Introduction By Mrs.Radha Rajan
Prof.V.Suryanarayan , Former Director, Dept. of South & South East Asian Studies, University of Madras.
Dr.B.Raman,Retd Additional Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat
Shri L.Ganesan, State General Secretary ,BJP.
Held on 9th June,2000,Friday
Mrs.Radha Rajan -Introduction
It was after considerable discussion and hesitation that Vigil decided to hold a meeting on the Sri Lankan issue. In the past, it had never been very difficult to assume certain positions on most issues that Vigil had taken up for discussion or debate from its forum; but this civil war of attrition in Sri Lanka makes it very difficult to assume a categorical position from any one dimension. The issue is complicated to say the least and has several dimensions which makes it very difficult for a lay person to hold a very objective and informed opinion on this issue.
We are quite fortunate to have with us three distinguished personalities, each of whom will bring to bear upon this war in Sri Lanka, his own expertise and perspective. It is possible that there may be differences of perception even among them and I am very sure that some of us may not quite agree with one or all three of them. But it is still very important to be informed on this issue. We have with us this evening Studies Prof.V.Suryanarayan. He retired as Director of the Centre for South and South East Asian, University of Madras and he has studied Sri Lanka from very close quarters. We have with us Shri.L.Ganasan, State General Secretary of the Bharathiya Janata Party and we thought Shri Ganesan, an eminent politician from Tamil Nadu is the most appropriate person to place before us his assessment of the ongoing civil war in the island nation, who will also be the spokesperson for the stand taken by the NDA on this issue. It is going to tax his undoubtedly enormous capability to explain away the stance adopted by the PMK and the MDMK and I don’t envy him his job. I know there will be lot of heart burning within himself because the NDA and the BJP may have different views on the strategy to be employed by India to bring this war to a speedy end.
The third speaker of the evening is Shri.B.Raman. Ramanji retired as Additional Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat and Shri Raman’s presence this evening is to enable us to look at this whole issue from the point of view of national security for India. I’m quite sure there is going to be some overlapping among the three speakers but that too will be to our benefit. And before I hand over the podium to these speakers I wish to put forth some of Vigil’s observations on this issue.
Let us first examine the civil war, and how it happened to acquire the terrible and debilitating character as is evident today. What was at the very beginning a political problem assumed ethnic dimensions over the years. Why is it an ethnic war today and not a political problem? It is to shed light on this issue that Prof.Suryanarayan will trace the beginnings of this problem and the dimensions it has assumed today. Shri.Vaiko and the PMK are going to great lengths to tell us that there is no threat to the NDA because of their intransigence, that the coalition will survive and that it will last five years and that it will last for ever. Shri Vaiko gets agitated and all hot and bothered when some mediaperson or the other questions him on the possibility of the NDA collapsing on this issue because of the fissures within the coalition. He is anxious that the NDA, of which his party is a member, and by whose grace his partymen are tasting the fruits of immense power and privilege, should survive, and should not collapse; but he has no compunctions about talking loosely and nonchalantly, and even cynically about the breakup of a nation. He doesn’t even see the irony or the immorality of the position that he has assumed.
Prabhakaran has not left untouched any of the non-LTTE Tamil groups. He has liquidated the leadership of almost all of them. Where is TELO today? Where are the EPRLF, PLOTE and the EPDP? They are nowhere in the scenario and Vaiko and Ramdos probably believe that if and when there is an Eelam they would become some kind of local Chieftains of a pan TamilNadu. It is clear they are deluding themselves and living in some kind of fool’s paradise where they will all breathe, eat, and drink Tamil. It is either this or that and they are mentally gearing themselves to play Walter Raleigh to Prabakaran’s Queen Elizabeth. I am quite sure it is going to be the second. I cannot imagine Prabhakaran sharing the fruits of power with anybody. I cannot even imagine Prabhakaran willing to play the political game or opting for the democratic path. He has become used to terrorism for far too long. He has tasted blood and will not give it up voluntarily. Arriving at a political solution is not and will never be the LTTE’s agenda, no matter what these so called Dravidian politicians may say. And the sooner we all express this truth openly to ourselves the better we will comprehend the true nature of the LTTE and its murderous ways, for I don’t think any politician is going to say this openly.
Now I am going to touch upon an issue which no intellectual or politician would like to speak about openly – the vast community of Sri Lankans who are living in our midst today. We have Sri Lankans living in camps where their movement is restricted and we have Sri Lankans coming from the more prosperous economic strata living outside these camps and in our midst; living in residential areas of Madras and Tamil Nadu. And it is this group which causes me a lot of concern. I have been observing this group for the past seven or eight years and I have interacted with some of them very closely and let me tell you at the very outset that they have no respect for the Tamils of Tamil Nadu. They look down upon our culture, they consider the Tamils of Tamil Nadu to be inferior and these Tamils of Sri Lanka , living off the generosity and resources of the Indian State, have no concern and absolutely no compassion for the condition of the Tamils of Indian origin living in their country. And most surprisingly, people like Nedumaran, Vaiko and Ramadoss who are crusading for the rights of Sri Lankan Tamils who even otherwise have little respect for the Tamils of Tamil Nadu, even they are silent about procuring for the Tamils of Indian origin their legitimate rights and are not even willing to pose this question to their hero Prabhakaran or to the leaders of the other non-LTTE Tamil parties about what they have in mind for these people. The leader of one of the non-LTTE Tamil parties told me candidly that he would not like these ‘repatriates’ ever returning to Sri Lanka.
