema on the liberation of Pooneryn, the conflict between Karuna and Pillaiyan in the east, and the question of rehabilitating Tamil youth who had taken up arms against the state, and had never known what normal life was like. )

Q: Since you are a politician from the North, I should start by asking you what you think of the recapture of Pooneryn?

A: The word to use would be ‘liberated’, not captured. When the Chandrika Kumaratunga government tried to take the A9 road. I told the President that the A32 road is the easiest one, and where the possibility of success was greatest. I gave her four or five reasons. It is easy to take, and easy to hold and through that we could offer protection to the Elephant Pass camp. Besides, by capturing the A32 route, we cold stop the LTTE smuggling goods and provisions from India. And that by using the A32 route as a base, we could slowly advance eastwards. She agreed with what I said. Later some madman prevailed on her to try to take the A9 road, and we saw what happened. So the taking of the A 32 route was a good move.

Q: They wanted to take Killinochchi, not Pooneryn. What’s the delay in taking Killinochchi?

A: The security forces are doing their best. But the taking of the A 32 route and Pooneryn is the correct move as I myself advised President Chandrika Kumaratunga.

Q: We can see a situation where the LTTE is restricted to the East of the A9 road. Despite the fact that the area under their control has become smaller, they still have the capacity to launch air-strikes. Those days a lot of people thought the LTTE runways were located somewhere in the Mannar district, and that they used to come to Colombo through Puttlam along the coast.....

A: Well the LTTE still has the capacity to launch air-strikes. If you kick a dog in an open space, it will run away. But it you chase it into a corner and then kick it, it will fight back. Some people don’t give up because of adversity. Take me for example. Of those who were with me from the beginning many have been killed, and some have gone away due to the persistent threat to their lives. But I am managing by myself.

When I was in the EPRLF it was we who manufactured mortars with some defects but later the LTTE also began to manufacture motors. Earlier the performance of the armed forces had its shortcomings. But now they two have developed new ways such as deep penetration teams. President Rajapakse is giving a good leadership politically. Had the security forces been given this leadership earlier, they too would have done wonders. Another thing is that Tamil opinion is divided. Earlier, the thinking was on one side. That too is a key consideration in this game. Now people are not with the LTTE. They are silent only because they fear for their lives.

Q: In the East, the TMVP cadres seem to be having a problem of rehabilitation, which people like yourself, PLOTE and the EPRLF didn’t have....

A: My party has now came into the political mainstream. Because of my leadership, they are OK, They don’t need rehabilitation, because they are in the political process and can fit into normal life. This is all a question of leadership. Just today some journalists asked me whether the government was concentrating on military operations to the detriment of a political solution. I said no. The political process has started. In the Eastern Province, the government has held an election, people have elected their representatives. Some raised questions about that election, but I don’t agree with such complaints. During 1988/89, if we did not accept the presidential and parliamentary elections, there would be no democracy in the country today. So we have to start somewhere. If you wait until the perfect conditions for election are met, nothing is going to happen. Now it is up to the leadership of the area. If someone says the government is not giving them powers. I won’t accept that. There is a saying in Tamil that the barber will be able to cut your hair properly only if you sit properly. So it is all a question of leadership.

Q: people like yourself and the leaders of EROS, EPRLF, PLOTE had some political thinking in them. Even though you too wielded weapons, you were politically aware. But in the LTTE, it was a different set up. Karuna was obeying Prabhakaran’s orders. Pillaiyan was obeying Karuna’s orders. So how can you expect them to have the same political capacity? Don’t you think the onus is on the government to look after their cadres?

A: The government is trying their best. There is a saying in Tamil which says that milk will flow only if the child cries. So it is the leadership of the area that has to come foward. Not the government.

Q: Now PLOTE, EPRLF and TELO never had this rehabilitation problem. It is because the Indians looked after that aspect?

A: Other organisations had political thinking, which the LTTE didn’t have. Also, among the cadres loyal to Pillaiyan or Karuna, there are new recruits. Not all of them are original LTTErs. This is also one of the complicating factors. Even when the EPDP had problems with the EPRLF, we didn’t kill each other. When EPRLF broke away from EROS, we didn’t kill each other. There is a problem in the east because both the Karuna and Pillaiyan fictions are lax with regard to their cadres. If the Pillaiyan faction imposes strict controls, they caders will join the Karuna faction. If the Karuna faction is strict they will join the Pillaiyan faction.

Q: You have some experience because you too have cadres under you. How can the Eastern situation be salvaged? Karuna and Pillaiyan are fighting, the cadres are not happy. Some of them have gone back to the LTTE. What in your view can be done to save the day?

A: I’m trying to talk to them and see how I can liaise with both leaders and bring about some sort of a solution.

Q: What about the cadres of the TMVP? Some day, you will have a similar problem in the North as well, once the LTTE is gone.

A: I can handle that. I have complete confidence in myself. That is why I went to the Kalutara detention centre to talk to LTTE detainees. If Prabhakaran brings his cadres, and we both address them, I can with one speech, win over half of them to my side. Even when I went to the Kalutara detention centre, I was able to convince many of them. At present, I am one of the senior men in the Tamil struggle. I can convince them. I can guide them. I put in a cabinet paper some time ago, to rehabilitate surrendees and captured LTTE cadres. I told the President to give me one year’s time, and we will set up a rehabilitation camp and guide them. In Israel, I was told that arrested Palestinians were given more facilities inside the prison. They were given TVs, and books and so on. My personal experience of a Sri Lankan prison is exactly the opposite. In 1983 I was attacked by the Sinhala prisoners and in 1997 I was attacked by the Tamil detainees.

Q: People are now talking about the future of the TMVP cadres in the East. Some are to be absorbed into the security forces. What is going to happen to the rest?

A: What I say is that there has to be leadership. If the leadership is OK, this problem can be solved overnight. Even in the South, you get incidents where one or two soldiers may get into trouble. But in this case, the problem exists throughout the organisation. There’s no control. If something goes wrong in my organisation, I will not say that it happened without my knowledge. I will take responsibility.

Q: What in your view will persuade these cadres to leave this lifestyle and to do something else?

A: When I went to meet the LTTE detainees in Kalutara, I openly cursed Prabhakaran and told them that they were here because of Prabhakaran. I gave glucose and water to the hunger strikers. I was attacked only in the sixth ward, after going through the first five wards where they broke the hunger strike after I spoke to them.

Q: Earlier you had a situation where the government was not in control of the Tamil areas. Now the government is controlling the East and a good part of Jaffna and even the Vanni. Does this mean that the anti-government feeling among the Tamil population has gone down drastically?

A: The Tamil-Sinhala antagonism has diminished within the Tamil population and within the Sinhala population also. Before the Indo-Lanka peace accord there were ethnic riots but now you don’t get any of that.

Q: If the government captures Killinochchi, will the Tamil people feel that they have lost?

A: Again, capture is the wrong word. The government is going to liberate Killinochchi and the people want that. It is in the people’s interest that the Vanni be liberated. People need democracy. If democracy comes, overnight, they will be able to solve several issues. Once the leadership of the LTTE is gone, the government will be able to concentrate on the outstanding political issues. I think the government will be fair. Implementing the provincial councils system fully will be a good start. In the second stage, the concurrent list in the provincial councils law can be abolished and its contents allocated to either the Central Government or the Provincial Government as seen fit. I will be satisfied with that. I think, the Sinhala community, the Tamil community and the country will be satisfied with that.

Q: What is going to happen to the Tamil nationalism that you were caught up in as a young man? Are these feelings no longer present within the Tamil younger generation?

A: When I was young, I did not look at things in a racial way: I looked at things from a humanitarian point of view. In 2001, when I was the minister of rehabilitation, about 400 young students came to me in a procession and demanded that standardization for university admission be introduced. They wanted more students to get into the universities and for that they wanted the cut off marks reduced as the educational levels in Jaffna had gone down because of the war. So I told them, that 28 years ago, on the very same street, we as young students, went in procession against standardization. We wanted university admissions to be entirely on merit. That was the beginning of the whole Tamil armed struggle. So I told these students, this is what Prabhakaran has done to our community. Jaffna was now one of the backward districts educationally. Later, I spoke to President Chandrika Kumaratunga at got an arrangement put into place. But 28 years earlier, we as young students went in procession down the some street against standalization and even burnt an effigy of Badurdeen Mohamed the then Minister of Education.. So to answer your question about Tamil nationalism, you know that there are two kinds of cholesterol, good cholesterol and bad cholesterol. The bad cholesterol can destroy us, but humans need the good cholesterol. Prabhakaran’s Tamil nationalism is like the bad cholesterol. My Tamil nationalism is like the good cholesterol. [COURTESY:THE ISLAND]

November 19, 2008

Why good Sinhalese are silent in the face of fanatic jingoists

by Dr. A.C. Visvalingam

It would not be far off the truth to state that not only did sixty-two per cent of those who voted in the recent US Presidential Elections believe that the half-black, half-white Barack Hussein Obama would make a better President than the all-white John McCain but even the vast majority of Sri Lankans who followed the recent US Presidential Elections were thrilled that so many white voters joined their multi-coloured counterparts to support Obama.

Why is it that we became so elated when a member of a minority group in the US reached the top but, when it comes to Sri Lanka, most of us remain shamelessly silent whilst a few vociferous characters claim that this country belongs solely to the majority Sinhala Buddhists and that the remaining groups are clinging vines or visitors or some inferior breed of citizen?

Why do we give so much publicity to these ignoramuses who do not know that our Constitution states quite explicitly that all citizens are equal and entitled equally to the rights and privileges of Sri Lankan citizenship? How do we make these bigots understand that nowhere in our Constitution does it even suggest that 65-70 per cent of the population could, in any conceivable circumstances, become entitled to the ownership of 100 per cent of everything?

Amongst the Sinhala people, the fair-minded and tolerant far exceed in number those who hold extreme racist views. Yet this large population of good Sinhalese keep mute in the face of jingoists, just as Father Niemoeller and millions of others did in Germany before World War 2. How is it that the voices of decency and fair play have become so weakened when compared with those of fanatics?

Having reflected long on this mystery, we are tempted to conclude that one of the more important contributory factors is to be found in the old adage that when a dog bites a man, it is not news but when a man bites a dog, it is. The reality is that, when someone makes outrageous statements, and such views are given headline treatment, they are read avidly by a public which largely longs for sensation; and newspaper sales go up. On the other hand, when a sober citizen writes to the Press about the Constitution, UN Conventions and the teachings of great leaders and philosophers, it makes pretty dull reading.

Newspaper sales would undoubtedly plummet if reasoned argument was all the fare that was offered to the reading public. In other words, demagogues and their fascistic pronouncements make good paper-selling copy. Alas, there is no simple or obvious way in which one could alter this imbalance other than to keep exhorting the public not to get carried away by rabble-rousing rotters.

Meanwhile, we must free ourselves of one misconception regarding the question of discrimination. Most people tend to think that the term discrimination, when considered in the Sri Lankan context, means discrimination by the Sinhalese against other races and by the Buddhists against other religions.

In reality, the discrimination that many Sinhalese practise against other Sinhalese is quite extensive and equally to be deplored, but is highlighted less frequently. For example, if one reads the analyses of election results by polls experts, one of the points made repeatedly is how the two national parties choose their candidates for particular Sinhala majority electorates and/or districts largely on the basis of the caste distribution of the local population. Is it not an appalling state of affairs that Sri Lankan voters, after more than sixty years of free education, should so irrationally prefer a candidate of their own caste to a possibly better candidate from another caste?

The Buddha, Jesus Christ, Prophet Mohamed and the great Hindu rishis did not condemn any particular race or caste to an inferior position relative to any other. The Buddha, perhaps, went furthest in saying that nothing should be taken for granted because someone in authority said it but that all propositions should be accepted only after rigorous investigation, and also went on to assert that a person’s caste is determined by his/her behaviour and not by birth. Nevertheless, in defiance of the teaching of the Buddha and other major religious figures, the ruling classes and compliant religious hierarchies have generally managed to retain their grip on proverbial ladle and served themselves unnumbered extra portions at the expense of other less influential groups.

Once again, as we have done in the recent past, we turn to the Mahanayakes of the Malwatte and Asgiriya Chapters and ask for their help. In the current context, it is only their voices which would have sufficient authority and acceptance to counter those of the extremist fringe who create the conditions that encourage divisiveness. Hence, a clear pronouncement by the two Mahanayakes to the effect that all Sri Lankan citizens are equal and entitled to all the rights of citizenship, including aspiring to any position in the land, would have a salutary effect in soothing the feelings of the minorities and making them feel that they are an integral part of a united country.

Parents in minority groups could even begin to dream of the day that one of their children could, like Obama, be elected to the highest office in the land.

We, therefore, most earnestly request the two Mahanayakes to give the nation a historic new direction to secure equal treatment for all of Sri Lanka’s citizens. The exceptional moral authority of the two Mahanayakes would be unquestioned if they were to call unequivocally for equality and justice for all, which is the primary essential requirement for establishing national unity.

(Dr A.C.Visvalingam is President, Citizens Movement for Good Governance)

An Analysis of Military Situation

by Col R Hariharan

Operational situation

As expected Task Force-I of the Sri Lanka security forces captured Pooneryn on November 15 freeing A32 highway from the control of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). But the security forces used the continued spell of fine weather and the newly raised Task Force-3 to capture of Mankulam, a key junction on the A9 Kandy-Jaffna lifeline on November 17. On the eastern seaboard of Mullaitivu district, 59 Division captured Mulliyavalai village, 10 km from Mullaitivu, the key coastal town of the area.

These developments in three different axes substantively increase the strategic options available to the security forces. All of them will also add to the pressure on the LTTE already beleaguered in its last footholds in Kilinochchi-Elephant Pass on the arterial road of A9. Once, A9 road is opened up under the security forces control, the hold of the LTTE on the jugular of Jaffna's normal life will be lost. As a corollary it will also lose its relevance to the peninsular population.

The opening of the A32 Mannar-Pooneryn route will substantively reduce the logistic burden on the security forces, easing pressure on their limited airlift capability. Task Force-I can provide flank support to 57 Divison's thrust on Kilinochchi from the southwest.  Its artillery and possibly machine guns can also interdict the escape routes of LTTE cadres through the lagoon waters when 53 Division strikes along the northern axis of Muhamalai-Elephant Pass.

The capture Mankulam provides two options for the Task Force-III to progress operations along A9 axis in support of 53 Division offensive from the north, and or support from Mankulam side the 57 Division offensive on Kilionchchi-Elephant Pass from southwest. But the more likely course of the Task Force-III will be to develop a threat to the heartland of the LTTE from Mankulam to the east along road Mankulam-Oddusuddan-Mullaitivu. This would prevent any LTTE counter stroke developing on the Kilinochchi offensive, and also tie down the LTTE when 59 Division launches offensive from area Mulliyavalai where a number of roads converge increasing offensive options.

Thus with some quick successes the security forces have built up a five division strong threat against the LTTE with adequate reserves to hold the ground freed from the control of the insurgents.

In my analysis on the failure of the security forces' half-hearted divisional offensive along axis Muhamalai-Elephant Pass in April 2008 (SAAG Note No 447 of May 29, 2008 "Sri Lanka: An analysis of military operations – Update No. 141" available at http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/%5Cnotes5%5Cnote447.html ), I had said  

"The strong defences of LTTE in Muhamalai axis to Kilinochchi show that it is not going to allow easy passage through. Strategically, the security forces will have to probably consider coordinating the Jaffna offensive along A9 with offensive along A32-Pooneryn to enhance the threat to Kilinochichi and weaken the LTTE defences. Whether the security forces have the wherewithal to carry out such a complex operation is the question only the Army commander can answer best."

The security forces appear to have done just that after seven months, during which three divisions have been inducted into battle to increase the force level and thrust lines. And now the security forces goal would be not merely to capture Paranthan and Kilinochchi on A9 highway but to launch multiple offensives on the Muhamalai-Elephant Pass-Kilinochchi complex to restore normal life in Northern Province. And when that materializes, President Rajapaksa may give form to media speculations of a general election.   

LTTE's limited options

As the LTTE had been fighting mainly delaying actions the security forces casualties in the operation would be maximized if only the LTTE decides on a do-or-die stand at Kilinochchi. In the past, the LTTE tactics had always been to pull back after fighting delaying actions and build up a strong counterstroke. This had kindled widespread expectations of such a LTTE strike which is yet to come.

While this had succeeded in the earlier war, this time around the security forces appear to be ready to prevent a replay of the same script. There are three reasons for this: the security forces are not carrying through the offensive with the same troops holding static positions; they have multiple axes as well as substantive strength to deflate a counter stroke and lastly, the offensive capability of the Sea Tigers who provided vital support has been substantively eliminated on both the western and eastern coasts. (In fact, the security forces have neutralized repeated efforts of the Sea Tigers to take any initiative in the sea along the eastern coast north of Mullaitivu from Champianpattu to Nayaru where the LTTE still has some freedom to operate.)

With A32 road in the hands of security forces and with 59 Division along the east coast (and probably 55 Division too from Nagarkovil southwards) and the navy denying the LTTE access to sea routes of overseas supply to sustain the war, the LTTE's options appear very limited. Strategically the LTTE would probably be better off to consolidate its armed strength after fighting a delaying action than defend Kilinochchi strongly and further deplete its dwindling strength. But that would be a decision based on military logic and reasoning rather than on the convoluted logic of an insurgent force operating on a  different plane. So strictly speaking it is difficult to read Prabhakaran's mind. It would be overambitious to expect him to again pull a rabbit out of the hat with a masterful counter stroke at this belated stage as some of his overseas supporters expect him to do.

Political implications of military success

Undoubtedly, military successes one after the other have strengthened the hands of President Rajapaksa and the hawks in Sri Lanka politics. Thus even the consideration of any peace move would be shelved till military success is taken to its logical conclusion of making the LTTE irrelevant. This has been amply made clear by the President in his statements on a number of occasions. The military successes have also strengthened President's resolve to pursue the war. They have also exposed the limitations of India's ability to influence the course of events.   

The delicate pulls and pressures of coalition politics on the central government and the Tamil Nadu government so close to the parliamentary elections have prevented the emergence of any substantive Indian political initiative on Sri Lanka. In Tamil Nadu there is widespread dismay at the plight of lakhs of Tamils deprived of their homes, livelihood, and shelter caught in the wilderness of battle zones. It is easy to dismiss the snowballing public protests and hunger strikes organized in Tamil Nadu asking for a ceasefire in Sri Lanka as part of Prabhakaran's strategy or as political gimmick of local parties. However that would be ignoring the mindset of large sections of people in the state who abhor his style of mindless killings while feeling genuinely distressed over the plight of internally displaced Tamils in Sri Lanka.

The Tamil and Sinhala polity in Sri Lanka have not been able to work out a political strategy for evolving a win-win formula either among themselves or collectively to foster a feeling of security and trust among Tamil population. Some sections of them, particularly Tamil leaders, expect India and everyone other than themselves to undertake this delicate task. No external force including India on their own can generate security and trust among the population. Ultimately Sri Lanka has to come to terms with the issues and evolve a process by which a suitable environment for lasting peace is created and this will not be helped by military victories alone. Till then the military options avidly pursued by both sides for achieving short term ends will dominate the national scene And even if the Fourth Eelam War is won by the Sri Lankan government, ultimately the loser would be the nation as a section of the people would  not to trust their rulers or feel secure under them. And that might sow the seeds of the next round of war.

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

Video & Pictorial ~ Amnesty International: Sri Lankan government must act now to protect 300,000 displaced

Statement by Amnesty International

The humanitarian crisis in the Wanni region of northern Sri Lanka is worsening as the government fails to provide shelter and protect over 300,000 displaced civilians.

[Amnesty International News & Updates Video]

Mother with twins living under a tree, trying to feed her children with limited food stocks

Tens of thousands of families are now enduring the monsoon season with limited food, shelter, water or sanitation. They fled their homes to escape the fighting between the Sri Lankan military and the opposing Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

These civilians are trapped in the LTTE-controlled Wanni region. The Tigers continue to forcibly recruit one person per family with recent steep recruitment of younger people. The LTTE have hindered people from moving to safer places by imposing a strict pass system.

In some instances they have forced family members to stay behind to ensure the return of the rest of the family. The LTTE also controls the movement of displaced people within the Wanni. These measures seem designed in part to use civilians as a buffer against government forces.

Denied outside aid and humanitarian assistance

In September, the Sri Lankan government ordered the United Nations (UN) and non-governmental aid workers to leave the region. The government then assumed total responsibility for ensuring the needs of the civilian population affected by the hostilities are met.

As yet, despite assurances that it has the situation under control, there is evidence to suggest that the Government of Sri Lanka lacks the capacity to provide the required humanitarian relief to displaced people and the civilian population in the Wanni.

In particular, the government agencies and their staff will face difficulties in responding to the needs of the displaced without the assistance of the humanitarian agencies. The Indian government has recognised the gravity of the situation by choosing to send 2,000 tonnes of relief material to Sri Lanka. The deliveries are to be managed through the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

The Sri Lankan government has refused to allow independent international monitors into the Wanni to oversee and ensure that convoys with food, medical and other essential supplies enter into the area, as well as to oversee the distribution of such supplies.

Severe food shortages

According to the World Food Programme WFP standard food list, approximately 773 tonnes of food is required per week to feed the 230,000 currently registered under the WFP scheme in the Wanni. The last three convoys only carried 650 tonnes, 750 tonnes and 462 tonnes of food each. So, immediate and long term food security remains an issue.

It is estimated that approximately 35 percent of the Wanni's rice and vegetable producing areas are no longer accessible. Displaced people report that they are already pawning or selling jewellery to buy basic food items. Lactating mothers and infants are especially vulnerable as they are not receiving adequate supplementary food to meet their specific needs.

Tens of thousands without shelter

By the time aid agencies had left on 16 September, they had built 2,100 temporary shelters. Government agents for the Kilinochchi and Mulaithivu districts have estimated that at least 20,000 families are in need of shelter. The Government of Sri Lanka's recent suggestion that cadjan (palm leaf) is appropriate shelter does not live up to the minimum standards required for the shelter needs of the displaced. Many families are living in the open under makeshift shelters.

Many displaced people have gathered in areas that were once paddy land and prone to flooding. Shelter agencies had previously assessed some of this land as potential sites for displaced people and found them unsuitable.

Recent images from the Wanni show that people have torn up rice sacks to hang over bits of wood in a desperate attempt to make their own shelters. Without proper shelter people are having problems keeping food and other essentials dry and are more vulnerable to snakes.

"People's access to livelihoods has shrunk. There's no boat fishing and many people are displaced from paddy lands...many of their fields are now conflict zones and full of unexploded ordnance," said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Director.

Lack of sanitation, safe drinking water and medicine

The heavy monsoon rains last until mid February. The average monthly rainfall at the moment is 300mm. While the rains have slowed down the fighting, they have wreaked havoc on the displaced population. There is an increased risk of disease outbreak with limited access to medicines. The healthcare system in the Wanni desperately needs staff and supplies as hospitals have closed or been forced to move with the relocation of displaced populations. If malaria cases develop patients will find it hard to access relevant treatment.

Local authorities have estimated 5,230 temporary toilets are needed. Ninety five percent of the displaced do not have proper latrine facilities, leave aside having separate toilet and sanitation facilities to meet the practical gender needs of women, according to local NGO workers who were engaged in constructing temporary toilets.

Due to a blockade of cement, toilets cannot be built in the standard method and the Wanni health authorities have approved a toilet with the basin set on wooden floor and drums sunk into the ground as pits. Unless immediate action is taken Wanni health authorities fear it may be too late to save the displaced population from outbreak of epidemics.

Acute shortage of safe drinking water has already precipitated a crisis resulting in the development of various water-borne ailments including diarrhoea. Health officials said the safe water and sanitation in the region has become a major problem causing infections.

Amnesty International is calling upon the Sri Lankan government to give assurances of unimpeded humanitarian access to provide for the immediate material needs of the displaced and assure their safety. The government must ensure the safety and support of humanitarian workers and their families, especially those who remain in the Wanni.

