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Selected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha
Elephant Pass - Revolution - Nehru
Let us see how the verdict of the Battle of Elephant Pass has been presented to the world. The Colombo correspondent of the British weekly Economist (Aug.17) scored it as a victory for the Sri Lankan army. With a caption, `Elephantine mistake', this anonymous correspondent wrote,
"It is now clear that the Tamil Tigers made a terrible mistake in taking on the Sri Lankan army at Elephant Pass. Guerrillas avoid fighting set-piece battles: every guerrilla leader from Lawrence of Arabia to Che Guevara knew that. The Tigers apparently did not, and were mauled. On August 11th the Sri Lankan government claimed that 2,552 Tigers had been killed in the month-long battle. Even allowing for exaggeration, the Tigers' toll has been huge'
Manik de Silva, writing for the Far Eastern Economic Review (Aug.22) presented a more balanced view of the final outcome. "The conventional military balance between the Sri Lankan army and the separatist LTTE guerillas has narrowed, despite the Tigers' eventual withdrawal in the face of an onslaught by government forces...Although senior military officers had earlier said the battle for Elephant Pass would be the turning point of the war against the separatists, the LTTE's ability to stretch the security forces - who were deployed to the maximum extent of their resources during the 24-day, 9-km advance - suggested another outcome. As one well informed newspaper columnist said during the height of the battle, the Tigers had established that Sri Lanka had two armies. This point was not lost on President Ranasinghe Premadasa..."
In my view, many of the expressed opinions (whether delivered by the military analysts, journalists or the diplomats) resemble that of the views, the proverbial five blind men had about the elephant. They could only provide analyses based on the body counts of the fallen Tamil rebels.
But, Jawaharlal Nehru for one, could read the minds of these rebels. Why? because, in an earlier generation, he was one of them. Let me reminisce what Nehru wrote sixty years ago to his 14 year old daughter Indira Priyadarshini (which were later collected into a book as Glimpses of World History) on the revolution then taking place in India.
"As I sat here today to write to you, faint cries, like distant thunder, reached me. Inqilab zindabad! Inqilab zindabad! (Long live revolution). I do not know who they were who shouted our war cry so near us outside the gaol - whether they were men and women from the city, or peasants from the villages...Whoever they were, they cheered us up, and we sent a silent answer to their greeting and all our good wishes went with it... "We are on the threshold of our Revolution. What has the future will bring we cannot say. But even the present has brought us rich returns for our labours. See the women of India, how proudly they march ahead of all in the struggle!...See also the children - the boys and girls - the Vanar Senas and the Bal and Balika Sabhas. The parents of many of these children may have behaved as cowards or slaves in the past. But who dare doubt that the children of our generation will tolerate no slavery or cowardice? "And so the wheel of change moves on, and those who were down go up and those who were up go down. It was time it moved in our country. But we have given it such a push this time that no one can stop it"(January,1931).
This was written while Nehru was in prison and 16 years ahead of the independence of India. Even then, he showed optimism that India will be free at last. Similarly, it could be that the Battle of Elephant Pass may be the first stepping stone to the practical reality of Eelam.