As for the tens of thousands of affluent Sri Lankans living in our midst, I have even heard one of them saying quite openly that he thought some of them should use the connections they had with powerful Tamil Nadu politicians to bring pressure to bear upon the Central Government to grant voting rights to those Sri Lankans who have been living here for over ten years. These people live in residential localities where monitoring them becomes very difficult. Who comes and who goes, nobody knows. What is their source of income (most of them enjoy a very affluent lifestyle) we do not ask or keep check. And quite a few of them if not all, I know are LTTE supporters or sympathizers. I have also been interacting quite intensely with serving and retired high ranking police officials. They have acknowledged that it is very difficult to monitor the activities and movements of Sri Lankans living in our midst in well-to-do neighbourhoods.
I now come to another very grave threat. The LTTE is being supported not just by dravidian politicians, but also by another nexus. I do not know how many of the political observers have noticed this nexus. Christians, Dravidian politicians, Tamil extremist groups and some Saiva Siddhantha groups - there is a nexus amongst them. Not many Tamil speaking Sri Lankans will tell you that they are Hindus. They will say ‘Naan Thamizhan’ and this Tamilan group is polarized between two camps – the religious minded and the Dravidian atheists. Some of the staunchly religious who are Saiva Sidhanthins claim that Saiva Sidhantham is not a part of the Hindu religion. And those who are brought upon a daily diet of Dravidian ideology, will associate and make common cause with other anti-Hindu, anti-Indian forces, thus weakening both the Indian and the Srilankan State. This is another dimension which most people are not willing to openly talk about. But these threats exist.
Not long ago, just fifteen days ago I attended a seminar at which were present a religious leader who called himself Thirvavadudurai aadheenam, one Deivanayagam a Christian missionary in saffron clothes, and of course, the ubiquitous Dravidian politicians. And they were all talking about not being Hindus. This nexus exists. This forum is for informing public opinion. I am quite sure most of you would think that I have assumed a radical position. There is no position for me to assume. These are observations I am making from my personal experience, from what I have seen, from what I have heard and what I have observed. For the rest, I will leave it you all to come to your own conclusions after listening to what our eminent panel of speakers have to say on this civil war in Sri Lanka.
Friends may I at the outset express my deep sense of appreciation to the organizers of this function especially Smt.Radha Rajan for giving me this opportunity to come here this evening to share my views with you. First the usual disclaimer. I do not belong to any political party. The views that I express are my own, not even that of Vigil.
When Sri Lanka formerly known as Ceylon became an independent country on Feb 4, 1948, it was relatively a peaceful country compared to the orgy of violence that accompanied the birth of its northern neighbours, India and Pakistan. The famous constitutional pandit Ivor Jennings who was also the first vice-chancellor of the University of Ceylon used to refer to Ceylon as a model colony. He referred to Ceylon as a model colony for two reasons. One, the transition to independence was very very smooth; there was no bitter anti-colonial struggle as in India or in Indonesia or in Vietnam and it was Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake’s boast that he settled the terms of independence with the British colonial Secretary one evening over a bottle of whisky.
Secondly, the first Prime Minister D.S. Senenayake had not only the support of the majority Sinhalese community, he had also the tacit support of the Sri Lankan Tamil minority and therefore Ivor Jennings said, unlike India, unlike Pakistan whose birth was accompanied by fratricidal communal violence, Ceylon was a model as to how various ethnic groups could live together, integrating themselves into one nation.
Fifty two years later, at the turn of the century all that Ivor Jennings had prophesied has turned out to be false. There are hardly any Tamils in the Sinhalese political parties and the divide seems to be widening everyday. Not that alone, Sri Lanka has become one of the most notorious killing fields in the world. I was a member of the International Observer Team which monitored the Presidential elections in December 1999 and I saw how the President of the country narrowly escaped death. Half an hour later there was also an attack on the UNP rally in which a number of them died.
Violence in Sri Lanka, kindly remember, is not inter-ethnic alone; it is also intra-ethnic. It is not merely that the Sinhalese army are killing the LTTE and the Tamil civilians, the LTTE also kills Tamil civilians. The Sinhala army has also killed the Sinhalese. Therefore if you point to only one kind of violence, namely the violence of the Sinhala army against the Tamils, including the Tamil civilians, we will be missing the complete truth. This is the first thing I want to say.
In the 1950’s and 1960’s Sri Lanka was a vibrant democracy. All the essentials of a vibrant parliamentary democracy - multiparty system, free and fair polls, independent judiciary, active trade unions, active student unions - all of these was present in Ceylon. Every election used to lead to a change of Government - UNP, SLFP. UNP etc,. But the first spell of emergency was proclaimed in 1971 which continued till 1977; and after 1983 except for some short periods, the north and east have always been under some sort of permanent emergency. Not that alone, the law of reason, the law of persuasion had given way to the cult of the bomb and the bullet. Every political party which works through the constitutional system has an armed wing. And every militant group, which tries to subvert the political system naturally uses the gun and the bomb.