"The Sri Lankan government and the LTTE must allow international monitors to assess the needs of the thousands of people trapped in the Wanni and to ensure proper distribution of food and other resources. Furthermore, international staff played an indispensable role in protecting local humanitarian aid workers from the LTTE’s abuses," said Sam Zarifi. [Amnesty.org]

Child waiting to leave his destroyed home in the Wanni, Sri Lanka

Civilians protesting for aid agencies not to leave outside the World Food Programme (WFP) compound

Civilians protesting for aid agencies not to leave outside the WFP compound

Civilians protesting for aid agencies not to leave outside the WFP compound

Civilians protesting for aid agencies not to leave outside the WFP compound in the Wanni

Family living in a makeshift shelter in the Kilinochchi district

Family living in a makeshift shelter in the Kilinochchi district

Displaced father and daughter in their makeshift shelter, Kilinochchi district

Civilian house destroyed by air attack in the Wanni

Family outside their emergency shelter in the Kilinochchi district

Displaced woman in her hut, Kilinochchi district

A family of 14 in the Wanni, living in just two basic shelters

Displaced children outside their emergency shelter in the Wanni

http://www.amnesty.org/sites/impact.amnesty.org/files/PUBLIC/Regions/ASA/wanni24-boy-560x400.jpg

Displaced civilians in the Wanni moving to safety

Teenagers learn to walk on prosthetic limbs after being injured in a claymore attack in the Kilinochchi District

Teenage claymore victim in the Wanni

One of the last prosthetic limbs to be made in the Wanni due to lack of essential materials

Young girl in a camp for displaced people in the Wanni. She lost her leg in an air attack

Displaced people waiting for water distribution at camp in the Wanni

Distribution of medicines at a camp for the displaced in the Kilinochchi District

Displaced people in the Wanni wait for distribution of non food related items (NFRI) with their ration cards

Displaced people wait for distribution of non food related items (NFRI) at displaced persons camp

Displaced people wait for distribution of non food related items (NFRI) with their ration cards

Displaced people wait for distribution of non food related items (NFRI) with their ration cards

Displaced father and daughter in the Wanni wait for shelter distribution with their ration cards

[Amnesty International-News & Updates]

Emotional Unity of Tamils On A Global Scale

by T.Sabaratnam

I wish to record the trends that surfaced last week locally, in Tamil Nadu and globally among the Tamil people to help our readers to keep track of the possible new developments in the ethnic conflict.

Locally, besides the acceleration of the processes of polarisation between the Sinhalese and the Sri Lankan Tamils, a sense of insecurity seems to be growing among the upcountry Tamils and the Muslims. The representatives of the political parties representing those communities gave form and content to their fears by presenting resolutions calling for the establishment of legislative units for them at the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) meeting held on November 10 and 11 at the BMICH.

Three separate resolutions were submitted, one by the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and the others by the Ceylon Workers Congress and Western People’s Front. In essence, the Muslim and Upcountry Tamil resolutions were almost similar. They called for a genuine power sharing arrangement that would satisfy the political aspirations of their communities.

The Muslims called for the creation of a separate unit comprising the areas in the north and east where they are in the majority. The Upcountry Tamil resolution called for a unit comprising the Tamil majority areas in the Central, Uva and Sabaragamuva provinces. The Western People’s Front has proposed that the unit should have a Chief Minister and a Board of Ministers with powers similar to those enjoyed by those in the Provincial Councils. Their proposal specially mentioned powers over land and the Police.

When I was told about these resolutions, I was reminded of the Thondaman-Ashraff pact the two leaders signed in 1986, a year before the signing of the Indo-Sri Lanka Pact of July 1987. It was signed at a time the TULF was demanding a merged North-Eastern Province and the newly formed Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, a separate Muslim unit with Ampara as the base and the Muslim majority areas in the rest of the North-Eastern Province attached to it.

I asked Thondaman (senior, of course) why he signed such an agreement that permitted Muslim majority areas in the Batticaloa and Trincomalee districts and in the northern province, to be attached to the Muslim unit, when the Tamil leadership was opposed to it, he said, “I’m laying the foundation for an Upcountry Tamil Unit.”

The Thondaman-Ashraff pact was forgotten following the Indo-Sri Lanka Pact and the 13th Amendment, but the seeds it sowed seem to be germinating and with the impatient young generations of both communities coming into the forefront, there are indications that the demand for separate units will grow.
In Tamil Nadu, there are signs of the youth taking over the agitation in support of the Sri Lankan Tamils and turning it into an anti-Delhi campaign. The Communist Party of India which organised the student demonstration in Delhi is providing the leadership for youth involvement. The pro-LTTE firebrands like Vaiko and Thitumavalavan are providing the emotional input. They are pushing the emotionally worked up youth towards supporting the LTTE.

This is a quote from the statement Vaiko issued on Monday:

“Tamil Tigers are the only armour that protects the Eelam Tamils. Sri Lankan governments plan is to make Eelam Tamils slaves by destroying the Liberation Tigers. The Indian Government is supporting that plot.”

In this context, I wish to point out the decision made by the All Party Meeting with the Communist Party held on Monday to consider the Sri Lanka situation. Although the major political parties did not attend that meeting, a decision was made to call for a state-wide hartal on November 25. D. Pandian, secretary of the Tamil Nadu branch who announced the hartal decision said they would force the Indian Government to pressurise Sri Lanka to declare a ceasefire.

The letter Pandian sent to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on November 10 has warned him of the long term consequences of the Sri Lankan conflict: “Delaying and dodging to resolve the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, will lead to fissiparous tendencies to grow in various parts of India. As Indians, we feel that the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict should be resolved amicably, or else, the negative impact in India will have long term repercussions.”

This warning should be read in the context of the reports about the renewed activity of the Tamil separatist groups in Tamil Nadu. The police intelligence says that there are about ten such groups working in different parts of Tamil Nadu and the present emotional climate is providing fertile ground for their propaganda. They are now placing before the people the question: What is the purpose of being part of India, if the central government is not concerned about the feelings of the Tamil people?

In this context, the results of a survey in the popular magazine Kumutham Reporter carried out among the university students in Tamil Nadu, revealed that over 50 percent of them regard LTTE chief Velupillai Prabahakaran a hero.

Globally, Tamils are getting united emotionally. They are staging demonstrations in support of Sri Lankan Tamils wherever they are. Last week, demonstrations took place even in the Andaman Islands. Karunanidhi, proposing the resolution, demanding a ceasefire in the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly last Wednesday said he was doing so on behalf of the 80 million Tamils living in this world. In Tamil history, this is the first time a Tamil Nadu Chief Minister spoke on behalf of all the Tamils living in this world. [The Bottom Line]

Sinhala Buddhist culture faces greater danger from aberrant behaviour than the “Aba” film

decrees it; as a not so subtle attempt to impose a Judeo-Christian image on an essentially Sinhala-Buddhist tradition; as an essentially Sinhala-Buddhist episode, perversely interpreted by a mind and a personal ideology honed by the Catholic upbringing of its Director.

At least one critic has even drawn a parallel between Prabhakaran's ideology and the narrative direction of the film and the list goes on. Nor can 1 recall any other film which was the subject of two seminars involving specialists in various disciplines. The film seems to have impacted deeply and hurtfully on a collective Sinhala-Buddhist consciousness. Objectively viewed, the responses seem, by and large, overt and in a few instances, downright hysterical.

What really is the Aba story? It is about the formative years of Pandukabhaya, the first home-grown king of Sri Lanka, although the latter title should, strictly speaking, be considered an extravagant premise as it is not clear as to what cultures, kingdoms and or principalities existed then in other parts of the island.

Even in the absence of an irrefutable record, in either corroboration or rebuttal, I believe it would be safe to assume that in the 3rd century BC, Sri Lanka was not under unified rule. The Pandukabhaya story is as much myth and legend as it is history. It belongs to a shadowy period in the history of the country, which does not have either the benefit of undisputed corroborative documentation- except for the Mahawamsa - or conclusive propositions supported by extensive archeological research.

Consider, for a moment, the history which precedes it. Vijaya, the scion of a Vanga lineage having its genesis from a union , first between a lion and a woman and then a brother and a sister - (an engaging sequence of bestiality and incest) - lands in Sri Lanka with a band of followers, with miraculous coincidence, on the very day of the death of the Buddha. With one masterful stroke of his quill, the Rev. Mahanama, writing the story perhaps a thousand years after the event, links the alleged genesis of the Sinhala princely line with the last significant episode in the life of the Buddha.

The main elements of the early life of Pandukabhaya are no less spectacular, being liberally laced with various supernatural connotations which should not merit serious debate.

As for the fabric and nature of society of the Aba period, little is known for certain . Here again it would be safe to assume an agrarian society, composed of many tribes with diverse religious beliefs and most likely, varying dialects as well. There is no conclusive information on the type of government or administration then prevalent although there would have certainly been a coherent social order and mores of conduct and governance as such have been observed in other areas of the world, even in cultures considered to be completely backward according to the modern understanding of social development.

Much has been made of the depiction of the village women in the film, in their long cloak - like attire and hoods. This feature, combined with Chiththaraja's periodic post-death appearances in flowing white robes and dramatic attitudes , have been attributed to a deliberate attempt by the film maker to introduce a Judeo-Christian orientation to the narrative. On a recent visit to India, driving through deeply rural Maharashtra, I noticed that most adult village women moved around in public with their faces completely covered by the free end of the sari, worn like a Muslim chador.

My driver, a native of the state as well as a Hindu, was horrified by my assumption that such women would be Muslims. He hastened to explain that after marriage, all Hindu women in those areas were required, by tradition, to keep their faces completely covered when in public and that this restriction could be relaxed only in private and in the presence of members of the immediate family. In this context, an Islamic connotation would be as valid as the alleged Judeo-Christian likeness of the attire of the women of Aba. So much for the perception of the religious significance of dress.

In purely rational terms what is the significance of the women's attire? We have no clear idea of the female dress code of the period. Most stylized carvings and statuary of the later periods depict voluptuous women in diaphanous, figure-contoured robes, not infrequently bare-breasted. The reality may not have been much different, albeit a trifle less glamorous. Village communities of that period would have been very basic and the clothing of citizens consistent with the minimalistic nature of their existence.

In this context, the women in the film seem to be somewhat overdressed but Anthony could hardly have cast them in a more natural state without running foul of the censors. In any event, in the cinematic depiction of events which took place before both the birth of Christ and the introduction of Buddhism to the country - (if we are to rely solely on the Mahawamsa story of the meeting between Arahat Mahinda and King Devanampiyatissa) - does the supposedly Christian imagery really matter? Why should it offend Sinhala-Buddhist perceptions?

I do not think it necessary to deliberate on the nature of the Chiththaraja apparition as, in my view, the reality or lack of it, in the depiction of after-death appearances, do not merit rational consideration. The so called Christ-likeness of Chiththaraja on the rock is, perhaps derived from the film-maker's perception of recreation after death and may not be necessarily driven by a Judeo-Christian mindset. Jackson Anthony has always been serious about his art and we must concede that in all previous roles he has spared no effort in placing before the public a credible creation.

I have noticed that most people who claim to have seen "after-death recreations", commonly describe such apparitions as being dressed in white. Perhaps, Anthony was merely following the established tradition of the credulous! Cinematically too, the apparition of Chiththraja in flowing white robes is far more dramatic than, say, a figure standing on the rock, wearing a loin-cloth with an axe slung across one shoulder.

Some of the critics have likened the execution of Chiththaraja and Kalewela to the crucifixion of Christ, on account of the logs that the condemned men were compelled to carry on their shoulders, to the execution site. Again the imputation is that the similarity is contrived. Prof. N. A. de S. Amaratunga maintains that during the time of Sinhala kings such events were totally differently orchestrated.

Certainly, there is reliable evidence on the manner in which executions were carried out in later periods, particularly during the era of the Kandyan kings, but what credible information do we have on the nature and content of such happenings at the dawn of Sri Lankan history? Apart from ritualistic beheadings there may have been other, more imaginative forms of corporal punishment.

The professor also maintains that the absence of Buddhist features, in a film that narrates an early episode in a nation fashioned by a subsequently introduced Buddhist tradition, to be a serious departure from probability. He points to a total absence of Buddhist features or symbols, especially a yellow robe. To start with, one must consider what Buddhist features or symbols one could possibly introduce to a film which deals with a period preceding the accepted point of the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka. That would have been a clear deviation from the Mahawamsa line, which is the very transgression that Anthony is being accused of. Least of all, what Buddhist feature could one link to the scene of an execution although, in current society, there is in fact much violence associated with a philosophy which preaches, as a core value, compassion and non-violence.

Perhaps the pundits who have taken such serious issue with the narrative direction of the film and the cinematic depictions, should pause to reconsider the historical veracity of the story itself. As I said earlier, the Pandukabhaya story belongs to a very shadowy and indistinct period of our history.

According to the Mahawamsa, Pandukabhaya became king at the age of 37 and reigned for 70 years. With the regnal periods of the two succeeding kings, Mutasiva and Dewanampiyatissa, it comprises a regnal period of 174 years by three rulers. Is this possible? Pandukabhaya's supposed life span of 107 years is exceptional for any period and seems incredible for an era, when the average life expectation of a person is bound to have been much less than in modern times. Is it not possible that there was more than one king during the period assigned to Pandukhabhaya?

In the context of such clearly visible ambiguities, how much importance should we attribute to the cinematic depiction of an episode of debatable antecedents? Is it worth such searching critique and emotion? Such energetic inquiry could be more profitably directed in an attempt to sift fact from legend, myth and fable and, thereby, establishing a more credible account of history.

Histories of all nations are composites of myth, legend, fact and not infrequently, out-and -out fabrication . These ingredients, rightly or wrongly, contribute to the distillation of a national culture and psyche. The longer the history, the more difficult it is to distinguish between the constituent elements. Most histories are written, often centuries after the major, defining events, with the writers relying either on records, now no longer available for confirmation of sources, or second-hand reportage and on oral traditions highly vulnerable to distortion with each recital.

The narration of events are also naturally coloured, interpreted and fashioned by the personal affiliations and view point of the recorder. The truth is, often, as the writer perceives it and how he/she would like it to be and to this end, it is not unusual for the writer to resort to both embellishment and fabrication. The Mahawamsa is a good example of such reconstitution of history. It is an incredible and unique record but , in view of the many uncertainties and inconsistencies in dating sequences of the early Anuradhapura period in particular, serious historians have pointed out to the need to re-examine the accuracy of the succession line, even up to Dutugemunu.

All the arguments submitted by the critics of the film have based their reasoning on history, exactly as it is depicted in the Mahawamsa, which is also the bedrock of a Sinhala -Buddhist ideology, nurtured in isolation. It is a myopic view point estranged from objective assessment and reasoned inquiry. The unquestioning attachment to the Mahawamsa accounts of our early history has also locked its adherents into a mindset of Sinhala-Buddhist supremacy, which is frequently used to legitimize morally unjustifiable attacks on the position of Sri Lanka's minority groups.

The Mahawamsa is a Pali poem, first committed to writing almost a thousand years after the events it first describes. Its primary purpose seems to be more to glorify Buddhism in Sri Lanka than to render an accurate historical record for posterity. Prof. W. Geiger, who translated the Mahawamsa from Pali to German in 1912, in his introduction to the subsequent English edition engages the many departures from reality and the disparities in chronology, evident in the chronicle. Prof. V. A. Smith, who published a number of studies on Indian history and, particularly, an illuminating monograph on Emperor Asoka and the conversion of Sri Lanka to Buddhism, has raised similar issues in more trenchant vein.

I am not aware that any of these issues have been subsequently resolved, through either archeological or documentary research.

Aba, its detractors claim, has challenged a historical tradition and popular belief in regard to a significant event in the origins of the Sri Lankan princely line, including the paternity of Pandukabhaya. However, popular belief and tradition together do not constitute irrefutable fact and any position, unless unquestionably irrefutable, should be open to dispute and alternate interpretation.

If any reader of this letter has not already read the Mahawamsa, I would recommend a perusal of the account of the events associated with the birth of Pandukabhaya and his formative years. It reads very much like a fable and at this distance in time, it is impossible to separate the truth from embellishment and fabrication.

I would also like to ask, what is so sacred about a tradition developed from an obviously fallible information matrix? Leaving aside the Aba story, why should any belief, tradition or position, be considered inviolate and secure from re-examination simply because it has been long held? Consider the raging controversies being regularly debated regarding the paternity of Christ, the circumstances of his birth, the crucifixion and the events which followed. Doubts have been expressed as to whether such a person actually existed.

Has the Christian doctrine and its diverse denominations diminished as a result? Reasoned inquiry promotes honest self-examination and paves the way for greater accuracy and the enrichment of knowledge. Science challenges its own positions constantly and emerges all the stronger for it, while widening the frontiers of knowledge and human endeavour. Aba, portrays an alternate version of an episode that took place 23 centuries ago. Why should this version be considered less credible than the traditional belief?

Sociologist Dr. Gunatilleke sees Aba as a "well made film that targets Buddhist culture, in a country where the government banned both the "Satanic Verses" and the "Da Vinci Code", for distorting respectively Islam and Catholicism". I am confident that I am not alone in considering that both bans were derived from an asinine logic. The latter film was exhibited in countries, with a much higher proportion of Catholics than in Sri Lanka but there is absolutely no evidence, to suggest that the Catholic faith in those countries was damaged in any way, as a result. In the same context, what damage could Aba do to Buddhist culture in this country? I believe that the real damage to the image and cause of Buddhism in this country, is the result of violent demonstrations of intolerance by Buddhist groups against minority faiths. Places of worship of other faiths have been physically attacked and vandalized by mobs, often led by Buddhist priests. In recent times we have seen a spate of such incidents, carried out, most disturbingly, with total impunity.

Equally damaging are the statements made by political leaders and prominent clerics, regarding the supremacy of the Sinhala Buddhists over other racial and religious segments of this country, relegating, with calculated insensitivity, all minorities to a subservient niche. Minister Champika Ranawaka has gone on record with the statement that such minority groups are dependent on "Buddhist Compassion" for their continued presence in this country. All those pundits, who have become so emotionally charged over the alleged impact of Aba on Buddhist culture, should spare a moment to consider both the implications and the impact of such uncivilized behaviour , on our much vaunted image of Buddhist compassion and tolerance.

A cultural tradition of 2500 years has far more to fear from the conduct of the bigoted and intolerant segment of its so called champions, than from a film which suggests a different version of an un-provable episode in its early history.

I am writing as a Sinhala Buddhist, revolted by the unspeakable conduct of some of the more vocal and aggressive proponents of the Buddhas doctrine of "Mettha and Mudhitha". This Sinhala-Buddhist culture is in much greater danger from such aberrant behaviour within, than from incursions from without. The damage, if any, that could be caused by Aba would be miniscule in comparison.

November 18, 2008

The Tragic killing of a young, committed Doctor

A statement by the Rt. Rev. Duleep de Chickera, Bishop of Colombo

The killing of Doctor Palitha Pathmakumara has shocked the nation and caused security concerns especially amongst the Medical Profession.

Doctor Palitha was a popular and committed medical officer who served the people of Navataadu and its surrounding villages with devotion. He sought to bring healing across all barriers and save lives. This senseless killing is consequently a tragic reversal of all that he stood for and must be condemned.

I offer the condolences of our Church to Dr. Mrs. Pathmakumara and the family. May the commitment and vision of Dr. Palitha inspire you to face the difficult days ahead. May God bring you light out of darkness and hope out of despair.

This killing is a symptom of the violent and volatile situation that has gripped the Eastern Province . Law and order must be restored; and I earnestly appeal to the President to obtain a Situation Report and thereafter take steps to eliminate the culture of violence and fear that continues to deprive the people of Peace and Harmony.

Rt. Rev. Duleep de Chickera
Bishop of Colombo

November 17, 2008

Identifying Sri Lankan Tamil cause with LTTE may damage the cause itself

by Amrith Lal

The war in Sri Lanka always finds an echo in Tamil Nadu. Political parties and civil society groups including members of the film industry have now brought the issue to a boil. The situation in Sri Lanka is indeed grave: Over 2, 00, 000 people of Tamil origin are fighting for survival in extreme conditions in the Wanni region in north Sri Lanka.

Some of the scepticism about the current protests in Tamil Nadu is valid. Is the demand for a ceasefire a pretext to help the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) buy time and regroup, and not about providing relief for civilians caught in the crossfire between two armies? Is the political class in Tamil Nadu simply using the ruse of human rights violation of Tamils to advance the agenda of the LTTE?

Tamils in Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu are divided not just by the waters of the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Straits but also by an international boundary. However, the two people are bound together by historic ties. Ethnic, linguistic and cultural bonds were renewed and strengthened ever since the Tamil separatist movement acquired the characteristics of a full-fledged insurgency in the 1980s, supported covertly by the Indira and Rajiv governments. Politics in Tamil Nadu facilitated a discourse that imagined the two people as part of an extended nation of Tamils.

The murder of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 came as a rude wake-up call. It exposed the political character of the LTTE, which, by now, had wiped out other contenders for the leadership and claimed to be the sole spokesperson for Sri Lanka's Tamil minority. The Rajiv assassination also turned the tide against the LTTE even to the extent of subsuming a genuine concern for the beleaguered Tamil minority in the island. The recent spate of protests indicates the end of that phase.

The LTTE vision with the cult of the leader at its core has admirers among the political class in Tamil Nadu. Velupillai Pirabakaran, the LTTE supremo, is a leader who commands the complete loyalty of his colleagues and cadres; the big brother who can demand not just the sweat but also the blood of his flock.


Which political despot would not love to be in his shoes? Admirers of the LTTE identify the organisation with the Tamil cause. They are vocal about their admiration for its overtly militaristic vision of politics. However, there is no reason yet to believe that the people in Tamil Nadu or politicians subscribe to the political project of the LTTE.

A strand of Tamil sub-nationalism, sometimes overtly chauvinist, has always been a feature of politics in the state since the 1930s. The secessionist demand for a Dravida Nadu in the 1940s and 50s was one aspect of this sub-nationalism, but not an end in itself.

Tamil sub-nationalism advocated by the Dravidian movement is best understood when located in the framework of the movement's social agenda. Leaders like Periyar felt the Indian nation as imagined by the Congress leadership in the 1940s was against the anti-caste social ideal of Dravidian movement.
The Congress, and by extension the Indian state, was perceived by these leaders as an Aryan, the other name for north Indian, project built on Brahmanical values. The nation imagined by the Dravidian movement was an anti-caste society and fiercely proud of its linguistic and cultural heritage. Tamil sub-nationalism has thrived, even though it has lost the anti-caste edge, in Tamil Nadu as a mystified cultural project.

This sub-nationalist sentiment is a natural ally of Sri Lankan Tamils who have faced genocidal Sinhala chauvinism in Sri Lanka since the 1950s. Sinhala chauvinism targeted not just the people but the Tamil language and cultural symbols of Tamils as well. Sub-nationalist sentiment in Tamil Nadu cuts across political and social affiliations. It is one issue on which political parties that don't see eye to eye otherwise share similar perspectives.
Tamil popular culture especially cinema has helped this sub-nationalism gain deep roots in society. The response to the Tamil cause across the sea is not merely sympathy for a people who have lost homes and livelihoods but a deep sense of identification with a people who are part of an imagined cultural nation.

But the current political discourse in Tamil Nadu parties can hardly address the concerns of Sri Lankan Tamils. These protests have made one thing clear: India's strategic formulations for Sri Lanka have to factor in the Tamil sentiment. And, that's the maximum they could have achieved. Further progress is possible only if these leaders separate the Tamil cause and the political agency advocating that cause, in this case the LTTE.

Support for the legitimate rights of a minority is possible without adopting an uncritical approach to the political agency demanding those rights. Identification of the Tamil cause with the LTTE, an outfit banned in India and many other countries, has to end; not separating the two may damage the cause itself.

The Tigers are more than a political movement; they almost constitute a state in the areas under control. They have militarised the political space so much that democratic dissent and negotiation are impossible. This political vision, limited to a spatial understanding of nationhood, is hardly emancipatory. An alternative vision of politics is necessary to recover the political space for the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka. The LTTE, which has systematically destroyed civil society in areas under its control, is unlikely to provide it.

November 16, 2008

Sarath Fonseka Statements Reek of Sinhala Triumphalism

by Izeth Hussain

Army Commander Sarath Fonseka has provoked a storm of criticism with some of his recent statements, notably the following which had appeared in a Canadian magazine, "I strongly believe that this country belongs to the Sinhalese but there are minority communities and we treat them like our people….. We being the majority of the country, 75%, we will never give in and we have the right to protect this country … They can live in this country with us. But they must not try to, under the pretext of being a minority, demand undue things." (National Post of September 23). Notable also was the following, "In any democratic country the majority should rule the country. This country will be ruled by the Sinhalese community which is the majority representing 74% of the population." (Daily News of July 19).

I cannot join in the storm of criticism because my own responses to the above statements have been complex, ranging from strong and enthusiastic approval to strong disapproval to alarm. My first reaction of strong support - which in truth made me want to shout "Bravo, Sarath, bravo" – was evoked by his claim that this country belongs to the majority Sinhalese, and so on.

It is surely the kind of claim that is made by the members of majorities in nation states right round the globe. Maybe he has made his point bluntly and rather crudely, but we must remember that he is a soldier and not a politician and as such has a preference for reality over rhetoric, and so wants to see that his words get to target just as bullets do. Why blackguard him for that?

Sometimes politicians are also quite frank that their country belongs to the majority and so on.

I recall a television interview given by Archbishop Makarios of Cyprus sometime in the first half of the ‘sixties, in which he said that after all the negotiations the Turkish Cypriot minority must ultimately accept what the Greek Cypriot majority is prepared to give them. I remember being annoyed by that statement, but on reflection I came to the conclusion that that astute statesman merely wanted people to face reality.

