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

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India & the Struggle for Tamil Eelam
Eelam and Indian Security: Need for policy alternatives

Ampalam in TamilNet, 16 November 2007

Part 1


In the year 1949, a then leading newspaper of Jaffna, The Hindu Organ (Inthu Chaathanam) of Tamil-Saivaite background, celebrated its diamond jubilee. The newspaper was started in 1889 by the followers of Aa'rumuka Naavalar. Its sister institution, The Jaffna Hindu College, provided the venue when Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi visited Jaffna.


The diamond jubilee number carried greetings from the Governor Generals of independent India and Ceylon in its opening page, in which C. Rajagopalachari, the Governor General of India was given precedence over Sir Henry Monck-Mason Moore, the Ceylonese counterpart. It was just one year after the independence of Ceylon (Sri Lanka since 1972) and is an illustrative example to understand the way India was looked upon by the Sri Lankan Tamils.

At the time of independence, there was also another powerful pro Indian population in Sri Lanka, the Tamils of Indian origin or the Upcountry Tamils. In fact, at that time, they outnumbered the Sri Lankan Tamils.

Rather than strengthening these communities who had genuine sympathy for India and effectively using that social force to make Sri Lanka fall in line with the larger security concerns of South Asia, the Government of India pursued an unrealistic foreign policy of appeasing the Sinhala leaders who, in the core of their heart, always remained suspicious and contemptuous of India.

Some of the vital foreign policy and security concerns of India, in the 50s, 60s and later, i.e., Non-Alignment and the China factor were ingeniously exploited by the Sinhala leaders to get silent consent, and in some instances open consent, from India for their anti-Tamil programme such as the disenfranchisement of the Tamils of Indian Origin (1949), Sinhala Only Act (1956), anti-Tamil pogrom (1958), agreements to repatriate the Tamils of Indian Origin (1954 and 1964), constitutionally declaring Sri Lanka a Sinhala-Buddhist country (1972), etc.

The tune was actually set by the Sinhala leaders and India danced to it, sacrificing the interests of a people, who had deep feelings and trust in India. India chose to let down its natural ally in the hope of winning the loyalty of the Sinhala elite. Yet, the Sinhala leaders were never truly faithful to India.

China always enjoyed a special status in Sri Lanka, and Pakistan was permitted to use Sri Lankan facilities to refuel its fighter aircraft during Bangladesh war.

The one and only deviation from this appeasement policy of India took place in the early 1980s, during the times of Mrs. Indira Gandhi and there were strong reasons for it.

The foreign and economic policy of Sri Lanka under Jayawardane government, which came to power in 1977, was seen as a threat to the South Asian model envisaged by India. The anti-Tamil pogroms of 1977 and 1983, and the spontaneous beginnings of Tamil militancy set the alarm ringing in New Delhi.

Mrs. Gandhi decided to check both the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil militancy at the initial stage itself.

Contrary to the thought of many ordinary Tamils, Sinhalese and militants, Mrs. Gandhi was never in favour of dividing the country. She strengthened the militants only to make the Sri Lankan government to come out with an acceptable political solution, and failing, to create a situation justifying India's intervention to implement a solution. She also maintained the plurality of the militant groups, not without purpose.

When the ground was set, Indra Gandhi was assassinated in November 1984.

History is not a discipline to pass judgement on events that have not taken place. Yet it would seem fair to believe that had she been alive, a solution would have reached for Sri Lanka within the perspectives of South Asia. Neither the Sri Lankan government nor any of the militant groups had the capacity or support to go beyond South Asia to pursue their strategic goals at that time. Those were still the days of the Cold War, when India was confidently playing the role of the policeman in South Asia.

The biggest mistake of Rajiv Gandhi, who succeeded Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister of India, was his line of thinking that his mother was wrong, and her advisors were wrong. It was the other way round. From the very beginning he was misled by wrong advisors.

Those were also the days when some Indian intelligence officers and diplomats were accused of, and even convicted for, being in the pay list of the Sri Lankan government.

Of all the militant groups, it was the LTTE, which first smelled out the hollowness of the foreign policy of Rajiv government and opted for alternative measures. In early 1985 itself the LTTE established bureaus in several countries outside of South Asia. It also started sending its cadres to Israel for training. It became known later that Israel was giving training to both Sri Lankan government forces and the LTTE without the knowledge of one another. For the first time the crisis started spilling out beyond South Asia and beyond India's control.

The deployment of the IPKF in 1987 was in fact a delayed mission. In between 1984 and 1987, due to the impasse of Indian policy, many of the militants sympathetic to India lost their bearing. The LTTE distanced itself and outshined the other militant groups. It was able to eliminate or check its militant competitors and moderate politicians. The sufferings of the people at the hands of the Sri Lanka Army and migrations made the Tamil struggle a wider people's movement of international connotations.

Whatever little India was able to offer to Tamils through the Indo-Sri Lanka treaty failed to meet the requirements of the outgrown situation. Even that little was not faithfully implemented, thanks to the manipulative ways of the Sinhala politicians and the failure of the people chosen by India to handle the circumstances. Once again the Sinhala leaders proved that they were smarter diplomats.