The third thing that one has to remember is that in the ‘50s and the ‘60s in terms of human development with regard to physical quality of life index, Ceylon could be compared with many of the Scandinavian countries; be it longevity of life, women’s education, be it infrastructure development, Ceylon could be compared to Norway or Sweden or in our case the Kerala model. It was mainly because of the fact that successive governments, both the UNP & SLFP, invested considerably on human development. Except for pockets of poverty in the plantation areas where Tamils of Indian origin live, there was not much difference between the Sinhalese and the Sri Lankan Tamils in terms of various indices of human development.
But after 1983, with increasing defense budget, money had to be diverted from human development to defence purposes. Equally interesting is the fact that in the last 52 years, Sri Lanka has experimented with three Constitutions, and it is now debating the fourth Constitution. When it became independent it was governed by the Solberry constitution which was introduced in 1946; a British dominion constitution in which there were safeguards for the minorities. In 1971 they introduced the Republican Constitution, and did away with the dominion. Mrs.Bhandaranaike who came to power with an overwhelming majority confused the ‘majority’ with ‘consensus’ and the minority rights were taken away. The Sinhala language was enshrined, the Buddhist religion was enshrined. And it is interesting to note that from 1972 to 1978 when the Republican constitution prevailed, Radha, there was not even a single constitutional case relating to fundamental rights. Because most of the time the country was under emergency.
In 1977 J.R.Jeyawardane came to power and he wanted to introduce political stability in the country. And therefore he brought in a constitution which introduced the presidential form of government with the proportional system of representation, what is generally referred to as the Gaullist system of constitution. And the ‘78 constitution had been amended so many times and in fact, the popular joke amongst ourselves is that when a professor of political science goes to Lake House book shop in Colombo and asks for the latest edition of the constitution, the shop keeper tells him ‘we don’t sell periodicals here’. That constitution also did not provide for political stability, the democratic process was subverted, elections were not held, the life of the parliament was extended through referendum and now after Chandrika Kumaratunga has come to power, she wants to introduce another constitution. To get back to the Westminister system of Government; but she is unable to do that because she does not have the requisite two-third majority to effect this change and it is because of this that the devolution package has also been stifled till now. In other words, whether it’s the supremacy of the Parliament as in the Republican Constitution of 1972 or the supremacy of the Executive as in the Presidential form of Government, it never provided stability to Sri Lanka.
There were two uprisings from among the Sinhalese - the first JVP revolt and the second JVP revolt. As we all know the JVP revolts was the militant struggle led by a section of the Sinhala youth. It is also interesting to note that the first challenge to the Sri Lankan political system did not come from the Tamils, it came from the Sinhalese and in April 1971, the Sinhala-educated youth, frustrated youth, opposed to the western-educated Sinhalese as represented by the Bandaranayakes and the Kotelawalas, raised the banner of armed revolt. Sri Lanka at that time, did not have much of an army to tackle this threat. Mrs. Bandaranayake asked for external help, asked help from India, Pakistan, China, Soviet Union and Yugoslavia but the country which responded immediately to her appeal was India. Our Air force flew from Bangalore and shielded the Kattunayake airport. Our navy went there for shielding the Colombo port. A large number of Sinhalese youth were detained and a long spell of emergency was proclaimed in Sri Lanka. The first taste of emergency in the Island-Republic which, as I mentioned to you earlier, was a vibrant democracy.
In 1987 the JVP again rose like a phoenix. This time the revolt was to protest against the presence of the IPKF. They exploited the presence of a strong Sinhalese sub-nationalism. They campaigned against the presence of a foreign occupation army; and the JVP again revolted. It was a violent revolt. I remember being lifted from the Kattunayake airport to Goldfield Green in a helicopter as we didn’t want to take the risk of going by road. A Cabinet meeting was bombed. There were people who were doubting whether the Government would survive and a lot of violence was unleashed against the Sinhalese youth. Even according to Sri Lankan government estimates, seventy-five thousand Sinhalese youth died between 1987 to 1989. A figure challenged by impartial observers. They point out to one lakh thirty thousand deaths. Even assuming that the numbers are indeed seventy five thousand, remember it is more than the number of Tamils who have been killed so far in the ethnic conflict since 1987.
There are a large number of human rights organizations among the Sri Lankan Tamils. They speak and they speak rightly about the discrimination against the Tamils but they turn a nelson’s eye to what happened in the Sinhalese majority southern areas. Are human rights not universal? Are human rights the prerogative of just this one group? During those days bodies were floating in the Kallenia river. There were lamp-post killings. And as a result of the mistakes of the JVP, the revolt was finally crushed and crushed with a heavy hand. But crushed at a heavy cost in terms of the tens of thousands of human lives that were lost. Today the JVP has taken to the parliamentary path. They contested the last election but the basic problems confronting the Sinhalese youth - unemployment, the wide chasm between the Sinhala-educated and the English-educated and the lack of development in many areas - all this is fertile breeding ground for another revolt. And if the problems are not satisfactorily resolved there is every reason for the JVP to rise again. You may recall that in 1987-89 Premadasa and J.R. Jayawardene were able to contain the revolt with a ruthless hand because the IPKF was looking after the North and the East. But suppose there is a revolt now in the South added to the revolt in the North, will the Sri Lankan army be in a position to put it down? And if for tactical reasons Prabhakaran teaches some tricks of the trade to the JVP, then what will happen? These are scenarios which we should not rule out.
