Tamils - a Trans State Nation..

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Home > International Tamil Conferences on Tamil Eelam Freedom Struggle > > Peace with Justice, Australia >  Has Sri Lanka bitten off more than it can chew

International Conference on the Conflict in Sri Lanka:
Peace with Justice, Canberra, Australia, 1996

Has Sri Lanka Bitten Off More Than It Can Chew?

Vasantha Rajah

Author of "Tamil Exodus and Beyond" - Mr Vasantha Rajah is based in London and works as a free-lance journalist. Formerly he was the Chairman of Rupavahini, the State-run National TV Network in Sri Lanka, between October 1994 and May 1995. He resigned his post in protest when the Sri Lanka government called upon the state-media to back the government's war-effort. Prior to his appointment with Rupavahini, Vasantha Rajah was producer of "Sandeshaya" program (Sinhala) on BBC, World Service.

I am grateful to the organisers of this timely conference, that is, the Australian Human Rights Foundation and the Australasian Federation of Tamil Associations, for giving me the opportunity to share my views with this unique audience. Now that the armed forces of the Sri Lankan government have successfully occupied a significant portion of the Tamil homeland and imposed a military administration there, dismantling the de facto government of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), it is indeed timely to undertake a sober examination of its implications.

The whole operation to occupy the Jaffna peninsula was carried out in three stages, code named, Operation Riviresa (or Sunrays) One, Two and Three. The first stage concentrated on the Valigamam district, the second on Thenamarachchi, and the third on Vadamarachchi.

It is clear that both the timing and the objectives of the second and the third stages of operation Riviresa were very different from the first, and indeed were largely determined by the experiences of the preceding episodes, just as the LTTE's own tactics seem to have undergone fundamental change in response to the military's new strategy.

It is true that the military occupation of the Jaffna peninsula marked a serious moral setback for the LTTE, after loosing its dearly-held territories around the cultural centre of the Tamil nation. In what follows, however, I shall argue that the up-beat interpretation of the so-called military triumph of the Government is extremely misleading and that a serious analysis beneath the surface would reveal the hollowness of the government's claims. In fact, I shall try and show that the second and the third episodes of Operation Riviresa have only amplified the military, economic and political vulnerability that the Sinhala administration in Colombo had plunged itself into, by occupying Valigamam in December `95 - an event which caused a historic exodus of half a million people away from the approaching army.

Let me begin with a quick comparison of Stage 3 of Operation Riviresa with the preceding two stages:

In contrast to Operation Riviresa (OR) 1 and 2, the instant success of Operation Riviresa 3 without any resistance from LTTE forces must have come as a pleasant surprise for the government's military strategists. More than anything else, it seems to me to be indicative of a turning-point in the strategy and tactics of the LTTE struggle. In OR1, we saw how the LTTE's strong resistance (daring encounters, booby-trapped buildings etc.,) delayed the military's approach considerably. As a result, the military's onslaught became increasingly ruthless, inflicting enormous damage on civilians and property. In OR2 and 3, however, the LTTE's non-confrontational stance seems to have worked relatively well in terms of the civilians' well-being. In the face of the military round-up, LTTE cadres are reported to have even advised people to return to Valigamam and be vigilant and cautious in their relations with the army.

Obviously, the LTTE had chosen to retreat for the time being, keeping its leadership and cadres essentially unbroken, in the face of a technologically and numerically superior conventional army. But, has the Sinhala-dominated military, by occupying a substantial part of the Tamil homeland, quite unwittingly, bitten off more than it can chew?

Before coming to that let me briefly examine the possible motivations behind OR2 and OR3.

All the signals coming from the war zone indicated that OR2 was somewhat different from the previous military offensive (OR1) in terms of objectives. Clearly the aim of OR2 was not to destroy, or even defeat, a substantial section of the LTTE cadres. The military was, obviously, well aware that the LTTE's forces were not going to wait there to get killed by random bombing and shelling. The military's target there was to redress the political defeat they faced last time as a result of the mass exodus of Tamil people (over half a million of them) away from the approaching Sinhala troops into LTTE-held territory. At the end of OR1, tens of thousands of Sinhala troops occupying empty land within alien territory amounted to military lunacy rather than any victory.