It is pertinent to recall also a conversation that I had some years ago with a Church of Sri Lanka clergyman, in which we touched on the subject of Christian clergymen who had enlightened views on our ethnic relations. He cited the names of Bishop Lakdasa de Mel and Harold de Soysa from his Church, and I pointed out to him that he was obviously forgetting the late Bishop Lakshman Wickremesinghe. To my surprise he replied that "even Lakshman" used to hold that ultimately the minorities must accept what the Sinhalese majority is willing to give them. No one in his right mind has ever believed that Bishop Lakshman was a communalist, or racist, or chauvinist, or anything of that sort. Sarath Fonseka’s position is I believe not essentially different from that of the Bishop.

The problem of course arises when the majority holds – as majorities always do – that the minorities are given fair and equal treatment and the minority perception is the opposite. There is today a way of resolving this problem. It is to apply the criterion of the human rights norms established in the UN Declarations and Covenants on the subject. We can take it that all Sri Lankans agree that those norms should apply in Sri Lanka. But our racists and fascists are fiercely resistant to the idea that Sri Lanka is answerable to the international community on observance of those norms. I don’t know Sarath Fonseka’s position on this.

Before proceeding to my next point I must raise a question about one of the statements quoted above, "In any democratic country the majority should rule the country." It is of course true that under any democratic dispensation the majority ethnic group gets power over the minorities. But is SF aware of the terrible dangers of majoritarian democracy? I quote from Michael Ignatieff’s Oxford Amnesty lecture of 2001, "Where democracy means self-determination for the ethnic majority, ethnic cleansing and massacre of minorities as a method of state consolidation usually accompany it." I want the reader to note well the word "usually".

I come now to the strong disapproval that has been roused in me by a detail in SF’s statements. He states that "there are minority communities and we treat them like our people". I wouldn’t know where to begin and where to stop in refuting that statement. I have plenty of appropriate material on discrimination against the minorities right here at my elbow, but on second thoughts I would refrain from using any of it. No useful purpose will be served.

I will now state why SF’s statements have caused alarm in me. Taken together they reek of Sinhala triumphalism, the evident reason for which is that our troops are on the verge of finishing off with Mr. V. Prabhakaran. That triumphalism bodes ill for the future. I have in mind the implications of the victim syndrome. For centuries, until 1956, our Buddhists saw themselves as victims because some of the non-Buddhists had been given favoured treatment at their expense. The situation was reversed thereafter and gradually the Tamils became the victims. After 1983 the LTTE fought back, evidently with strong Tamil backing, and by stages the Sinhalese again became victims. Every offer of devolution was contemptuously rejected, and the response to Ranil Wickremesinghe’s inordinate accommodativeness was the LTTE offer of the ISGA, which was surely meant to humiliate the Sinhalese. Now the armed forces have got the upper hand, and the Tamils are about to become victims once again. If the note of Sinhala triumphalism struck by so important a personage as the Army Commander prevails, we can take it that ethnic reconciliation and harmony are still far away.

SF’s statements have the merit of drawing attention to the fact that the nation-state privileges the dominant ethnic group. But that can easily lead to racism, which can prove to be problematic in many and dangerous ways. SF says that he strongly believes that this country belongs to the Sinhalese. But who are the Sinhalese? It is known that most of the so-called low country castes – namely the Karawe, the Salagama, and the Durawe – came to Sri Lanka from South India after 1505. It becomes arguable that the Sri Lankan Tamils are more truly sons of the Sri Lankan soil than those Sinhalese because they were established here for a far longer period.

We must also bear in mind that the Portuguese encouraged a class of settlers or casados through marriages of Portuguese and local women. Some married Dutch and British residents and came to constitute the Burgher and Eurasian communities. Kumari Jayawardena writes in her fine work of scholarship Erasure of the Euro-Asian, "Other casado descendants maintained their local identity by marrying Sinhalese, but kept Portuguese names and over time were ‘deemed’ to be Sinhalese.

This may partially account for the large number of Sinhalese with Portuguese names, even today. Contrary to the belief that all Sinhalese who took on Portuguese names did so in order to be baptized, and thereafter get jobs or to avoid taxes, many Sinhalese were, more likely, the descendants of casados." It becomes arguable that our Tamils are more indigenous to Sri Lankan soil than the Sinhalese with Portuguese names.

I have no quarrel at all with SF when he says that this country belongs to the Sinhalese. My point is that it also belongs to our Tamils, our Muslims, and other ethnic minorities. It is only through recognition of that fact – the fact of Sri Lankan multi-ethnicity – that we can ever come to have a Sri Lanka that is worth having.

Sri Lanka's war: The crucible of the sword

by Dayan Jayatilleka

“I stand before you as someone who is not opposed to war in all circumstances. The Civil War was one of the bloodiest in history, and yet it was only through the crucible of the sword, the sacrifice of multitudes, that we could begin to perfect this union…” -- Senator Barack Obama, Oct 2, 2002, Chicago

In regard to the Tamil Nadu assembly’s call for a ceasefire and an end to military operations, President Rajapakse has spoken for the overwhelming bulk of his citizens when he just said no.

Sri Lanka is not a powerful country, nor is it an influential small country such as Cuba , but it has its strengths. One of these is the resilience of its multiparty democracy under conditions of extreme duress, its eschewal of military rule and totalitarianism of the Right or Left. Another is the maintenance of comparatively decent labour standards and social indicators. Yet another is the synergy of civil society and state that made our recovery from the tsunami more impressive than those in Indonesia (Aceh) or post-Katrina Louisiana (according to Joel Schumacher of Refugee International). A fourth has been the strength of our top national leaders. Whatever their faults, one cannot say that the elected Presidents of Sri Lanka-- JR Jayewardene, Ranasingha Premadasa, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapakse were/are weak leaders. Most of our leaders since Independence have been strong personalities—and the exceptions can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

President Rajapakse has just returned from Delhi without having blinked on the essentials, and having reiterated the basics of our case. He has rightly refused to enter a ceasefire given the LTTE’s track record – unless it is preceded by the laying down of weapons. No self –respecting state will permit another’s domestic, or worse still, electoral compulsions, be the guideline of strategic and national security policy in relation to a terrorist secessionist army occupying a part of one’s national territory and menacing the rest. Cuba would not change its domestic policy towards violent counterrevolutionary saboteurs in accordance with resolutions passed in the Florida legislature!

A sub-regional political leader has opined that Britain , India , Pakistan and the US did not use air power against its own citizens when dealing with terrorism. Al Qaeda does not consist of US citizens. Air power is used when the terrorist threat is not limited to a few or many underground cells exploding bombs or conducting ambushes, but when the terrorists are a veritable army or militia, numbering thousands, with its own heavy artillery, gunboats and fledgling air arm. In such cases, air power is vital. The US uses it in Afghanistan and across the border, and Pakistan uses helicopter gun-ships in its counter-terror operations if needs be. Israel of course deploys airpower even in heavily built-up areas, against Palestinian insurgents who do not operate as large units with base areas.

A BBC Timewatch episode revealed how the undeclared use of airpower in the Salvadoran civil war drove the guerrillas to the negotiating table. Evidently a pair of US Air Force AC 130 Spectre gunships (huge transport panes laden with cannon and electronically driven Gatling guns) guided by an AWACS plane, all flying in from the US base in the Panama Canal zone and operating above cloud cover, brought down withering firepower on the guerrilla units of the FMLN, the most powerful insurgent movement in the history of Latin America (far superior to the LTTE), forcing them to abandon large unit warfare and thoughts of a military victory using, and downshift to small units as well as the goal of a negotiated solution. Thus there is absolutely no justification in seeking the discontinuance of Sri Lanka ’s use of airpower and every justification for its continued discriminate use.

President Rajapakse draws his strength from the people. His very rooted-ness among the people enable him to tap the strength and determination that is welling up within the collective on the issue of defeating Tiger terrorism and separatism without being fooled yet again. The people have made Mahinda Rajapakse their reflection and instrument.

The story of the ceasefire may not end there. Those who have been bribed by the Tigers or are in sympathy with their aims or are in fear of them or hope to use them as a surfboard to success or simply do not have the spine to bring to justice (or “take them out” as Barack Obama says of Bin Laden) those who murdered their former Prime Minister on their own soil and expect us to let off the hook those same murderers who accounted for many of our best leaders, may try again as the LTTE fights for its life. Other means – covert and/or coercive-- may be used to force a ceasefire. It is not that we Sri Lankans have no memory of some of these.

Whichever way the story evolves, it will not be as in the 1980s. President Jayewardene’s government was widely perceived as suffering a deficit of legitimacy. Having been elected Prime Minister he made himself president, won re-election having disenfranchised his main democratic opponent, dismissed 80, 000 striking workers, de-legitimized his administration internally by substituting a referendum (coercive and fraudulent) for the decades-long practice of parliamentary elections and de-legitimised Sri Lankan externally by failing to crackdown on the anti-Tamil riots of July 1983. He had further weakened himself by unfairly proscribing the JVP and thereby triggering a Southern insurgency paralleling the Northern one.

In short, President Jayewardene in 1987 was unstable and unpopular. President Rajapakse is not. What is more pertinent is that as public opinion polls show, the Sri Lankan spirit is far more unified and determined now than it has been for decades, and the collective is at a different point of its cycle than it was in 1987— it is an ascendant, resolute popular nationalism wielding state power rather than one divided, in crisis and descent.

On his Delhi visit, President Rajapakse didn’t content himself with explaining his objection to a ceasefire unless preceded by demilitarisation of the Tigers, as many Southern hawks would have preferred him to. He reiterated his commitment to a political solution, specifying the content of that solution. The 13h amendment that ensued from Indo-Lanka interaction in 1987. As a base line, that’s as good as it gets, being the product of a highly asymmetrical interaction. However as the president has indicated, enhancements of the 13th amendment through a multiparty consensus at the APC/APRC are awaited by him. He recommitted himself to the holding of elections to the Northern Provincial council shortly upon liberation, just as he did in the Eastern province. The President also gave an assurance concerning the Tamil civilians for whom he took responsibility. Given that there are far fewer recorded civilian casualties even as collateral damage, in Sri Lanka ’s war, in comparison with other wars being waged in South Asia by those with far superior technological capacities, and given also that we have not imposed a Gaza-like blockade on essential supplies to the Tiger controlled Tamil majority areas, this should be good enough. President Rajapkse also reiterated that the Tamils are “our people”, an organic part of the Sri Lankan people, in contradistinction to those who hold that they are “inorganic” “guests”, “visitors” at best “treated like our people”.

We can be proud of our leadership for its political determination to rid the country of the curse of separatism and terrorism in the face of mounting pressures. We can be proud of our armed forces for their performance in the field against one of the world’s most ruthless and powerful insurgent movements. We can be proud of our people for their clarity of vision in understanding the nature of the Tigers and in staying staunch, making sacrifices of blood and material well being, to bring this war to a successful close.

A ceasefire would be suicidal. This is a necessary war which must be fought to a victorious finish. As Senator Barack Obama so clearly explained while declaring, on Oct 2nd 2002, in Chicago his opposition to the invasion of Iraq by the Bush administration:

[Civil War Reenactors in New Hampshire during a 4th of July celebration in 2007-pic.www.barackobama.com]

“I stand before you as someone who is not opposed to war in all circumstances. The Civil War was one of the bloodiest in history, and yet it was only through the crucible of the sword, the sacrifice of multitudes, that we could begin to perfect this union and drive the scourge of slavery from our soil…After September 11, after witnessing the carnage and destruction , the dust and tears, I supported this administration’s pledge to hunt down and root out those who would slaughter innocents in the name of intolerance, and I would willingly take up arms myself to prevent such tragedy from happening again. I don’t oppose all wars”.

The Lions are circling outside the marauding Tiger’s lair. We must do our best to secure the space and time for them to close in for the final kill. Anyone who comes in the way to save the trapped and wounded predator who when healed, will unleash itself against us yet again, will earn or rekindle the undying historical enmity of a whole people, nation and state, adding to the toxicity of an already volatile and violent region.

(These are the strictly personal views of the writer).

November 14, 2008

Thamilian Separatism Raises Its Head Again In Tamil Nadu

by PC Vinoj Kumar

Tamil separatism is a dead issue. Or is it? The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) dropped its demand for a separate Dravida nation almost half a century ago, in 1963. However, growing protests in Tamil Nadu against Indian military assistance to Colombo in its war against the LTTE have resurrected separatist rhetoric in mainstream politics.

Last month, firebrand politician Vaiko and his deputy M Kannappan made a veiled threat to launch the struggle for a separate Tamil Nadu if the Centre continued to aid Colombo. Both were arrested for making seditious speeches. However, what is little-known to most people is that several Tamil nationalist groups are quietly working at the grassroots level to ultimately realising an independent Tamil state.

According to information available , , there are at least 10 such groups active in the state. Most were formed after the outbreak of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka in the 1980s. Many have flags with the Tamil Nadu map imprinted on them and actively propagate their ideals through literature and cultural programmes. They derive their ideologies from the Dravidian icon Periyar, Tamil literary figures SP Adithanar, and Perunchitharanaar. Periyar, founder of the Dravidar Kazhagam (DK), the DMK’s parent party, was the first to demand a separate Tamil nation in 1938, following widespread protests against the imposition of Hindi in schools.

Adithanar, founder of the Tamil daily, Thina Thanthi, proposed a ‘Greater Tamil Nadu’, including Eelam (the area claimed by the LTTE as a Tamil homeland) in Sri Lanka. In the 1970s, Perunchitharanaar, a Tamil poet, took forward the cause of a Tamil nation.

Most present-day Tamil nationalists are former members of the CPM, DK or one of their offshoots. They have a presence in almost all parts of the state, though their total number is estimated to be not more than 10,000. “India is a capitalist, Brahminist, and Hindi-dominant state, where other nationalities do not enjoy equal rights,” says P Maniarasan, general secretary of the Thanjavur-based Thamizh Thesa Pothuvudamai Katchi (TTPK). “Our goal is to establish a sovereign Tamil national republic.”

His group is active in about 20 districts and is mobilising the support of people from different sections. It has separate wings for students, youth and peasants. As a former CPM member, Maniarasan has built his organisation like a communist party, and collects a monthly fee from members. New entrants to the party are required to serve in some wing of the party for a year. They are then absorbed into the party and elevated in the organisation, based on an evaluation of their performance.

THERE IS anger among Tamil nationalists that a 3,000-year-old language has not been made an official language of India while such status has been given to Hindi. They recall the words of the DMK founder, Anna, who spearheaded the anti-Hindi agitations in the 1960s, and argued that if Hindi was made the national language because it was spoken by the majority, then, by the same reasoning, the common crow and not the peacock should have been made the national bird.

“Is it fair that in Parliament an MP can speak in Hindi but not in Tamil?” asks Pudukottai-based Era Paavaanan, a Tamil nationalist and supporter of the LTTE. He was detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) in 2002 for his pro- LTTE speech and spent 19 months in jail.

According to Maniarasan, Eelam and Tamil Nadu are two “distinct Tamil nations”. In the 1990s, however, an armed group called the Tamil National Retrieval Troops fought for a Greater Tamil Nadu. Another outfit, the Tamil National Liberation Army, fought for a separate Tamil Nadu in the same period. While cadres of the two groups have been arrested and the outfits are said to be defunct, a top official of the Q Branch of the state police, which deals with separatist outfits, said some cadres from these outfits are out on bail but are under close watch.

Tamil nationalist groups, interestingly, say that they do not subscribe to violence. They claim to believe in democratic methods and are engaged in building a strong cadre base. Says Thiagu, general secretary of the Chennai-based Tamil National Liberation Movement, “We don’t believe in violence but will take our propaganda to the masses and organise them. The strength of the people is mighty and it can shake empires.” He says New Delhi is helping their cause by ignoring Tamil sentiment and denying the state’s rights. He alleges that the Centre has not done justice to the state in water-sharing disputes with Karnataka and Kerala. “In both cases the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Tamil Nadu, but Kerala and Karnataka have not implemented the order. The Centre is a silent spectator to this injustice. If we are denied justice, what’s the point in being a part of India?” argues Thiagu, who joined the Naxalites in 1969. In 1970, he was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. Since his release in 1985, Thiagu has been a Tamil activist.

One major objective of Tamil groups is to retrieve areas allegedly belonging to Tamil Nadu which are now part of other states. In June this year, a conference was held in Erode where resolutions were passed to ‘retrieve’ Munnaar, Devikulam, and Peermedu from Kerala; Chitoor, Puthur, and Nagari from Andhra Pradesh; and Kollegal and Kolar Gold Field from Karnataka. “The Indian state arbitrarily changed the borders of Tamil Nadu during the states reorganisation in 1956. New Delhi even gifted Katchathivu island to Sri Lanka (in 1974), says Thiagu.

While Tamil nationalists believe these factors will ultimately lead to a Tamil nation, others disagree. A commentator on Dravidian politics, Professor AR Venkatachalapthy of the Madras Institute of Development Studies, says Tamil nationalism is a manifestation of a whole range of the economic, cultural, and political grievances of the people of Tamil Nadu. While conceding that India is not functioning as a truly federal state and that the Centre has been vesting more powers in itself, he says that the formation of a Tamil nation will remain a dream. The fact, however, that such ‘dreams’ can spawn militancy should spur the Centre to address the genuine grievances of the people.

Courtesy: Tehelka

Armed forces likely to capture Elephant Pass Soon

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

The on going war between the Sri Lankan armed forces and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has been one of fluctuating fortunes with one side or the other gaining and losing ground militarily. [Click to read the article in full in: DailyMirror.lk]

November 13, 2008

The New Moral Majority - Black, it ain't!

by Vasee Nesiah

An African American is in the White House and this time he ain't going to be shining no shoes. No, sir!

Whilst it is understandable that most African Americans and others of a certain vintage would see the election as a 'win' in the battle for emancipation, the election of Barrack Hussein Obama has signaled a far more significant development in America's psyche. The World has witnessed a quantum leap in how Americans perceive themselves and Obama has laid bare the presumptions of a White and Black America, a Democratic and Republican America, a Religious and Secular America, etc., etc. Not just in his campaign rhetoric, but also in his vote tally on Election Day.

Despite the media hype about hordes of African Americans lining up to register to vote, it is notable that the African American share of the total votes cast had only gone up by 1% over the previous elections that put Bush in office for a second term. Similarly, the visions of rampant youth voters was also laid bare when that number only increased by 2% over the previous presidential election. In their first interview after the election, President-elect Obama's campaign team confirmed that their campaign over the last 21 months was not built around their candidate's age or race. Barrack Obama won because he won over the new moral majority.

The majority of the people who voted for Barrack Obama did so because his message resonated with their values. His steady demeanor underscored his consistent message and he carried the electorate with him. Neither his skin colour, nor his shocking middle name, proved to be a distraction to the 66 million voters who placed their trust in him.

Barrack Hussein Obama out performed the previous Democratic contender in almost every demographic, among voters of all genders, races, education levels, and income classes, and virtually all religions. Obama only underperformed John Kerry amongst older (65+) voters, and gay and lesbian voters. Not since Jimmy Carter have so many evangelical Christians voted for a democratic president and yet in California, that liberal bastion, they voted to ban Gay Marriage. No Democratic primary contest has been as divisive or as fiercely contested and yet Obama won over 80 per cent of Hillary’s 18 million voters. This election has shown that the American electoral landscape is rife with such conundrums.

It’s not just The Economy, Stupid!

America is fighting two wars, has an eEconomy in tatters and desperately needs a leader to make America feel good again. On the face of it, John McCain seemed the ideal candidate with his impeccable foreign policy and defense credentials, Republican badge of fiscal conservatism balanced by an image of being more centrist than any other Republican contender. McCain was the only Republican who could win Democrats over to his side and the election must have seemed within grasp with the endorsement of Lieberman, a recent vice-presidential nominee of the Democrats. Conventional wisdom would suggest that John McCain was a safe pick, but conventional wisdom is often the domain of those whose memories outweigh their ability to think ahead. Or as Obama defined, it, HOPE!

Obama and his team, weren't about to follow in Jesse Jackson's footsteps. To assemble a Jacksonesque rainbow coalition would only do to the Democratic ticket what Palin eventually did to the Republican ticket. Energise the base and then what? Instead, Obama and his team decided that American voters were truly more mature and rational than they'd been given credit for by the media and most politicians. Obama worked hard to stay on the high road, first with Hillary and then with McCain. He refused to be drawn into personality clashes, instead he hammered home the basic tenets of his platform with monotonous rigour.

This election wasn't about equality for people of colour, or the economy, or stem cell research or the war in Iraq. This election was about electing a leader who had the attributes of a leader - somebody who could steady the ship in a storm and lead it to calmer waters. The country responded to Obama's presentation of himself as somebody with a vision of where the country needs to go and how it could get there. The medium, Obama, was the message.

Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, None but ourselves can free our minds - Bob Marley.
The real impact of Obama's election will not have dawned on most African Americans, yet. This is not the dawn of Black Power, nor is it a sign that racism is dead. On the contrary, everyday reality is not going to change for most African Americans. Obama's election has cruelly robbed the black man of the right to feel sorry for himself. No longer can society take the blame for violence, drugs, teen pregnancies and dead-beat dads. The Obama era will inspire a new generation of African Americans to emancipate themselves from mental slavery and join the new Moral Majority. Those who choose to remain a bitter minority will wake up to the rude shock that their crutch is gone. The white man's conspiracy to subjugate the black man is no more - 'The man' is dead.

"We were very happy to welcome hundreds of Sri Lankan friends who joined us at the Hilton Hotel to watch the election returns. Our own straw poll showed exceptionally strong support for Obama among Sri Lankans. His election has struck a similar chord around the world" - Ambassador Robert Blake in the US Embassy Blog, Colombo

Moral Majority? Us too!

Almost everybody in every country must know somebody who cried whilst watching Obama's acceptance speech. What is it about Obama's election that would make a white woman cry in Melbourne or an old Indian cry in Singapore? What heart strings does a German in Hamburg share with a Brazilian in Rio? The answer, perhaps, is in America's brand promise and what it means to the rest of the World. Obama's Berlin speech drew unprecedented crowds and that was no accident. They didn't come for the rock music in the park atmosphere - they came to HOPE. The World has long swallowed sugar coated American ideals, only to find it a bitter pill. The eight years of Bush and the opportunistic politics of terrorism had sapped most of the World of the desire to celebrate life and just as the economic shutters threatened to plunge us into darkness, America presented us a bright new shining star.

We may not have been able to vote for Obama but we could certainly share in the hope that he infused in Americans. He spoke intelligently, not condescendingly. He came from a terrible disjointed and broken family and yet he was a model family man. Obama and his team realised that America's might was not in the dollar or the bullet but in the brand promise of the American constitution. Obama had ideals that we can all relate to - in sharp contrast to George Bush, and even Bill Clinton. It’s no wonder we cried tears of joy. No longer do we have to tacitly acknowledge or secretly admire tyrants around the globe, just for the fact that they stood up to a bigger tyrant in George Bush.

If Obama stays 'on message' as he has done for the last 21 months, then surely these must be the last days of Mugabe and his like in our miserable corners of the Globe? Or is that too much to HOPE?

Rajapakse snubs Manmohan Singh by refusing to declare ceasefire and commence negotiations

by Special Correspondent in New Delhi

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse delivered a direct snub to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh by rejecting a proposal to declare an immediate ceasefire and begin efforts towards a negotiated political settlement.

When both leaders met in New Delhi the Indian Premier presented a copy of a unanimous resolution passed by the Tamil Nadu state legislative assembly that called for an immediate ceasefire and resumption of negotiations.

[Prime Minister Manmohan Singh greeting President Mahinda Rajapakse in New Delhi, Nov 13, 2008]

Rajapakse however rebuffed Singh's "diplomatically" couched request for ceasefire - negotiations and instead asserted that the war would continue till the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was vanquished and "terrorism" eradicated.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also urged Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to “ensure at all costs” the safety and welfare of the Tamil community.

Conveying the entire content of the resolution passed on Nov 12th by the Tamil Nadu Assembly on the situation in northern Sri Lanka, Dr. Singh emphasised the need for a negotiated settlement to the conflict within the framework of a united Sri Lanka.

The Prime Minister also mentioned the need to adhere to the joint statement on fishing arrangements agreed upon by both sides during the recent visit of Sri Lankan President’s special envoy, Basil Rajapaksa, to ensure that no Indian fisherman was killed.

Mr. Rajapaksa gave an assurance that his Navy was exercising the utmost restraint and that Sri Lanka was committed to the joint statement.

The Prime Minister referred to the 2,000 tonnes of food and other relief material being sent by the government of Tamil Nadu for distribution to the internally displaced persons (IDP) in northern Sri Lanka. The consignment is being transported and coordinated by the government of India.

External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who was present, also stressed the need for a negotiated settlement and desired regular supply of food and other items to civilians and IDPs affected by the conflict. He also emphasised the need for further devolution of power to the provinces and full implementation of the 13th Amendment.