Unfortunately, for the powers-that-be in the South Block Sri Lanka is far away, Tamil Nadu also is far away and not much discussion or in-depth thinking or analysis is being done on this. The other point that I want to emphasize is that the propagandist line of both the chauvinist Sinhalese and the chauvinist Tamils, that the Sinhalese and the Tamils have been at war with one another for several centuries, is a misreading of history. It reminds me of the famous statement of Tagore “if you do not understand the truth you can never be objective”. And that Voltaire once said that if you believe in absurdities you will commit atrocities. The Sinhalese and Tamils have many things in common. According to anthropologists the Sinhalese too are Dravidians. They share the same caste system, their religions are a part of the Hindu civilization, their culture, their dance- drama, they share several aspects of their life with each other. You go to Kadirgama, near the Yala sanctuary where there is a Muruga temple, most of the pilgrims are Sinhalese who carry the Kavady. The Bhakthi movement has influenced the Buddhist religion so much that you go to a Buddhist shrine, you will see there is a Ganesa there. And I am always proud of the fact that the greatest epic of the Theravada form of Buddhism – Manimekalai, is in Tamil and not in Sinhalese. And the efflorescence of Buddhism in Sri Lanka is mainly because of their interaction with Buddhist centers of learning in South India, because at that time Buddhism was a very very virile religion here.
Today the Tamils want to disown their Buddhist heritage, the Buddhist wants to say they are separate and that they are Aryans and that the Buddha chose them as his disciples. According to Mahavamsa, Prince Vijaya who founded the Sinhala empire had only 700 men with him and there were no women among them. The Mahavamsa also says Prince Vijaya married a Pandyan princess and this was followed by other Sinhalese who also married Tamils during all these hundreds of years.
Therefore with all this miscegenation, it is difficult to subscribe to the concept of purity of the race, be it Sinhala or Tamil; it is important to note that in times of crises, perceptions gain precedence over truth or objectivity. Reality is relegated to a position behind perception and prejudice; and the perception is that to a Sinhalese the Tamil is a Tiger - the Chola symbol, and to a Tamil, the Sinhalese is a Lion and so this conflict is a conflict between the Tiger and the Lion.
One word about the army because the army and its role in this civil war has become very important. Sri Lanka never had an army of its own till the time of independence. Until the time of Sri Lanka’s independence, there was a minimal British presence in Trincomalee. After independence, the indigenous army was a nine to one army. You report to duty at 9 in the morning after breakfast and you go back at one o’clock, in time for beer and lunch. The Sri Lankan army was a ceremonial army, presenting the guard of honour, staging the march past on independence day and so on. Therefore in April 1971, as I pointed out to you, when the first JVP revolt took place the Sri Lankan government did not know what to do and sought external help. But after 1983, the army was slowly built up. It is just slightly more professional at the officer’s level and barely at the lower levels.
The Sri Lankan military’s total strength today is 1,10,000 of which 15,000 is in the air force, 15,000 in the navy and the rest in the army. Recruitment into the defense forces leaves much to be desired. The recruits are given barely six weeks’ training and sent to the front. Today the army is thoroughly demoralized, that desertions are very high. It is as high as 20 percent, which means one out of every five soldiers deserts and deserts with his weapons. Thus, it is not only a demoralized group but also a highly undisciplined one. Unlike the LTTE which is highly motivated, highly disciplined.
In the last two years most of the weapons that the LTTE has acquired has come from the deserters in the Sri Lankan army. Whether it is the war in Mullaitheevu or in the Elephant pass, the LTTE has been better armed than the army. In fact the thorough demoralization of the army can be illustrated by two instances. First, it is well known that Prabhakaran has concentrated most of his forces in the Jaffna peninsula, in Vanni. Any other trained and sensible army would have opened a front in Vavuniya, in the Vanni jungles. In fact, the army has a base in Vavuniya, in Anuradhapura. But the army is not opening other fronts. The military genius that Prabhakaran is, the Elephant pass fell to him because he cut off the two main sources of water supply to the army. The army did not know what to do. Most of them withdrew leaving their weapons behind. And they asked some of the soldiers remaining there to destroy the equipment and weapons. These soldiers too did not do so. And later when their dead bodies were found, it was found that they had died of dehydration.
I do not subscribe to Gen. Janak Pereira’s claim that the ‘ceaseless waves’ of the LTTE ‘have ceased’. The fact is, the LTTE is re grouping itself. But with more weapons coming to the Sri Lankan army from Israel and Pakistan and better aircrafts being inducted, the situation is no longer like what the Sri Lankan Tamils would like to pretend it is – that Jaffna is on the verge of falling anytime now. This is the propaganda slogan that the Tamils are parroting everyday in the morning. Jaffna is not going to fall that easily. What is more - in the case of Elephant Pass, the LTTE was using the forest cover. Now if they have to attack Palali they have to come out of the forest cover and use long range mortars which will make them vulnerable.
The second illustration I want to give you is that five years ago, Colombo in high secrecy ordered 50,000 mortars from Zimbabwe. The mortars were to be delivered by ship to Colombo. But the mortars were delivered to a LTTE ship which carried the consignment and delivered them to their men in the Vanni jungles. Soon after, the LTTE headquarters in London sent a fax message to the American ambassador in Colombo to tell his friends the Sri Lankan government “that we have all the mortars”. So this gives you an idea of the complete demoralization of the Sri Lankan army.
Now let me come to the question of Tamils in Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan Tamils, (let me be very clear because there is a lot of false propaganda going on in our country) are not a homogenous group. Moreover, the Sri Lankan Tamils are as indigenous to the island as the Sinhalese are; in fact, there is an ongoing and unresolved argument among historians and archaeologists about whether the Tamils came first or the Sinhalese.