So, the military leaders wanted to find ways of bringing back at least a section of the people who fled Valigamam last time. Some of the refugees had gone to Vanni and some had settled in Thenamarachchi, around Chavakachcheri. In Operation Riviresa 2, the military opted to target the settlers within Thenamarachchi rather than those within the jungle terrain in Vanni for obvious military convenience. OR2 amounted to a premeditated attack on civilians at random, in order to terrorise and force at least a substantial section of them to return to Valigamam so that the government could set up something resembling a government administration under military occupation, and thereby, provide a pretext for those foreign governments, which already provide assistance to crush the LTTE, to increase their support.

After terrorising the Tamil refugee-communities within Thenamarachchi through random bombing and shelling, the Sinhala troops effectively rounded up the areas around Chavakachcheri and forced them to return to Valigamam. The military's superior fire-power obviously helped the armed forces prevent another exodus to Vanni territory. This time the operation was specifically designed to abort such an eventuality. In order to try and stem the efforts of thousands of refugees to escape into Vanni, the military attacked the fleeing civilians through the Kilali lagoon and sealed off the Kilali escape route.

The LTTE, for its part, seemed to have learnt vital lessons from the (technologically and numerically superior) OR1 launched by the government forces over open terrain within the Jaffna peninsula, and hence this time they seemed to have chosen not to confront them directly - at least for the time being.

They might have thought it would be strategically wiser to concentrate on the vast jungle-terrain in Vanni which spreads from the western coast to the eastern coast occupying a strategic position with easy access to the northern peninsular as well as to the eastern province.

Meanwhile, most of the eastern province is now under LTTE-control. One journalist, Paul Harris, who visited the East recently, says in the May issue of Jane's International Defence Review, that in practical terms, the army's only hope is to maintain control of just ONE road going to the East (i.e., from Polonnaruwa to Batticaloa). He adds that even this route is barely held.

Episode two of the Riviresa operation, meanwhile, did not look like an effort to expand the military's territorial gains, even though they would be delighted to occupy the entire Jaffna peninsula if they could. Perhaps it was the growing passivity of the LTTE (in contrast to the strong resistance shown in OR1) which inspired the military to quickly move into Vadamarachchi. It took only 36 hours to occupy key positions within Vadamarachchi. The military lost only two soldiers and that too under accidental circumstances, not through direct confrontation. The LTTE did not resist at all. It was clear that the LTTE had made a tactical withdrawal. In fact, the strategy of the LTTE seems to have undergone a fundamental change in response to the military's new approach.

It does not take a genius to foresee that the Tamil people are not going to enjoy life under Sinhala-military rule, and that friction between the Sinhala soldiers and the Tamil civilians is bound to increase as time passes by. And, judging by the fate which befell the government's political package, the chances of the Sinhala-dominated Centre offering a palatable solution to the Tamils are very slim indeed. In this context, the reasoning behind the LTTE's new approach cannot be difficult to comprehend at all.

Just as they (the LTTE) did when they could not confront the Indian army directly (when Indian Peace Keeping Forces occupied the Jaffna peninsular in the late 80s), the LTTE seems to have come to the realisation that the time has arrived to limit its struggle to guerrilla warfare, at least for the time being. Reports coming from the occupied territories suggest that LTTE guerrillas remaining behind enemy lines have already begun sporadic attacks on the troops. Just recently, the LTTE blew up three navy patrol boats in military-controlled Karainagar. Guerrilla attacks in the East have also increased dramatically.