Mr. Rajapaksa said he was committed to a negotiated settlement and urged the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to lay down arms before talks could be held. He assured the Prime Minister that all efforts were being made to ensure the safety of civilians and IDPs in conflict areas and food supply to the affected Tamil population was continuing uninterrupted.

Mr. Rajapaksa acknowledged India’s concern for the well-being of Tamil civilians caught in the battle between the armed forces and the LTTE, but said Colombo wanted to finish off the militant outfit before initiating political talks.
“We must eradicate terrorism first. We can’t pass this on to the next generation,” Mr. Rajapaksa observed. At the same time,. “We assure you. We assured the Prime Minister [Dr. Singh] and the entire world that we will look after the Tamils. Nothing will happen to them. We are looking after our people. It is my duty,” Mr. Rajapaksa told journalists after the meeting with Dr. Singh.

The Sri Lankan Government also issued a separate communique about the Singh - Rajapakse talks
Given below is the full text of the press release issued by the Sri Lanka High Commission in New Delhi:
President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka and Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh of India had a bilateral meeting on 13th November, on the margins of the Second BIMSTEC Summit being held on that same day in New Delhi. They were assisted in their discussion by their respective Foreign Ministers, Mr. Rohitha Bogollagama and Mr. Pranab Mukherjee.

The Indian Prime Minister expressed his appreciation for President Rajapaksa having sent to Delhi at the end of last month as a Special Envoy his Senior Advisor and Member of Parliament, Mr. Basil Rajapaksa. The Prime Minister added that the discussions on that occasion had been most constructive and that he valued the facilitatory arrangements expeditiously put in place by the Government of Sri Lanka, for the distribution of relief to the civilian population in the affected Districts of the Northern Province.

Having taken note of the Resolution adopted by the Tamil Nadu State Assembly on 12th November 2008 calling for a ceasefire in Sri Lanka, President Mahinda Rajapaksa emphasized that he and his administration have always been for a political solution.

However, it is the LTTE that repeatedly violated its obligations and embarked on a path of conflict and terror. Moreover, it is necessary to be mindful of the LTTE's past track record of using a ceasefire in order to re-group and re-arm, with no intention of a political solution. Accordingly, the Government will engage in discussions only if the LTTE lays down its arms first, thereby preventing the resumption of a another round of terrorism, as has always happened in the past.

President Rajapaksa emphasized that the Tamil people are very much a part of his responsibilities as the Head of State and Government and that he would take all measures for their safety, security and welfare. He pointed out in this regard that he had invited all opposition political parties to meet with him for a discussion on the situation. All had responded, with the exception of the TNA.

President Rajapaksa used the opportunity to brief his Indian counterpart on the current positive developments in the Eastern Province and the progressive empowerment of the provincial administration. He added that similarly democracy would be revitalized in the North as well through the electoral process, once that area is liberated from the terror of the LTTE.

Even at the present consultations were going ahead with the Commissioner of Elections on holding Municipal Council elections in Jaffna.

The two Leaders also had an useful discussion on the bilateral cooperation currently underway between India and Sri Lanka, including in the field of energy and power generation and in particular the progress being made in setting up of the NTPC - CEB Power Plant in Sampur in the Eastern Province.

November 12, 2008

LTTE Survival is Indian Insurance Policy against Sri Lanka

by T.S. Gopi Rethinaraj

The survival of the Tamil Tigers is India’s insurance policy against Sri Lanka swinging over to interests of powers that might seek to contain India in the Indian Ocean region. Now that the ethnic conflict has resurfaced as a factor in Tamil Nadu politics, India can ill afford to be seen as actively colluding with the Sinhalese to subjugate the ethnic Tamils. While the recent competitive jostling among political parties over this issue is largely due to fragile electoral alliances in the state, there is also growing public sympathy for Sri Lankan Tamils due to the grave humanitarian crisis generated by the military campaign against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

[Students forming a human chain to express solidarity with Sri Lankan Tamils amidst heavy downpour in Chennai - Oct 24, 2008-pic:Dinamani.com]

India has reached an impasse because of its stated policy to safeguard the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka and its unwillingness to recognise LTTE’s stand in the conflict. Unless India overcomes this fixation, the Sinhalese dispensation will continue to exploit New Delhi and pursue its agenda without inhibitions. India should also recognise that the Sinhalese majority is yet to show any inclination to moderate its racist vision for Sri Lanka’s future. Frequent reminders by Colombo’s ruling elite that the ethnic minority will have to accept the country as Sinhalese land only confirm that the ongoing war is not really about defeating the LTTE, but part of a larger strategy to Sinhalicise the entire island. The Sri Lankan government’s efforts to alter the demographic character of traditional Tamil areas, by settling Sinhalese peasants and creating high-security zones, are mainly to weaken the Tamil resolve.

Since the LTTE remains the only roadblock to this Sinhalese agenda, its military defeat will ultimately result in the political, social and psychological subjugation of Tamils living on the island. The Sri Lankan state has mostly achieved this objective in areas not under LTTE control. This is why I reiterate that once the LTTE is militarily defeated, India will lose leverage with Colombo. However, the LTTE leadership should also realise that the Sri Lankan Tamils’ best opportunity to secure an honourable settlement is till such time that they are militarily relevant and must, therefore, explore alternative ways to quickly resolve the ethnic conflict.

While the LTTE’s violent methods — forced recruitment, employment of child soldiers and unrelenting militancy — are repugnant, their largely ethical conduct in the civil war has gone almost unnoticed. The LTTE has been mostly fighting a defensive war, restricting their combat within what they perceive as traditional Tamil areas, and their guerrilla attacks have mostly targeted defence bases and security forces. This is in contrast to almost all other militant/terrorist organisations in the world which mainly target civilian infrastructure and inflict massive civilian casualties. Ironically, it is the Sri Lankan state that has been deploying its firepower and aerial bombing capabilities over civilian areas in the north, resulting in massive civilian casualties and damages to residences, hospitals, and other civilian infrastructure. Unlike its antagonists, the LTTE has rarely been accused or found guilty of rape and other crimes against women and children during combat. The conduct of the Sri Lankan state reveals that the ongoing military campaign has an almost genocidal streak, with the deliberate targeting of civilian areas mainly aimed to deter civilians from supporting the LTTE.

Within India, especially after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, there has been a carefully orchestrated portrayal of the LTTE as the source of all troubles in the island. While the LTTE’s role in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi deserves the strongest condemnation, that singular episode alone cannot be the basis for India’s Sri Lanka policy or for condemning Sri Lankan Tamils to eternal suffering. Suggestions that the emergence of an independent Tamil Eelam will hurt Indian security interests are disputable because its ethnic and political ties with India, through Tamil Nadu, will be much stronger than with a Sinhalese-dominated state. However, given a chance, most Sri Lankan Tamils will be happy to live under a greater Tamil Nadu — comprising traditional Tamil areas in the north and east of the island — as Indian citizens. But India failed to explore the option to integrate the north and east with Tamil Nadu when several opportunities presented that outcome before 1987.

The historical baggage — some of which dates back to pre-Christ times — also continues to remain a major impediment to a peaceful resolution of the conflict. The British failure to present a partition plan to accommodate political aspirations of the Sinhalese and Tamils allowed earlier historical grievances to fester.

The racism and blatant discrimination against Tamils in jobs, education and economic opportunities that produced the original conflict are still intact. Hence attempts to equate Sri Lanka’s ethnic problem with various insurgencies faced by India are not only inaccurate but an unfair characterisation of the Indian state.

Thus viewing Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict through the prism of Indian federalism is misleading. India has always been keen in ending the ethnic conflict by actively engaging with the Sinhalese, and has consistently advocated a federal solution to Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict. This, according to New Delhi’s assessment, would meet the aspirations of all ethnic groups in the island. But Colombo is not prepared to offer Tamils this proposed solution, which would anyway preserve Sinhalese political dominance in Sri Lanka. The failure to take into account this deep Sinhalese-Tamil divide explains the stagnation in India’s Sri Lanka policy.

Colombo has always keenly followed political undercurrents in India, especially within Tamil Nadu, and has been quite successful is driving a wedge between the concerns of Tamil Nadu politics and the central government. India’s succumbing to this contemporary scheming is, in the long run, deeply inimical to its interests and security. Unless India makes a course correction, some political parties are likely to exploit the situation to revive the long-forgotten separatist propaganda in Tamil Nadu. While the NDA government was more sensitive and remained equidistant from the two warring groups, the UPA government has been providing crucial military assistance to the Sri Lankan government. India’s current policy will inadvertently lead to complete subjugation of ethnic Tamils in the island.

India should not allow its long-term interests to be corroded because of the machinations of the Sinhalese and their Indian supporters, and put its own strategic interests at peril. India should intervene, as it did in East Pakistan, if Colombo does not show any sincerity in addressing the problem of Tamils and continues its deception.

(T.S. Gopi Rethinaraj is a faculty member at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore )

Nepal Teenager Worshipped As Buddha Re-incarnation

RATANPUR: The teenage boy revered as a reincarnation of Buddha sat silently in the jungle as he blessed his devotees on Wednesday with a light tap on the head, which they consider the touch of the divine.

[Ram Bahadur Bamjan, in white, believed to be the reincarnation of Buddha, blesses a Buddhist monk in Nijgadh town, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) south of Katmandu, Nepal, Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2008. Bamjan, 18, has re-emerged from the jungle in southern Nepal, attracting thousands of devotees, officials said Tuesday. After retreating into the jungle for more than a year, he re-emerged Monday-AP Photo: Binod Joshi, via Yahoo! News]

His face was still, his long hair spilled over his white robe, and he never said a word.

The followers of Ram Bahadur Bamjan, 18, believe he has been meditating without food and water since he was first spotted in the jungles of southern Nepal in 2005, when believers say he spent months without moving, sitting with his eyes closed beneath a tree.

Bamjan re-emerged this week to meet his followers, who have come by the thousands to see him in the jungles of Ratanpur, about 160 km south of Kathmandu.

“I got a chance to see god today,” Bishnu Maya Khadka, a housewife, said after receiving Bamjan’s blessing on Wednesday.Bamjan was expected to address his followers on November 18 and then retreat again into the jungle for meditation, said Kamal Tamang, a Buddhist priest.

Bamjan received the pilgrims from atop a podium covered in yellow cloth and placed before a massive tree. He looked healthy and strong and showed no signs of starvation or dehydration.

The devotees who have flocked to visit him have fewer doubts. Colourful prayer flags fluttered and incense filled the air Wednesday as the pilgrims silently approached Bamjan, who was surrounded by a line of Buddhist monks.

“I have no doubt in my mind he is a god,” said Meg Bahadur Lama, a local farmer. “He has been meditating without food and water and no human can achieve such a feat. I used to hear about such miracles in the past but now I got to see one.” — AP

NGOs and the victim industry

By Bernard Hours

The misadventures of the French charity Zoe’s Ark in Chad early last year (1) finally opened to question the motives and morality of aid agencies. For the first time an organisation was criticised in the media, rather than lauded for its good intentions. The humanitarian industry’s success made it inevitable its power would be abused. After the 2004 Southeast Asian tsunami, people had begun to question whether non-governmental organisations had the competence to administer the huge amounts of money they received.

The ideology behind humanitarian aid depends on three principles. There must be universal human rights – a worthy premise, but problematic. You create victims whom you can save. Then you assert the right to have access to these victims.

Universal human rights, to health, education and security, make humanitarian aid legitimate. But who embodies these rights? Not the political citizen of the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man, but a physical body who must be saved from famine, epidemics and natural disasters. This body is the target of emergency aid (Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) has become its international symbol). The right to life is a product of the late 20th century, the “humanitarian age” which began with the presence of the Red Cross/Red Crescent, but developed in the depoliticised and moralising 1980s.

To what extent is the victim the subject of aid or the object? A victim’s dignity is abstract, and depends on the situation (living in a refugee camp, for example). A human being has a status, but being a victim is merely a state. Victims are anonymous and interchangeable, passive players in the emotive campaign leaflets of NGOs. The relationship between rescuers and rescued is, by its nature, unequal.

Most people do not see themselves as victims but as individuals confronting a crisis. Filipinos flattened by typhoons or Bangladeshis wading through floodwaters are dealing with a crisis which they see as part of their human destiny; they are dignified people living in a dangerous part of the world. It’s others who see them as victims. Ambulances come only when you call them: aid agencies just turn up and declare an emergency. They save lives, but on their own terms.

It is interesting to look at how the number of victims in any disaster is calculated, or roughly estimated, to see how much intervention is justified. Countries in Latin America tend to overestimate in order to make it onto the global humanitarian agenda, as was the case when Cyclone Mitch struck Central America in 1998. Burma, and China after this year’s earthquake, do the opposite.

Humanitarian aid workers claim they have a duty to intervene, and demand unrestricted access to victims. But this “right to interfere” has turned out to be more of a political problem for governments than a victory for humanity. It emerged at the end of the 1980s, at a time when western ideals of democracy could have appeared universal. That is no longer the case. It is not so easy to export western ideals now that economic growth has switched hemispheres.

In China and Russia, with their authoritarian regimes, and many other countries, humanitarian intervention is perceived as political interference. Aid workers are being held responsible for local unrest, particularly where states are weak, and subject to international supervision. In Haiti, people throw stones in protest at well-paid foreigners driving 4x4s, or kidnap them for ransom.

Aid workers targeted

This year two members of Action Against Hunger (Action internationale contre la faim, ACF) were abducted in Afghanistan, and three volunteers with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) were killed, with their driver. Several ACF workers were killed in Sri Lanka in 2006, and MSF volunteers have been kidnapped in Dagestan and in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the past three years. These attacks tend to take place in conflict zones when NGOs work beside military forces or international peacekeepers. Being an aid worker no longer guarantees safety in the Palestinian territories, Eritrea, Sudan, Yemen, Sri Lanka or Darfur. It’s worse in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The problem is that this sort of intervention lacks political legitimacy. It presupposes that an imaginary global civil society gives a mandate to groups to intervene, and that these groups have no nationality, ideology or agenda of their own. It denies the fact that humans are territorial, political beings, living within sovereign states.

The financial crisis of global capitalism is making sovereign states stronger. This is likely to further weaken NGOs’ “right to interfere”, especially since strong states provide humanitarian aid, and weak states receive it.

The contradictions continue. The Zoe’s Ark farce underlines the central role of the pretext of saving life, which in this case was a lie. And it shows up the absurdity of political leaders who tried to make political capital out of it. Although most people involved are genuine, the humanitarian industry abuses the spectacle of other people’s misfortune. Young people stand outside 
metro stations aggressively marketing NGOs and charities as if they were brands of toothpaste. But the public is suffering from donor fatigue, from having their heartstrings tugged so often by so many causes.

The state steps in

For a long time aid work was controlled by NGOs like MSF, Médecins du Monde, and ACF. But in the 1990s governments became directly involved, ending naivety within the voluntary sector. Claude Malhuret, mayor of Vichy for Sarkozy’s centre-right UMP party, and Bernard Kouchner, now the foreign minister, became France’s first ministers with responsibility for humanitarian action (in 1986 and 1988 respectively). They made the role of NGOs official and institutionalised. As medical doctors, and in the name of human rights, both had been involved in the fight against Soviet totalitarianism in Afghanistan.

But the end of the cold war meant no one could pretend human rights was an apolitical concept: with the collapse of the Soviet Union, it became apparent that the United States had secretly financed many pro-democracy, anti-totalitarian groups . Kouchner and Malhuret, when they became government ministers, had to tone down their rhetoric. Since then, the humanitarian industry has had less campaigning zeal to get involved with problems in undemocratic countries. Even so, the recent disasters in Burma and China and the events in Tibet show the persistence of trying to export western democracy.

Governments view humanitarian aid as a strategic battleground where their military forces can operate alongside doctors, to the great displeasure of the doctors.

Multilateral organisations, such as the European Union, finance largescale programmes; the UN funds peacekeeping operations. All these players flood the poorest countries, overlap and fail to coordinate with each other, creating chaos rather than order.

Governments and multilateral organisations cannot allow voluntary organisations to have a monopoly on solidarity and generosity.

So humanitarian work has become a world of populist politicians; tired, concerned professionals; international funders caught in a bureaucratic, financial rationale; and suspicious or blasé donors who prefer local causes. The circus follows the show – the misfortune of others – a media product in ever greater demand.

Laundering profits

The aid industry is central to the current globalisation of ideology. Global capitalism must launder the profits from its exploitation. The harsh demands of this unregulated world – child labour, increased production, unpaid overtime – must be disguised. The huge number of people who suffer from these forms of social violence are rarely identified as victims. Governments, businesses and donors are paying a moral tax, trying to claim they are part of a moral humanity, through their pledges of morality, pseudo-transparency and charity.

The world of humanitarian aid is post political. NGOs are in the morality business, producing token measures to appease the conscience. The 20th century was concerned with the social questions. The 21st will have to deal with the victims of natural disasters, and the social rejects of the market economy. Professionals and voluntary workers try to plug the leaks in this sinking ship. What they do is useful and generous, but it’s not the solution. Aid work, by focusing on the struggle against poverty, has, in part, eclipsed development. It is like using first aid to treat a disease.

The ideology of aid uses distress to mask injustice, and offers a meagre existence, little more than survival, where only the dying receive help. Is this moral or humane? Contrary to the aspirations of the Enlightenment, it legitimises the idea of a world divided between the successful and the weak. This way of dealing with disaster contributes to a global apartheid, where people are subject to a global moral order.

In the North, constant images of disaster are used as a political tool to encourage us to forget about the social struggles of the past. We live in a world of emotion which seems to eclipse any real sense of injustice: the defeated may rebel, but it is the victims who make you cry; they are worse off than you. Compassion produces little more than indignation, and it obstructs rebellion.

(Bernard Hours is an anthropologist and director of research at the Institut de recherche pour le développement and co-author, with Niagale Bagayoko Penone, of Etats, ONG et production des normes sécuritaires dans les pays du Sud (L’Harmattan, Paris, 2005. This article appearing in "Le Monde Diplomatique" was translated into English by Stephanie Irvine)

November 11, 2008

Sri Lanka: The State Changes Face

by Jayadeva Uyangoda
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During the course of the 25-yearlong civil war, the Sri Lankan state has changed character, which is now manifest very sharply. Sri Lanka has become a national security state where civil and political rights remain suspended, where the civil-military relationship has changed and the military has been accorded greater say. The ethnic communal and majoritarian nature of the state is also now very apparent.

MC Sri Lanka October 2008 236

[Galle Face, Colombo - pic: taken Oct 25, 2008 by: Michelle Covington]

The idea of Sri Lanka as a multiethnic and multi-religious society is one which the establishment refuses to accept. Sri Lanka’s raging war between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has given rise to a host of public debates and controversies. The constant revision of the military’s deadlines to “defeat” the LTTE in battle has raised serious misgivings about the Rajapakse administration’s understanding of the nature of the country’s protracted civil war.

The government’s cavalier attitude to the human rights and humanitarian consequences of the war and its hostile attitude to the international actors who raised concerns have to some extent isolated the regime internationally. The English-speaking spokesmen (they are all men with beards!) of the government seem to believe that they can intimidate regional and global powers into submission on humanitarian issues. Meanwhile, the sorry fate of the Tamil civilians who are caught in the cross-fire has caused much political controversy in Tamil Nadu. It seems that the Tamil Nadu political parties have suddenly woken up to a reality that they had forgotten: their central government has been aiding and abetting a warring party that treats the Tamil citizens in a particularly degrading manner.

Controversial Statement

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s army commander has also created a controversy by pouring out his heart to a Canadian newspaper. In an interview, he has said, among other things, that Sri Lanka belonged to the majority Sinhalese nation and that the ethnic minorities should not put forward “unjust” demands. Two issues have been highlighted in the ensuing public controversy.

The first is about whether it was proper for the army commander to make political statements, a function which is usually reserved for civilian politicians. The second is about the political incorrectness of the statement itself when one considers the fact that Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country. Muslim and Tamil political parties in the opposition and civil society activists have expressed their shock over this statement. According to them, only extreme Sinhalese nationalists believe Sri Lanka to “belong” to the Sinhalese. How, as critics pointed out, can the head of the country’s army make such an outrageous statement while an ethnic civil war was going on?

There is also another way to look at this controversy. The army chief’s statement, however outrageous and politically incorrect it appears, actually demonstrates some of the dynamics of the politics of Sri Lanka’s ongoing war. Two of them can be easily discerned. The first is that the army chief makes important political statements, not because he has forgotten that he is a military man, but because he is a military man. He knows that the traditional civil-military division of labour in the country has now been altered. It has been altered under conditions of the present war of which he is a leading stakeholder. The second is that the Sri Lankan state is both ethnic majoritarian and communal, a tendency which has resurfaced quite strongly under conditions of the present war.

Supremacy of Military

Concerning the first, it needs to be noted that Sri Lanka no longer seems to be an exceptional “third world democracy” in which the military is strictly under the civilian control. Twenty-five years of protracted internal war seems to have changed that old equation in favour of the defence establishment. This process began slowly during president Chandrika Kumaratunga’s time when she created the space for the military establishment to influence political decisions concerning the war against the LTTE .

Quite symbolic of this change, she allowed her civilian deputy defence minister, an ex-colonel in the volunteer army who happened to be her uncle, to wear the military uniform. She even promoted him to the rank of general in the regular army! Under the present president, things have gone a little further. President Rajapakse has appointed his younger brother, an ex-colonel in the regular army, to the position of defence secretary. He does not wear the military uniform though. Thus, the conduct of the war in Sri Lanka continues to be a mini family affair as well.

This lighter side of it apart, political observers of Sri Lanka can hardly fail to notice the way in which the Sri Lankan state has undergone a qualitative change in the context of the civil war, the clear signs of which have become visible only recently. Sri Lanka now is a full-blown “national security state”.

Under the continuing emergency regulations and the prevention of terrorism law, most of the political and civil rights remain suspended. Emergency law has actually become the normal law of the land. Unlike in the past, the defence establishment now controls all aspect of the war, including how it is reported in the media, and how it is even commented on by professional analysts. Journalists and commentators avoid even mild criticism of the military establishment for fear of severe consequences. In the past, it was civilian politicians who controlled the media, who restricted the civil and political rights. Now it is the military that takes an activist role in these matters while civilian politicians only defend what the military decides and does.

There is no other state institution, not even the judiciary, to act as a check on the defence establishment, because of the position of supremacy maintained by the latter. In short, the defence establishment has stepped into the domain of governance at par with the office of the president, and this is a new development. Sri Lanka’s cabinet is a grotesquely overgrown entity, with over 100 civilian ministers. But such a huge cabinet is not an actual power centre. Parliament has long ceased to be a centre of power. There are actually two power centres at present – the president and the defence establishment. They are mutually dependent. That is the equilibrium under which the national security state has developed in Sri Lanka.

Ethnic Majoritarianism

On the question of the majoritarian communal nature of the state, the Sri Lankan state has always been an ethnic majoritarian and communal one. That is why Sri Lanka produced a deadly ethnic civil war in the early 1980s. But, there has also been a parallel political process in Sri Lanka in the direction of making the state multi-ethnic and pluralist by means of reforming the state. But Sri Lanka’s political, bureaucratic, military, and media establishments have never been convinced about the multi-ethnic and pluralistic argument.

Sri Lanka’s continuing failure to reform the state on its own in order to accommodate ethnic minority demands for state power sharing is not an accident. The only state reform initiative implemented in 1987 had to come from outside. India imposed it on Sri Lanka by force, because the majoritarian communal state was refusing to reform itself voluntarily.

That continues to be Sri Lanka’s problem even today.

The present war, along with incessant propaganda about an imminent victory of the Lions over the Tigers, has given a new relevance to the popular Sinhalese belief that “this land belongs to us, the Sinhalese”. An ethnic war has to be, and is, a communal war. And when political leadership in the country has abandoned the search for a political solution in favour of a military one, the military can only tell the world what politicians are still afraid to admit in public – “this land belongs to us, the Sinhalese; minorities better behave as minorities.”

Meanwhile, I learned a very good lesson about ethnic majoritarianism recently. I believed for quite some time that ethnic majoritarianism is a political condition that the political leaders of the majority community impose by means of coercion on the ethnic minorities. It accords an unequal, at best second class, status to the minorities. Minorities do not accept majoritarianism and they resist it. That is why ethnic conflicts flare up. Observing how the Tamil and Muslim political parties in Sri Lanka have come to accept the second class and unequal status with great pleasure, I changed, realising that my understanding of majoritarianism was an incomplete one.

I now know that ethnic majoritarianism is not necessarily coercive. It has a strong element of consent of the minorities, or at least their political leaders. Majoritarianism is completed when the political representatives of the minorities accept, with happiness and even in intense competition with each other, the condition of inequality. They do so in exchange of other benefits which are usually couched in the respectable language of “development assistance to our community”.

That is what the 25 years of civil war has done to the minority rights project in Sri Lanka.

