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Home > International Tamil Conferences on Tamil Eelam Freedom Struggle > > Peace with Justice, Australia, 1996 > Peace in Sri Lanka - Obstacles & Possibilities
|International Conference on the Conflict in Sri Lanka:
Peace with Justice, Canberra, Australia, 1996
Peace in Sri lanka - Obstacles And Possibilities
Mr. A. S. Pannerselvan
The construction of third world reality has many layers of articulation of the dominating forces and much more layers of articulation of the resisting forces giving rise to a situation where eternal combat becomes both subtle and crude simultaneously, only to demolish the Habermasian notion of the Public Sphere. My decade long experience and innumerable visits to Sri Lanka gives me a vantage position to read the discursive course of the Tamil militant movement there.
I have virtually covered every major development - India-lead tripartite discussion in 1985, the Indo -Lankan accord of 1987, the break down of the accord and the subsequent bloody conflict during 1987-90, the peace talks organised by the President Premadasa, the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, India's sudden silence about the crisis, the assassination of Premadasa, the emergence of LTTE as the de facto state in the Northern peninsula of Jaffna, Chandrika's election campaign with peace as the slogan, her failure to deliver , the army's ascendancy in determining the political course, the take over of Jaffna by the army and the eventual forcing of the entire Tamil community of Jaffna as refugees in the jungles of the mainland.
Yet, as a journalist I remain a spectator and not a participant in the political sense of the term making it extremely difficult to even suggest solutions, let alone offering proposals. I, as an Indian Tamil who is simultaneously close and far from the Tamils of Lanka, would like to sit in the infamous no-man's land that separates the Tamils and the Sinhalese, and explore various possibilities of the future course of this five decade old crisis. In this paper I would try to read the path traversed by the three major players --Tamil leadership, Sinhala leadership and the Indian State -- and arrive at a tentative conclusion ( I don't know whether the 'conclusion' is the right word).
Let's start from the last player - the Indian State. To describe the Union Of India's concern purely in geo-political terms or purely in terms of the "Tamil Nadu factor" blinds the complexities that guide the functioning of the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi. The "spill-over effect" of Sri Lankan crisis in the form of refugee influx is also a discarded theory. A simple example will prove the point. After the unsuccessful Lama revolt in 1959, the Dalai Lama, the God-King of six million Tibetans fled, along with thousands of his followers, to India. But India treated the Tibetan issue as an internal problem of China, choosing not to claim a locus stand in the problem because there were over a 100,000 Tibetan refugees in India. Similarly India has had successive waves of refugees from Bangladesh , belonging to the Chakma tribes of the Chittagong tracts. The Chakma tribals are the Buddhists fleeing the terror accompanying the Islamic colonisation of their sparsely populated homeland. While the presence of Dalai Lama and the Chakma tribals remain an irritant in India's relation with China and Bangladesh, these have never been a major issues in bilateral relations. And India's role in the creation of Bangladesh is obviously geo-political.
According to Professor S D Muni of the Indian think tank academic institution Jawaharlal Nehru University, the strategic divergence between India and its neighbours has been a persistent theme in inter regional relations in South Asia. The intensity and expression of this divergence has depended upon a number of other factors. Two of the most important factors are:
1) issues relating to the nature of the regimes and ruling elites of South Asia , and
2) the nature of strategic equations between India on one hand and the extra regional major powers on the other. There have been instances when, between a certain regime in the neighbouring country and India, divergence has either faded out or remained an easily manageable factor in bilateral relations. Relations with the King Tribhuvan regime (1951-55) in Nepal; Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's regime (1972-75) in Bangladesh and various SLFP regimes in Sri Lanka. In fact, the two anti-Tamil pacts -- Srimavo-
Sastri agreement and the Srimavo-Mrs Gandhi agreement were signed during the SLFP regimes. The extension of extra regional great power rivalry of the Cold War into the subcontinent gave India a sense of weakness and perceived vulnerability. The support for Tamil militancy during its early phase (1981-87) was mainly to prevent the US penetration into the region through "the open market of the UNP regime". With the end of the cold war and India's right ward march, there is little difference in India's perception of the two major parties of Sri Lanka - UNP and SLFP.
