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Selected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha
Ideology of Dravidian Parties on the Eelam Issue
Front Note by Sachi Sri Kantha
I provide below the transcribed text of a paper presented by Mr.Izeth Hussain (a former Sri Lankan diplomat) at a seminar held on the theme, ‘Indo-Sri Lanka relations’ at Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies (BCIS). It appeared in the Lanka Guardian magazine in the early 1990s titled
In this paper, Hussain had focused on the political gambits adopted by the DMK (led by Karunanidhi) and its offshoot Anna DMK (led by MGR) in 1970s and 1980s, as per the Eelam issue, that has then emerged as the bone of contention in Indo-Sri Lankan affairs.
From what I have perceived, Izeth Hussain had a successful professional career in Sri Lankan diplomatic services, and had served as the Sri Lankan ambassador in Philippines by the time R.Premadasa ascended to the Sri Lankan presidency in 1989. This paper by Hussain appeared during the Premadasa presidency after the hyped and tumultuous Rajiv Gandhi-J.R.Jayewardene Agreement of July 1987. Later, during the presidency of Chandrika Kumaratunga, Hussain also served as the Sri Lankan ambassador in Russia.
Nevertheless, being a Muslim among the predominantly parochial Sinhalese in the Sri Lankan diplomatic services, Hussain had experienced a roller-coaster ride in his career and his diplomat cup was filled with frustrations. This was despite the fact that Hussain had married a Sinhalese lady Irene Angela Gunasekera, whose obituary notice appeared recently in the Colombo Daily News (June 13, 2007), Hussain also cultivated the image of a quasi-academic. In 1990s, his political commentaries and essays became a regular staple in the Colombo print media, including the Lanka Guardian news magazine edited by Mervyn de Silva. One of my sources about Izeth Hussain’s unique background was Prof.A.Jeyaratnam Wilson (another regular contributor to Lanka Guardian magazine, of that period), whom I had consulted to gain some understanding about Izeth Hussain’s thoughts.
Based on my experience in ‘crossing swords’ with Izeth Hussain in the pages of Lanka Guardian in 1990s on a few politically inflammatory issues which engulfed the blessed island, I would assert that Hussain had a thin skin for criticism. When critiqued for lapses in his facts and lines of argument, Hussain would wiggle out of the situation by nit-picking on some words or phrases, without duly acknowledging his errors of fact and interpretation. This was one deceptive ploy of professionally-competent diplomats reared in South Asia, and Hussain had somewhat perfected this skill to sneer at his critics. In addition, Hussain also had gained the knack of paraphrasing others’ thoughts and packaging them as his own, without due attribution.
Despite these drawbacks, the political commentaries/essays of Hussain had some charm and were not insipid to read as capsule summaries of political trends. I am in agreement with one of Hussain’s inferences that the secularism practiced by DMK in 1950s,
One of the unfortunate literary victims of this campaign was Tamil epic poet Kambar of the 12th century. Kambar’s masterpiece Kamba-ramayanam was chastised by Annadurai via his powerful Tamil tracts, as unworthy for a Tamil literary masterpiece. This is a serious theme which deserves a separate scrutiny.
For the record, I present first the entire text of Izeth Hussain’s paper. A provocative hypothesis advanced by Hussain in this paper was that
In this dubious hypothesis, I sensed some not-so intentional “mischief-making” by a Muslim analyst, treading into disciplines in which he was rather unqualified to comment; thus I contributed my hard-hitting criticism which the editor of Lanka Guardian was gracious enough to publish in the Letter columns. The bare details of my three critical letters, which opposed the dubious Hussain hypothesis, were as follows:
Less than a year later, Hussain came to modify his original claim on the distinctive nature between Tamil Nadu Tamils and Eelam Tamils; and this was noticed by M.P.de Silva, another reader of Lanka Guardian. I may not be wrong in inferring that my vigorous, open criticism could have partially influenced Hussain to modify his original hypothesis, but Hussain was bereft of courage to acknowledge this openly. I know that those belonging to the diplomat breed are potty-trained to yawn with closed mouth.
Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated on May 21, 1991; thereafter, while Jayalalitha ascended to the Chief Ministership of Tamil Nadu, P.V.Narasimha Rao – a Telugu native – became the prime minister of India.
For the record, I also provide a subsequent commentary authored by Hussain, entitled ‘The Indian Elections and the Eelam Problem’ [Lanka Guardian, July 1, 1991], which contained a hyperbolic sentence, “For the first time India is having a Tamil-speaking Dravidian as its leader in Delhi”. The tease in this hyperbole that Telugu-native Narasimha Rao, being a poly-glot, is fluent in Tamil was technically correct, but its relevance to the central issue on Eelam separatism was spurious.
Reader M.P.de Silva picked this to satirize Hussain with a dose of reality that “It is smart to say that the Tamils were the first to take to separatism. But it was the Muslims who realized it first.” This duel between M.P.de Silva and Hussain is also reproduced in the end. In this exchange also, Hussain neatly illustrated his penchant for deceptive play with words and phrases, rather than either acknowledging the error or countering the criticism objectively.
I appreciated reader M.P.de Silva raising the issue of Muslim separatism, promoted by Muhammad Ali Jinnah (1876-1948) in the 1930s, which led to the birth of Pakistan. Jinnah’s agitation for a separate state for Muslim minority in India and his political success, did influence the thoughts of those who led the Dravidian movement (Periyar E.V.R.Naicker and Anna) in 1940s and 1950s as well.
Though the Sri Lankan Muslim population had been traditionally Tamil-speaking,
the Sri Lankan Muslim politicians (the likes of Razeeek Fareed, Badiuddin
Mahmud, Bakeer Markar, Jabir A.Cader and A.C.S.Hameed) who emerged to represent
the business interests of Colombo, Beruwela and Kandy regions had emotionally
identified themselves with Pakistan’s independence from India. Badiuddin Mahmud
and A.C.S.Hameed were teachers before they entered politics. While they accepted
separatism as a legitimate right of persecuted Muslim ‘minority’ of
British-India, they would squirm when the same claims were advanced by the
persecuted Eelam Tamil ‘minority’ in Sri Lanka.