(Jayadeva Uyangoda teaches political science at the University of Colombo, Sri Lanka .This article appeared in the Economic & Political Weekly, 25 October 2008)

November 10, 2008

Operational Developments in the Eelam War

by Col R Hariharan 

Operational fronts 

The security forces put two weeks of sunny weather to good use, advancing their offensive further both along the Mannar coast and the axis Akkarayankulam-Kilinochchi, southwest of the administrative capital of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). According to the security sources Task Force-I formed out of 58 Division advancing on a broad front south east of A32 Mannar-Pooneryn axis are six km short of Pooneryn on October 10, 2008. They came under heavy LTTE resistance at Palayilkulam and Uruthirapuram on way.

The LTTE appears to be reducing its strength in Pooneryn.  It is reported to have pulled out its three 130 mm How guns from Kalmunai point in the Pooneryn salient. This would indicate that the LTTE would then pull out from Pooneryn in small trickles even as it resists the advancing forces.  

The LTTE have the options to infiltrate into Jaffna peninsula and the Kayts Island group,  and Kilinochchi. The Kilinochchi option might not come through as the Task Force-I is moving to cut off Pooneryn - Paranthan road which joins the A9 Kandy-Jaffna highway. We can expect the navy to come into action in the last phase of Pooneryn operations both to contain and hunt down the LTTE cadres getting out through the lagoons around Pooneryn. The navy is reported to have deployed special boat squadrons to prevent such    moves of LTTE. 

The capture of Pooneryn would open up the A32 maintenance route to Jaffna in the coming weeks through the Sangupiddy ferry, relieving a major burden on the security forces in providing air and sea logistic support to Jaffna administration. After shifting from Kalmunai, the LTTE guns would not be able to engage Palali airfield and Jaffna forces headquarters. 

57 Division advancing west of A9 captured by October 6 the well sited Akkarayankulam defence complex after three weeks of intermittent operations. It also claimed to have neutralized the long bund obstacle after fighting a few bitter battles. Its progress is slow due to strong opposition from the LTTE as well as heavy booby trapping of the route of advance. Forces of 57 Division are said to have reached Kokkavil on the A9 highway increasing the pressure on Kilinochchi. 57 Division is said to be consolidating itself 9 km southwest of Kilinochchi beyond Akkarayankulam.

In a bid to prevent any intrusion of the eastern flank of 57 Division from the LTTE, which is dominating the A9 highway from Mankulam to Kokkavil, the Army Commander Lt Gen Sarath Fonseka inducted the newly created Task force-III into this area. The task force, a weak division, operating parallel to the A9 highway on the west is said to have gained control of three km stretch of road from Mankulam northwards. This operation further increases the options available to Gen Fonseka to further progress the offensive.    

LTTE's options 

The increase in force levels of the security forces following the induction of Task Force-III has further reduced the options available to the LTTE to launch a counter offensive at a place of its choosing. After the fall of Pooneryn, the Sea Tiger operations also would be curtailed if not stopped along western coast from Mannar to Southern Jaffna coast.    

So the LTTE will do what it knows best. Increase its guerrilla operations - the whole bouquet of sneak raids, suicide bombings, and killings - making them more deadly, catching the security forces on the back foot well away from the battlefield. The recent air strikes on Kelaniya power station and Thalladi military base in Mannar district are examples of such efforts. The air strikes succeeded because the air force elements in the rear areas were not mentally ready for taking on the wily LTTE intruder. For this purpose the LTTE is trying out novel methods to smuggle in material for  suicide bombings and raids particularly in the eastern province and in Vavuniya district. Attacks on TMVP cadres and the STF, attributed to the LTTE have also increased in the east. However, so far the LTTE had not been able to disturb the government focus on war or trigger any major change in operational situation.  

As pressure is building up on Kilinochchi defences, the LTTE could beef them up with cadres from Muhamalai front. Perhaps to prevent this possibility, 53 Division from Muhamalai had been keeping an offensive posture carrying out small but sharp attacks on the LTTE's forward defence lines. There is a strong possibility that the LTTE had already thinned out a major strength from Pooneryn along with the long range artillery moved out earlier. This would enable to strengthen the LTTE core strength in area Kilinochchi up to forward lines of Muhamalai front in the north. Thus the LTTE's sphere of operations is likely to be further constricted as more sunny days are predicted by weather watchers. 

The recent 'reiteration' LTTE's readiness for ceasefire made by Nadesan, the political head of the LTTE, should be seen in this operational context. It is likely the LTTE would play its political strong suite with the Tamil Nadu card with emphasis on ceasefire as the core theme in Prabhakaran's Maveerar Day (Heroes Day) address in two weeks time. If the LTTE announces a unilateral ceasefire, the Tamil Nadu politicians' call for a ceasefire would get a new lease of life brushing aside the cynicism clouding the political moves in Tamil Nadu. That could create a lot of embarrassment for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi.  If this is calculus is in the thoughts of Sri Lanka, we might see a large scale escalation of offensive in most of the war fronts in the coming two weeks.   

Battle Casualties

According to the details given in Sri Lanka parliament, during last month the security forces suffered 171 killed and 1122 injured in operations, most of them around the Akkarayan defence complex. In comparison, during the operations in July 2008 the security forces lost 106 men and 662 were wounded. The large increase in the security forces casualties would indicate the fierce resistance put up by the LTTE.  According to security sources the LTTE suffered nearly 700 killed, more than four times suffered by the security forces  in the same period in October 2008.  

Though these figures have not been verified by other sources, it is clear that casualties are hurting the LTTE more than the security forces as their overall strength and bank of recruits are much less. With the continuing exodus of civilians from the war affected areas, the LTTE would probably press more people of all ages into the war effort. This would further increase civilian casualties.  

The morale of hardcore LTTE fighters defending the approaches to Kilinochchi is apparently still high as indicated by their ability to inflict high casualties on the troops, despite their own loss of men and territory. On the other hand, the security forces appear to be mentally prepared to press ahead with the offensive regardless of their casualties. 

Lt Gen Sarath Fonseka, the Army Commander, in an interview claimed that 80 percent of the operation against the LTTE was over. Yet he estimated the LTTE strength at 12000. (In my own estimate, the LTTE strength of 12000 if accurate would probably be made up of 4000 hardcore cadres, and 2000-3000 young recruits. The rest are probably civilian auxiliaries pressed into service.) This appears to contradict the success claimed in the so called war strategy of attrition and annihilation of the LTTE. The government for the time being is probably only aiming to regain control over major parts of LTTE controlled north and open up a land based logistic route to Jaffna peninsula than carry on the war of attrition forever against the LTTE. 

Veracity of information 

The battle zones in the north are closed to independent media.Now international NGOs operating in the area have also vacated under the orders of the government. The only major source of information on operations is the defence spokesman and the government media. Under the new government regulatory dispensation for media, even the state TV is reported to be undergoing live censor. The LTTE, a closed organization, usually does not report the whole truth on casualties or operational details. Now the LTTE propaganda and media organs are mostly silent on the war. They are giving little additional information. So all operational assessments now suffer from a lack of verification through independent and unbiased sources of information  

Despite this handicap and the asymmetry of insurgency environment, operational analysis follows inevitable military logic and reasoning on which warfare is based. By this yardstick, however much the information sources are suspect, a few home truths can be ferreted out in the present war situation in Sri Lanka. This tells us the LTTE has lost a major portion of its territory in the north and the whole of the east since January 2006. In the course of this, the LTTE has suffered heavy casualties, many times more than the security forces tally. Overall, the LTTE is now poised to lose its vital grip on the Jaffna peninsula's logistics jugular. In times to come this would reduce LTTE's influence on Tamils, provided their grievances are attended to by the government. Only time will tell whether the government would seize the opportunity, instead of talking only in terms of attrition, because so many such opportunities in the past were frittered away.


Obama, The New America and Sri Lanka Tomorrow

By Dayan Jayatilleka

Watching the live coverage of the US elections on as many channels as possible—but mainly on Al Jazeera International—I discovered I had mixed emotions, corresponding perhaps to the various aspects of my identity. I was delighted as an individual, a political analyst and academic, a friend of the United States (though a critic of its foreign policy) and a citizen of the world.

our bonds of affection

Some of this was for political and ideological reasons, reasons of values, others for egoistic ones. Former US Asst Secretary of State for South Asia Christina Rocca, now US ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament here in Geneva refers to me jokingly as a “registered Democrat”. This much is true: I have always known that had I been a US citizen I would have been one, just as I would have been a Labour voter or Social Democrat had I been European or Australian. In 2004 I wrote in support of John Kerry, whatever the implications of a Kerry win for Sri Lanka . (When in Australia I supported Kevin Rudd even before he took over the Labour Party). So in terms of ideas, I was inspired by Obama just as my father had been by JFK. I mourned at morning prayer with the rest of my school when JFK died, and shed a tear in a Belgrade hotel when Bobby was shot in 1968.

My ego also came into play in celebrating Obama’s historic victory. I had stuck my neck out here in Geneva among my more experienced ambassadorial colleagues many months ago, predicting an Obama win even before his nomination as the Democratic candidate. My positive references to him, over a dozen on the record, date back to March 2007 (in a Daily News interview) and resume in March 2008 (at the HRC in Geneva), when Hillary was still the front runner and John McCain was ahead nationwide, having sewed up his nomination early. All this was well before the financial crisis hit.

Historically, Barack Obama is a grandson of Nelson Mandela and son of Dr. Martin Luther King. His values, ideas and personality resonate with my wife and me, just as we warm to his wonderful family. He is to me what JFK was to my father.

However, my purely Sri Lankan side is anxious and sad. I am as happy for the USA as I am sad for Sri Lanka ; sad at the contrast between the quality of politics, political discourse, and social dynamics between the US and my country. Sad at the dangerous distance we must travel to approximate anything like the plane of political and social evolution that the US has arrived at. It wasn’t always so. When I was a boy, my father’s generation and social stratum admired John F Kennedy, but there was a sense of superiority because of the scenes in Alabama , where Dr King’s protests against segregation were met with fire hoses and Alsatian dogs. But that was then, this is now. How far the US has come since that time, and how far back we Sri Lankans have gone.

I remind myself that all those Sri Lankan personalities, Sinhala and Tamil, who were bridge builders and who could have been transitional to the Obama age and standards, were murdered by the extremists of North and South, by the LTTE and the JVP. These range from Lakshman Kadirgamar and Neelan Tiruchelvam to Vijaya Kumaratunga and Ranasinghe Premadasa. I tell myself that this war is the chief evil we must overcome. It is the test of the day, the challenge faced by my generation, a conditio sine qua non for any social advance, just as winning the US Civil war against the Secessionist South was the precondition for everything the US has achieved, right up to the election of Barack Obama.

That reminder doesn’t work all the time and takes me only part of the way. The war didn’t spring out of nowhere. We must win the war, but remove also the policies and attitudes that brought it about, and install those policies and attitudes that will let us catch up with the world or at least the rest of Asia in this 21st century. These changes have to take place in two interlinked domains: the construction of identity, and the content of education.

Let’s face the truth, which is twofold: Barack Obama will fight Al Qaeda and the Taliban because they attacked the USA , just as he would have fought any attempt at secession, as did his great hero Abraham Lincoln. He is no Jimmy Carter, a Democratic ‘dove’. We Sri Lankans are fully justified in fighting a war to defeat Tiger terrorism and separatism at the hands of which we have suffered many 9/11s, big and small. Furthermore of Sri Lanka ’s two main political parties, one is elitist, affiliated itself with the Republicans, adheres to and practiced economic neo-liberalism and has a leader who is a personal friend of President Bush and Senator McCain—and that ain’t the SLFP and Mahinda Rajapakse.

Therefore, the cosmopolitans of Colombo have no moral right to misrepresent and misuse the Obama win, preach their policies of appeasement and pacifism, practice their social elitism and continue to tail behind the UNP. Obama is different: a former community organizer who stands for “Main Street not Wall Street”, for the middle classes, and as he said in his victory speech in Chicago, for “patriotism” and “the working people”.

But that’s only one side of the truth. The other side is that the US has rejected and defeated precisely those attitudes that led us into our war and are still very audible and visible in Sri Lankan society today. There is a strong symmetry between the views of the right wing or conservative Religious Right of the defeated Republican Party—a lobby that captured and wrecked the Republicans – and those of the Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinist parties and pressure groups in politics, the media and civil society.

The American people have decisively endorsed Obama’s message that “there are no real Americans and fake Americans, no areas of the country that are more patriotic than others”. The American spirit, unlike the Sri Lankan, is one that is not trapped by the past but reaches out to forge and fashion the future. The American identity is one that celebrates unity in diversity, one that is broad and inclusive, open to change.

As Barack Obama said in a speech and essay on Lincoln in 2005: “…in all this we see a fundamental element of the American character, a belief that we can constantly remake ourselves to fit our larger dreams”.

To me the key words here are “constantly”, “remake” and “larger”.

These are the open secrets that have made the USA the superpower that it is.

The definition of the American nation is a broad one, pluralist, generous; one which is not straitjacketed; does not insist that any single culture be recognized as dominant. What is the definition of the Sri Lankan nation, of the Sri Lankan identity? Will it remain narrowly defined and unequal, mired in a version of the past? We either stagnate or remake ourselves to fit not the larger but the narrower dreams (and definitions) of the more ungenerous, ill-educated, fanatical and raucous. In clinging to “us” and “them” (in ethnic, ethno-religious or majority-minority terms) there emerges no common “we”. In clinging to our yesterdays we blight our today and forfeit our tomorrows.

Here’s another bitter truth which made me sad as I watched the Obama triumph, applauded as it was by the rest of the world. Barack Obama writes that his values were those of the Democratic Party. Sri Lanka never had one, nor did it have the equivalent of British Labour or European Social democracy. What we have had are two versions of the US Republicans or the British Conservatives: one party taking over the mantle of national security, the war on terror and cultural conservatism, and the other the manifesto of economic neo-liberalism. One formation was partial to religious fundamentalism the other to free market fundamentalism. Even the exceptions couldn’t really break the mould: Mr. Premadasa was more sympathetic to John Major than to Bill Clinton and Chandrika Kumaratunga talked about it but for 12 years never got around to tapping her excellent contacts with the Clintons and French socialist leaders to affiliate the SLFP either with the US Democrats or the European democratic Left. The only man who might have, Vijaya Kumaratunga was shot dead on his doorstep in view of his little children, by a JVP gunman who emptied a full banana clip into his chest and face.

We know what’s right about the USA . We must figure what’s wrong with us. And what we are going to do about it. I shan’t be entering a debate in print on this. I just think we should start a conversation. The American people responded to Barack Obama’s slogan “Yes, We Can” and now proudly claim “Yes, We Did”. The question before Sri Lanka is: “Can We?”

(These are the strictly personal views of the writer).

American People Make History, Can We Sri Lankans Ever?

By Muttukrishna Sarvananthan

 

In April 2008 I met an American national in Colombo who works for the World Bank in Washington, DC. At that time both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were contesting for the Democratic Party Presidential nomination and John McCain was already the sole contender for the Republican Party Presidential nomination. When we conversed about the upcoming American Presidential election he told me that, although in his opinion John McCain was too old for the office of the President, he believed American people are still not “ready” for a woman or non-white person to become the President of the United States.

 

 

 

[President Candidacy Announcement, Springfield, IL, Feb 10, 2007 - www.barackobama.com] 

His prognosis was proved wrong on November 04th when the American people made history by electing their first African American President. I was fortunate to be just a few blocks away from the White House to witness this historic moment of the American people; minority communities in particular who overwhelmingly voted for Barack Obama. My thoughts went back home; can we Sri Lankans ever make the same epic history? I remembered the pronunciations by heads of two pillars of the Sri Lankan state, viz. the chief executive and the head of the armed forces. In 1994, the then President of Sri Lanka claimed that the minority communities are mere branches of the majority Sinhalese community. Just a couple of months ago, in September 2008, the chief of the Sri Lanka Army said that Sri Lanka belongs to the Sinhalese (majority community) and minority communities should not demand “too much”.

 

It is not that this kind of racial supremacy exists in Sri Lanka alone; it is all over the world, but America has crossed this supremacist disposition on November 04th 2008. United Kingdom is an example of the supremacism of the majority community, viz. the English. I still vividly remember the national elections of 1992 when John Major of the Conservative Party (incumbent Prime Minister) and Neil Kinnock of the Labour Party (Opposition Leader) were contending for Premiership, while I was a postgraduate student in the UK. Whilst most opinion polls showed a very close run between the two parties, on the day of the election (April 09th) The Sun newspaper (the most popular tabloid at that time) had a banner headline and lead story that was widely believed to have contributed to the loss of the Labour Party and its leader Neil Kinnock at that election. The Sun asked the British people to switch off their lights in order to mark dark times ahead if a “Welshman”, Neil Kinnock, was elected. Despite moving his Labour Party away from leftwing politics, Neil Kinnock lost to John Major largely due to his ethnicity, I believe. Even now, there are undercurrents of racism whipped up by certain media (and perhaps by certain sections of the Conservative Party as well) against the incumbent Prime Minister Gordon Brown who is a Scotsman. These experiences indicate that it is a Herculean task for a person other than English to be elected Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. In this respect, American people have proved to be above the rest in the World.

 

The case of Sri Lanka is different from the United States or the United Kingdom at least in one important respect. In the case of African Americans, Scottish or the Welsh, they by and large speak the language of the majority community and their religion is by and large the same as that of the majority community (different denominations of Christianity notwithstanding). Whereas in the case of Sri Lanka, Tamil and Muslim minority communities by and large speak a different language and follow different religions than the majority community. Thus, whilst the majority community speaks Sinhalese and is largely Buddhist, Tamils and Moors speak Tamil and are largely Hindu and Muslim respectively.

 

Nevertheless, the demographic composition of the United States is almost the same as in Sri Lanka; in the former the majority community accounts for 73% of the total population (minority communities account for 27%) and in the latter it is 74% (minority communities account for 26%). In spite of the differences in ethnicity, a common language binds the people of America (religious sectarianisms notwithstanding), which is not the case in Sri Lanka. Having said that, the differences between the United States and Sri Lanka go beyond the differences in languages or religions of the peoples of these two countries. It is more to do with the fundamental differences in the governance structures of the two countries: for example, America is a federal state while Sri Lanka is a unitary state; America does not have a state religion whereas Sri Lanka does. Moreover, affirmative action programmes have made America an inclusive society (notwithstanding enduring discrimination in many respects even now), whereas in Sri Lanka lukewarm implementation of the dual official language policy and discrimination in education and employment opportunities have alienated the minority communities. These are some of the fundamental differences between the two countries.

 

United States

Sri Lanka

Ethnicity

Share in the population

Ethnicity

Share in the population

American

73%

Sinhalese

74%

African American

12%

Tamils - E&N

10%

Hispanic

11 %

Moors

8%

 

 

Tamils - hill country

6%

Others

4%

Others

2%

TOTAL

100%

 

100%

 

Ironically, by and large it is the Western educated and/or domiciled elites of the Sri Lankan society (from both the majority and minority communities) who have been and are insular and retrogressive. The foregoing is evident when one reads the views and opinions of the writers to the Sri Lankan media (or the diaspora media – both electronic and print – in Europe and North America), both English and vernacular language ones. Remember that person with a Doctorate from the London University who crafted the Republican Constitution of 1972, which proclaimed Buddhism as the state religion of Sri Lanka. Many racist propagandists, bureaucrats, policy advisors and members of parliament of the current Sri Lankan regime are either citizens or dual-citizens of Western countries, particularly America and Australia. Similarly, by and large, it is the Tamil citizens of several western countries who were/are advisors to and apologists of the LTTE fascism. It is these exclusivists who are prominent contributors to popular Tamil newspapers in Sri Lanka and diaspora media.

 

Both the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the chief of the Sri Lanka Army have sent their children to Europe (England & Ireland) and United States respectively for higher education. The children, siblings and relatives of top leaders of the LTTE and the State are citizens or permanent residence of one of the European, North American or Australasian countries. While it was reported that the chief of Sri Lanka Army is an American green card holder and the Defence Secretary is an American citizen, I wouldn’t be surprised if the LTTE leader (along with some other top rung leaders) has an open invitation to be a citizen of Norway and/or any other Scandinavian country.

 

World should also remember that the widow of the chief ideologue of the LTTE and self-confessed perpetrator of crimes against humanity and war criminal, Mrs. Adele Balasingham, is a British citizen. She has confessed publicly, both in writing and verbally, that she was the one who set up the women’s brigades of the LTTE, largely drawn from underage girls conscripted from schools in the Eastern and Northern parts of Sri Lanka. In spite of these self-confessions, Adele Balasingham lives and continues to propagate the fascist ideals of the LTTE from her South London residence (most probably bought with criminal money). Would this not make the British State complicit in crimes against humanity and war crimes in Sri Lanka? Parents of innocent Tamil children crucified in the battlefield in the name of liberation, spouses and parents of Tamils who have ‘disappeared’, and others from both the majority and minority communities who have endured violation of their fundamental rights in the cause of “humanitarian war” would one day seek justice from the American and British States whose citizens or residents could have been complicit in such heinous crimes against humanity.

 

Can the offsprings of the supremacists of both the State and the non-State in Sri Lanka convince and free their respective fathers out of their insular mindsets? Could the enigma of Barack Obama prick the conscience of the State and the non-State powers that be in Sri Lanka? Can the exemplary message of the American people inspire the general public in Sri Lanka (irrespective of ethnic affiliation) to break out of the shackles of parochialism, communalism and fascism?

 

If you need inspiration watch and listen to the Obama victory song ……It’s A New Day… at http://www.thecelebritytruth.com/william-debuts-song-obama/004969

 

Muttukrishna Sarvananthan, Ph.D. (Wales) M.Sc. (Bristol) M.Sc. (Salford) B.A. (Hons) (Delhi), is the Principal Researcher of the Point Pedro Institute of Development, Point Pedro, Northern Sri Lanka and a Fulbright Visiting Research Scholar at the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University, Washington, DC, U.S.A.

 

Corrections, comments and suggestions are welcome to sarvi@gwu.edu

Ominous Danger Posed By Aerial Dimension In Sri Lankan Conflic

Dr.Ruwantissa Abeyratne

The recent attacks on the Kelanitissa Power Station once again brings to bear the ominous danger posed by the aeronautical dimension in the conflict in Sri Lanka.

In modern warfare, aerial bombardment is the most effective means of attack since, although land and water military vehicles are capable of destroying enemy targets, military aircraft are most often the first choice for use because of the speed and accuracy in which they can reach the target.

There are three fundamental tenets of aerial targeting. Firstly, there must be a military necessity for the use of force against a target; secondly, the use of force employed on a target must be proportional to the military value of the target, and finally, the act of military bombardment must be consistent with principles of humanitarian law and unnecessary suffering must be prevented as a result of the bombardment.

The first principle is important in that any aerial attack must have a military objective. In this sense it is arguable whether an attack on a power station which provides electricity to a civilian population has a military objective.

It is also a recognized principle of military warfare that an aerial attack, which is justified on the above-mentioned grounds cannot be impugned simply because of an attendant risk of incidental injury or collateral damage.

A military objective, for the purpose of an aerial attack are primarily enemy combatants or places or installations that by their nature, location and purpose make an effective contribution to military action directed against combatants who may be prompted to use aerial targeting.

The targeting of an installation by military attack should result in a definite military advantage to the initiator of the aerial offensive.

The inherent danger of aerial targeting is that air strikes invariably portend damage to third parties on the ground, whether or not the attackers would deliberately target civilians (which is rare in modern warfare).

Aerial attacks, however well planned they might be in accordance with the ethics of military warfare, inevitably involve the law of unidentified consequences (collateral damage).

There have been many instances in human conflict where civilians and their property have been destroyed by explosives deployed from aircraft. It is well known that during World War II, the number of civilian deaths outnumbered military deaths.

The law pertaining to warfare also encompasses two fundamental tenets of international humanitarian law.

They pertain to civilian immunity and the principle of distinction. Collectively, they impose a duty, at all times during the conflict, to distinguish between combatants and civilians, and to target only the former.

Under any circumstances, international law prohibits the carrying out of direct attacks against civilians; as to do so intentionally is a war crime.

The parties to a conflict are also required to refrain from threats or acts of violence, the primary purpose of which is to terrorize the civilian population.

They are prohibited from attacking the civilian population or civilians by way of reprisals.

International humanitarian law also makes direct attacks against civilians and civilian objects a crime. Indiscriminate attacks are those that are not directed against a military objective; those that employ a method or means of combat that cannot be directed at a specific military objective; or those that employ a method or means of combat the effects of which cannot be limited as required by international humanitarian law. In each such case, these attacks are of a nature to strike military objectives and civilians or civilian objects without distinction.

The perspective in Sri Lanka is however different, as there is no international law applicable to the country in its internal conflict.

David Turns, in his book Terrorism and the Laws of War puts forward the view that individuals or groups of individuals cannot be “at war”with States, for the same reason that the attacks on the United States of 11 September 2001 cannot be regarded as acts of war in any legally meaningful sense. Turns maintains that in the parlance of international law, armed conflict requires two or more State belligerents, or a conflict within one State, but with a high threshold of intensity.