By failing to uphold the interest of the people sympathetic to it, and messing up the opportunities of resolving the matter within its backyard in 1987, India became the bigger loser than the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE, as far as the security of the region is concerned.

As one Sri Lankan Tamil put it in his way through a local saying, the outcome for India was the situation of 'a chasing dog that missed the squirrel by allowing it to climb the tree' (A'nil ea'ravidda naay).

It is folly to argue that the LTTE was perfect in its political ideology, and was justifiable in all its strategies, tactics and actions. They are to be judged by history in times to come.

But, what is outstanding about the LTTE is its uncompromising commitment to the cause opted by it. The confidence and support it enjoys from the concerned people, who are left with no one but the LTTE to look upon to end their sufferings, is its strength.

It is unfortunate that the crisis in its historical course was not handled with farsightedness, to get resolved within Sri Lanka or within the region of South Asia, and was allowed to plunge into the intricacies of international politics.

As one of the main players sharing the responsibility of entrusting the issue with the International Community, the LTTE is morally and rightfully obliged to find ways and means to course through the current equations to resolve the crisis to the satisfaction of the people it represents.

What is precarious is that the isolation of the LTTE and active assistance for a military option against it by the International Community, may lead the LTTE and the people backing it with no option other than facing the situation. The repercussions are sure to threaten Indian security for a long time to come.

The major responsibility lies with the governments concerned than with the LTTE in avoiding a catastrophe to the already suffering masses of Sri Lanka. India cannot shed its responsibility, relying on secret protocols with the Sri Lankan government and covert assistance to it.

The gap between the Government of India and the LTTE is a serious impediment in bringing out a balance in the crisis management. A situation of having outraged people on either side of the Palk Strait is unaffordable to Indian security.

Part 2

Many think that the strained relationship between Sri Lankan Tamils and India is a result of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. This is not entirely true, even though elements with vested interests and devoid of political farsightedness bring it up from time to time with the rhetoric of not forgetting and not forgiving.

It is not a secret that ever since the beginning of the liberation struggle of the Tamils of Sri Lanka, a small but influential group of individuals worked against it in India. People from opinion making sections of the society, i.e., journalists, professors, diplomats, former diplomats, bureaucrats, and officers of the armed and intelligence services were in this group. They were the main advisors of the government. Their words carried more weight than the public opinion.

It is an interesting irony that the members of this group predominantly come from Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the immediate neighbours of Eelam / Sri Lanka. And, they come from certain powerful elite communities that have considerable influence in shaping India’s foreign policy. There is another section of them, who harbour a grudge, especially against the LTTE, resulting from their failures in handling it earlier.

In their opinion, the militant Tamil nationalism of Sri Lanka is a serious security threat to India. Even if the Sinhalese come forward to concede Eelam, these sections of opinion makers in India would sabotage it. For them, more than the national security of India, it is a question of emotional security of their own communities and for some of them it is gratification of wounded ego.

Perhaps a century old sociopolitical equations of Tamil Nadu and Kerala lie behind the biased attitude of this section of the high priests of Indian security. The way the Dravidian movement developed, especially during mid 20th century, it is always viewed as a threat to the existence and supremacy of certain sections of the elite of Tamil Nadu. The movment is a matter of contempt for competing ethnolinguistic formations who have to compete with Tamils for their opportunities within India and outside.

Unfortunately, the liberation struggle of the Tamils of Sri Lanka against oppression and genocide, which could find genuine and steadfast sympathy only from the Dravidian elements of Tamil Nadu, came to be viewed by the biased sections as a manifestation of what they perceived as the 'Dravidian monster'. It was projected in that way to the rest of India and was endorsed by the government. The sectarian security concern became a general security concern.

For more than a quarter century, the members of the said elite group took a personal interest in weakening the struggle of the Sri Lankan Tamils. They were passionately opposed to Tamil militancy but were blind to State terrorism, which forced the Sri Lankan Tamils to take up arms. There were intellectuals who worked to create a wedge between the Sri Lankan Tamils and the Upcountry Tamils. Prominent journalists actively participated in exploiting breakaway militants to pave way to the division of the Tamil homeland of North and East.

The Sri Lankan government and other governments interested in South Asia made the best use of this group. Some of them from the group even didn't hesitate to openly receive awards from the Sri Lankan government for their services.

The Dravidian politics and public opinion in Tamil Nadu seem to be limited in countering this sabotage. They don't seem to have the same leverage of the Bengalis who were able to support their brethren of Bangladesh, despite the difference in religion.

It would seem that ruling the state, organising public rallies, owning commercial media and having a number of ministers and MPs in the central government are not enough to meet the requirements.

An ability to rise to the occasion with a global vision to intellectually and fearlessly present the cause of the Tamils to be heard nationally and internationally is what is required.

In a way, by its near total dependence on the Dravidian politics of Tamil Nadu to garner India's support, the Sri Lankan Tamil movement has failed to address and convince the Indian elite of its larger dimensions of liberation politics and its worthiness to regional stability and security.