[courtesy: Lanka Guardian, Colombo, Feb.1, 1990, Mar.1, 1990 and Mar.15, 1990]
The importance of Tamil Nadu as a factor influencing Indo-Sri Lankan relations cannot be doubted. In a talk given in March 1989 to the United Service Institute, Delhi, the former Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, J.N.Dixit, said in explaining the reasons for the Indian intervention in Sri Lanka,
Dixit is categorical on the point that the Delhi Government having to take into account Tamil Nadu sentiments in reacting to developments in Sri Lanka amounts to no less than a compulsion. However, some important qualifications have to be made if we are to reach a proper understanding of the Tamil Nadu factor in Indo-Sri Lankan relations. It is arguable that as the Tamils of Sri Lanka and of Tamil Nadu speak the same language, share a common cultural substratum, are predominantly Hindu, they might be regarded as constituting a single ethnic. On this argument, it is even conceivable that should the dreams of India’s well-wishes be fulfilled and anti-Hindi sentiment in Tamil Nadu State could make an irredentist claim to the parts of Sri Lanka that supposedly constitute the Sri Lankan Tamil ‘homeland’.
But it would be far more plausible to argue that notwithstanding the commonalities of language, culture and religion, the Tamils of Tamil Nadu and of Sri Lanka constitute two distinct ethnic groups. There is the geographical divide of the Palk Straits, their histories have followed different courses for centuries, and it has to be expected therefore that their ethnic identities will also be different.
For several centuries before independence, interaction between them does not seem to have been particularly significant, except for a period in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries. It should not be surprising, as this paper will try to bring out, that there has been a notable ambivalence on the part of the Tamil Nadu Tamils towards the Sri Lankan Tamils more particularly towards the Sri Lankan Tamil militants and their aspirations.
There certainly is a Tamil Nadu commitment to the Sri Lankan Tamils, something that cannot be ignored by any government in Delhi, but that commitment is not total and stops well short of support for a separate state of Eelam, even though Tamil Nadu opposition parties may make political capital out of the Tamil militants’ extremist claims as part of the Tamil Nadu power game. All this follows from the fact that ‘for historical reasons, there is no symbiotic cultural kinship between the people of Tamil Nadu and the Sri Lankan Tamils. They are not Siamese twins.’
We have to note the significance of the fact that Dixit gave the Tamil Nadu factor as only one of the three reasons behind Indian intervention in Sri Lanka. It was a ‘compulsion which could not be avoided’, in his words, but of course there were other compulsions as well, so that the Tamil Nadu factor cannot be regarded as the sole determinant of Indo-Sri Lankan relations. It has to be noted also that the relationship between Tamil Nadu governments and Delhi is more often than not one of understanding and cooperation, not an adversarial relationship. The extent to which Tamil Nadu by itself influences Indo-Sri Lankan relation has to be questioned.
Some complexities and ambiguities have to be taken into account in trying to understand the Tamil Nadu factor in Indo-Sri Lankan relations. Different aspects of the Tamil Nadu factor have to be examined. This paper will situate the Tamil Nadu factor in the context of India’s relations with its neighbours, examine the interaction of Tamil Nadu and Delhi, the interaction of Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka, and Delhi’s priorities in relation to Sri Lanka, before drawing what appear to be the appropriate conclusion.
INDIA AND NEIGHBOURS
It should be useful to situate Sri Lanka’s Tamil problem in the context of the ethnic factor operating in India’s relations with its neighbours. Usually, though not always, a country’s relations with its neighbours have far more importance than relations with others. Arguably, relations between neighbours have a specific dynamic of their own if only for the reason that neighbours are particularly prone to quarrel with each other.
The neighbours of India have for the most part had unsatisfactory relations with India, which should not be regarded as altogether surprising. But a contrast is something made with China which for the most part has had satisfactory relations with its neighbours. Actually this contrast is somewhat unfair for several reasons, one of which is that India’s neighbours tend to interact for more with India than China’s neighbours with China, in a process that can lead to misunderstanding, irritation, and overt hostility.
Refugees from Tibet flow into Himachal Pradesh. Bangladeshis seek greener pastures in Assam, and Chakma rebels flow into Tripura from the Chittagong Hills. The Nepali Indian population in Bhutan has been increasing, and Indian labourers are going into that country. When conditions in Nepal are disturbed, refugees go to Bhutan or Uttar Pradesh. There are appreciable numbers of Indians in Nepal, while ethnic Nepalis constitute the majority in Sikkim. The Nepalis in Darjeeling set up the Gurkha National Liberation Front to struggle for a state within the Indian Union.
Pakistan suspects the Indian hand behind the unrest among Sindhis, and in Baluchistan where there was a serious separatist rebellion under Bhutto. India suspects the Pakistani hand behind the Sikh problem. India and its neighbours are involved in each others’ affairs to an extent that cannot be duplicated anywhere else in the world. And in one way or another, the ethnic factor plays an important role in the mad kaleidoscope of India’s relations with its neighbours.
It has been said that India’s neighbours tend to interact far more with neighbouring Indian states than with Delhi itself. Sri Lanka interacts with Tamil Nadu; Bangladesh with West Bengal, Assam and Tripura; Nepal with Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal; Pakistan with Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan. Consequently Delhi is under pressure from several Indian states to sort out matters with neighbouring countries. And it has been argued that therefore there are general constraints on India’s freedom of manouevre in dealing with neighbours, a situation that did not exist under Nehru when all the Indian states were ruled by the Congress.
From our point of view there is nothing unusual in the Tamil Nadu factor influencing Indo-Sri Lanka relations, a situation apparently replicated all over North India. But there is a qualitative difference in that Tamil Nadu is far more important in India’s relations with a neighbour than is any other Indian state. A particular sensitivity on the part of Delhi towards Tamil Nadu has to be expected if only for the reason that it is the biggest of the Dravidian states with a population of over 50 million.