In the case of Sri Lanka’s armed forces and their military action against the LTTE, it may be arguable that a high threshold of intensity has been reached.

There are a few common factors that apply to both international and internal conflicts in terms of aerial combat. The first consideration is the determination of the nature of aircraft used in the attacks on the installations.

In the strict definitive sense, one cannot identify the aircraft used in the attack on the petroleum installations as “military aircraft”. - Sci Tech Encyclopaedia defines military aircraft as “aircraft that are designed or modified for highly specialised use by the armed services of a nation”.

In this category are fixed-wing aircraft, rotary-wing aircraft, free-flight balloons, and blimps, all of which have been used in both crewed and crewless flight modes for military purposes.

However, it is obvious that the aircraft used were designed for military applications and they could be considered military aircraft if the widely used definition, that “a military aircraft is any aircraft which has a specific purpose of engaging enemy targets during conflicts between countries or intra-county disputes” were to be applied.

The Convention on International Civil Aviation, signed at Chicago on 7 December 1944, in Article 3 states that aircraft used in military, customs and police services are deemed to be State aircraft (as against civil aircraft) implying that aircraft used for military purposes are deemed to be operated by a sovereign State.

However, this distinction is purely one of nomenclature calculated to distinguish between State and civil aircraft.

By this inclusionary definition the Chicago Convention notably clarifies an important point in that the most fundamental difference between the operation of civil and military aircraft lay in the fact that, although they were expected to share the same skies, the procedures by which they did this varied greatly.

Civil aircraft depended entirely on predetermined flight paths and codes of commercial conduct which varied depending on aircraft type and types of traffic carried, whereas military aircraft operated in line with the exigency of a situation and were not necessarily always guided by predetermined flight paths.

A Resolution adopted by the International Civil Aviation Organization’s Assembly in 1956 recognizes that the skies (airspace) as well as many other facilities and services are commonly shared between civil and military aviation, and calls for all Contracting States to co-ordinate between their various aeronautical activities in order that the common use of airspace inter alia be so arranged that safety, regularity and efficiency of international civil air navigation be safeguarded.

Sri Lanka is faced with a situation analogous to the events faced by the United States on 11 September 2001. Although there are international treaties that provide compensation to victims on the ground for damage or injury caused by aircraft, these instruments pertain to aircraft operated by commercial operators of foreign aircraft.

On 31 March 1959, Sri Lanka deposited its instrument of ratification of the Convention on Damage Caused by Foreign Aircraft to Third Parties on the Surface (Rome Convention) of 1952, which became effective on 29 June 1959.

The Rome Convention states in Article 26 that, “this Convention shall not apply to damage caused by military, customs or police aircraft.”

It should be noted that a “military, customs or police aircraft” is not necessarily the same thing as an “aircraft used in military, customs and police services” although again the expression “military, customs or police aircraft” was left undefined.

Similarly, other “state” aircraft fall within the scope of the Convention. However, the 1978 Hague Protocol to amend this Convention (which Sri Lanka has not ratified) reverts to more familiar language; and amends Article 26 by replacing it with, “this Convention shall not apply to damage caused by aircraft used in military, customs and police services.

Whether or not the aircraft used in the aerial attacks on Kolonnawa and Muthurajawela in earlier instances or on the Kelanitissa power station recently were “military” aircraft, the application of the Rome Treaty to the attacks is moot as the treaty is a multilateral agreement between States and does not apply to arrangements between States and groups of persons within that State.

Given the above facts, the only way in which civilian victims could be compensated is for the State to act as insurer of last resort.

Immediately after the aerial attacks of 11 September 2001, the United States Congress cleared the Air Transportation Safety and System Stabilisation Act on September 21, 2001. This Act provides compensation for the victims of the four terrorist-related aircraft crashes of September 11, 2001 by establishing the Victims’ Compensation Fund.

The fund provides monetary compensation for the economic and non-economic losses (including pain, suffering, and loss of companionship) of individuals that were injured and the families of those killed in these attacks. It was estimated that the fund will pay about $6 billion to compensate victims.

The act directs the Attorney General to appoint a special master to administer the fund. That appointment was made on November 26 2001.) Within 90 days of enactment of the Act the special master must issue regulations for accepting claims and hearing evidence.

Victims seeking compensation from the fund must submit a claim within two years after the regulations are issued.

By submitting a claim with the special master, victims will waive their rights to compensation through federal or state courts.


The act requires the special master to determine the amount of compensation, based on the harm to the claimant, the facts of the claim, and the individual circumstances of the claimant, within 120 days after a claim is filed.

Under the act, the amount of compensation payable from the fund will be reduced by the amount of compensation victims receive from other sources-for example, life insurance, pension funds, death benefit programs, and other government payments.

Human conflict around the world mirrors our own vulnerability to death and injury and a State confronted with this phenomenon has to approach this risk as a prudent risk bearer.

There is no fundamental reason as to why State responses to risk to civilian life and well being should be episodic and crisis driven.

Although insurance underwriters may not necessary cover grave war risk, the key to approaching the issue would lie in identifying those risks which are inherently suitable for ultimate State support and then to devise appropriate terms and conditions under which such support can be made available, when required, on a contingent basis to the free market of specialised insurers and reinsurers.

Once a partnership between the State and insurers has been established there could be a way for cover to be available in response to a legislative requirement. Such an approach already applies to nuclear power installations and is eminently possible as a viable form of coverage.

The insurance community could assist the State as the insurer of last resort by re-examining core cover provisions and excluding the limited perils which the State can assume responsibility for, from an insurance perspective. In this context the State could consider establishing a long term partnership with indigenous insurance underwriters.

The long term solution to providing compensation to victims would lie in some form of international agreement or treaty between States.

The reason for this is that the world’s economies are inter-dependent and the worlds of insurance and reinsurance are progressively multinational and also inter-dependent, and consequences of war and terrorism should be managed by some form of partnership between States and their respective insurance/reinsurance industries, based on mutual recognition of what each does best.

As was seen in the aftermath of September 2001 events in the United States, individual States have already demonstrated the support which they can give to their economies when faced with chronic terrorism.

They should now collectively consider an international treaty that would clearly identify sovereign risks and provide coverage to States in a manner such that the underwriters are able to obtain reinsurance and ensure an adequate reserve for compensation.

November 07, 2008

Prospects for a Sri Lankan version of Barack Obama

By D.B.S Jeyaraj

The euphoria bordering on hysteria surrounding the historic victory of Barack Obama in the 2008 US Presidential stakes is yet to subside.

Even as the pragmatic president - elect whose campaign was wrapped attractively as an idealistic package, moves away from the “poetry of electioneering ” towards the “prose of  governance ” the effects of his success are being felt around the world.

A noteworthy feature in these reactions to the “Obama  phenomenon” is the tendency to compare and contrast the political landscapes of different countries with that of a seemingly transformed USA.

 

[Hoops-action-change ~ President Elect Barack Obama, playing basket ball]

Obama’s success is perceived as a clear manifestation that the people of the United States of America have transcended the racial divide barrier. This so called “change” is projected as the standard by which other nations and countries need to measure themselves.

Thus we find the Obama victory bringing in its wake a spate of soul – searching exercises fuelled mainly by the media. From the “Der Spiegel “ of Germany to “T.V. Ontario” of Canada, there is much debate and discussion about a potential Obama emerging in their respective countries.

Sri Lanka too has not been immune from “Obama mania.” US envoy Robert Blake organized an event at the Hilton where invitees could view US election results on CNN.

Interestingly, guests were asked to “vote” at a “mock” election. There were 281 votes for Obama while McCain got only 32. Some of the guests were highly emotional with tears streaming down their cheeks as the 44th US President was elected.

A number of articles and letters to the editor have begun appearing in the Sri Lankan English newspapers about the Obama phenomenon. The Sinhala and Tamil media are beginning to follow suit. [Click HERE to read entire article in Daily Mirror.lk]


Give Arjuna One Last Chance

by Nirgunan Tiruchelvam

Arjuna, the hero of the Hindu epic Mahabharata, was so focused on his target that he was blind to everything but the eye of the bird that he was aiming at. Our own hero Arjuna Ranatunga, is similarly transfixed on his own glory, that he cannot tolerate any view but his own. The awkward standoff with the BCCI and the players is by no means Ranatunga's fault. In fact, this World Cup winner is perfectly correct in insisting in the sanctity of test cricket.

But, his 'bull in the China shop' approach has alienated both the players and the Indian board. He should have consulted them, before taking the plunge. Sadly, the board has now fallen between two stools with neither the England tour nor the Indian bailout package in prospect.

Shortly before he retired to the sound of bugles playing at the SSC in 2000, Michael Roberts wrote that Arjuna Ranatunga's career was a "mixed bag of the good, the bad and the ugly". Now, as he comes to the end of his first year as the President of the cricket board, it is time to take stock :

Arjuna the Gifted

Though he averaged only 36 in his 93 tests, his statistics are misleading. Genius is a term that is used liberally, but Arjuna was the first batting genius that Sri Lanka produced. He lacked Jayasuriya's power, Aravinda de Silva's flair, Jayawardene's touch, and Dias's grace. But, Ranatunga had singularly supple wrists, which provided his bow with a sling that few could match.

He had the unique ability to place the ball in a 180 degree arc. Against the spinners, he could either sweep or cut right behind the wicketkeeper. He could viciously punish the fast bowlers with just a short arm jab. Above all, he could drive any bowler down the pitch with textbook precision.

Sadly, the best of Ranatunga took place in the dark era - between 1987 to 1992. No one toured the island. Ranatunga suffered in obscurity, playing mainly one-off tests. As with many great batsmen, his finest test innings came in defeats. On a batsman's graveyard in Perth (1988), he defended grimly and then attacked fluently to produce a fine double of 55 and 45.Hardly anyone else in the side crossed double figures.

It was as a one-day batsmen, that Ranatunga will be best remembered. He was prolific in the form of the game that Sri Lanka was afforded the most opportunities. He built a mountain of achievement - more runs at a strike rate superior to almost anyone in his time. Like Javed Miandad, a player with the same gumption, he could conjure victory from certain defeat.

In an upset win in Sharjah in 1990, Ranatunga smashed 44 off the last 20 balls, lifting Kapil Dev into the crowd. So, when he joined his vice-captain Aravinda de Silva in the 1996 World Cup final with the score at 148 for 3 with less than 100 to get, there could only be one result. No contest was lost with him at the crease.

There were many who underestimated him as a fat, lazy batsman whose belly pointed down the pitch. But he could accumulate singles at a rate that belied his girth. He could pace an innings, initially with nudges and then with his expansive range of shots.

Arjuna the Brave

Defining moment of his captaincy was his standoff with Emerson in 1999 when Murali was no-balled in Adelaide. He risked his career and faced censure. From that moment, his players would have gone through a brick wall for him. Arjuna was villified by the Australian media, but he was not bothered.

There were early signs of his exceptional valour. But, his finest hour in test cricket came in the end of his career. In Rawalpindi (2000), the veteran batted with broken and plastered finger, to seal an improbable fourth innings chase.

Arjuna the Idiot

Shockingly, Ranatunga was completely out of his depth as a tactician. For much of his 53 tests at the helm, he was unimaginative. He seldom strayed from the most defeatist course of action. On no less than nine times, he put the opposition in to bat and then lost the match.

His worst failing was that he was vindictive towards players he disliked. There is a long list of players whose careers were cut short by Ranatunga's malice. Chandika Hathurusinghe, a determined opener was given precious few chances. Varuna Waragoda, another worthy batsman, was banished from the selector's shortlist after an on-field argument with Ranatunga in 1996 in a club match. As with most dictators, he could be cruel and unforgiving to those who tread his path. In fact, Bruce Yardley, the former coach, said that Ranatunga treated the players like servants.

He was childish in defeat. After the 1994 debacle in India, Ranatunga refused to blame himself or the players. Instead, he found fault with the press. Callistus Davy, one of the few honest cricket writers, was at the receiving end of Ranatunga's outburst.

Spare the Axe

Ten months after he took the helm of Sri Lanka Cricket, the game is in a pitiful state. The finance are in a shambles, with no takers for the TV rights. The players resent him. His former prodigies Jayasuriya and Muralitharan are openly defying their mentor. Bridges have been burnt with the Indian board. Nobody seems to want to play Sri Lanka, despite being the World Cup runner-up and the Asian Champion.

The last straw is his clumsy handling of Badurueliya CC's relegation from the first division. All 18 clubs are on strike. He seems an inept and quarrelsome administrator. Some are calling for Ranatunga's head.

But, that is only one side of the story. It is difficult to fully blame him. Sports Minister Lokuge has the distinction of bringing ruin and confusion to every sports body.Arjuna is the first Board President, who has taken the post purely for cricket's sake. Unlike others who took to further their business and political ambitions, Ranatunga is the first full-time Board President. He burns the midnight oil, toiling till for 12 hours a day. As a player, his passion brought victory to Sri Lanka, when all seemed lost. Give him a chance.

November 06, 2008

For eyes of President elect Obama only

By B. Raman

[From November 5,2008, President-elect Barrack Obama started receiving from the Director National Intelligence (DNI) a daily brief on the state of the world the previous day called the President's Daily Brief (PDB). A background note on the PDB was carried by the BBC online on November 6,2008. The CIA would do well to incorporate the following in its PDB to Obama]

There is amazement - and confusion - in India over reports that one of the first acts of the President will be to appoint Bill Clinton as hisSpecial Envoy on the Kashmir issue to facilitate a settlement between India and Pakistan

Well-informed sources in India say that if the President-elect wants to severely damage the developing Indo-US relations he could nothave thought of a better idea than to meddle in Kashmir. So many Americans----Presidents, Presidents-elect and defeatedPresidential-aspirants---- thought they could help in finding a solution to the Kashmir issue and burnt their fingers and damaged Indo-USrelations.

This started from Adlai Stevenson, who after losing the election to Gen.Dwight Eisenhower, proceeded to Srinagar ostensibly for ahouseboat holiday on the Dal Lake and tried to meddle in the affairs of the State by suggesting to Sheikh Abdullah, the then Chief Minister ofJammu & Kashmir, that he should seek independence and promised that the US would support him. When the Indian Intelligence Bureauinformed Jawaharlal Nehru, the then Prime Minister, of Stevenson's secret discussions with Abdullah, he sacked Abdullah. Adlai Stevensonbecame persona non grata with the Indian political class and public.

When Clinton became the President in 1993 he could not resist the temptation to have a go at settling the Kashmir issue. He chose as hissecret emissary not a distinguished American, but an old college mate of his called Robin Raphael, who was posted as a junior diplomat inthe US Embassy in New Delhi. Her American colleagues in New Delhi used to allege that after Clinton took office, she used to go aroundprojecting herself as if she was a trusted adviser to Clinton, who took her into the State Department.

Our Indian sources say that she had two "achievements" to her discredit. She instigated the formation of the Hurriyat , a hotch-potch ofanti-New Delhi Kashmiri personalities, which added to the existing mess. She also encouraged the formation of the Taliban in 1994 with thehelp of her close personal friends Benazir Bhutto, the then Prime Minister, and Asif Ali Zardari, the present President of Pakistan. She evenmet Mullah Mohammad Omar, who subsequently designated himself as the Amir of the Taliban, secretly and sought his help for a project ofthe Unocal for a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan via the Herat area of Afghanistan.

According to the sources, her misadventures in Kashmir further damaged Indo-US relations and her godmothering the Taliban inexorablyset in motion the train of events that led to Osama bin Laden shifting from Khartoum to Jalalabad in 1996 and launching from Afghanistanthe terrorist strikes outside the US Embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam in August 1998, the attack on USS Cole off Aden inOctober,2000, and the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US homeland.

Our Indian sources say that in the history of Indo-American relations since India became independent in 1947, there have been moreinstances of meddling by Democrats than by Republicans. They feel that Democrats seem to think that they understand sub-continentalaffairs better than anybody in the US and find it difficult to resist the urge to meddle. According to them, that is why Indian security agenciesfeel uncomfortable when the White House has a Democrat as incumbent. They say that if one draws a graph of terrorism in J&K, one wouldfind that it tends to go up when a Democrat is the President.

At a time when India and Pakistan are on the road to slowly mending their bilateral relations, Indians are amazed that the President-electoblivious of the past misadventures of the US in the sub-continent should be thinkig of one more.

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For TopicalStrudies, Chennai. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com )

Journalist Tissainayagam testifies about police pressure on him

Journalist Tissainayagam testifies about police pressure on him; Testifies in court that he was forced by TID to sign a dictated statement:

By T. Farook Thajudeen

Senior Journalist Jeyaprakash Sittampalam Tissainayagam testified before Colombo High Court Judge Ms. Deepali Wijesundera in the inquiry to ascertain whether the confession made by him to the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) was a voluntarily one or made under pressure and threat.

[Journalist J.S. Tissainayagam (C) is escorted to High Court by prison officers in Colombo November 5, 2008, pic: Buddhika Weerasinghe, via Yahoo! News]

The witness examined by his counsel Anil Silva said on Wednesday (5), said that he arrived at the TID on the March 7 to visit his friend Jasiharan and his wife, who had been taken into custody the previous day.

He was allowed inside after having waited for around an hour. Once he got inside the TID premises, a police officer had grabbed the mobile phone he was carrying. When Tissainayagam had asked for the mobile phone back he was told 'you are now inside the TID, it is not for you to ask for your phone back, but your job instead should be to get out of this place'

Later he was taken to the section head Inspector Janakantha’s room at which time he was questioned on how he knew Jasiharan.

Tissainayagam had at this point requested for a lawyer at which Janakantha had laughed. Afterwards OIC Prasanna De Alwis questioned him. Once again, he (Tissainayagam) had requested to have a lawyer to be present to which the OIC had replied 'we are showing you respect by offering you a chair to sit on. Don't take advantage of this treatment'.

Director TID Nandana Munasinghe, while talking to Tissainayagam, referred to his friendship with the journalist Sivaram. Mr. Munasinghe specifically reminded of the way that Sivaram met his death - his body was later discovered in some bushes in close proximity to the Parliament premises. He had been alarmed at this line of questioning, as he did not understand what was meant by it.

Further questioning was carried out by OIC Prasanna De Alwis and Zubair of the TID. At one point, Tissainayagam said Zubair had walked in while the questioning was going on and had stated that if he (Tissainayagam) continues to lie in this manner he would slap him across the face so that one ear would come out of the other side.

Tissainayagam said on May 9th he was threatened by Sergeant Razik, telling him that what happened to Jasiharan that morning would happen to him. He said that he had seen Jasiharan crying in the OIC's room that morning and later seen him with a swollen face and bloodshot eyes. Razik then dictated a statement that Tissainayagam wrote in his own handwriting.

He said he was examined by several JMOs in their offices and he never mentioned to them about the assaults or the mental stress he underwent because during the medical examinations by the JMOs the TID officers used to wait out side the JMO’s office and the office had swing doors.

He said he was unaware of certain clauses in the affidavit signed by him, which was submitted to Supreme Court with his FR petition.

Counsel Anil Silva with M.A. Sumanthiran Nalin Ladduwahetti and Ms. Sharmaine Gunaratne appeared for Journalist Tissainayagam. State Counsel Sudarshana de Silva with Miss. Samalka Samarasinghe appeared for the TID.

Further hearing was put off for Nov 7th, 2008. [courtesy: Daily Mirror.lk]

Barack Obama: History's High Note

BY Dayan Jayatilleka

“…change this country, and change the world!” – Barack Obama
“He is a transformational figure coming onto the world stage”- Colin Powell

 

 

[Post-Election Newspapers Fly Out of Stores - In Pix:NY Times.com]

History sometimes hits a high note, sweet and soaring, clean and clear, as if from Satchmo’s horn. The most intelligent, interesting and inspirational of contemporary political personalities is about to be the President of the most powerful nation on the planet.

Things will never be the same again. Obama will “electrify the world” predicted Colin Powell. Obama’s achievement, in and of itself, already changes the world; is a step forward in sociopolitical achievement. No country however idiosyncratic or culturally narcissistic can live outside the stream of world history. This is the more so in the Information Age— the era of “interconnectivity” as Obama terms it. The Obama Effect will be globalized, albeit unevenly. We shall all feel its push and pull factor.

Here is a rare leader: a deeply reflective intellectual, also able to identify with people and inspire them, not by appealing to what divides them but what unifies them while recognizing their diversity. (“White, Black, Hispanic, Native American, Asian, men and women, rich, poor, red state and blue state, straight and gay, disabled and not disabled”). Will he be a successful leader? Yes, because he understands. He “gets it” as his wife Michelle says. He understands because of what he is – multicultural, reflective of the world, with roots ranging from rural Kansas through Hawaii to Kenya and Indonesia (a family gathering at Christmas is like a mini-UN General Assembly, he says) -- and even more so, because of all the traits that he has already revealed. The most outstanding of these being an acute intelligence which already has amassed an armory of ideas, and the tendency to attract the best available American minds but not be dominated by any of them.

Reading Obama

The publisher’s notes on the back cover of his second book sketch him with bare adequacy: “A Senator and a lawyer, a professor and a father, a Christian and a skeptic…” By his words, ye shall know him. To understand him, you have to encounter his words, written and spoken. Three layers of Barack Obama are revealed almost archeologically or geologically in his two books and recent speeches.

The first book written in his mid-thirties is the most brilliant in literary terms. An existential search for himself, it covers the USA , Asia and Africa in a journey both outwards and inwards, through ideas and cultures, stages of growth and states of mind, chronicling an evolution of a personality with unflinching transparency. He does so with a grasp of writing that makes his personal passage an exciting odyssey for the reader. Clearly here is a young man who could have been a great American author but chose the vicissitudes of public service and political life instead.

His second book picks up at a point where he has evolved and matured, settled but not stagnated. Though it has been called his second autobiography, it is only partly and secondarily so. Like the first book it is also a story of a journey; the chronicle of a traveler. This is an aspect of Obama that will remain part of his spirit even when he has entered the White House, and I expect it to be noted in the diaries he will keep and the post-Presidential autobiography he will write, which will be such as that of no other. His chosen Biblical quotation to adorn his first book Dreams from My Father captures this quality: “For we are strangers before them, and sojourners, as were all our fathers.”(1 Chronicles 29:15)

This second book, the better known The Audacity of Hope, a work written when he has come home, found his centre, is a book of ideas, the evolution of a political programme and philosophy through personal encounter, political experience and intellectual reflection. His literary gift remains, surer if less scintillating. The chapter in which he discusses the troubled question of ensuring growth with equity, exploring but eschewing antinomies of a low growth welfare statism and high growth capitalist cannibalism, and charting the contours of a New Deal for a new century (and a new crisis), is book-ended by a description of how comfortable it is to ride on a private jet – a privilege of US Senators— and a realization of the stories, the social and human perspective, you miss while doing so.

The book picks up from where he left off in the first, tells us of his experiences as a Senator, reflects on the deeply flawed nature of contemporary American political life, discusses the broad thematic issues and problems from abortion to race and religion that confront and divide the USA, explains his late and lucid conversion to Christianity despite his atheist father (born a Muslim), skeptic mother and non-religious grandparents, and sets out his distinctive views on world affairs and national security strategy. (He studied international relations at Columbia ).

Obama has a capacity which he has honed into a technique, of slipping inside the skin of an idea or a person, working it through to its conclusion, reliving its strengths, seeing its weakness or opposite side especially when taken to an extreme, acknowledging and contextualizing that too, and then offering up his own third position which is a synthesis when possible and a middle path when not. He does so while being able to combine the styles of higher journalism with political thinking. In the midst of one chapter he has roughly 15 pages reconstituting the spirit of the Founding Fathers and the Constitution and ending with Lincoln and the anti-secessionist war, which is the best text of political thought I’ve read in recent times. In The Audacity of Hope this self-confessed student of political philosophy (and self-censored poet) has produced a model of political writing, a progressive democratic manifesto and charter for America but of relevance also for the world.

The third layer of Obama is the most visible and audible one: his spoken word and style, in speeches, TV appearances and at public forums. In him George Washington meets Denzel Washington. He has been compared with John F Kennedy, but to me he is more reminiscent of Bobby Kennedy in 1968 (perhaps refracted through the prism of a Poitier performance), with his ability to reach across race and class, to inspire passion for change yet calm the passion for destruction.

He also combines a searching self with self confidence, and that self confidence with off beat self-deprecatory humor. On David Letterman’s show I think it was, he said that in high school he was voted “the Barackiest”. At the traditional Alfred E Smith dinner at which the main candidates make satirical speeches, Obama deadpanned: “contrary to what you may have heard, I was not born in a manger. I was born on the planet Krypton, and was sent by my father Jor-El to save the world”.

