Is there a future for the moderates?
Sinhala Owned Sri Lanka Sunday Times, 14 December
The TULF is enthusiastically engaged in making preparations for
the Jaffna municipality election while dubiously denying that they
intend to contest it. There is strong speculation that
Mrs.Yogeswaran who is in the peninsula now with Mavai Senathirajah
and Pon Sivapalan will be the TULF’s mayoral candidate for Jaffna
One cannot rule out the possibility that the TULF, with some ‘tacit
backing’ from the government might emerge victorious in the Jaffna
An earnest hope is discernible in some TULF circles that this will
help the party refurbish its old image as the sole provider of
credible political leadership to the Tamils.
It is often said there is a leadership vacuum among the Tamils now.
The leaders who shaped the Tamil political identity in Sri Lanka
originally, S.J.V. Chelvanayakam, G.G Ponnambalam and Vanniasingham,
are dead. The leaders who emerged from the generation which followed
them are either dead or are on the verge of retirement. By the time
Mr. Chelvanayakam died in 1977, Amirthalingam had emerged as the
undisputed leader of the TULF which had brought all shades of Tamil
nationalists under its banner at that time.
Twenty years later the TULF is a shadow of its former self. But yet
it is widely believed by a large cross section of the Sinhalese and
westerners that the TULF can still offer credible political
leadership to the Tamil people if the LTTE is wiped out eventually
from the north and east. The results of the 1994 general elections
in Batticaloa and Trincomalee in which Joseph Pararajasingham and A.
Thangathurai were able to secure the majority of the votes from the
Tamils of the east were seen by them as proof of the TULF’s enduring
political appeal. (One thing is forgotten in this. The TULF
propaganda in the east during the 1994 elections was, silently or
eloquently, respectful of the LTTE and its ideological goals).
The TULF today insists at every forum it addresses that the solution
to the conflict can be found only through negotiations between the
government and the Liberation Tigers.
In these circumstances, however scandalous or outrageous it may seem
to the average person in the south, Veluppillai Prabhaharan appears
to be fast filling the vacuum (if ever there was one) in the
political leadership of the Tamils.
Many were alarmed last week when Dharmalingam Sidtharthan told a
Sunday paper that Prabhaharan was one of the leaders whom he admired
among the Tamils.
The ‘Thinamurasu’, which is backed by the EPDP and is the largest
selling and most influential Tamil weekly, frequently portrays the
LTTE leader as a master strategist with great political foresight
(mainly in its very popular series on Tamil militancy).
The other Tamil papers refer to Prabhaharan with respect.
Most Sinhalese and the fanatically anti-Tiger Tamils who are in
Colombo, I am more than certain, will immediately object that people
are doing so out of the tremendous fear they have for the LTTE.
Fear, to them, is the key which determines the Tamil attitude
towards the Tigers.
They are simply deluding themselves.
The LTTE cannot operate in the way it does if the whole Tamil
population hates it but provides it with whatever assistance out of
fear and fear alone.
Reuters ran a feature last week that the government has succeeded in
isolating the LTTE internationally. It says, quoting diplomats,”Sri
Lanka is riding high on its efforts to marginalise the Tamil Tiger
rebels internationally by turning global perceptions against the
guerrillas”. The foreign ministry also congratulates itself that it
helped the government secure an appropriate geopolitical environment
for defeating the Tigers.
Let us assume for argument’s sake that all this is true.
Then why isn’t the LTTE showing any sign of turning into a despised
and battered bunch of guerrillas among the Tamils ?
The oft heard refrain that it will be the case once this or that
happens is nonsense. When Jaffna fell it was said that the LTTE was
finished; when Operation Sathjaya began it was said the road to
Jaffna would be opened and it will expedite the decline of the
Tigers; when Op. Jaya Sikurui started it was again said it would
ring the death knell of the LTTE before the end of October this year
. Then some smart Alec, a dabbler in psy ops most probably, planted
a story that Prabhaharan had run away to Kampuchea to escape the
forces of Op. Jaya Sikurui .
India has banned and is gunning for the LTTE, the world’s sole super
power has designated it a terrorist organisation, Malaysia has
banned it, Canada, Switzerland, Norway and Netherlands have launched
legal action against its activists (according to the Reuters
feature). And what’s more, the US gives special training to the
army’s commandos and India, Pakistan and UK train officers and
provide intelligence to the government about the Tigers. The LTTE
was also deprived of its rear base in Tamil Nadu following the
assassination of Rajiv Gandhi.
No government ever had it so good internationally.
The army was given a blank cheque to fight and finish the LTTE off.
Yet, Prabhaharan has been able to stall the advance of two army
divisions - now three, with the deployment of Div. 56 - for more
than seven months. Even the Deputy Minister for Defence Anuruddha
Ratwatte now says it might be end of January by the time the army
opens the road to Jaffna.
Can the LTTE do all this if it has absolutely no political support
among the Tamils ?
There are many reasons why the majority of the Tamils secretly or
publicly admire Prabhaharan, despite dire political differences
which some among them may have with the Tigers.
A TULF leader put the mood in a nutshell recently-”It is because of
Prabaharan that the government is talking at least about
semi-federalism with us” he said. This is exactly what TULF’s late
leader Appapillai Amirthalingam used to say many years ago.
An ex-Tamil militant leader (who is not in Parliament) said on
Friday “Even if the army captures the highway eventually,
Prabhaharan will go down in history as one who stopped a mighty
military force with moral or material backing from India, America
and China from achieving its goal for more than eight months”.
While the ‘moderate’ Tamil politician might consider the Tiger
leader an inevitable instrument for exerting pressure on the
government for granting the Tamils a comprehensive political
solution, the die-hard Tamil pan- Tamil nationalist ( I know a few
in Tamil Nadu) is inclined to dream that the “mighty Chola empire
will rise once again, like the sphinx, from the ashes of the Eelam
war during Prabhaharan’s lifetime”.
The creeping admiration for the Tiger leader is becoming quite
pronounced as Op. Jaya sikurui is getting further bogged down in the
Wanni. One has to only read the extremely popular defence-political
column in the ‘Thinamurasu’ to get an idea of this.
I do not think that the government will have anyone to blame but
itself, and, perhaps, the few deluded Tamil intellectuals who have
jumped on its bandwagon, when it finds that the Tamils are left with
no moral-political grounds for backing the ‘moderate’ leaders among
them who still pin all their hopes on the PA’s political package.