The first separatist movement in India tooko place in Tamil Nadu, and restiveness there over the issue of Hindi has continued. Since 1967 Tamil Nadu has been lost to Congress, the ruling party there alternating between the DMK and the AIADMK, and in fact Congress (I) has lost to regional parties in all the Dravidian states, a fact of some importance in a country where the cultural division between Aryan North an Dravidian South would possibly have serious political implications some time in the future. It should be quite understandable that Delhi thinks it prudent to be responsive to strong Tamil Nadu sentiments over what takes place in Sri Lanka.
We must also note the fact that the Sinhalese are a majority known to have a minority complex, over the presumed identity of the Sri Lankan Tamils and 50 million or more Tamils in Tamil Nadu. It appears that the ethnic Nepalis of India outnumber the Nepalis of Nepal, but they after all are the same people. The Nepalis in Bhutan togethere with the Indian Nepalis outnumber the Drukpas who are the majority community in Bhutan; but the numerical disproportion in that case is not so great as that between the Sinhalese and the Tamils of Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu.
There is also in the case of the Sinhalese the historic memory of Tamil invasions from South India. It is to be expected that the Sinhalese will have an extraordinary sensitivity over the Tamil Nadu factor in Indo-Sri Lanka relations. The equation of Delhi-Tamil Nadu-Sri Lanka seems to be sui generic, and is hardly comparable to anything prevailing in the North of India.
The centre of gravity in the politics of pre-Independence India was in the North. It is significant that only one national level politician emerged from the Dravidian South, the Tamil C.Rajagopalachari. But a new Tamil political consciousness had evidently been growing in the course of the [Nineteen] Thirties, resulting in the formation of the Dravida Kazhagam (DK) in 1944 under the leadership of E.V.Ramaswamy Naicker. His disciple C.N.Annadurai broke away to form the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in 1949, and in the latter half of [Nineteen] Seventies [sic, 1972] M.G.Ramachandran broke away from the DMK to form the All India Anna DMK (AIADMK).
As observed earlier those two parties have alternated in power, and something must be said about the socio-cultural factors which could explain their persisting political strength in Tamil Nadu. The DK and subsequently its offshoots, were anti-Brahmin, anti-Sanskrit, anti-Hindi, and posed a secularist challenge to religious orthodoxy. They represented a caste revolt, though not apparently of the really under-privileged castes against the dominant position of the Brahmins, who constituted no more than 2% of the Tamils.
The secularism, which might perhaps be seen as the southern counterpart of Nehru’s secularism in the north, even led to a virtual excision of part of the Tamil past through an undervaluation of the Bhakthi literature of the Tamils and an overemphasis on the secular Sangam literature of 100 BC to AD 250. The anti-Hindi position, which as will be seen later has turned out to be the most important component of DK ideology, flowed from pride in the Tamil language and a concomitant resentment against the Aryan north.
This is quite understandable as the Dravidian contribution to Indian civilization has consistently been under-valued both within India and outside. As Professor Sivathamby once put it in an interview given to a South Indian periodical, “Pages are written on Tagore and Nasrul Islam, but there is only a passing reference to Bharathi.” Readers of Raja Rao’s well-known novel ‘The Serpent and the Rope’ may remember his curious notion that the further south you go in India the higher the form of Hindu spirituality is reached at the southern-most point of India. That was evidently a Dravidian reaction against the Aryan exaltation of the Ganges and the Himalayas.
It appears that the ideology of the DMK and of its offshoots has drawn political strength from the tap-roots of Tamil consciousness, and perhaps it was inevitable that it should lead to a separatist movement in Tamil Nadu. Nehru handled it very sensibly, most notably by establishing Tamil Nadu as a linguistic state. Other important measures included the Act for the Prevention of Insult to the National Honour in 1957, after an epidemic of flag and constitution-burning in Tamil Nadu. In 1963 there was the sixteenth amendment to the Indian Constitution banning the advocacy of secession. However, in the aftermath of the Sino-Indian border conflict of 1962, separatism came to be abandoned in Tamil Nadu. But the DMK came to power in 1967, [with] the expression of a continuously strong Tamil political identity and consciousness.
It might be supposed that the formation of the AIADMK implied a dilution of that Tamil consciousness, because ‘All India’ Anna DMK suggests that emphasis was being given to Tamils and Tamil Nadu as no more than components of a wider Indian polity. Furthermore, both the DMK and the AIADMK usually got on famously with the Central Government in the Delhi, and it appeared therefore that those two parties were not much different from any other regional party in India. That impression was completely belied by the anti-Hindi furore in Tamil Nadu in 1986, to which special importance has to be given in trying to understand Delhi’s sensitivity to the Tamil Nadu factor.
Under the 1951 Constitution, Hindi was declared the official language, while 14 major Indian languages were declared ‘national languages’ along with Hindi. The Constitution also allowed a 15-year grace period for the use of English as a link language. On Republic Day of 1965, Tamil Nadu went up in flames over the issue of Hindi, and when the DMK came to power in 1967 it abolished the teaching of Hindi in state schools.
Again in September 1986, Tamil Nadu went up in flames, the result of a Central Government circular about the observance of a ‘Hindi week’ which apparently was regarded as innocuous in other Indian states. The first to protest was the leader of the Congress (I) in Tamil Nadu, followed quickly by the DMK, AIADMK and the Communists. A State Minister warned that the imposition of Hindi would lead to a Sri Lankan-type situation, meaning that Tamil Nadu would opt for separation. Rajiv Gandhi reiterated the assurances of his mother and Nehru that Hindi would not be imposed on any state.
The agitation died down, but it provided a reminder to Delhi that Tamil Nadu was not just like any other state on the issue of Hindi. It is understandable that Delhi has to respect Tamil Nadu sentiments, and that includes sentiments about what takes place in Sri Lanka.
When we examine the actual role of Tamil Nadu in Indo-Sri Lankan relations, the position seems to be far more complicated than might be supposed from the foregoing account of Delhi’s imperative to be responsive to Tamil Nadu sentiments. Certainly there is a responsiveness to Tamil Nadu reactions to developments in Sri Lanka, but it is not simply a case of automatic adjustment of policy to what appears to be mass sentiment in Tamil Nadu. Some complexities in the Delhi-Tamil Nadu relationship have to be noted.