Obama as Leader

“Better is not good enough” opines Obama. Can Barack Obama be a great President? Yes, he can. The main problem he will face is the contradiction that he has referred to in passing in his writing, that between “power and principle” or as Yale University’s new book by my former teacher John Kane calls it, “Between Virtue and Power: The Persistent Moral Dilemma of US Foreign policy”. This will be the issue in Afghanistan and the border areas of Pakistan . In wrestling with this complex conflict, the US will be greatly helped by the politico-military confluence of a superb mind with an extremely good one: President and Commander-in-Chief Barack Obama with the new head of CENTCOM, General David Petraeus, PhD (from Princeton , where he had been a student of my friend Professor Richard Falk).

Obama’s intellectuality and sensitivity must not obscure his tough mindedness and realism, his “fierce ambition” (inherited from his father, he says) and commitment to “what works”, which he identifies in the foreign policy realm as “the marriage of Wilsonian idealism with hard headed realism”. In his second book he re-iterates one thing that makes him tick: every man tries to live up to his father’s expectations or avoid his mistakes. In constituting his final criterion, this motivator will, I believe, be conjoined with his conscience. That is where he will confront his toughest problem: Israel/Palestine, which envenoms America ’s relations with the vast Islamic world. If true to himself Barack Obama cannot but wonder whether the Palestinian is the new Black. Yet the resolution of that problem is more in the hands of Israel than in his. Will the Israeli electorate follow the example of the US and elect a moderate coalition for change, or will it move in the opposite direction, hoping to offset a liberal American president with a hard Right Israeli Prime Minister? In the final analysis it is Israel that has to make an existential decision: does it really want a Palestinian counterpart it can make peace with, or does it prefer that there be no viable Palestinian moderate centre so it can tell the whole world it has no partner with whom to implement a peace settlement? It will probably be Barack Obama’s second term before he is confident enough to tackle the problem of Israel/Palestine in a way that is firm, fair and feasible.

Obama wants to generate “fundamental change” (as he put it at his final election meetings) in the USA —Michelle Obama calls this goal “a different kind of democracy”. He also wants to “change the world” and “heal the planet”. Given his multiple roots and experiences, and his understanding of himself, his goal of change cannot but be global. Sitting at the apex of the US power structure he will have the global reach, the instruments with which to make these changes, but he will also learn the constraints which prevent him from doing so. More than anyone else, Barack Obama has the qualities needed to transform the awesome power of the USA into a source and resource for global good rather than for hostility, harm and humiliation. With Obama at the helm the USA is likely to lead the world through the force of its example and image, inspiration and ideas, and is less likely than at almost any other time, to need to dominate the world through military force. With the elimination of the factors of bad leadership and policy and the substitution of the best possible in both realms, we could see the USA at its best. We shall also see it for what it objectively, systemically, is: with Obama at the helm, if the US fails to change its propensity for world domination while fulfilling its vocation for leadership, then “the old anti-imperialist cant” (as he dismissively dubs it) will stand validated.

The global Obama effect

Let’s state the obvious. The father of the newly elected leader of the USA was not a citizen of that country. In the most powerful country in the world, a candidate who is atypical, who does not come exclusively from the dominant ethnic group (or religious tendency - he belongs to what he calls the “historically black church”, not a white Protestant congregation), who does not even look like the majority of the voting populace, can aspire to and achieve the highest goal on the basis of individual merit and ability. Put differently, the most powerful post in the world has just been won, not on the basis of ethnicity but going against the grain of ethnic majoritarianism, on the basis of excellence. This will simultaneously shed light on and raise the bar of achievement for every single society: can we say the same about ourselves? Can a Barack Obama make it to the top in our country? And why not? How far or high up can he or she get? What would it take to change that?

While the walls of Jericho -- of parochialism, bigotry and chauvinism -- may not crumble at the sounds of Obama’s oratory, ethnic and cultural chauvinists and fundamentalists the world over will find themselves on the wrong side of History. Whether they realize it or not, they are, as Barack Obama said of John McCain and the Republicans, “out of ideas and almost out of time”. The world divides up today between those with whom Obama’s victory and his values of inclusionary meritocratic modernity resonate, and those with whom they do not; those who admire and applaud the US for the Obama achievement and those few whom that achievement leaves cold.

Obama and History

Obama’s education and life experiences acquaint him with a far broader set of concepts and cultures, ideas and theories, situations and voices (some contained within himself) than anyone who has run for the US Presidency in a long time. (How many of them had read Fanon?) His natural tendency will be to be a great teacher, reformer and reconciler on a global scale; to be a planetary ‘change agent’, leaving the world better than he found it. His wife Michelle will be the most educated, intelligent, articulate and progressive-minded First Lady anywhere and is likely to have a global impact herself. If anybody will be speaking “truth to power” in an Obama administration, it will probably be this First Lady – that’s in addition to the inner dialogue going on within Barack Obama.

Never in my lifetime has a man with a more highly evolved sensibility been elected to the highest office anywhere in the world, let alone in the most powerful country of all.

Eventually the light breaks through.

[Dayan Jayatilleka, PhD, Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of Colombo is currently Sri Lanka ’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva . These are his strictly personal views].

November 05, 2008

Obama: Dangers of Indo-Pak Re-Hyphenation

By B. Raman

The Presidential campaign is over. The transition drill has begun. Senator Barrack Obama will take over as the President only on January 20 next, but his immense work as the President-elect would have already begun from the moment he left the dais after making the victory speech to his followers and supporters.

2. The Americans call it the period of transition. It is during this period that the President-elect chooses his team of Cabinet members and senior officials, decides on his policy priorities and works out his goals during the first 100 days of his administration and thereafter. Those, who would constitute the hard core of his transition team, would start co-ordinating with the outgoing Bush administration.

3. Senior officials of the US Secret Service, which protects the President and the Vice-President, would have already called on him and set in place the arrangements for his security. Other officials of the Bush Administration would be calling on him and his close advisers to keep them briefed on the actions of the outgoing administration.

4. He will be the President of the US only from January 20, but he will be already entitled from November 5 to a regular briefing by the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Director, National Intelligence (DNI) on important developments in the world. The outgoing administration would not take any major decision or initiative or action without keeping him in the picture.

5. Speculation as to who could be his Cabinet members and other senior advisers had already started days before the elections in anticipation of a certain victory by him. In an article on October 26, 2008, the ?Independent? of the UK put its bet on the following as his possible Cabinet members:

Secretary of State: John Kerry (Senator from Massachusetts), Richard Holbrooke (former UN Ambassador), Bill Richardson (Governor of New Mexico, former UN Ambassador)

Secretary of Defence: Robert Gates (current Pentagon chief), Retd. General Wesley Clark (2004 Democratic Presidential candidate), Chuck Hagel (outgoing Republican Senator from Nebraska)

Treasury Secretary: Laura Tyson (former economic adviser to President Clinton), Timothy Geithner (President, New York Fed), Paul Volcker (former Federal Reserve Chairman)

National Security Adviser: Susan Rice (Obama's top foreign policy adviser), Retd. General Anthony Zinni (former C-in-C, Central Command), Samantha Power (former Obama foreign policy adviser)

Others: Colin Powell, possible foreign policy special envoy/troubleshooter; Hillary Clinton, health care czarina.

6. There could be surprises because he will have a political debt to pay to those who supported him and they may want some of their nominees to be accommodated.

7. India will have no special reasons to be concerned over the possibility of any of the persons mentioned by ?Independent? joining the Cabinet, except possibly Holbrooke, whose taking-over as the Secretary of State could lead to a re-hyphenation of Indo-Pakistan relations, bringing back the hyphen, which had been removed by President George Bush and his Secretary of State Condolleeza Rice.

8. Another person of concern to India would be Madeleine Albright, who was Secretary of State under Bill Clinton. Though ?Independent? did not mention her, she was reportedly a member of the inner circle which was advising Obama on foreign policy matters during the campaign.

9. India will also put a question mark on Colin Powell, who was particularly not well disposed towards India during the first term of Bush when Powell was the Secretary of State. It was only after he was replaced by Rice as the Secretary of State that Indo-US relations really started moving forward with many initiatives to acknowledge the importance of India as a major power on par with China. Concerns over Pakistani sensitivities ceased to be an inhibiting factor in US policy-making with regard to India. Zinni is an unknown quantity in India. He has many friends in Pakistan?s Armed Forces.

10. It is still 10 weeks before Obama takes over as the President. One does not know how the economies of the US and the rest of the world would move during this period. Till now, the US and the rest of the world have been seeing only the impact of the melt-down on the moneyed class---- banks, stock markets, business companies, people who have the money to dabble in the stock markets and to keep deposits in banks. The world is yet to see the impact on the common man, who is worried only about his day-to-day living and not about stock markets, mutual funds and banks. The impact on the common man would become evident by the time Obama takes over as the President.

11. The common people in the US and the rest of the world will be watching how he deals with the impact on their lives. Understandably, apart from rhetorical statements, Obama was sparse in his policy pronouncements on the economic crisis. His evasion was understandable because he had to take care that any unwise remarks by him did not add to the prevailing nervousness in the market. The economy would occupy a major part of his attention during his first few weeks in office.

12. His pronouncements on India and Pakistan, which were music to the ears of people in India in the initial months of the campaign, became jarring during the closing days of the campaign. In the initial months of his campaign, he praised India and supported the initiatives taken by the Bush administration in relation to India. He was very critical of Pakistan?s inadequate co-operation with the US in the war against Al Qaeda. He also criticized the Bush Administration for giving to Pakistan weapons, which it could use only against India and not against Al Qaeda, under the pretext of strengthening its counter-terrorism capability. He hardly spoke of Indo-Pakistan issues.

13. But as the campaign reached its culmination, he started speaking of the Kashmir issue in a language, which reminded one of the language of the past from the officials of the Clinton Administration. Obama?s entourage and Gen. David H.Petraeus, former Commander of the Multi-National Force in Iraq, who took over as the Commander of the US Central Command on October 31 and is presently on a visit to Pakistan and Afghanistan, have one thing in common---- they listen a lot to the assessments and recommendations of Ahmed Rashid, the Pakistani analyst, who has written extensively on the Taliban and the war against terrorism. In fact, Petraeus has reportedly nominated Ahmed Rashid and Shuja Nawaz, the author of the recently published book on the Pakistan Army called ?Crossed Swords?, as members of a brains trust to advise him on a new strategy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan.

14. Ahmed Rashid has been arguing for some months now that the Pakistan Army cannot be expected to co-operate wholeheartedly with the US Armed Forces in the war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban unless there is a forward movement in settling the Kashmir issue and India is pressured to cut down its presence in Afghanistan. There were not many takers for his arguments in the Bush Administration. But they have already started influencing the thinking of many who are close to Obama.

15. Will he exercise pressure on India on the Kashmir issue and its role in Afghanistan after he takes over or will he let his pre-election remarks remain without follow up action? This is a question which should worry Indian policy-makers.

16. Obama?s policy towards China is also likely to be different from that of the Bush Administration. He will continue to strengthen the US? strategic relations with India, the foundations for which were laid by Bush and Rice, but the sensitivities of China and Pakistan could once again become inhibiting factors in determining the pace and extent of the relationship. He is unlikely to subscribe to the wisdom of building up India as a counter to China. That was the unstated wisdom behind the policies of the Bush Administration towards India.

17. Obama was supportive of the Indo-US Civilian nuclear co-operation Agreement. Many of the non-governmental experts, who were critical of the agreement, have a greater audience for their views in the Democratic Party than in the Republican Party. They would try to see that the Hyde Act is observed in letter and spirit in the implementation of the agreement. If their views prevail, one could see a slow-down in Indo-US co-operation in nuclear matters.

18. Under Bush, Indo-US relations developed like never before because he was a great admirer of India and was convinced of the need to encourage the emergence of India as a major Asian power on par with China. Obama has so far not given any indication of a similar admiration and conviction.

19. Barring John F.Kennedy, other Democratic Presidents were not very positive towards India. They always thought of India tactically and not strategically. Many major initiatives towards India came from Republican Presidents, who held office after Richard Nixon, whose dislike of India---- and particularly Indira Gandhi--- was well-known. There was a new page in Indo-US relations under Bush. This was facilitated by the decline in the influence of some Washington-based think tanks and their academics on policy-making. With the return of a Democrat to the White House, these old academic warriors are already coming out of their eight-year-long hibernation and will try to influence the new President in his thinking and policies. Their views are no different from those of the like of Ahmed Rashid.

20. We should not hesitate to make it clear to the new administration that while we are as keen as before to strengthen our strategic relations with the US, this cannot be at the expense of our vital national interests in matters like Kashmir and Afghanistan.

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com)

November 03, 2008

VOA Editorial: U.S. Perspectives On Sri Lanka

An Editorial reflecting the view of the U.S. Government:

U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka Robert Blake said, "America's experience in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere has taught us that terrorism cannot be defeated by law enforcement and military measures alone."

[MP 3 Audio: U.S. Perspectives On Sri Lanka]

[Ambassador Robert Blake - file pic: By Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai]

That is why, said Ambassador Blake, "the U.S. and the other Donor Group Co-Chair countries have urged the government of Sri Lanka to adopt now a political solution to the conflict, within the framework of a united Sri Lanka that meets the aspirations of all Sri Lanka's communities."

More than 25 years of conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or Tamil Tigers, separatists have cost the lives of some 70,000 people in Sri Lanka. More than 200,000 have been made homeless by recent fighting in the north, and the human rights situation remains grim.

One way forward is for Sri Lanka to complete the work of the All Parties Representative Committee, which has reached agreement on 90 percent of a blueprint for constitutional reform that most Sri Lankans believe offers great promise. It remains for the country's 2 main Sinhalese parties to agree on the document, which has proved a significant hurdle thus far.

In remarks given at the University of Madras, Ambassador Blake noted that one reason for the lack of progress on a consensus All Parties Representative Committee document, is that some in Sri Lanka believe that the government should first defeat the Tamil Tigers, and then proceed with a political solution.

"The U.S. view," he said, "is that the government could further isolate and weaken the LTTE [Tamil Tigers] if it articulates now its vision for a political solution. This would reassure more than 200,000 thousand internally displaced persons now in the [northern] Vanni [district] that they can move south, and aspire to a better future." This would also disprove the Tamil Tigers' claim that they are the sole representative of Sri Lanka's Tamils, and help dissuade Tamils in the diaspora from funding the Tamil Tigers.

Ambassador Blake also noted that "the U.S. believes that an improvement in the human rights situation – that has disproportionately affected Tamils – would help hasten reconciliation, and give Tamils a greater sense that they will enjoy a future of hope and dignity within a united Sri Lanka." [VOA News]

The Tamil question in Sri Lanka

By Chris Slee

On January 2, 2008, the Sri Lankan government formally renounced the ceasefire agreement with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which a previous government had signed in February 2002. But by the beginning of 2008 the ceasefire already existed only on paper. Violence, which had been escalating for several years, had by then reached the level of full-scale war.

The war has caused terrible suffering for civilians. Last year's fighting in the east of the island displaced hundreds of thousands of people, adding to those already displaced by previous fighting, and by the December 2004 tsunami. The recent offensive by the Sri Lankan army in the Vanni region of northern Sri Lanka has displaced nearly 200,000 more, according to the Australian Federation of Tamil Associations [1].

At the time of writing, Kilinochchi, a town in northern Sri Lanka which was the administrative centre for all LTTE-controlled territory, is being subjected to aerial and ground artillery bombardment, and its population has been evacuated to LTTE-controlled rural areas. United Nations agencies and international aid organisations have withdrawn from the town, despite attempts by the local people to block their departure (their presence had been seen as providing some deterrent to massive bombardment or other atrocities by the Sri Lankan army, which has been slowly advancing towards the town).

Origins of the conflict

The roots of the conflict lie in a long history of state oppression of the Tamils in Sri Lanka, which eventually led some Tamil youth to take up arms against the government.

When the British government granted formal independence to Sri Lanka (then called Ceylon) in 1948, it handed power to politicians drawn mainly from the upper classes of the majority Sinhala ethnic group. These politicians used racism as a tool to divide the working class. They also used it as a weapon in their struggles with each other: different Sinhalese politicians would compete to show that they were the strongest defenders of the Sinhalese people. This resulted in the adoption of racist policies and the stirring up of antagonism against the Tamil minority.

One of the newly independent state's first acts was to deprive Tamil plantation workers of citizenship rights. These workers were descended from people brought to Sri Lanka from India by the British in the nineteenth century to work on coffee and tea plantations. Despite the fact that their families had lived in Sri Lanka for several generations, a million people were denied Sri Lankan citizenship, being defined as "Indians".

The citizenship law did not directly affect the main group of Tamils, whose ancestors had lived in the north and east of the island of Sri Lanka for thousands of years. But it was soon followed by new laws adversely affecting all Tamils. Sinhalese was declared the sole official language of Sri Lanka, a move which made speakers of the Tamil language second-class citizens. Knowledge of Sinhalese was made a prerequisite for employment in the public service, thereby excluding most Tamils from government jobs. Discrimination against Tamils was also applied in education.

For many years Tamils opposed these discriminatory laws by peaceful means, including demonstrations, sit-ins and participation in elections. But peaceful protests were met with violent repression, carried out by the police and army as well as racist Sinhalese mobs incited to violence by politicians and Buddhist monks. There was a series of pogroms against Tamils, culminating in the murder of an estimated 3000 people in the government-instigated riots of July 1983.

LTTE theoretician Anton Balasingham argued that: "The anti-Tamil riots that periodically erupted in the island should not be viewed as spontaneous outbursts of inter-communal violence between the two communities. All major racial conflagrations that erupted violently against the Tamil people were inspired and masterminded by the Sinhala regimes as a part of a genocidal program. Violent anti-Tamil riots exploded on the island in 1956, 1958, 1961,1974, 1977,1979, 1981 and in July 1983. In these racial holocausts thousands of Tamils, including women and children, were massacred in the most gruesome manner, billions of rupees worth of Tamil property was destroyed and hundreds of thousands made refugees. The state's armed forces colluded with the Sinhalese hooligans and vandals in their violent rampage of arson, rape and mass murder." [2]

The growing repression led to the growth of Tamil nationalist sentiment. In 1977 the Tamil United Liberation Front won 17 seats in the Sri Lankan parliament on a platform of self-determination for Tamils.

LTTE forms

The repression of peaceful protest led many Tamil youth to turn to violent methods. The LTTE was formed in 1972 and carried out its first major armed action in 1978. After the 1983 pogrom, the LTTE gained increased support from the Tamil community and dramatically stepped up its war against the Sri Lankan army.

Government forces were unable to defeat the LTTE, despite brutal repression including numerous massacres of Tamil civilians. In 1987 India sent a "peacekeeping force" to Sri Lanka, with the ostensible aim of protecting the Tamils from the violence of the Sri Lankan army. However the Indian government did not want to see the creation of an independent Tamil state, and the Indian army soon began repressing the LTTE. The Indians tried to use some other Tamil armed groups as a counterweight to the LTTE, leading to conflict among the Tamil militants.

In 1988, Ranasinghe Premadasa was elected as president of Sri Lanka. He was no friend of Tamils, having been prime minister during the 1983 pogrom. Nevertheless, he opposed the continued presence of Indian troops, and started talks with the LTTE. He even secretly gave the LTTE some arms to fight the Indian troops. But he remained opposed to self-determination for the Tamils, and once the Indian army had withdrawn, fighting broke out once again between the Sri Lankan army and the LTTE.

There have been a number of attempts to reach a peaceful settlement to the war.

Chandrika Kumaratunga was elected prime minister in 1994 after campaigning on a peace platform. However, Kumaratunga was never serious about peace, but merely wanted time to rebuild the Sri Lankan army for a new war. [3]

In February 2002 a ceasefire agreement was signed between the LTTE and the United National Party (UNP) government of Ranil Wickremesinghe. This was the longest-lasting attempt to bring peace. But once again the government not only failed to offer the Tamil people a just solution that could guarantee a lasting peace; it failed even to fully implement the provisions of the ceasefire agreement -- for example, those provisions requiring the Sri Lankan army to evacuate public buildings it had occcupied in Tamil areas, and to disarm pro-government paramilitary groups. These paramilitary groups continued to exist and to carry out, in collusion with the Sri Lankan army, acts of violence and intimidation against LTTE supporters.

The UNP government, which claimed to want peace but failed to deliver it, was replaced in 2004 by a more openly chauvinist government, a coalition of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SFLP) with the JVP (Peoples Liberation Front). Later the JVP left the ruling coalition, but an even more extreme Sinhalese chauvinist party, the Jatika Hela Urumaya, which is led by Buddhist monks, joined the government.

Following the election of the SLFP, violence escalated into full-scale war. LTTE-controlled areas have been subjected to aerial and artillery bombardment by the Sri Lankan armed forces, as well as blockades preventing food supplies and other necessities from entering these areas. Tamil civilians have been murdered by government troops and pro-government militias, and Tamil youth have been conscripted into these militias against their will.

There have been a series of massacres by the armed forces. For example, on June 17, 2006, in the fishing village of Pesalai, Sri Lankan navy troops threw grenades into a church where Tamil refugees were sheltering. [4] On August 4, in the town of Muttur, 17 aid workers (most of them Tamils) employed by the French charity Action Contre le Faim (Action Against Hunger) were murdered in cold blood by the army. [5] On August 14, in Mullaitivu, an orphanage was bombed by the Sri Lankan airforce, killing more than 50 children. [6]

Fifteen-thousand people fled from the town of Vaharai in eastern Sri Lanka following heavy shelling by the Sri Lankan army on January 18, 2007. According to the Tamilnet website, the shelling was intensified in the evening despite an urgent message sent to the International Committee of the Red Cross from Vaharai hospital authorities saying that the area around the hospital, where many displaced people had sought refuge, was under attack. [7]

In March 2007, Batticaloa district parliamantarian S. Jeyanandamoorthy claimed that 40,000 people had been displaced from the Paduvankarai area of eastern Sri Lanka in a period of 48 hours, due to heavy artillery and rocket fire from the Sri Lankan army. [8]

Repression against Tamils has intensified, not only in the traditional Tamil areas of the north and east, but also in Sri Lanka's capital Colombo. Many Tamils have fled to Colombo, both to escape the fighting in the north and east and for economic reasons. But the renewed war has led to increased harassment of Tamils in Colombo. Police have carried out sweeps through Colombo’s suburbs, questioning Tamils about their reasons for being in the capital. Military checkpoints have been established at key junctions throughout the city.

On June 7, 2007, 500 Tamils were forcefully expelled from lodges in Colombo, and sent on buses to the north and east. A further 300 were detained in a police station awaiting transport.

Human rights and peace groups and Tamil and left parties held a demonstration to protest against the expulsions on June 8, 2007. The Supreme Court ordered a halt to the expulsions. Nevertheless, the expulsions provided yet another example of the government's racist attitude towards the Tamils.

Indian journalist Narayan Swamy commented that the expulsions carried out by the Sinhala-chauvinist state paradoxically prove the existence of, and the need for, a Tamil homeland: "For too long it has been claimed by Sri Lanka's ruling elite that there cannot be a concept of `Tamil homeland’ because more Tamils now live outside of the war zone that is the northeastern province, which was once overwhelmingly Tamil ... the Sri Lanka police's high-handed action seemed to prove that the `Tamil homeland’ does exist and it does constitute precisely that region the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) wants to secede.’’ [9]

The military situation

During 2007 the Sri Lankan army carried out an offensive to capture the LTTE-controlled areas in the eastern part of the island of Sri Lanka, and claimed to have been completely successful. During 2008, the army has been attempting to capture the LTTE-controlled areas in the north of the island, and to wipe out the LTTE altogether.

The Sri Lankan army has made some progress in capturing territory in the north, but is meeting fierce resistance. In the month of August 2008 alone, 155 Sri Lankan army soldiers were killed and 983 wounded [10]. While forced to retreat in some areas, the LTTE has carried out attacks behind Sri Lankan army lines. On September 9, the LTTE carried out an attack on the Sri Lankan army military headquarters for the Vanni district, killing 14 soldiers and causing severe damage [11]. In the east, supposedly under firm government control, ambushes and attacks on army bases continue to occur.

The LTTE has used light aircraft to carry out bombing raids on government targets, including an air base and oil installations in Colombo, and a military base in the northern Jaffna peninsula.

The government has claimed to be making rapid progress in capturing the north, and that it is close to complete victory over the LTTE. But after the LTTE attack on the Sri Lankan military's Vanni district headquarters in the town of Vavuniya, the UNP opposition has questioned the government’s claims of progress in the war. According to UNP parliamentarian Lakshman Seneviratne, "The Air Force base and the Police HQ of Vavuniya was attacked using heavy artillery. [The] Radar defence system is completely destroyed. This happened in an area that [the] government has always claimed has been liberated long ago, and cleared of any LTTE activity". [12]Seneviratne also accused government ministers of embezzling large quantities of money intended for the military.

Role of imperialism

The United States and other imperialist powers have always supported the Sri Lankan state against the Tamil struggle. They have supplied weapons and military training to the Sri Lankan army. Israel has supplied Kfir jets to the Sri Lankan airforce, which has used them to bomb towns such as Kilinochchi. The United States has long banned the LTTE as a "terrorist organisation" (while ignoring the campaign of state terrorism carried out by the Sri Lankan armed forces, except for an occasional mild criticism of some human rights violations).