The real security threat and catastrophe that is knocking the southern gates of India today, by not caring for the freedom aspirations of the Sri Lankan Tamils but, allowing and strengthening the genocide programme of the Sri Lankan government, is yet to be perceived, analysed and effectively articulated by the intellectuals of Tamil Nadu and the rest of India.

Everybody knows what is meant by the phrase 'International Community' today. The Sri Lankan Tamil militancy has not committed any offence to USA or EU. It is a local freedom struggle. If it has been internationalized that was with the connivance and encouragement of the International Community.

Yet, many may wonder the kind of vengeful ferocity shown towards the LTTE and along with it towards the Tamil cause in Sri Lanka, by the so-called International Community.

It is not that the IC doesn't know that the terrorism they speak of is a counter-product of genocide. The real reason for their wrath is the refusal of the LTTE to sell out the struggle to the strategic and economic interests of the International Community, where as the Sinhala polity is prepared to give away everything to have the Tamils exterminated as a nation.

It is disgusting and saddening for any fellow South Asian to see the way the leader of a huge country, that too a nuclear power, such as Pakistan, being openly dictated to by the US president, and the opposition leader aspiring for power, wooing the IC. Sri Lanka is fast heading into such a situation. It could happen to India tomorrow.

India has to consider the point seriously. A committed Tamil Nationalism is security for India in its southern frontiers. It is futile to compete with the USA, UK, China or any other country in giving military assistance to the Sri Lankan government, thinking of winning over the Sinhalese. Both the IC and the Sri Lankan government are playing the China card with India. Collaboration with the IC against the interests of the Tamils will boomerang on India in the long run.

It is often pointed out that India is worried about Sinhala nationalism turning against it in the event of any support to Tamils. Those who watch the paranoid Sri Lankan polity know that it won't be any better even by not supporting the Tamils.

Decades of appeasement policy helped only to worsen the situation in Sri Lanka. The isolation of the Tamil cause and the support of the IC and India to Sri Lanka have only encouraged the government to pursue its genocidal agenda with greater zeal.

It should be noted that so far neither the IC nor India is able to implement any political or human rights agenda with the Sri Lankan government.

Everyone including India has given guarantees and assurances for a united Sri Lanka. Some, who are now keen in placating the Sinhala nationalists, are prepared to go as far enough to advocate even a unitary Sri Lanka, suggesting that development, learning languages and local government are enough to solve the problem.

It is illogical to think unity can be thrust upon unwilling people. But, it seems that in the postmodern world of International Community, logic has been deconstructed and abandoned. Decisions need not to be logical. You decide and search for the logic afterwards.

However, given the conditions of Sri Lanka, it is sensible to think that one day or other, the Tamils and Sinhalese have to sit together to sort out matters for the sake of peaceful posterity.

With the current background of Sri Lanka it is unimaginable to achieve peace or unity through winning or losing a war. Decades of confrontation have led Sri Lanka nowhere.

We live in a time witnessing the European nation states that gave birth to modern nationalism and fought two world wars involving the entire world for the sake of their nationalistic competition, coming together under the common banner of European Union.

The Asean countries have set a similar agenda to be achieved in the next 15 years. Such wonders became possible when there were no conquests or outside interferences.

Perhaps it is much easier to come together and achieve unity if the concerned parties are free to choose.

The history of the past sixty years has brought us to a point that makes separation a necessary condition to renegotiate a union on an equal basis.

Rather than giving assurances for unity, providing arms, encouraging genocide and verbally talking about human rights, the IC and India should engage themselves with positive alternatives to resolve the human tragedy in Sri Lanka.

Some of the political boundaries we see in South Asia today are accidents in history.

Ceylon didn't become a British colony through the conquests of English East India Company. The British crown acquired it from the Dutch through a treaty. So, it was administered separately. Even when it was put under the Indian administration in 1796, the corrupt Indian officials of the Company bungled it. Had these events not happened, Sri Lanka would have been one of the states of India and with the re-organization of linguistic states, the North and East would have become parts of Tamil Nadu.

The Sultan of Maldives signed the protectorate treaty in 1885 with the English governor in Colombo. So, it became a protectorate of Ceylon. When Ceylon became independent in 1948, Maldives was excluded and retained by the British until 1965. Had the Sultan signed the treaty with the governor in Madras or Bombay, Maldives would have become a protectorate or a Union Territory of India.

The boundary of Sri Lanka is not a Sacred Cow. It was neither shaped by the people of the land nor evolved through a conducive political process, but merely a creation of colonialism.

Assurances given to the unity of a country, which has become a burden to the people concerned, and military might, are no guarantees for regional or international security. The real guarantee lies in the hearts of the people. If any government acts against the wishes of the people, it loses security.

What is needed is a strong political will in Delhi and Chennai to search for creative alternatives rather than leaving the matter in the hands of advisors, bureaucrats and intelligence officers. India need not tag herself behind the International Community at least in matters related to its own backyard.



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