Opinion Article
Part I

Eelam and Indian Security: Averting a Catastrophe

[TamilNet, Friday, 16 November 2007, 03:30 GMT]
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 in avoiding a catastrophe to the already suffering masses of Sri Lanka. 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, writes Opinion Columnist Ampalam.

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 II of the column, Eelam and Indian Security: Need for Policy Alternatives, is to be continued.]


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