More recently the European Union has also banned the LTTE.The bias of the "international community" has also taken more subtle forms. An example is the Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission (SLMM), which was established to supervise the 2002 ceasefire. The SLMM, which was headed by a Norwegian general, failed to enforce certain key provisions of the ceasefire agreement -- for example, those requiring the Sri Lankan army to vacate public buildings it had occupied in Tamil areas and to disarm paramilitary groups allied to the army. The Norwegian mediators also did not take seriously the LTTE's call for refugees to be allowed to return to their homes in the large areas of land occupied by the Sri Lankan army (the so-called "high security zones").

But while essentially supporting the Sri Lankan government, the imperialist powers have at times tried to pressure it into granting some concessions to the Tamils, in the hope of winning them away from the LTTE. Western governments sometimes criticise the Sri Lankan government for some of its human rights violations.

In December 2007 the US Senate imposed restrictions on the sale of military equipment to Sri Lanka, though equipment for the purpose of "maritime and air surveillance and communications" was excluded from the ban. [13]Such criticisms and pressure annoy the government and Sinhala chauvinists, who often claim that foreign powers are supporting the LTTE.

But this is nonsense. The recent partial restrictions on military supplies to Sri Lanka are an exception to the longstanding US policy of full support to the Sri Lankan government's war effort. As Gajan Raj says in the May 23, 2007, Tamil Guardian: "[T]he US failed to restrain the Sri Lankan state's belligerence and instead tolerated and encouraged it. Whilst making the odd statement that there was 'no military solution to conflict', the US provided increased military and financial assistance to the state even when Colombo was stepping up military violence in breach of the ceasefire agreement." [14]

US officials have made their position very clear. In November 2006, US under-secretary of state Nicholas Burns said: "[W]e are not neutral...We support the [Sri Lankan] government... We believe the government has a right to try to protect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country." [15]

Nevertheless, the Sri Lankan government has not relied solely on the US and its allies for support. It has bought weapons from a range of sources, including China, India, Pakistan and Russia. It sometimes seeks to win the sympathy of Third World people and governments by portraying itself as a victim of imperialist plots to "divide the country". Recently it has established economic links with Iran, and there have been claims of military links as well.

The government reacts with extreme hostility to even the slightest hint of criticism. When UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon expressed concern about the plight of Tamil refugees in the Vanni region, an official of Sri Lanka's so-called Human Rights Ministry claimed that there were "hardly any civilian casualties" and that Ban's remarks would benefit the LTTE. [16]

Failures of the left

The government's ability to wage war on the Tamils has been facilitated by the lack of a strong anti-war movement amongst the mainly Sinhalese population in the south of Sri Lanka. This in turn reflects the weakness and political inadequacy of the left in Sri Lanka.

During the 1950s the Sri Lankan left appeared fairly strong. Both the Communist Party and the Trotskyist Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) had a number of members of parliament.

However these parties proved willing to sell out their principles in order to be able to join coalition governments with the bourgeois Sri Lanka Freedom Party. For example they dropped their insistence on equality for the Tamil language. Furthermore the left parties largely neglected the rural poor.

The shortcomings of the left parties contributed to the rise of the JVP in Sinhala areas and of the LTTE in Tamil areas.

The JVP

The Peoples Liberation Front (JVP) was formed in the 1960s as a radical movement of Sinhalese rural youth. It led revolts against the government in 1971 and 1989 and was repressed by the Sri Lankan army with extreme brutality on both occasions.

Since then the JVP has been rebuilt and has had considerable success in parliamentary elections. Previously critical of the parliamentarist attitude of the old left parties, the JVP seems to have adapted to parliamentarism itself. In 2005 it reassured US officials that it had "renounced armed struggle". [17]

The JVP, while claiming to be Marxist, always had an element of Sinhalese chauvinism in its outlook. This has become more pronounced in recent years. While claiming to support equal rights for all ethnic groups, it denies the right of Tamils to self-determination and calls for war against the LTTE -- which in practice, given the racist character of the Sri Lankan army and the extent of popular support for the LTTE among Tamils, means war against the Tamil people.

The JVP, disregarding the tens of thousands of its own members and supporters massacred by the Sri Lankan army in 1971 and 1989, now talks of the army as "our armed forces" [18]. In August 2006 Wimal Weerawansa, who was at that time the JVP's propaganda secretary, was invited to address Sri Lankan army troops, and advocated full-scale war against the LTTE. [19]

Recently the JVP has split. The majority, while remaining pro-war, has attempted to reverse its declining support among working people by once again campaigning for workers' economic demands, which had been abandoned in favour of a single-minded emphasis on support for the war effort. The minority, which broke away and adopted the name National Freedom Front, continues to say that winning the war against the LTTE is its only task. The NFF is very close to the Rajapakse government.

Strengths and limitations of the LTTE

The LTTE has fought courageously and persistently against the Sri Lankan and Indian armies in an effort to win self-determination for the Tamil people. It has also been willing to seek a peaceful solution when it appeared that the Sri Lankan government might be willing to agree.

The LTTE has strong support from the Tamils living in the north and east of the island of Sri Lanka. This is indicated by election results (20 members of the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance were elected to Sri Lanka's parliament in 2004), and by the big attendance at LTTE-organised rallies held during the ceasefire (e.g. the series of large rallies for self-determination held throughout the north and east during 2005).

Yet the goal of self-determination has not yet been attained. This is not solely due to the military power of the Sri Lankan state and the backing it receives from the imperialist powers (important though that is). It is also due to the political limitations of the LTTE itself.

The LTTE has usually tended to see the struggle as a predominantly military one. This has led it to disregard certain essential political tasks, including the need to win support among the Sinhalese workers, peasants and students of southern Sri Lanka for the right of Tamils to self-determination, as well as the need to win the support of the Tamil-speaking Muslims of eastern Sri Lanka.

The US anti-war movement played a key role in forcing the withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam. The absence of a mass anti-war movement in southern Sri Lanka is a key obstacle to the success of the Tamil self-determination struggle.

The LTTE has been willing to negotiate with Sinhalese political leaders whenever the latter has shown any signs of wanting to reach a peaceful solution. But the LTTE has not made a serious effort to get its message directly to the Sinhalese masses, by bypassing the politicians whose promises of peace have been deceptive.

The lack of a strong anti-war movement in southern Sri Lanka reflects the weakness and political limitations of the Sri Lankan left. But some actions by LTTE have also helped to alienate the Sinhalese masses.

The LTTE has sometimes responded to the atrocities of the Sri Lankan army by carrying out atrocities of its own, including massacres of Sinhalese civilians. The LTTE has at various times carried out bombing campaigns in Sri Lanka's capital Colombo and elsewhere in the south. These actions have alienated Sinhalese workers from the Tamil struggle. When the targets were military such attacks could be justified, but this has not always been the case.

Errors by the LTTE also helped alienate the Tamil-speaking Muslims of northern and eastern Sri Lanka from the Tamil struggle. The government's discrimination against the Tamil language should have provided a basis for a united struggle by all Tamil-speaking people, including Muslims, against this injustice, and for a united homeland for all Tamil-speaking people in the north and east of Sri Lanka.

Some Muslim youth joined the LTTE in its early years. But the government, with the aid of some Muslim politicians, was able to instigate clashes between Tamils and Tamil-speaking Muslims. This led the LTTE to become suspicious of Muslims, to such an extent that it expelled them en masse from the Jaffna region. While the LTTE has since made efforts to rebuild relations with the Muslims, suspicions have not been completely overcome.

The LTTE's militaristic way of thinking has also led to the repression of dissent among Tamils. I mentioned that during the period of Indian intervention the Indian government tried to make use of the rivalries amongst Tamil militant groups by building up other groups as a counter to the LTTE. The Tigers reacted ruthlessly by murdering hundreds of members of rival groups. The LTTE also killed some human rights activists who were documenting atrocities by all sides, including the LTTE.

Support Tamil self-determination

These faults of the LTTE should not, however, negate our support for the right of Tamils to self-determination, and in particular for the removal of the occupying Sri Lankan army from Tamil areas.

The cycle of violence was initiated by the Sri Lankan government, and the government's denial of the right of Tamils to self-determination remains the main obstacle to peace. The Sri Lankan army is an army of occupation in Tamil areas. Its removal from these areas is a precondition for peace.

Self-determination need not lead to total separation of predominantly Tamil areas from the Sri Lankan state. The LTTE has stated its willingness to consider a federal structure. But the crucial point is that the unity of Sri Lanka most be voluntary. "Unity" can not be imposed by the Sri Lankan army through violent repression of the Tamil people.

[Chris Slee is member of the Democratic Socialist Perspective, a Marxist organisation affiliated to the Socialist Alliance of Australia. He a long-time activist in solidarity with the Tamil people’s struggle.]

References

1. AFTA media release, 12 September 2008

2. Anton Balasingham, War and Peace: Armed Struggle and Peace Efforts of Liberation Tigers, Fairmax Publishing, Mitcham England 2004, p. 9

3. LTTE theoretician and negotiator Anton Balasingham documents this in chapter 4 of his book (see above), where he publishes the series of letters exchanged between Kumaratunga and LTTE leader Vellupillai Pirapaharan.

4. The Age [Melbourne], June 19, 2006.

5. http://www.tamilnet.com [Tamilnet], August 8, 2006.

6. Tamilnet, August 14, 2006.

7. Tamilnet, January 19, 2007.

8. Tamilnet, March 9, 2007.

9. M.R.Narayan Swamy, "How to tell Tamils they don't belong in Sri Lanka", http://www.newkerala.com.

10. Statement by Sri Lankan prime minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake (cited by Tamilnet, September 9, 2008).

11. Figure of 14 military personnel killed, 29 wounded, plus "several policemen" killed, given by UNP parliamentarian Lakshman Seneviratne (cited by Tamilnet, September 10, 2008).

12. Lakshman Seneviratne, see note 11 above

13. Tamilnet, January 3, 2008.

14. Gajan Raj, Tamil Guardian, May 23, 2007.

15. Nicholas Burns, cited by Gajan Raj, Tamil Guardian, May 23, 2007.

16. Tamilnet, September 11, 2008.

17. See the article "Thank You US" in the JVP magazine Red Power, March-April 2005.

18. As above.

19. Sunday Leader [Sri Lanka], August 20, 2006; see also Tamilnet, August 25, 2006.

World Bank places Sri Lanka among the “highly vulnerable” countries

By Saman Gunadasa

World Bank report published just prior to a joint International Monetary Fund-World Bank meeting on October 10 included Sri Lanka among 28 countries that are judged to be “highly vulnerable” to the ongoing global financial crisis and credit crunch.

The countries listed were mainly small, impoverished and economically backward countries, including Eritrea, Ethiopia, Tajikistan, Madagascar, Nepal, Rwanda, Malawi, Ivory Coast, Fiji, Haiti, the Seychelles and Mauritania. The Seychelles declared on October 1 that the country was in default and could not pay interest on its foreign loans.

Speaking in New York prior to the October 10 meeting, World Bank President Robert Zoellick acknowledged that the international finance crisis was hitting many countries hard. “The events of September could be a tipping point for many developing countries.

A drop in exports will trigger a fall-off in investments. Deteriorating financial conditions combined with monetary tightening will trigger business failures and possibly banking emergencies. Some countries will slip toward balance-of-payments crises,” he said.

In order to forestall defaults, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) are demanding the reining in of budget deficits through cutbacks to government expenditure, including to subsidies and social spending, and an acceleration of privatisations. All of these measures will fall most heavily on those who can least afford it—millions of urban and rural poor in economically backward countries.

In Sri Lanka, Central Bank Governor Ajith Niward Cabral attempted to play down the World Bank report. In a press conference on October 24, Cabral was at pains to emphasise that the situation was not so bad. But the picture he painted was far from reassuring: rapidly draining foreign reserves, an unstable rupee and a flight of investment.
Cabral admitted that Sri Lanka’s foreign reserves had plunged by $US800 million, or more than 30 percent, in just three months. The reserves stood at $2.6 billion last week, down from $3.4 billion in early August. “[The] balance of payments problems this year seems to have been triggered by [a] withdrawal of foreign money brought into the country during the past two years to fill the ballooning budget deficit,” Cabral said.

The main drain on the treasury has been the government’s renewed communal war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) as well as the high cost of fuel and food imports. Since President Mahinda Rajapakse restarted the war in mid-2006, defence spending has jumped from 96 billion rupees for 2006 to 167 billion rupees for 2008—a rise of more than 70 percent.

Since last year, the government has borrowed $800 million at high interest rates from the international money markets. Earlier this month, it called for proposals to obtain another $300 million. According to a 2007 Central Bank report, the country’s overall debt stood at 85.8 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Foreign financing of the budget rose from 2.5 percent of GDP in 2006 to 3.7 percent in 2007.

To plug the holes in the treasury, the Central Bank has issued treasury bills and securities and taken out loans. For the first time, the government allowed the sale of 10 percent of treasury bonds to foreign investors. However, foreign investors are now selling off rupee-denominated securities in line with the scramble internationally out of so-called emerging economies.

Cabral pointed out that at the peak the bank had $600 million worth of foreign investment in government securities, but by last August $200 million had been withdrawn. He warned that in the coming months at least another $200 million would be pulled out.

In recent years, the Sri Lankan rupee has fallen sharply, contributing to an inflation rate that is currently hovering around 28 percent. Confronting a wave of strikes and protests over pay demands, the government pressed the Central Bank to take action to reduce inflation. The floating exchange rate was abandoned at the beginning of the year and replaced with a managed rate of 108 rupees to the US dollar.

The pull-out by foreign investors increased the demand for US dollars, forcing the Central Bank to repeatedly intervene in the market to defend the rate of 108 rupees. The result has been a huge strain on the Central Bank, which spent $202 million in September and another $150 million in the first three weeks of October.

Big business has expressed fears over the continuing drain on foreign reserves as a result of the managed exchange rate. Lanka Business Online wrote recently that “soft pegs and sterilised intervention of currencies eventually lead to steep currency falls, which can result in banking sector and economic collapse as has happened in East Asia, Sri Lanka in 2000 and is now happening in Iceland, Ukraine, Belarus and Pakistan.”
In 2000, the value of the Sri Lankan rupee plunged and foreign reserves fell dramatically, creating an acute balance of payment crisis. The IMF forced the government to implement a floating exchange rate, cut subsidies, and increase taxes including a defence levy, all of which hit working people and the poor.

While not as volatile as other share markets, the Colombo stock market has been falling amid global financial instability. The all share price index (ASPI) dropped by 8.4 percent and the blue chip Milanka index fell by 7.8 percent in the week from October 17 to October 24. In the year to September, the ASPI has dropped by 25 percent.
Sri Lankan exports are also suffering. Tea is the country’s third largest foreign exchange earner, employing half a million workers in the tea plantations. Tea prices and sales are both falling. Sri Lanka Tea Board chairman, Lalith Hettiarachchi, told the media last Friday: “All the stake holders are worried about the functioning of tea auction. In the last few weeks almost 65 percent of tea stocks were withdrawn from the auction because of the low demand and the prices.”

Along with other commodities, prices for tea had been rising since late last year. The Sri Lankan government had projected $1.5 billion in foreign exchange earnings this year from tea, but this target is no longer realisable. Plantation employers recently met President Rajapakse to request a financial bailout amounting to six to seven billion rupees. The Central Bank governor has since been ordered to devise a plan.

There are also concerns that the garment industry, another major exporter earner, will be badly affected by recession in US and Europe. Anura Ekanayake, deputy chairman of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, warned that any recession or growth slowdown in these two markets would have a “definite and significant” impact on demand for Sri Lankan products.

Mahesh Amalean, chairman of the major apparel exporter MAS Holdings, explained: “The impact of the US recession will hit us in the first half of next year. The whole of next year will be difficult, but the first half will be really tough.” The garment sector directly employs about 270,000 workers, mainly female, and makes up 10 percent of GDP.

The full impact of the global economic turmoil crisis is only beginning to hit countries such as Sri Lanka. Millions of workers will be affected as factories are shut down, the production of tea and other commodities is wound back, and the government imposes the burdens of the economic crisis and its war through further cutbacks to subsidies and social services.

COURTESY:World Socialist Web Site

November 02, 2008

“Superstar” Rajinikanth wants equal rights for Sri Lankan Tamils

“Superstar” Rajinikanth directly addressed Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse and called onto halt the war that is killing many innocent ordinary civilians for so many years. He said stopping the war is good for everyone. He pointed out that even with a powerful army, navy and air force, Sri Lanka is unable to win the war.

Rajinikanth, a “Superstar” with mass popularity around the world, delivered his remarks in his distinguished stylized delivery of dialogue, on Saturday Nov 1st in Chennai at the Tamil film fraternity fast showing solidarity with Tamils in Sri Lanka. Apart from film career, Rajinikanth is well known for philanthropy and also has a notable political influence. His latest movie ‘Sivaji’ was mega hit around the globe.

English translation of “Superstar” Rajinikanth’s speech:

[Tamil Film fraternity fast, Nov 1-Pic: Dinamani]

Rules and mankind

I am speaking here amidst several rules in place on speaking and expressing our sentiments. But I believe the efforts of this event are success today only due to this self imposed rules. Without rules mankind cannot succeed or achieve anything. I thank the organizers for a wonderful job in arranging this event to show consciousness in a thought provoking manner.

Melody to ears

Many distinguished guests spoke here. Many things could be said about this matter. And I thank every one of them.

I have met many Tamils from there, here and abroad. Even when they scold in their accent of Tamil dialect, it sounds melodious and musical. Not only their dialect. They are a wonderful people to be in company with. But it is a heart wrenching situation to see these people are forced to live away in other nations from their home country. Everyone here is aware of this.

Halt the war

They fought for their equal rights. They took up arms for this purpose. We all say that our Central and State Governments must take action, serious efforts to halt the war.

The actions and the voice we all raise will reach the President of Sri Lanka - Rajapakse and must be heard their Parliament. I only have one thing to tell them. The Tamil people only asked for equal rights there. You didn’t grant those rights. They are fighting for it now.

Three decades of war

You have the facilities and comfort of all three forces. Not two, five or ten – for thrity – thirty five years you have been unable to break them. What sort of fighters you have? Are these really 'men' fighting in your armed forces? You are unable to accept your defeat. Because, for you, it is a question of ego. Accept the truth and grant them equal rights.

Seeds of Tomorrow

When poor and innocent people of suffer, a country will never improve. Children, women and elders are suffering in their own soil. Ordinary people must not be allowed to suffer in any country. The people there are dying in large numbers for the past several years. Do you think their dead bodies are just being buried; no they are being planted into the land. Even if you wipe them all out in your war, understand these seeds will grow again tomorrow!

Halt the war, without putting thy self in the forefront, without thinking about I - my and mine. If you don’t’ agree, countries must take effort to make you understand.


[“Superstar” Rajinikanth, speaking on Nov 1, Sun TV video clip]

November 01, 2008

The New "Ram" Sethu

by Rajan Philips

N. Ram, Editor-in-chief of The Hindu, Chennai’s inimitable English daily, has emerged as the most influential eminent person on either side of the Palk Straits. Earlier in October, his paper condemned the chauvinistic eruptions in Tamil Nadu in support of the LTTE.  Mr. Ram himself got on the phone with the Sri Lankan President to find out first hand what was going on in “India’s utmost isle.” No one else in Chennai or Delhi, not to mention Colombo, could have done better. Last week, Mr. Ram conducted a face-to-face interview with President Rajapakse in the “tranquil setting” of the Temple Trees.

 

[N. Ram, Editor-in-chief of The Hindu]

As interviews go, it was more platitudinous than probing; soft answers to softer questions instead of tough questions and firm commitments; a rather surreal fiddling when the objects of the interview are burning. Temple Trees must be the only oasis of tranquility in a city of barricades, check points, arrests and kidnappings. “Oppressive tranquility”, was how Pablo Neruda sensed the city’s ambience with some uncanny foresight, seventy years ago when he was a Chilean foreign officer in Colombo. As bridge building goes, the new Ram Sethu is a bridge for the establishments – of Colombo, Chennai and Delhi. The subalterns will have no access to it.     

50 years ago, when communal violence targeting Tamils first engulfed Colombo, an even more eminent citizen of Madras, nay of all of India, the great Chakravarthy Rajagopalachari (Rajaji), used his Swarajya column to express sadness over the violence in Colombo and to chide the government of the day for breaking the island’s ethnic tranquility. The column must have stung Prime Minister Bandaranaike, for he used one of his parliamentary interventions to respectfully refer to Rajaji’s concerns. I was too young at that time to read the Swarajya, but I remember picking up the story from family table talk, and later reading Mr. Bandaranaike’s speech in the Hansard. 

Old stories, old forces

The Hansard of 1956-59, the period during which Mr. Bandaranaike was Prime Minister until felled by an assassin’s gun, offers a reflection of the emerging contradictions in Sri Lanka’s politics. There was Philip Gunawardena, breathing fire at the Neanderthals (his term) who were setting fire to Tamil houses in Colombo; there was Colvin R de Silva perorating to the government front benches not to drag the country down the path of Sinhala Only; there were chauvinist voices telling Pieter Keuneman to go to Australia; there was S.J.V. Chelvanayakam, already inaudible, but insistently clinging to his faith in federalism; and there was Prime Minister Bandaranaike vainly trying to please everyone, and valiantly trying to enable the statesman in him to put back the communal genie in the bottle which the politician in him had uncorked to win the 1956 elections.

I am not trying to regurgitate old stories here, or to draw an uncharitable pair-wise comparison between Rajaji and Ram, on one side of the Palk Strait, and Bandaranaike and Rajapakse on the other side. But those of us, who have lived through the ethnic turbulences of the 1950s and every worse decade thereafter, have seen too much for too long not to raise alarm at the recurrence, as new faces, of the old forces who torpedoed Mr. Bandaranaike’s efforts to find a structural solution to the Tamil question. These forces still have sway, if not so much in the country, but certainly over the policy directions of President Rajapakse and his government. What is worse, President Rajapakse is not trying even half as much as S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike did.    

But unlike Mr. Bandaranaike, President Rajapakse has a stranglehold on power. He has successfully internalized and emasculated all political opposition among the Sinhalese. The few checks against his regime occasionally emanate from the Supreme Court. For different reasons, India and the outside world could exert a limited influence on the government’s handling of the political solution to the Tamil question. But everyone concerned has given the green light to the government’s military offensive against the LTTE. The effects of this exclusive military plan on the Tamils are immediate and transparent, but it would be a while before the effects on all other Sri Lankans including the Sinhalese become apparent.

Let off the hook

In these circumstances, any political solution would be impossible if it does not have the commitment from and constant involvement by President Rajapakse. But there is a difference, a big difference, between the President’s support being a necessary condition for a political solution, on the one hand, and assuming that the President is in fact genuinely supportive of a political solution and is seriously striving to achieve one. The fact that the President says so to Mr. Ram is also not good enough as there is a mountain of evidence to the contrary. It could not have been that the visitor from Chennai was unaware of this evidence, but in a mutually-admiring encounter the guest is constrained not to embarrass the host with unedifying evidence.   

Particularly insulting is the reference in the reporting of the interview to the tardiness of the All Party Representative Committee Process, and the assurance by the President that “I myself will take charge of the political process and see it through politically.”  Come on! Mr. Ram knows enough people in Colombo to ascertain for himself that the real reason for the tardiness of the APRC was the President himself. Rather than probing what went wrong and how different the APRC process will be from now on, the interview simply lets the President off the hook and swallows the President’s words – hook, line and sinker.  

Mr. Ram and his newspaper are well known for their uncompromising characterization of the LTTE as the deadliest terrorist outfit in the world that needs to be eradicated totally and absolutely. There is little that is exceptionable about this characterization, but what is utterly indefensible is its simplistic corollary that any process that seeks the defeat of the LTTE will automatically lead to the liberation of the Tamils. To its credit, India has emphasized the difference between defeating the LTTE and resolving the Tamil question that predates the LTTE and in fact gave rise to it in desperation. It is this measured diplomatic missive from Delhi to Colombo that created the possibility, as I argued last week, for the progressive forces within and outside the government to begin to influence the President to take a new direction and formulate a political solution independent of pursuing the military offensive.

 

[President Mahinda Rajapakse-AP file photo]

Alas, Mr. Ram’s interview seems to have given President Rajapakse enough room to wiggle out of a tight situation, showing off his new talking points: “A military solution is for the terrorists; a political solution is for the people living in this country.” And the new 4-D approach: Demilitarization; Democratization; Development; and Devolution. To the most significant question in the interview – “are they (the 4-Ds) in some order?” – President Rajapakse affirmed the order in answer: no devolution without development, no development without democratization, and no democratization without demilitarization. In short, no nothing without a military victory.  And there is no Ram Sethu for the half a million repeatedly displaced people stuck between military solution and political solution.