At the time of the July-August 1977 anti-Tamil riots in Sri Lanka, there was agitation in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry and demands that an official delegation be sent to Sri Lanka. In those riots, which inaugurated a new phase in anti-Tamil violence in Sri Lanka, there having been no anti-Tamil riots since 1958, there was arson in Colombo and other places against Tamil property, and killings variously estimated at between 100 and 300, most of the victims being Tamil plantation workers who were not ‘Indian’ as such but stateless or Sri Lankans.
The Government in Delhi could have responded by pointing out that the victims were not Indian and it would be unseemly of the Government of India, a country where communal rioting is endemic, to give the impression of meddling in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs by sending an official delegation. There were incidents involving Indian diplomatic personnel, but that could have been handled by making official representations, rather than by sending an official delegation.
However, the Delhi Government sent a representative, S.A.Chidambaram, personally known to President Jayewardene who extended to him a personal invitation. He concluded matters by reporting to the Chief Ministers of Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry that the riots were purely internal without an Indian dimension. Delhi responded to Tamil sentiments, but at the same time the problem was handled discreetly, perhaps partly for the reason that there was excellent personal rapport between then President Jayewardene and then Prime Minister Desai.
The 1977 riots were derisory compared to the horrendous riots of July 1983. The DMK of Karunanidhi, which was then in the opposition, organized the sending of a petition signed by 10 million (reportedly) to the UN Secretary General requesting the UN to prevail upon the Sri Lanka Government to allow self-determination to the Tamils. Karunanidhi, in fact, subsequently resigned from the Tamil Nadu Assembly in protest against alleged Indian Government inactivity over what was happening in Sri Lanka. The DMK, and the Tamil Nadu Kamaraj Congress under mercurial leadership of Nedumaran, wanted the Indian Government to intervene in Sri Lanka as in Bangladesh, meaning intervene and break up the country. All this was consistent with the proneness of Tamil Nadu opposition parties to take up extreme positions on the Sri Lankan Tamil problem.
The position of the AIADMK was significantly different when it came to taking practical action, even though it was vociferous enough to satisfy Tamil Nadu public opinion that its heart was in the right place. M.G.Ramachandran convened an all-parties meeting and thereafter led a delegation to Delhi to discuss the Sri Lankan situation and present a memorandum. The terms of that memorandum, quoted from an unpublished typescript in A.Sivarajah’s paper, ‘Indo-Sri Lanka relations and Sri Lanka’s ethnic crisis: the ethnic factor’, is revelatory of the difference between a Tamil Nadu party in power and out of power. After pointing out that ‘The grim and inhuman killings in Sri Lanka cannot be dismissed as the internal affairs of the country’, the memorandum went on to say,
Thereafter the memorandum went on to demand
The term ‘intervene’ suggested that the Indian Government was being asked to take action as in East Pakistan. But what followed in the memorandum showed that the government was being asked to take action together with the UN and the Non-Aligned Movement with scrupulous regard to the norms of international law. The ruling Tamil Nadu Party’s position was in practice very different from that of the opposition.
The difference between the DMK and other opposition parties on the one hand and the AIADMK and the Delhi Government on the other was also demonstrated by the reactions to the fighting between the IPKF and the LTTE which erupted in October 1987. The DMK’s Karunanidhi led a protest demonstration in February 1988, a fast was organized by him in several Tamil Nadu towns. In March 1988, he organized a protest march from Madras to Kanyakumari, and so on.
The Tamil Nadu Government however raised no protest over the fighting, and even the prospect that MGR’s protégé Prabhakaran might be captured or killed did not appear to disturb him in the least. The Delhi Government’s response was no more than a unilateral ceasefire for a period in November 1987.
The probable reason was that despite the opposition clamour, there was not much evidence of mass Tamil Nadu sentiment against the IPKF-LTTE fighting…not even against the gory killings of unarmed civilians which provoked Indian opposition leader George Fernandez to allege a multiplicity of My Lai massacres in Jaffna. The reaction to the fighting showed the opposition penchant for extreme positions, the pragmatic moderation of the party actually in power and the rapport between that party and the Delhi Government.
A qualification has to be made at this point about the AIADMK which was far from being a monolith, as shown by the fissures which took place as soon as MGR died. It had ministers such as S.D.Somasunderam and S.Ramachandran whose positions on the Sri Lankan problem did not appear to be far different from those of the opposition, either because of conviction or because they thought it expedient to adopt the hard line in the power play within the AIADMK. But, for the most part, a pragmatic moderation did characterize the AIADMK at that time.
Though the DMK seems more prone to adopt the hard line on Sri Lanka, it seems to be interchangeable with the AIADMK as both parties change their positions according to whether they are in power or out of power. When Janaki, the widow of MGR became Chief Minister in January 1988, she maintained a stony silence on the IPKF-LTTE fighting, but just a few days after she was dismissed she asked the Delhi Government to stop the killing of innocent civilians.
The Delhi Government certainly considers the two parties to be interchangeable. This was shown after MGR broke away from the DMK and came to power in 1977. Indira Gandhi supported the DMK and Karunanidhi and with accustomed high-handedness dismissed the AIADMK in 1978 [sic; factually speaking - in 1980]. But when MGR swept back to power in 1980, Indira very quickly shifted her support from Karunanidhi to MGR.
There are reason for these shifts of allegiance which smack of realpolitik. There are advantages when a Tamil Nadu party cooperates with Delhi, and dangers when it fails to do so, as was shown recently by the General Elections. The ruling DMK failed to win a single seat for the first time in its electoral history, an important reason for which debacle was the food-shortages carefully manipulated by the Central Government in Delhi. As for the Delhi government itself, considering the rather special importance of Tamil Nadu brought out in this paper, it is obviously prudent to forge an alliance with any party that happens to rule in Madras.
The Tamil Nadu-Delhi relationship seems to be characterized by understanding and cooperation for the most part, based on a willingness to compromise by both sides. It is not a relationship in which Delhi is assured of its position as the dominant power.