It is clear that allowing the military's limited resources to stretch to the limits in its effort to control additional areas within Jaffna terrain can only be advantageous to the LTTE in the longer run. In a recent interview published in the Sri Lankan Sunday Leader, army commander Daluwatta, answering the question "Do you think you have enough personnel to hold captured territory?", says: "There is a shortfall at present....Although certain people in Colombo are talking about waging an all-out war, they must realise that we do not have the necessary numbers" (Sunday Leader, 5 May).

It is clear that now there exists an absurd situation in which an inadequate number of Sinhala troops are thinned out across a large area, all over the peninsula, and worst of all, in the midst of a hostile, but tight-lipped, populace, while Sinhala soldiers are burdened with the dilemma of winning the hearts and minds of the Tamil people on the one hand and imposing tight security to prevent LTTE infiltration and attacks, on the other.

It was none other than President Kumaratunga herself who admitted just six months ago that the government's forces would have to increase three-fold if the government wants to defeat the LTTE totally. She has yet to reveal the new wisdom that made her alter that calculation. The million dollar question is whether the government is prepared to borrow billions more and jeopardise the already tumbling economy.

According to informed sources, the military is said to be going through a tough time filling the places vacated by a constant stream of army deserters, let alone increasing the numbers three-fold. According to a foreign journalist, "...One base commander said that when his men went home for 14 days leave, up to 30 per cent did not return" (Paul Harris, Janes International Defence Review, May `96).

Therefore, the occupation of Vadamarachchi in Operation Riviresa 3 looks more like a quick response to the passive withdrawal of LTTE forces from Jaffna terrain rather than part of a well-planned strategy.

One plausible explanation for this sort of military adventure is: political opportunism on the part of the crumbling SLFP-led government of Chandrika Kumaratunga. Many political observers in Colombo are predicting a snap general election to reap the benefits of war euphoria before it is too late. If that is the case, the military occupation of Jaffna should go down in history as the most ignoble act by any Sinhala government since Independence to exploit anti-Tamil hysteria in order to gain political power. This military adventure deserves to be judged by future historians to have surpassed all past acts against the Tamil nation by other Sinhala governments, in terms of its criminality.

Let us give the benefit of doubt to the government and assume that the reason for OR3 was not political opportunism, but some other reason we cannot readily comprehend. Let us assume, for example, that Gen. Ratwatta naively believes that the military can somehow occupy the entirety of the Tamil homeland within a few months with existing resources, or perhaps with some additional resources, and eventually destroy the LTTE and the Tamil struggle. I shall argue, in what follows, that this strategy is bound to end up, not just in military disasters, but in economic and political disasters as well, for the South of the country.

During the above mentioned interview, the army commander explained the objectives of Operation Riviresa 2 as follows: "We had three objectives in mind. Firstly - to get back the civilians who were in Valigamam - we opened a corridor. Secondly, the capture of Kilali lagoon. Thirdly to capture Thenamarachchi."

Out of the three objectives he mentions here, the first, I think, is the most important one. The second and the third ones, in my view, were carried out only as necessary measures to facilitate the first objective. For, as I said earlier, the primary aim now is to try and establish at least a caricature of an administration to prepare the ground-work to carry out the political aspect of the government's strategy. This project seems to have two objectives. Firstly, to impress foreign governments without whose help the government's war effort would collapse. The government wants to demonstrate to the world community that the Tamil people are eagerly waiting to accept an administration run by them.

Secondly, to try and drive a wedge between the Tamil people and its leadership. (I have argued elsewhere that this second objective was part and parcel of the government's strategy even during the ill-fated peace process. For, both the government and military leaders believed that in order to crush the Tamil struggle it was imperative to marginalise the LTTE from the Tamil people).

The second objective implies that the government knows very well that the LTTE has emerged as the leadership of the Tamil people and that they are not a bunch of terrorist hated by the Tamil nation. The government's determination to somehow crush the LTTE seems to stem from its understanding that it would never be able to impose a solution which leaves the Sinhala domination at the Centre intact as long as the LTTE remains undefeated. The Sinhala government likes to treat the Tamils as "tenants" living in the "Sinhala-Buddhist household".