The direct involvement phase of 1987-90 actually ended in 1991 with Rajiv's assassination. Since this phase has been discussed ad infinitum, I would like to skip it. (This phase is also wrongly categorised into three straight jackets -- JVP's notion of Indian expansionism; Aryans of North India joining hands with Sinhala Buddhist Aryans against the indigenous Dravidians; and India's attempt to maintain power balance within South Asia). The Indian Peace Keeping Force was withdrawn from the tear-drop shaped island in 1990 when Inder Kumar Gujral was the Foreign Minister and Muthuvel Karunanidhi was the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. Six years later now the same Inder Kumar Gujral is back as India's Foreign Minister and the same M Karunanidhi is the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. But why is the Indian state silent about the present plight if the Tamils across the Palk Strait. Even a cursory observer will tell that this is the worst phase in the lives of the Jaffna Tamils. The war is continuing as a routine day-to-day affair and the seventy per cent or Jaffna population is uprooted. Why is there no protest from Tamil Nadu? Has Tamil Nadu ceased to be a factor in the Indian policy? NO. On the other hand, today Tamil Nadu determines the political course of India.
To understand this tragic silence one mist understand the dynamics of the emotional support extended by the Tamils of India to their fraternity across the Palk Strait. Even inadequate parameters like GNP will show that the Jaffna Tamil is more well placed; more urbanised; more literate and more economically advanced than his counter part in Tamil Nadu. The sympathy for Jaffna Tamils was never based on economics, but ideological and emotional. The struggle there gave a sense of surrogate nationalism to the people of Tamil Nadu as the federal polity was stymied by the central government in Delhi. Hence Tamil Nadu became the site for the Jaffna Tamil to articulate his political aspirations. The governing principle of the support extended by the people of Tamil Nadu was ethical not geo-political like that of the Indian state.
There was genuine indignation against the state sponsored violence of the 1980s against the people of Jaffna. This moral indignation converted Tamil Nadu into a fluid metaphor of Tamil resistance and desire for asserting the cultural identity. The struggle across the sea was understood in terms of the of the boarder seven decades old self respect movement of the state. The issue was not whether the Jaffna Tamils should opt for the armed struggle or continue Satyagragha but about their right to fight for their rights. The moment the site called Tamil Nadu became the site to settle scores among the various armed groups instead of being a site to build a moral and psychological support base, the India Tamil voice started losing is pitch. It is rather unfortunate that the Tamil militancy failed to realise the impact of this factor. Their attempt to extend the terrain and interpolate the armed conflicts of Jaffna in Tamil Nadu helped only to get the DMK government dismissed. In a sense the Jayalalitha's regime was a product of the spill over effect. But for Rajiv's assassination neither AIADMK would have been at Fort St George nor Congress at Red Fort. No Indian Tamil likes his polity to get skewed because of his sympathy towards the Lankan Tamil. The five years of Jayalalitha's misrule will be a constant reminder for any average Tamil when it comes to the Lankan issue. With the Brahmin media waiting in the wings to bring her back to power at any cost, the average Tamil feel that he should not permit the "external" issue like the Lankan Tamils plight to affect his native polity.