Should Tamil Nadu mass sentiment and the positions of the DMK and the AIADMK all cohere, Delhi has to more or less adjust its policy accordingly. This was demonstrated by Delhi’s rather humiliating volte-face after the deportation of Balasingham and others in the aftermath of the Thimpu talks. It is know that at those talks in 1985, the Indian Government representatives were wholly exasperated by the totally intransigent position of the LTTE and others, which was that the Sri Lankan Government representatives should virtually acknowledge a Tamil right to the separate state of Eelam before proceeding any further. The deadlock led to a walk-out by the LTTE etc, which it is believed provoked by an inelegant outburst by former Indian Foreign Secretary Romesh Bandhari, to which TELO’s Satyendra reported with an equally inelegant outburst. That could have caused particular irritation to the Indian side as TELO was the original protégé of the Indian Government.
Deportation orders on the LTTE ideologue Anton Balasingham and two others quickly followed. Karunanidhi led a demonstration of 15,000 and it appeared that Tamil Nadu was one mind on the subject of the deportations. Delhi quickly revoked the deportation orders. It could be inferred from the deportation contretemps that Delhi will be wary about going against Tamil Nadu sentiments about the Sri Lankan Tamils, but up to now the two sides have been more or less in accord on this issue. It is not really surprising that Karunanidhi now in power seems rather different from that Karunanidhi who was out of power, and that he should have recently earned an encomium from the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister who referred to him as a ‘seasoned politician.
TAMIL NADU AND SRI LANKA
It has been argued in the Introduction to this paper that the Tamil Nadu and Sri Lankan Tamils constitute two distinct ethnic groups as their histories are different and the interaction between them was not particularly significant over the centuries, except for a few decades. It is important to take account of their cultural interaction in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in trying to understand the future relationship of the Tamil Nadu and Sri Lankan Tamils.
It is not sufficiently known that the Sri Lankan Tamils played what has been called ‘a revival role’ in the cultural revival that began in South India in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Arumuga Navalar (1822-1879) spent several years in Madras writing, lecturing, and publishing, while C.W.Tamotheram Pillai (1855-1906) and several others spent long periods in Madras. They also commuted between Madras and Jaffna, in promoting educational and cultural activities. It has been written that “Such close links between Madras and Jaffna was something new”. It appears that the ‘Jaffna school’ of writers dominated the literary scene in Madras. Two important Tamil journals which flourished during the period 1854-1923, had notable contributions from Sri Lankan Tamil scholars, including Arunachalam and Ponnambalam. Tamotheram Pillai was a leading member of the South Indian Tamil Association formed in 1899 and the Dravidian Languages Association formed in 1899.
It appears that the Tamil cultural revival was inspired by the Indian cultural renaissance which began in Bengal in the early decades of the nineteenth century, and lost momentum around 1918, as apparently did the Tamil revival, a detail worth noting as it seems to illustrate the ‘unity in diversity’ of India. But there was a notable difference between the two movements in south and north India. In the north, ‘modernizers’ such as Madhusudan Datta, who became a Christian, Raja Ram Mohan Roy and later Tagore, as well as the so-called ‘traditionalists’ like the great Bengali novelist Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and Vivekananda, challenged Hindu orthodoxy and even dared the prospect of social and religious ostracism. In the south the cultural revival was rather elitist and traditional.
Bharata Natyam and Carnatic Music were regarded as ‘ancient and divine arts’, and the very notion of innovation was anathema. Consequently the cultural revival in the south, as well as in Jaffna, represented basically a recovery of pride in Tamil identity, and did not have the political impact that the cultural renaissance had in the north.
The politicalisation of Tamil culture came later, a foretaste of what was to follow being provided by the Jaffna Youth Congress which was active in the 1920s and 1930s advocating, among other things, education in the mother tongue. Eminent South Indian scholars participated in the activities of the Jaffna Youth Congress.
Later there was the figure of Rev.X.S.Thani Nayagam who internationalized the Tamil cultural movement, the political implications of which were to be seen in the 1974 Jaffna meeting of the International Association of Tamil Research when nine Tamils were accidentally electrocuted. This paper will not go into further details about the mix of Tamil culture and politics.
What has to be noted particularly is the significance of the cultural symbiosis between Jaffna and Madras during the time of Arumuga Navalar and afterwards. It is appropriate to regard the Tamil Nadu and Sri Lankan Tamils as distinct ethnic groups, but they do share a solid cultural substratum and it is to be expected that because of the communications revolution of our time the cultural linkages between the two groups will endure and sometimes have political implications in the future.
After the formation of the DMK, a political nexus was established between Madras and Jaffna. The Federal Party was formed in 1949, and claimed not long afterwards that the Sri Lankan Tamils constituted a nation by themselves. The Tamil United Liberation Front was formed in 1972 [sic; Tamil United Front], and in 1976 came to adopt the Vadamarachi [sic; Vaddukoddai] resolution advocating a separate state of Eelam. The overt political contacts between the FP, TULF and the DMK are too well known to require detailed treatment here.
The remaining part of the present section of this paper will deal with the interaction between the Tamil militants and Tamil Nadu, but something must be said before proceeding further about covert political contacts. Superintendent of Police, R.Sunderalingam, reported to the Inspector General of Police in 1970 that after the coming to power of the DMK in 1967 there had been a free flow of publications through the smuggling centre of Valvettiturai to Jaffna, advocating Tamil Nadu political ideals. The home of the smuggler, Thangavadivel, had in the previous week been made available for the Tamil Unity Conference. Sunderalingam reported further that TULF leader Amirthalingam had gone to Tamil Nadu to participate in DMK election meetings. The political contacts therefore were more extensive than meetings and courtesies between high-level politicians.
The point of importance in trying to understand the Tamil militants’ interaction with people in Tamil Nadu is that they are ethnically distinct. It is noteworthy that even the Tamil plantation workers, regarded as Indians in Sri Lanka though technically stateless, have been regarded as aliens in Tamil Nadu, not as long-lost sons who should be re-absorbed into the motherland. It is known that the repatriates under the Sirima-Shastri Pact of 1964 have been given rather shabby treatment. Some months after the July 1983 riots, one of them is reported to have said, “It is better to die in Sri Lanka than starve in India”. More recently the leader of plantation workers, Cabinet Minister S.Thondaman, said that the repatriates “have now been reduced to destitution.”