The LTTE, on the other hand, perceives the Tamils as a distinct nation occupying its own household. So, as far as the LTTE is concerned, negotiations for a new state-structure that would accommodate the aspirations of both households should be done on a voluntary and equal basis, respecting the Tamils' right to self-determination. The Sinhala government is well aware of this position and that seems to be the main reason why it is hell-bent on destroying the LTTE before agreeing on a political settlement with other tiny Tamil groups who are collaborating with the government. Hence, the government's relentless effort to try and marginalise the LTTE from the Tamil people.

In my view the government is going to face nasty shocks in trying to achieve its objectives after forcing a section of the Tamil people to live under military rule manned by Sinhala soldiers.

In its effort to put its strategy into practice, the government has been compelled to create a ghetto, for sections of the Tamil population, under harsh military control.

The government seems to naively believe that it can create a conflict between the people and the LTTE by cleverly manipulating the "economic embargo" together with "military terrorism" to intimidate those who live within LTTE-controlled territories. On the one hand, the government is trying to bribe a section of the Tamil community into submission by offering lucrative incentives, such as money, food, medicine etc., to those who come to live within military-controlled areas, and on the other hand, it is trying to force those living within LTTE-controlled areas into submission by imposing a strict ban on relief supplies and refusing to pay salaries etc., to Tamil government servants not willing to cross over to the military-controlled areas.

Reports arriving from army-occupied territories, however, reveal that due to scarcity of essential food items prices are rocketing and people can be seen waiting in long queues to buy essential food items and many go away empty handed as shelves become empty very quickly due to short supply. Also some defence correspondents in Colombo have begun to question the possibility of creating smooth living conditions when the LTTE is holding the Vanni territories separating the North from the South, thus depriving the troops in Jaffna of a land route to the South.

For, without a land route and a railway link the government will have to depend totally on sea and air transportation to supply, not just massive amounts of food, medicine and other basic needs for hundreds of thousands of people living within the peninsula, but also vast quantities of construction material needed to rebuild hundreds of thousands of houses, plus thousands of government and commercial buildings, schools, roads, bridges and other public buildings.

Obviously, the KKS (Kankesanthurai) and Point Pedro ports in Jaffna cannot accommodate big ships, and there are no proper unloading facilities. Hence, dependence on air and sea routes would be ridiculously costly and time-consuming for the army. As one defence correspondent for the Sri Lankan Weekend Express puts it, "The question that arises here is how the South can accommodate the North vis-a-vis its needs, and how soon?" (Weekend Express 25 May). Raising the hopes of an already disgruntled people and then dashing those hopes just as quickly could turn out even more disastrous than anything the government has seen in its militarily confrontations with the LTTE. If the government thought it would be able to marginalise the LTTE by occupying the Jaffna peninsula and improving living conditions there, already there are signs that exactly the opposite is happening.

It is true the Jaffna populace has not had electricity for years, but without a direct link over land the government is unable to use the existing grid to supply electricity to the North. (With an unprecedented electricity crisis at present the government cannot even adequately provide electricity for people in the South, let alone Tamils in the North). The government's plan to meet this problem by supplying power-generators on a large scale does not seem to be practically and economically feasible at all.

The government is trying to break the will-power of the Tamil people and starve the Tamils living in LTTE-controlled areas into submission by imposing a total economic blockade on civilians living there and terrorising them with random bombing and shelling.

It is also hoped by the government that when Tamils living in LTTE-controlled areas see the "improved" living conditions of those in military-controlled, the people might be tempted to return to army-controlled territory. As this phenomenon gathers momentum, the government imagines, a conflict between the Tamil people and the LTTE is bound to break out.

On the contrary, however, reports coming from LTTE-controlled areas reveal that mass protest rallies against the government's ban on relief have become a common occurrence these days.