This leads to the first player - the Tamil leadership (By Tamil leadership I mean only the Lankan Tamil leadership and not Indian). There is one factor which is known to everyone but none is prepared to discuss it threadbare. The equation between the DMK and the LTTE. Way back in 1986, the LTTE refused to accept the money given by the then opposition party DMK. The LTTE leadership felt that accepting the money may affect its relationship with the then ruling party AIADMK. Later, when the internal quibblings started within the DMK in early 1990s, the various magazines owing allegiance to the LTTE not only supported the rebel Gopalaswamy but also condemned Karunanidhi for "foisting" his son. While Karunanidhi's son could win assembly elections twice, Gopalaswamy could never win a single elections. While Karunanidhi has a clear stand with reference to Lanka -- no war and negotiated settlement which guarantees both peace and justice, Gopalaswamy identified himself with the anti- Eelam party Communist Party of India (Marxist). The Lankan Tamil leadership's failure to read the political reality of Tamil Nadu is appalling. MGR managed to win only one election (1977) because of his popularity. His victory in 1980 and 1984 were products of sympathy waves. In 1980 because his government was unjustly dismissed by Mrs Gandhi and in 1984 because of the twin sympathy generated out of Mrs Gandhi's assassination and MGR's illness. The thirteen years of wilderness did not erode the cadre base of the DMK and it has managed to survive as the most organised political party in India. The Lankan Tamil leadership failed in its cardinal principle of looking at the Tamil Nadu polity as a collective support base and choose to play politics within political parties. The sacredness of the site was violated repeatedly by the militants by their reckless violence. The moral geography was trespassed in such a manner to threaten the socio-political practices of Tamil Nadu. What Babri Masjid is to BJP, Rajiv's assassination is to the Tamil militancy. The ability to strike at will may be a military capability; certainly not a political act of a liberation movement. Hence, the undercurrent of this latent adversarial relationship is bound to determine the future course of Indian policy towards the Tamils across the Palk Strait.
However, when it comes to the contentious question of the legitimacy of the LTTE I am very clear that no settlement to the ethnic issue is possible without their participation and trying to replace them with some weak quisling from Colombo or Timbauctoo would only complicate the already complex issue. I arrive at this conclusion not from the Tamils point of view but from the point of view of the two governments -- Indian and the Sri Lankan. Right from 1986 successive Indian and Sri Lankan governments whenever they preferred to talk to the Tamils, they have preferred the LTTE and have shunned other groups. The 1986 SAARC meet at Bangalore actually recognised the LTTE as the major representative of the Tamils as the then President J R Jayawardene acknowledged Velupillai Pirabaharan as the leader with whom he would like to talk and negotiate. All the other Tamil groups were ignored. Later, when the Indo-Sri Lankan accord of 1987 was signed, the two governments gave importance only to the LTTE in the formation of the still-born Interim Administrative Council. When the relationship between India and Sri Lanka got strained during the Premadasa regime, he used the LTTE as his main ally and declared that they are the trusted representatives of the Tamil. And Chandrika in her phase of offensive - which I would like to term as peace offensive - recognised only the Tigers and the four rounds of negotiation proves this point. However, the moment the relationship between the negotiating governments and the LTTE got strained, the governments start talking about the other Tamil voices and how it cannot accept the LTTE as the sole arbitrator of the Tamil destiny. This double-speak of the governments is the fountainhead for my belief that without the LTTE it is impossible to work out a lasting solution.
This takes us to the third player in the tragic drama called Sri Lanka -- the Sinhala leadership. The general elections of 1994 indicated some important trends as well as paradoxes in Sri Lankan politics, particularly in the area of ethnic relations. More than on any other occasion, that election had brought home the point that the voters of all ethnic communities are for moderation and that conditions are most favourable for rebuilding Sri Lanka's ethnic relations in an atmosphere of democratic renewal. The setback suffered by extremist communalist forces like Dinesh Gunawardena's Mahajana Eksath Perumuna gave fillip towards the politics of reconciliation. But, what has the new leadership of Chandrika done with this massive verdict for peace and for dismantling the oppressive structure? Chandrika has squandered the wonderful opportunity. Once she launched war against the Tigers there is a definite shift in her political narrative - a narrative that prioritises military solution over the negotiated political solution. While saying this I am aware of the counter arguments that would be put forth by various votaries of war. They would invoke the "TINA" factor (There is no other alternative factor) as the tigers called off the truce unilaterally on April 19, 1995. To blame Tigers is the easiest way out What ever said and done, the LTTE is a guerrilla movement and a nation state is expected to be more responsible and have a much better insight into the future and it cannot justify its action as a response to the provocation of Tigers' action. Imagine a scenario where the government exercised enormous restraint and went ahead with unilateral peace offensive instead of the war. Imagine the Sri Lankan government dismantling all the barricades and lifting all forms of embargoes. Imagine a condition where there is no Thandikulam or Elephant Pass camp and Tamils could move freely. The moment the Lankan government had dismantled the ghettoised geographic division and the system made porous, the Tamils would have put enormous pressure on Tigers to sit and negotiate and arrive ant an enduring peace. For them, peace should also respect their just aspirations.