It is hardly to be expected that two ethnic groups will have an identity of interest all the time. There certainly is a commitment to the Sri Lankan Tamils, but there are limits to that commitment as shown by notably ambivalent attitudes to the militant. It might appear, after the Tamil Nadu uproar about the 1983 riots and periodic outbursts thereafter, that the commitment is total. It might even appear that the Tamil militants are regarded as above the law.
In May 1982 Prabhakaran of the LTTE shot at his political antagonist, PLOTE leader Uma Maheswaran, at Pondi bazaar in Madras. The Sri Lankan government sent an emissary to have him extradited over the murder of former Jaffna mayor Alfred Duraiappah, but without avail no action was taken against him. Even more shocking was the Meenambakkam bomb explosion which in August 1984 demolished the Madras airport lounge, killing 29 of whom 24 were Sri Lankans. Several suspects were arrested but were released on bail, to conveniently disappear thereafter and no one was brought to book. Apparently the Tamil Nadu authorities could not have gone further in showing their commitment to the militants.
But a series of incidents showed that the Tamil Nadu public was far from content over the lawlessness of the militants. After a clash between the LTTE and PLOTE in 1982, militants fired on a crowd in Madras when an attempt was made to apprehend Maheswaran. On the same day PLOTE members misbehaved in a village, until they were rounded up by the police.
Later there was a fracas in which the EPRLF opened fire on a crowd killing one person. In December 1985 a LTTE jeep injured a man, leading to a fracas in which 15 were injured including 8 policemen, and telegrams were sent to Rajiv Gandhi and MGR asking for protection against the LTTE. V.P.Chintan of the CPI (M) wrote of an incident in which Tamil militants raided a village with automatic weapons and the Hindu and other publications raised their voices in protest.
In 1986, exasperation with the militants led to ‘Operation Tiger’ in which police chief K.Mohandas arrested militants by the hundred, seized weapons and radio equipment, and finger-printed Prabhakaran like a common criminal, a spectacular demonstration of the limits of Tamil Nadu commitment to the militants. The radio equipment was subsequently returned, probably because it was impolitic to incapacitate the militants altogether, but the demonstration of a limited commitment was convincing all the same.
‘Operation Tiger’ led to the return of Prabhakaran to Jaffna in late 1986, and the waning importance of Tamil Nadu rear-base for the militants. It is possible that Prabhakaran’s return was motivated by a desire to break free of Indian government pressure, which could conceivably lead to control, and also because he did not want too close an involvement with any Tamil Nadu political party.
According to one assessment, “There was serious concern about the wisdom of having come to India in the first place and about the disproportionate importance of the rear-base among some quarters. The extent to which the war was becoming dependent on Tamil Nadu did not go without criticism.” It appears that Tamil Nadu, so far from being a decisive importance for struggle of the militants, could in fact handicap them.
This paper has already dealt with the Tamil Nadu reactions to the IPKF-LTTE fighting. It must be mentioned that inspite of IPKF outrages against unarmed civilians, Tamil Nadu public opinion was decisively in favour of the IPKF intervention as shown by more than one opinion poll. The national average in favour was 72%, whereas in Tamil Nadu it was 73%.
It is argued in this paper only that there is an ambivalence in Tamil Nadu attitudes, not that there has been anything like a rejection of the militants, a point that was demonstrated in April 1987 when MGR made an award of $3.2 million to the LTTE and other militants. This award, which evidently arose out of the Indian government’s belief that the Jaffna population was starving and could soon start dying of hunger, reveals something about the nature of the Tamil Nadu commitment. A Biafran-type solution, assuming that the Sri Lankan government could want such a thing, in which separatist Ibos were starved into submission in Nigeria, is not a viable option as Tamil Nadu would force Delhi to intervene.
DELHI AND SRI LANKA
It might seem that if there were not 50 million or more in Tamil Nadu, Delhi would simply not bother about what happens in Sri Lanka. It would be just as little bothered by charges about human rights violations and genocide as any other Third World country. Actually Delhi has its own priorities about Sri Lanka which have nothing to do with Tamil Nadu. India conceives itself as the predominant or pre-eminent power in South Asia, in other words, a regional super power, and the corollary of that conception is that Delhi will react against the activities of any extra-regional power in any neighbouring country should they seem prejudical to what Delhi regards as India’s legitimate interests.
After the Jayewardene Government came to power in 1977, its pro-Western policies obviously caused anxieties to Delhi. As former Indian High Commissioner Dixit put it,
And hence evidently the exchange of letters about Trincomalee etc. which accompanied the 1987 Peace Agreement.
The probable reason for US over-activity in Sri Lanka probably derives from the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan which gave the impression of an Indo-Soviet axis in South Asia. In any case, the situation in so far as Sri Lanka is concerned seemed to change after Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to the US in 1985, and in 1987 the US was willing to back the peace agreement, virtually acknowledging India’s role as the regional great power.
The LTTE’s response to the peace agreement was that the Sri Lankan Tamils were being sold down the river because of India’s other priorities. It is clear Tamil Nadu is far from being the sole determinant of Indo-Sri Lankan relations.
The Tamil Nadu and Sri Lankan Tamils are distinct ethnic groups. At the same time they do share a cultural substratum, and that means an enduring linkage between them. But the ethnic distinctiveness means that there interests do not coincide all the time, and hence the notable ambivalence in Tamil Nadu attitudes towards their Sri Lankan brethren.
There is a Tamil Nadu commitment to the Sri Lankan Tamils, but that commitment seem to have its limits. Should the Tamil rebellion revive, and there are massacres raising suspicions of a genocidal programme, or attempts to starve the Tamils into submission as happened to the Ibos in Nigeria, or to take Jaffna militarily with the inevitable mass killings, we can expect Tamil Nadu to force Delhi’s hand to intervene and even break up the country or set up another Cyprus. But the commitment up to now, notwithstanding all the posturing of the opposition parties, has stopped short of support for Eelam.