In the government's calculation, the military offensive to weaken the LTTE will continue hand in hand with its political offensive to marginalise the LTTE. Thus, according to Lt. Gen. Daluwatta, "the military will be able to reduce LTTE activities to a low-level insurgency which will eventually fizzle out" (Sunday Leader).

Obviously, the government and the present military leaders have high hopes in their strategy. But, in my view, it has at least two fundamental flaws, quite apart from the obvious lapses mentioned above.

Firstly, it underestimates the depth of the Tamil liberation struggle. There persists a monumental inability to grasp the strength of Tamil national consciousness which has developed in leaps and bounds, particularly during the past decade.

Secondly, the government's military strategy seems to be based on a model where political and economic factors in the South of Sri Lanka, and the politics of Tamil Nadu, are treated as constants, when , in fact, they are rapidly changing variables.

Let me deal with the first mistake first, i.e., regarding the depth of the Tamil struggle.:

The government seems to think that the Sinhala troops occupying part of the Tamil homeland can create a some sort of an administration there, totally cut off from the rest of the Tamil homeland, where people are kept under strict control and subject to thorough screening procedures in order to curb LTTE infiltration. And at the same time, the government hopes to win those peoples' good-will merely by offering some money and a few other facilities.

This is incredibly naive. We must not forget that there is an entire generation that has grown up totally under war conditions. Their main experience has been of ruthless Sinhala armed forces surrounding their homeland, shelling and bombing them constantly, killing their fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters. That young generation, or the Tamils in general for that matter, are not, in my view, going to rest until they see the back of the last Sinhala soldier presently occupying the Tamil homeland.

Meanwhile, all the signals we get from the military-controlled areas suggest that the troops are getting increasingly nervous and suspicious of every Tamil, particularly the youth, which is making the military administration extremely harsh, turning the so-called liberated areas into virtual concentration camps.

Curfews have become a common occurrence. Moreover, we hear stories of screening procedures in which youth and their parents are regularly segregated, and also of disappearances of young men and women at random, all of which bring reminders of the terror period in the South of Sri Lanka when over 60,000 Sinhala youth were randomly killed in order to terrorise the youth who were the backbone of the JVP uprising in the late 80's.

In fact the methods being used in the North, at present, are strikingly similar to the methods used in the South at that time. The military is currently using masked men to identify LTTE supporters. These masked men, who are on the military pay-roll, are posted at prominent road junctions and mixed with Sinhala soldiers involved in vetting the local population. The masked men nod their heads to indicate identification of an LTTE sympathiser, whereupon the person concerned is dragged away by the Sinhala soldiers.

In practice, what happened when using this method in the Sinhala South during the JVP uprising was that the masked agents hired by the military became obliged to identify a certain number of people everyday in order to avoid becoming exposed to military suspicion themselves. The masked men often nodded merely to prove their loyalty - thus sending many innocent youth to certain death.

Similar things are presently happening in the North on a huge scale. Also, since the LTTE has maintained a de facto government in the North for a number of years, I do not think one would be able to find many youth over there who did not have anything to do with the LTTE. So, the paid agents of the military most probably will not have any difficulty identifying LTTE supporters!

The point I want to make is this: as LTTE sabotage-groups continue to harass the Sinhala soldiers occupying the Tamil homeland, and as the troops get more and more nervous and paranoid, the military administration in the North is bound to end up antagonising the Tamil people under its control to a much worse level than it does now, thus making the Tamil people there a fertile ground for further LTTE activity.

Now, let me come to the second weakness in the government's strategy, namely, basing its model on the assumption that the military efforts in the North and East are taking place in a vacuum. This is a big mistake. We must not underestimate the direct implications of what is happening in the Tamil homeland to the political-economy in the South on the one hand, and to post-electoral Tamil Nadu on the other.

Political observers who seriously study the developments in the South have clearly seen the rapidity with which the PA government is getting entangled in a massive economic and political crisis. As one political correspondent of a prominent English newspaper in Colombo described: "The country is at the verge of the biggest political and social chaos ever." Another commented: "The PA government's edifice is collapsing".