As I just mentioned, the Tamils of Sri Lanka are not a homogenous group - Jaffna Tamils, Batticaloa Tamils, Colombo Tamils etc., but it is the Jaffna Tamils and those Tamils who have abandoned their country and settled in Canada, Europe, India and the Scandinavian countries who sustain the LTTE in a very big way. Most of the Tamils in Colombo in the 1994 elections voted for Chandrika. In the recent presidential elections they switched sides (disenchanted as they were with Chandrika) to the UNP. And there are the Tamils of Indian origin about whom no one speaks in this country, not even the Dravidian politicians who speak of ‘tamil inam’ ; and strangely enough not even Dr. Krishnaswamy, even though most of the Tamils of Indian origin belong to the harijan and other backward communities.
Indian Tamils are those who went in the 19th and 20th century to Ceylon under the protective umbrella of the British to provide the much needed labour to the malaria infested forests of Sri Lanka to convert them into smiling plantations which sustains the Sri Lankan economy today. And in 1948 they were more in number than the Sri Lankan Tamils. And they voted for Left parties and so D.S.Senanayake rendered them stateless. And in fact it may be a matter of surprise for you that the main advisor to D.S.S.was a Sri Lankan Tamil called Sir Kandiah Vaidhyanthan. Y.D.Gundevia, (the last foreign Secretary under Pandit Nehru), in his interesting book “Outside the Archives” mentions that Sri. Kandiah Vaidhyanathan was more Singhalese than D.S.S. himself. The Jaffna vellalas who dominated the political scene were highly caste conscious and they looked down on the Tamils in the plantations who are the Tamils of Indian origin and are mainly harijans. The plantation Tamils are located in the heartland of Sinhalese majority areas and they have nothing to gain from the Tamil Eelam. But even though they have no stake in Tamil Eelam, and in spite of the fact that they are a part of the government – the CWC, and their votes tilted the balance during elections in favour of Premadasa, and JR and Chandrika Kumaratunga, in times of conflict they are the first victims and the first victims for the lumpen sections of the Sinhalese population whether in 1977, 1981, 1983, or 1985.
And what happened to those who came to TamilNadu under the Sirimavo-Shastri pact? This was the most inhuman agreement signed by New Delhi. They came to TamilNadu as citizens of this country but today most of them are bonded laborers in Kodaikanal. Their girls are taken to prostitution. What is more tragic is that we in TamilNadu do not call them Indians or Indian citizens but call them Sri Lankan Tamils a status which they never got in Sri Lanka even after living there for four or five generations. The solution to their problems, their security lies in the manner in which the ethnic conflict is resolved. The LTTE’s attempts to get recruits from among the Tamils of Indian origin in Sri Lanka, have so far not succeeded. But one doesn’t know how long this community will be able to resist the LTTE’s attempts.
The third community in Sri Lanka is that of the Muslims. They constitute seven percent of the population and are scattered throughout the island with one-third of them concentrated in the East. The Muslims assert their identity not in terms of language but in terms of religion. There are no Sinhalese Muslims. All Muslims are of Tamil origin but the Muslims living in the Sinhalese areas are bilingual by choice. They never formed a political party of their own for a long time. They either supported the UNP or SLFP and extracted maximum concessions from both parties as the price for their support. But in 1980 the Muslims of the East realised, that because of the ethnic problem affecting them directly, they should have a political party of their own. The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress was thus formed and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress is supporting Chandrika. Kumaratunga, and not the LTTE.
The other interesting thing about which again, nobody of consequence in Tamil Nadu wants to talk about – in fact they turn a Nelson’s eye to it, is that all parts of Sri Lanka, in varying degrees, are multi-ethnic; but the only mono-ethnic part is the Jaffna peninsula. There were seventy five thousand Muslims who lived together, who co-existed with the Tamils for several centuries, several generations. And in1990 the LTTE gave them 72 hours notice to get out. Today they are in Puttalam, in Anuradhapura in the refugee camps. Are the Muslims not Tamils? The Sri Lankan Tamils complain that they are being discriminated against but how have they treated the Tamil speaking Muslims who have lived with them for several generations? One of our political leaders, he was a Muslim, was asked by an enterprising journalist in a meeting in Madras about the plight of the Muslims in Sri Lanka. He said he didn’t want to speak about it but when the journalist persisted, the politician said he didn’t want to be cross-examined on this issue. Why are the political leaders in Tamil Nadu speaking only about Sri Lankan Tamils and never about the Muslims who are also Tamils and why are they silent about the problems of the Tamils of Indian origin? And even when they speak about the Sri Lankan Tamils, why do they equate them to the LTTE as though the Tamils of Sri Lanka were a homogenous community? Why do our politicians never speak about the contradictions within the Tamil community in Sri Lanka? At least New Delhi should be aware of these contradictions and differing interests and priorities among the Tamils there. The first thing that we have to do is to draw a distinction between the interests of the Tamils of Sri Lanka and the interests of the LTTE.