Tamil Nadu does not seem to be an Indian state just like any other, as shown by the restiveness over Hindi. For that and other reasons Delhi has to be responsive to Tamil Nadu sentiments. Delhi has to give a special place to Tamil Nadu in its calculations about the Sri Lankan Tamil problem. That was shown, for instance, when Delhi condoned, or more probably inspired, MGR’s unusual assertion of autonomy in donating money to the LTTE and others. It is shown also in the special position now given to Karunanidhi over the Tamil problem. While however Delhi may sometimes have to give in to Tamil Nadu sentiments, there is usually an excellent rapport between Delhi and Madras and there does not seem to have been any fundamental disagreement over Sri Lanka.
For the time being at least the irritant of over-activity by extra-regional
powers has been removed, and it would appear on the analysis made in this paper
that the final determinant of what happens in Sri Lanka is to be found not in
Tamil Nadu or in Delhi but in Colombo.
[courtesy: Lanka Guardian, July 1, 1991, pp.4-5]
In the aftermath of the Rajiv Gandhi assassination and the recent Indian elections, the situation looks distinctly favourable for Sri Lanka, at least in the short term. We can surely expect strong Indian pressure on the LTTE to engage in meaningful negotiations with the Sri Lanka government.
The Indian authorities are convinced that the LTTE are responsible for the assassination, and Jayalalitha has been convinced that she herself has been on the LTTE hit-list. The logical consequence of this, irrespective of the Indian judiciary’s eventual decision on the assassination, should be the LTTE’s ejection from India or the incarceration of its members there. At the most a mere token presence of the LTTE and no more, in Tamil Nadu might be understandable. Jayalalitha’s latest statement, at the time of writing, is clear enough. The LTTE is to be rounded up and chucked out.
We cannot, however, be quite sure of this outcome because of Tamil Nadu’s commitment to the Sri Lankan Tamils. The problem is that ejecting or totally incapacitating the LTTE might be seen as tantamount to abandoning the Sri Lankan Tamils. It is very doubtful that the LTTE’s rebellion can continue for long without access to the Tamil Nadu hinterland, and its military defeat will probably mean that there will be no further accommodativeness on the part of the Sri Lankan government. A political settlement of a durable order may not be possible. For this reason, abandoning the LTTE might come to be seen as abandoning the Sri Lankan Tamils. We cannot be quite sure how far the AIADMK will go in actually punishing the LTTE.
There is no doubting the strength of the Tamil Nadu commitment up to now. Since 1967 the DMK and the AIADMK have alternated in power in Tamil Nadu, and both parties have supported the LTTE while in power, even if they were against the LTTE while out of power. When MGR in power, the LTTE had hostile relations with Karunanidhi, even to the extent that Prabhakaran once rejected Karunanidhi’s handsome donation for the LTTE. But as soon as Karunanidhi returned to power, they became buddies again. The party in power in Madras could not be seen to be antagonistic to the LTTE because it had to take count of the Tamil Nadu commitment to the Sri Lankan Tamils.
The commitment has not, however been a total one as it has always stopped well short of support for separatism. Part of the reason for this is that despite all the commonalities of race, language, and religion between the Tamils of Tamil Nadu and of Sri Lanka, they are not identical, and can be regarded as distinct ethnic groups in some senses. As these two groups are not identical, their interests cannot be identical at every point.
Furthermore, after the Sino-Indian border conflict Tamil Nadu eschewed separatism. The Tamils were the first in India to take to separatism, under the leadership of the charismatic Ramaswamy Naicker in pre-Independence days. But Nehru’s accommodativeness on linguistic state prepared the way for Annadurai’s abandonment of the DMK separatist programme after the border conflict. Today there may be four or five small separatist groups in Tamil Nadu, who are in collaboration with the Naxalites, but Tamil Nadu has by and large given up separatism. It cannot very well support the separatism of the LTTE.
The Tamil Nadu commitment has been limited, but unfortunately strong enough to have allowed the Tamil militants to break the law with shocking impunity. Particularly shocking was what followed the bomb outrage at Madras airport which killed 29 in 1984. The suspects who were arrested were surprisingly allowed bail, which of course they proceeded to jump. More recently, the massacre of the EPRLF men seem to have been taken by the Tamil Nadu authorities with light-hearted irresponsibility.
A society which condones lawlessness to that extent is getting adrift from its moral moorings, and a price has to be paid for that. It was paid tragically by Rajiv Gandhi. Now the alternatives facing the TN government appear to be stark. It has to incapacitate the LTTE and having nothing more to do with it, allowing the rebellion to collapse, or pressurizing it into meaningful negotiations.
In Delhi, the future of the minority government is problematic. It can be stable in the short term because the parliamentarian will not be in a hurry to face the hustings again. But the horrendous problems it will have to confront may make it unstable, and furthermore it may have to face disruptive power struggles from within the Congress ranks. For these reasons the government could soon have so many preoccupations that it may not be able to concentrate sufficiently, or act decisively enough, on the Sri Lankan problem. However, the motivation to help solve our problem should be strong because Rajiv Gandhi failed so disastrously over it.
The new government may not insist on the letter of the Peace Accords. The one-sided constraints on our foreign relations make the Sri Lankans bristle. A substitute Friendship Treaty, the draft of which has already proved to be problematic, may not be the best way of surmounting the problem. Instead why not a reversion to the unstated premise on which we had excellent relations with India up to 1977, which was that Sri Lanka cannot by itself pose any security threat to India but could do so only by getting together with an external power? A convincing case for this could be developed, if it is argued fully and in depth.
A great deal will depend, of course on the quality of the Congress leadership. Contrary to the usual assumptions, it might help if the leader is not a great or redoubtable personage. We must remember that after many years we succeeded in coming to terms on the estate Tamils with the unassuming Lal Bahadur Shastri, whom we must recognize from a Sri Lankan perspective as one of the finer sons of India. The image of Narasimha Rao seems to be a reassuring one, more particularly as he has considerable expertise in handling foreign relations.