The background to the cracking up of the single-seat majority government of the People's Alliance is the escalating economic chaos, which is getting worse by the day, as a direct result of the unaffordable hi-tech war the government is waging against the Tamil struggle.

While the government is borrowing billions of rupees to finance the mounting costs of the war, the country's development projects have come to a standstill. The welfare network is collapsing. Interest rates are rising. Investments are contracting. The balance of payments deficit and the budget deficit are gaping.

We must not forget that this government's economic strategy is almost entirely dependent on foreign investments. The LTTE has recently demonstrated its capacity to attack economic targets in Colombo by destroying the Central bank and oil storage plants, and attacking the main harbour. The effect of these attacks on the image of Sri Lanka as an "investors' paradise" has been devastating. Moreover, the unmistakable message coming from the war zone - that the government is frantically getting bogged down in an enormously costly war and that President Kumaratunga is increasingly turning into a puppet of the military - is bound to contribute significantly to the growing reluctance of foreign investors to come to Sri Lanka.

It was against this background that over half a million Tamil plantation workers, who are reputed to be showing a growing support for the Tamil struggle, displayed their strength by waging a week-long token strike costing the government and the plantation owners billions of rupees and making the bankers in Colombo from whom these plantation companies have borrowed billions of rupees " shudder in horror", as one analyst described.

Also, the recent political strike waged by 14,000 electricity workers against the government's plans to privatise their industry caused an effective island-wide blackout forcing the government to openly backslide from its much-publicised national policy of privatisation.

The government initially tried to break the strike using the emergency laws after declaring the power industry an essential service. Ironically, General Anuruddha Ratwatta, who is also the Minister in charge of power and energy, threatened to launch "Operation Shock-Treatment" in order to discipline the workers. The President threatened to do everything short of killing the strikers to break the stoppage. But, not only did the electricity workers remained defiant, other trade unions too threatened to launch a general strike if the security forces intervened to crush the strike. The Colombo Stock Exchange came to a complete standstill.

Embarrassingly, the government was forced to retreat, totally jeopardising its image of "being in control", before foreign investors. The government promised not to privatise the Ceylon Electricity Board and not to punish the workers for breaking the law.

The Trade Union Movement in Sri Lanka, for the first time, had a taste of the power it has while 2/3 of the military is pinned down in the North. Just as the government had submitted an inventory of state enterprises targeted for privatisation to impress the IMF, and at a time when the government is desperately trying to sell "the family silver and gold" and raise the much-needed funds for the war-effort, and at a time when there is growing opposition to privatisation within the trade unions, the implications of the government's back-off are obvious indeed. In all probability, the government's efforts to sell off state-assets will be opposed by the Trade Union Movement of Sri Lanka with all its strength. There is the real likelihood of a general strike in the near future.

In this regard it would be worth mentioning the political position of a few influential political tendencies which have strong links with the Trade Union Movement. Sections emerging within the JVP and the left-wing Nava Sama Samaja Party (NSSP) have openly supported Tamils' right to self-determination, while unconditionally condemning the government's war effort as racist.

Also, another left group, the Revolutionary Communist League (RCL), with many trade union activists in its ranks, has consistently called for a voluntary Socialist Union of Sri Lanka and Tamil Eelam as a solution to the national conflict.

It is worth noting that the possible political solutions envisaged by the socialist left is quite compatible with the LTTE's thinking at present, as elaborated by the LTTE representative at the recent Norway conference (which was organised by the Chr. Michelsen Institute and sponsored by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and held on February 26).

Consequently, the possibility of significant layers within the workers' movement looking for new alliances of mutual help with the Tamil militants, in the event of any attempt by the government to militarily crush future industrial unrest, is not far-fetched at all. I do not need to elaborate on the nightmarish implications of such a scenario for the Sri Lankan state.