Now what are the conditions to ensure the success of nation building? In my view, the first thing to do would be to make sure the political system is so designed as to enable sharing of power. Second, the political system should provide the requisite autonomy for the various minorities by which they are able to foster, protect and promote their distinct identities which need not conflict with the country’s identity. I am one of those who believes in multiple identities. My identity as a Tamil need not be at the cost of my identity as an Indian. I can harmoniously blend it together. And I would like to reinforce what I am saying with two illustrations - one illustration from what happened in Tamil Nadu and the other from Sri Lanka and totally contrary to the one in Tamil Nadu.
In Tamil Nadu as we all know the Dravidian movement started in the 1930’s. They were opposed to the independence of India. August 15, 1947 according to them was a day of enslavement. Then the DMK was formed. The DMK took to the parliamentary path. In 1967, the DMK came to power. Much before 1967, as early as 1962, Anna durai had renounced secession as a political platform and ideology. As I said, the DMK came to power in the state in1967. In 1979, the AIADMK shared power at the centre. Today the DMK too is a part of the central government. I am saying this only to highlight the fact that political parties, which had at one time advocated separatism and secession, are today wielding power in the centre. The Indian political system provided space - political space, cultural space for the Tamil identity to be retained, protected and fostered. As a result of which those same political forces which used to burn the constitution and burn the national flag in the ‘50s, today have absolutely no reservation about sharing power in the centre and no reservations at all about unfurling the national flag in Fort St.George. That shows the resilience of India’s political system.
Now look at what happened in Sri Lanka - exactly the opposite of the Indian experience. In 1948, the Tamils were a part of the Government. They looked at the whole island as their back yard. There was a consensual democracy and the Tamils were a part of the Government. In 1956 because of what was termed the nation building experiment, the Sinhala Only Act, the preference given to Buddhism etc., the Tamils wanted federalism. Federalism was not granted because in the Sinhalese mind a united Sri Lanka meant a unitary state, a complex. Federalism, they were convinced, is the first step towards separation. The Tamils also contributed to this belief. The Tamil Federal party was referred to as Tamil Arasi Katchi in Tamil. They did not translate ‘federal’ correctly into Tamil – the very name was ambivalent. Why did they call themselves Tamil Areasi Katchi, why did they not take care name themselves properly in Tamil? But the movement for ‘federalism’ was peaceful in the beginning but by and by the young among the Tamils felt, the militant youth felt that democracy in Sri Lanka meant the rule of the brute Sinhalese majority. And so they took to arms. Remember the armed struggle was encouraged by the TULF. The TULF thought that the armed struggle will be a leverage against Jayewardane. Finally the Frankenstein monster swallowed them too.
And today you have the LTTE, an organization not confined to the borders of Sri Lanka. It is an international network with its own investment, with its own shipping, with its own committed group operating in several countries, a fanatically committed group that is calling the shots. In fact in the 1960s Selvanayagam came to Tamil Nadu. At that time some Sri Lankan Tamil politicians were toying with the idea of a greater federation consisting of Tamil Nadu and the Tamil majority provinces of Sri Lanka. He met Annadurai in this regard. But Annadurai, as I said earlier had already given up separatism as an ideology, and therefore did not encourage Selvanayagam’s desire. So he went back to Sri Lanka and said they would fight their struggle alone.
So the phenomenon of Tamil militancy – was created not only by disenchantment with the type of nation the Sinhalese political parties wanted to build, it was also disenchantment with the established Tamil leadership which had taken to the Parliamentary path. Because, to them the Parliamentary path doesn’t work. The LTTE believes in one party dominance. It wants to be recognized as the sole representative of Tamils. It does not consider the Tamils as a minority but as a nationality. They always say the minority/majority relations will not work. And it is precisely because the LTTE redefined the idiom of the conflict that what was initially a political problem, acquired the dimensions of an ethnic conflict. The LTTE has absolutely no compunctions in using all the four principles of ancient Indian statecraft – saama, daana, bedha, dhanda – and they used it in Tamil Nadu in a big way.
A few years ago a solicitor company which the LTTE engaged came out with a constitutional proposal which contains the constitutional model of the solution that the LTTE may accept, if at all the LTTE will be prepared to negotiate a political settlement. This draft constitutional proposal does not refer to the country as Sri Lanka but as Ceylon. It speaks of two States, two flags, two constitutions, two armies. That perhaps may be the only settlement which the LTTE may be willing to accept – a confederal model. But this sort of suggestion can never be accepted by any Sinhalese dominated Government and things are such that there is a big hiatus between what the LTTE will be prepared to settle for and what any Government in Colombo could reasonably give.
In the beginning, during the Nehru era there was a clear distinction between the Indian Tamils and Sri Lankan Tamils. The problems of the Sri Lankan Tamils are the internal, domestic problems of Sri Lanka, and we have nothing to do with it, was the policy. Behind the scenes we would advice, we would be active. But the problems of the Indian Tamils was our major concern. In 1983, this policy changed. Mrs. Gandhi had differences in perception with J.R Jayawardane, and wanted to embarrass him. So she adopted a mediatory, militant supportive policy, a contradictory policy. By reason of this radical change in our policy towards the conflict in Sri Lanka, the militant groups were trained, and supported on Indian soil. At the same time we were also trying to mediate between the militant Tamil groups and the Sri Lankan government. In the creation of that Frankenstein, as you can all see, New Delhi has played a very very big role. And I think like Banco’s ghost it will continue to haunt us for a very long time.