For the first time India is having a Tamil-speaking Dravidian as its leader in Delhi. Would it be too fanciful to hope for something like a new outlook, maybe something qualitatively different, from the leadership, or will it be more or less the mix as before? We have in mind Delhi’s rather undemocratic behaviour towards the states, and sometimes a heavy-handedness in dealing with some neighbours.
Today Delhi has to deploy 400,000 troops to contain Kashmir, which perhaps may not have become necessary if democratic norms had been observed by Delhi. Kashmiri nationalism lost steam after the break-up of Pakistan, and it became possible for Delhi to reach accommodation with Sheik Abdullah in 1975.
But in the next decade the democratically-elected, and popular government of Farook Abdullah was dismissed with a show of Delhi’s might which caused outrage all over India. It is arguable that there has been a failure in integrating Kashmir into the Indian union because of Delhi’s heavy-handedness. In the perception of practically all of India’s neighbours as well, Delhi, has sometimes tended to be rather heavy-handed.
One wonders whether there has been some kind of historical conditioning behind all this. According to Romila Thapar’s History of India, the vast Indo-Gangetic plain lent itself more easily to large unitary kingdoms than the southern peninsula which was cut up into smaller regions by mountains, plateaux, and river valleys. Perhaps India’s leaders from the Hindi belt were carrying the burden of India’s historic greatness, and may be a Dravidian leader in Delhi might be more flexible in dealing with Sri Lanka’s problem while being firm with the Tamil militants.
According to some analysts the Congress government could collapse in about a couple of years, after which the BJP will come to power. Its stunning performance in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, the centre of gravity of Indian politics, is taken as a pointer to the future. There is reason to believe that the BJP may come to support a separate state of Eelam. We have to avail of opportunities that may be coming up to reach a final political settlement over the Eelam problem.
It may be that the LTTE has already been under serious pressure from the Indian authorities, and hence the bomb at Flower Road, which may be followed by further exploits of suicide bombers to destroy the preconditions for a political settlement. The LTTE, which has appeared to want nothing less than Eelam, may believe that they can gain by protracting their struggle.
A final political settlement has to depend partly on the accommodativeness of
the Sri Lankan government, particularly on the question of devolution which has
to be understood as not just decentralization. It may not be impossible to be
accommodative because President Premadasa has only recently won a mini-general
election the legitimacy of which is not questioned even by the opposition
[courtesy: Lanka Guardian, Aug.1, 1991, p.21]
Izeth Hussain in LG 1st March 90 stated that “the Tamil Nadu and Sri Lankan Tamils constitute two distinct ethnic groups” (p.19, last para). In the LG 1st July 91, he states that they can be regarded as distinct groups “in some senses” (p.4, para 5). How come, this qualification?
Mr.Narasimha Rao is from Andhra Pradesh and is Telugu speaking. It is now accepted that the terms ‘ARYAN’ and ‘DRAVIDIAN’ are misused. To say the PM [Prime Minister] of India is a Tamil-speaking Dravidian, is a misnomer.
It is smart to say that the Tamils were the first to take to separatism. But it was the Muslims who realized it first.
Historical conditioning is certainly behind the high-handedness and undemocratic behaviour of every nation, state, people, language and religion. Each nation work on the premise that their country, people, language, religion, etc are God’s creation. How far this is implemented, depends on numerical strength and or military prowess. It should be for our good, if our thinking is rationalised. Otherwise, we should concede Israel’s behaviour too. It should be accepted that religions – not created by God – are to a great extent responsible not for propagating peace and accord, but, for fomenting dissension and discord.
However, Izeth Hussain’s essays are enlightening in some ways.
[courtesy: Lanka Guardian, Sept.1, 1991, p.24]
M.P.de Silva (LG, 1st Aug.91) must not abstract statements from their contexts. He writes that in LG (1st Mar.90) I stated that the Tamil Nadu and Sri Lankan Tamils constitute two distinct ethnic groups, while in LG (1st July 91) I state that they can be regarded as distinct groups “in some senses”. Reference to my 1990 article will show that I referred to its introductory part in LG (1st Feb.90) where I wrote, in paras two and three, that the two groups might be regarded as “constituting a single ethnic” in terms of certain factors, while it could be argued in terms of other factors that they were “two distinct ethnic groups”. In other words my original position, which has not changed was that they are distinct “in some senses”.
Of course, as practically everyone knows, Narasimha Rao is not a Tamil. It had not occurred to me to make that point explicitly because one assumes a certain level of sophistication among LG readers. As for his being Tamil-speaking, he is multilingual and speaks Tamil fluently. I made the point in the context of my hope that he would show greater ability in handling the LTTE than his predecessors.
I wonder why de Silva says that it is now accepted that the terms Aryan and Dravidian are misused. If he has in mind the mistaken theory of an Aryan race, it was rejected long ago by Max Muller himself after he originally propounded it. However, the terms are used, not misused, because they point to significant linguistic differences and cultural variations within the over-arching Indian cultural unity. I did not misuse them, I used them.
The rest of the letter seems largely irrelevant, but I take serious note of it because it is important to promote dialogue between the Sinhalese and the minorities. De Silva considers it “smart” of me to say that the Tamils were the first to take to separatism in India, after which he writes “But it was the Muslims who realized it first”. Why was it “smart” to refer to the priority of Tamil separatism over other sub-continental separatist movements? And what relevance has the establishment of Pakistan for my article, which deals with the Eelam problem in the aftermath of the Rajiv Gandhi assassination? Is de Silva trying to say that although the Tamils took first to separatism, the Indian Muslims actually proved to be far more dangerous? Perhaps the implication is that a wary eye should be kept on the Sri Lankan Muslims.
He will doubtless reject that reading. But I doubt that he can come up with any alternative reading, explaining with cogency the point behind his irrelevance. What prompts my questioning is that quite obviously he would never have made his point about the Indian Muslims had my article been written by a Sinhalese. The fact that Hussain is a Muslim seems to loom large in his consciousness. I suggest that his mental processes have been queered by anti-Muslim communalism.