On another political front, the catastrophe is approaching even faster. One of the cabinet ministers in the PA government has placed a motion of no-confidence in the parliament against another minister of the PA government. Also, an influential group of MPs from the government side, i.e. the Mulberry Group, has urged the President to sack another cabinet minister of the PA government (Mr. Nimal Siripala de Silva) with allegations of corruption and dubious connections with a notorious character from the previous UNP administration.

Meanwhile, the leftist partners of the PA coalition have not only opposed the government's privatisation bill and the extension of emergency law to the entire island by abstaining from the parliamentary vote (showing the mounting pressure from their own rank and file), they also defied the government's ban on May Day demonstrations. The growing possibility of a direct confrontation between the government and the Trade Union Movement has already been exerting enormous strains on the leaders of the two left parties occupying cabinet portfolios within the Peoples Alliance government. At the same time, the Tamil parliamentary groups, whose support has been of great importance to the survival of Mrs. Kumaratunga's shaky administration, continue to face cold shouldering and humiliations from the government, which has been making their present collaboration with the government more and more untenable.

So, it is amazing that in the midst of this rapidly deteriorating economic and political predicament, the government and the military are giving such a highly optimistic and up-beat interpretation of the occupation of the Jaffna peninsula.

Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan government must be watching with grave concern the latest developments in India in general, and Tamil Nadu in particular, as the administrations in Delhi and in Madras, which had been faithfully helping the Colombo government in its war effort in so many ways, are being wiped out from power. More than anything else, the Sinhala political establishment in Colombo should realise that the collapse of the Congress administration means that the "Rajiv Gandhi factor", which has been crucial to the Sri Lankan government in mobilising Indian support for its war, is bound to become null and void in the coming months. It is worth noting that in Tamil Nadu, Ms.Jayalalitha was heavily defeated even though the main thrust of her election campaign was that Mr. Karunanidhi was a supporter of the alleged killers of Rajiv Ghandi.

Also, the emergence of Tamil Nadu as the strongest state in relation to an extremely weak centre could well grip the imagination of the Tamil people in terms of growing nationalism there thus encouraging the new administration in Tamil Nadu to take a positive interest in the plight of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka. We must not forget that last December the Trade Union Movement in Tamil Nadu launched a token general strike in support of the Tamil struggle in Sri Lanka, which brought the entire state to a total shut down. Also, it is worth remembering the recent public meetings organised by influential pressure groups (including some important film actors and producers) to protest against the Indian central government's involvement in sinking LTTE supply ships. Referring to these pressure groups, Taraki, an expert on Indian affairs, wrote: "If the DMK leader were to become a key player in deciding the course of the hung parliament in Delhi, this lobby is in a position to persuade him to intercede on their behalf for securing the Indian central government's neutrality in the war against the Tigers..." (Sunday Times of Sri Lanka, 12 May '96).

In all probability the newly emerging atmosphere in Tamil Nadu, where Tamil nationalism is growing in relation to a crisis-ridden Centre, will create a tremendous potential which the LTTE can exploit on an unprecedented scale. The interpretation given in most Colombo newspapers regarding what they see as the "anti-LTTE implications of the Indian election results" is, in my view, tantamount to wishful thinking. Also, some observers' effort to begin their analysis with the "static nature" (sic) of RAW and the Indian military establishment etc., is to hold from the wrong side of the baton.

Just as the Indian Leftist movement has strengthened, reflecting people's growing frustration over the traditional political establishment's failure to eradicate poverty, nationalism can also be seen mounting as a consequence of the Indian constitution's inability to satisfy the growing aspirations of numerically smaller nations to stand on an equal footing with other nations (even within the framework of a united country) and determine their own future in voluntary co-operation with other nations. In fact, the collapse of the Jayalalitha-administration can be partly, if not mainly, seen as a result of growing Tamil nationalism in Tamil Nadu.

The DMK has always been seen by the Tamils in Tamil Nadu as the vehicle for Tamil autonomy. Mr. Karunanidhi has always fought for restructuring the Indian Union to arrive at a fully-fledged confederation. He is likely to renew this campaign in the context of his newly-found strength in relation to the weak Centre.