The India-Sri Lanka accord of 1987 marked a reversal in India’s stance – in the earlier phase India was a mediator – now India became a participant. The accord should have been between the Tamils and the Sri Lankan government alone, but India signed the accord. It is not just that India became a party to the accord, anyone who knows Sri Lanka knows there can be no settlement unless there is a Sinhalese consensus. The India-Sri Lanka accord was a source of discord among the Sinhala politicians. Only one section of the Government supported it. Another powerful section consisting of Premadasa and Lalit Athulathmudali - they tried to sabotage it. And not merely that, while the IPKF bottled up the LTTE in the jungles of Vavuniya what New Delhi did not expect came to pass – it brought Premadasa and Prabhakaran together. Premadasa gave supplied the LTTE with weapons and with money. This honeymoon was temporary and lasted only until the IPKF left Sri Lankan shores. And as soon as the IPKF left, the whole of the North and the East came under the control of the LTTE and Premadasa had to pay the wages of sin - he himself was shot down mercilessly by a suicide bomber in a May day rally.
The enormity f the mistakes committed by all parties to the conflict contributed in no mean measure to the evolution of the LTTE as a Frankenstein monster. And those who compare Prabhakaran with Bhagat Singh should remember that Bhagat Singh never killed an Indian and Bhagat Singh never killed civilians, not even those Indians who collaborated with British. Prabhakaran wants to be the sole leader, the sole representative of the Tamils and anybody who raises the banner of democracy - he is uneasy with democracy – or anybody who he suspects to be coming closer to Colombo or to New Delhi, is ruthlessly liquidated. His mortal fear, his worst nightmare is New Delhi and Colombo coming together and the LTTE being placed in between a nut cracker. Prabhakaran is guilty of having murdered a large number of moderate Tamil leaders and the leadership of every other Tamil political party. His hands are stained with the blood of the Tamils whose cause he professes to represent and all the perfumes of Arabia will not mitigate the stench of those dirty murderous hands. And those who today speak of him as a great leader, as a great Tamil patriot, must remember that he has created a Frankenstein, an instrument of intolerance and as one of the Sri Lankan specialists said, he is a monster that destroys anyone who stands in the way of his hubris. Unless we understand the true nature of the LTTE, we are in for a lot of trouble.
We in Tamil Nadu, we in India cannot insulate ourselves from Sri Lanka. The narrow and shallow Palk Straits has not been a barrier but a bridge - a bridge through which people, religion, culture, ideas, expertise, everything has gone across . And if people in Delhi or people in Colombo, people in Fort St.George think that they can create a Berlin wall in the Palk Strait they are only deceiving us and themselves. Like the other Berlin wall it will also collapse. Anything that happens in Sri Lanka will have its fallout in Tamil Nadu, it will impact upon New Delhi. We cannot avoid a spillover if the LTTE succeeds in its objective. The ideology of the LTTE is an exclusivist ideology. Their exclusivism not only wants to keep the Sinhalese out, they also want to keep the Muslims out and those moderate Tamils who find the LTTE ideology and its murderous ways repugnant. The LTTE and their exclusivist ideology pose a challenge to all that India stands for, all that our national movement stood for, all that Nehru and Gandhi stood for. Therefore it is an ideology which we have to fight tooth and nail.
Last week Karunanidhi has come out with the Czech model as the solution to this civil war in Sri Lanka. Czechoslovakia came into existence only in 1918. And in 1992 it collapsed. The Czech and the Slovak people lived in their own respective areas of their country. They did not live together unlike the different communities in Sri Lanka. I mentioned earlier that except for the Jaffna peninsula, all other parts of Sri Lanka are multi-ethnic in their demographic composition. But anyway that is not a relevant model at all. If Karunanidhi had to cite an European model, he should have cited the example of Switzerland. Switzerland is multi ethnic, multi religious and multi-lingual. Karunanidhi should have said let Colombo follow the Swiss model. In Switzerland the Italian, Swiss, and Germans languages are official and people of Italian, Swiss and German origins live in different cantons and these cantons are given a lot of power. They even have the veto power. Switzerland is the classic example where different ethnic groups live together harmoniously. And their identity is protected and their constitution has a mechanism by which the majority cannot overrule the minority. If I were in any position of influence I would have suggested the Swiss model as the ideal model for resolving the problem in Sri Lanka.
The competitive nature of Tamil Nadu politics has done incalculable damage and harm as far as India’s Sri Lanka policy is concerned. And I am afraid that we are in again for more of the same thing. Chief Minister Karunanidhi wants to take the wind out of the MDMK and the PMK. And how do you do that? You advocate the same thing more strongly than your political rivals and the LTTE benefits in the process. Political expediency at the cost of national interest. Whether it is in Tamil Nadu or in Delhi, if the survival of the NDA is going to gain precedence over national security, then we are going to be in for a very very bad time. I am always fond of quoting T.S.Eliot, from his Four Quartets where he says ‘we have the experience but we miss the meaning’. Let not history say that the of people India and the people of Tamil Nadu did not learn anything from history.
Please permit me to make a few observations. First, Karunanidhi’s remark that one solution to the problem is for Sri Lanka to be partitioned ‘peacefully’ as did Czechoslovakia into the republics of Czech and Slovakia – politically wrong, historically unwise in the extreme. But what was even more unfortunate was the tasteless analogy that came with this remark; that it is best for a marriage to be dissolved when the wife is not compatible with the husband. It is a sexist remark.