Whatever said and done to capture Jaffna and to have the Lion flag flutter from the Jaffna Fort is not a sign of reconciliation. It is a gesture of military victory. You can't celebrate military victory and talk about peace. There is something very base about such and act. Why has Chandrika's "war for peace" failed to win the support of Sinhala hard-liners towards "devolution"? What prevented her from pushing certain regulations that would have granted greater freedom for Tamils within the present legal and constitutional framework? Why did she fail in fulfilling her three main electoral promises -- peace, reduction of prices and abolition of the authoritarian Executive Presidency? When she can pursue war using the provisions of Executive Presidency, what prevents her from using the same provisions for peace and transfer of power before April 1995? It is very clear that those who support the war generally oppose autonomy and those who support autonomy generally oppose war. Sri Lanka witnessed a gory sight where the Defence Minister was pleading for peace with the Chief Buddhist Monk and the monk fiercely advocating war. The interaction between The Malwatte Chapter and the Defence Minister Ratwatte is a pointer in understanding the Tamil scepticism of a Sinhala government's ability to deliver a meaningful transfer of power.
The arguments against the government's devolution package have a distinct character: they are a repetition of the same arguments that have been repeatedly re-cycled by generations of Sinhalese nationalist intellectuals since mid-fifties. These arguments revolve around two key formulations: "division of the country" and the "betrayal of the Sinhalese nation". Unless the Sinhala majority learns to imagine a solution outside the "Unitary State" - so central and emotionally evocative to the majoritarian world view - it is impossible for the peace package to gain any currency among the Tamils. Though it is not within the scope of this paper, I must point out that jubilation following the fall of Jaffna in the Lankan media, the carnival like atmosphere in Colombo and other Southern parts have created a deep sense of resentment among the Tamils. In this juncture, the package looks anaemic. Hence, it is almost clear that neither the Chandrika's PA regime nor the LTTE can come closer at the moment.
This leads us to the next plausible possibility. (One possibility is to crush the remaining Tamil people and give them the peace of the grave, which is unacceptable to any right thinking person). The third party mediation. The real problem with the third party mediation is that we need a frame work to work as the possible alternative. Various policy makers in Delhi, European capitals and Washington keep repeating that no concrete proposal has ever come from the Tigers. "Devolution is a bottomless pit and even splitting the country can be termed as devolution", observed a Western diplomat. Therefore the need of the hour is evolve a Tamil model - that is qualitatively different from the earlier solutions including the 13th Amendment. It could even be a combination of the French Quebec model, the Indian state model and Cyprus-Turk model. But unless a concrete idea come from the Tamil side, comes out in clear and loud terms, the international community may not take up initiative to be a third party. Whether we like it or not, the PA regime has a policy frame work in the peace package. It is important for the Tamils to have a definite model to facilitate an international intervention. And one should also be aware of the fact that international intervention will extract its own price in terms of hard negotiations and the Tamils should also have a fall back position which should be substantially below the Thimpu charter and substantially above the 13 th Amendment. If we accept politics as a continuous process for the people to fulfil their political aspirations, then the fall back position can be seen a stepping stone towards their chosen Utopia. It is not a compromise but keeping the spirit of fighting alive.
The Chandrika's government cannot afford to continue this war endlessly as the magnitude of the sums required completely dwarfs the largest single effort made by the Sri Lankan government since independence - the Mahaweli project. The country has already plunged into darkness due to inadequate power supply. The ingenuity in push the clock could have helped to gain some more day light. But, her ethnic policy is as dark as ever and she has indeed put the clock back to the pre- 1987 situation, where the constant slogan was "to marginalise the LTTE and force it to compromise". But, there is little opposition to her war efforts. This raises one major question: Will there ever be peace in that island? For this rather unkind question, my answer is: I do not know.