It is not accidental, in my view, that Mr.Karunanidhi, while dissociating himself from the LTTE, preferred to maintain his empathy with "Thamil Eelam" as a solution to the national conflict in Sri Lanka. This reflected pressure from the DMK rank and file within which there exists a strong support for the Tamil struggle. Even if he would try to play safe for the time being considering the possibility of another general election soon, his own image could be in danger of being severely tarnished in the face of rising Tamil nationalism in Tamil Nadu if he failed to demonstrate the difference in relation to Ms. Jayalalitha's administration. Being a sharp politician, the chances of Mr. Karunanidhi failing to see the strength of rapidly growing Tamil nationalism and its implications to the Tamil struggle in Sri Lanka, are very slim indeed.

It is worth mentioning a few facts about Mr. Karunanidhi's history in this regard. In 1991, the DMK's two year old government was dismissed on charges of supporting LTTE activities in the state. Also, during this election, the reason given by the Congress party for not forming an alliance with the DMK was that the party was sympathetic to the LTTE. And, Mr.Karunanidhi's rival, Ms.Jayalalitha did use this as her main card against him during the election campaign. Therefore, the election results can, in my view, be legitimately cited as an indication of a definite change of perception among Tamil Nadu masses in relation to the LTTE and the Tamil struggle.

Quite apart from the emerging potential for positive support to the Tamil struggle from the Tamil Nadu masses, the strong base of support the LTTE already has can also be detected from the election results alone. A political analyst for the Sri Lankan Sunday Island recently wrote: " The pro-LTTE Pattaligal Makkal Katchi got 4 seats. Although at face value this suggests an electoral debacle for the overtly pro-LTTE forces, it must be pointed out that these results are based on a "first past the post" electoral principle where the "winner takes all". What has been ignored is the fact that pro-LTTE forces obtained 18% of the total popular vote. Also, both the MDMK and the PMK [VR: both openly pro-LTTE parties] contested against each other. Under a proportional representation system their combined tally would have been in the range of 45-55 seats. On this basis it could be assumed that the overtly pro-LTTE forces in Tamil Nadu have vote bank amounting to roughly one-fifth of the total votes" ( DBS Jeyaraj - Sunday Island, 2 June).

The writer then anticipates the future course of the LTTE's PR efforts, saying: "the immediate task of the Tigers is one of building a new relationship with the DMK while maintaining the status quo with their permanent allies".

I could not agree more. Analysts who harp on about how the openly pro-LTTE MDMK failed to win a single seat in the election are, in my view, misreading the situation.

Now that the election is over and the Congress is heavily defeated that support for the Tamil struggle can only grow, opening up new opportunities for the LTTE to accelerate its political campaign for Tamil Nadu's backing. If tactfully handled by the LTTE, the support in Tamil Nadu could easily rise above mere neutrality.

After all, both parties have essentially the same ideal, i.e. to restructure the artificial state-structures of respective countries, albeit, Sri Lanka's state-structure is far more rigid and unjust than the Indian one, relatively speaking.

It is in this context I say that it would be in the Sri Lankan government's interest to respond positively to the LTTE's offer for peace-negotiations now with Third Party mediation.

The official monthly paper of the LTTE, "The Viduthalai Puligal", in response to the Sri Lankan army commander Rohan Daluwatta's recent speech that further military expansion into Tamil territory is on the cards, has strongly warned that such a military policy will bring terrible military disasters and defeats to the government forces. It has also warned that such a policy to impose a military solution will put an end to finding a political settlement through talks with Third Party mediation.

I can clearly foresee the depth of that warning and I think the Sinhala-dominated government in Colombo should think again about its present strategy and consider the wisdom of withdrawing the Sinhala troops from the Tamil homeland and resuming peace talks with the LTTE as soon as possible; but this time, in the presence of a Third Party acceptable to both sides.



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