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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.