Secondly, some of us believe that marriages are forever just as nations are forever. National borders and marriage vows are sacred and cannot be violated. But Karunanidhi believes that marriages can be dissolved and nations can be broken. There is no sanctity to anything it would seem.
Thirdly, Professor Suryanarayan raised the question why does the LTTE want to drive the Muslims out. Aren’t they also Tamils? My counter question is, do the Muslims of Sri Lanka consider themselves to be ‘Tamils’? If they did, why are they asking for an autonomous Muslim province in whatever devolution of power or whatever solution may be effected in the future? The horrendous consequences of an autonomous Muslim province in the North East of Sri Lanka and the national security implications of such a province for India, is something that we request Ganesanji to take up with the central government.
I would like to thank the organizers for inviting me to participate in this discussion. I am not going to make a very structured presentation. It is going to be a consciously unstructured presentation. I will highlight a few benchmarks, as I see it, of this civil war. We are confronted today in Sri Lanka with a festering, infecting wound, which has been assuming day after day, worrisome directions, worrisome proportions. So in discussing or suggesting possible remedies for this wound, one has to be careful that we do not suggest remedies which instead of healing the wound in Sri Lanka contaminates and affects India. I will make a brief observation on the current situation on the ground in Sri Lanka and then I will touch upon other dimensions, which I consider to be important.
In April, the spectacular success scored by the LTTE in the Elephant Pass coincided, more by accident than by deliberate design, with the 25th anniversary of the capture of Saigon by the Vietcong and the flight of the Americans from South Vietnam. Thereafter the general impression was that the LTTE would now march towards Jaffna and that the march would be a cakewalk. That has not happened. There is a pause and I am of the view that the Sri Lankan army, has at least for the moment slowed down the LTTE’s advance towards the Jaffna peninsula. In my view the most important reason for this is because of the effective use of air power by the Sri Lankan military against the LTTE. They have received fighter aircrafts from Israel and have been using them effectively from what one hears. And one also notices that in the past the LTTE has always had only very limited anti-aircraft capability.
The LTTE acquired this limited anti-aircraft capability in 1994, when it helped the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen of Pakistan when it helped this group to transport arms and ammunition to the Abu Sayyaf group in southern the Philippines in return for which the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen shared some of the spoils of these arms and ammunition with the LTTE, which included anti-aircraft missiles. This included not only some conventional anti-aircraft missiles but also shoulder-fired missiles. I get the impression when I study the ground situation in Sri Lanka that possibly the LTTE’s stock of ammunition for its conventional anti-aircraft weapons has been exhausted and also that possibly the life-period of the batteries required to fire the shoulder-fired missiles has also expired. The LTTE has not been able to replenish its stock. The LTTE had captured a sizeable portion of arms and ammunition from the defeated and deserting Sri Lankan army men. But it has not been able to capture any anti-aircraft weapon or ammunition from them. The LTTE therefore has no anti-aircraft capability against the Sri Lankan military.
The LTTE is therefore re-examining its strategy vis a vis the Sri Lankan army. Either they will plan a fresh tactical move against the Sri Lankan army to weaken their resistance despite the use of superior air power or they may make frantic efforts to replenish their stock of anti-aircraft weapons’ ammunition and batteries. And once they get this stock they may resume their offensive.
One must analyse the situation in Sri Lanka from three or four perspectives. The most important is of course from the point of view of our national interests and national security. The second perspective is that of counter-terrorism. We have been victims of terrorism and we have been trying to mobilize several nations of the world to jointly devise a counter-terrorism strategy to fight this evil. The third is the political perspective and the fourth and last is the humanitarian perspective.
NATIONAL SECURITY PERSPECTIVE
We are interested in what is happening in Sri Lanka for three reasons. Our policy over the years with regard to Sri Lanka has been governed by two or three factors. The first is, we have a vital interest in the welfare of the Tamils in Sri Lanka, whether they are the Tamils of Jaffna or the Tamils of Indian origin who work in the plantations. Their problems, their difficulties affect the emotions of the Tamils in Tamil Nadu and therefore no government in India can be indifferent to the problems of Tamils in Sri Lanka.
Secondly, we also have a vital interest in the internal economic and political stability of Sri Lanka. It is not in India’s interests to have an internally destabilized Sri Lanka, be it economic or political instability. Needless to say, the effects of such a destabilization would spill over into India and add to our national security problems.
Thirdly India cannot allow the rise of any force or forces in Sri Lanka which are unsympathetic, inimical, hostile and malign in their intentions towards India. We cannot have another Nepal develop to the South of India. Nepal has become home to and the breeding ground of several forces, which nurture strong, inimical intentions towards the Indian State and her people. We just cannot afford to allow a similar situation to develop in Sri Lanka. We therefore have to closely monitor the events there and try to find correctives discretely but effectively. What could happen if hostile forces manage to get a foothold into the process in Sri Lanka? The consequences are obvious but I would nevertheless like to go into some aspects of such an eventuality.
We are an important naval power and we have a vital interest in the Indian ocean. Those interests will be affected. More importantly, our inter-coastal trade between the east and west coasts, their smooth operations will be affected. And thirdly, such forces can convert Sri Lanka into a base for ideological, religious fundamentalist subversion, directed against India, particularly against South India. And fourthly some nations have used Sri Lanka as a watch post from where to monitor India. We are a nuclear power and a substantial number of our nuclear and space establishments are located in South India. We can therefore not allow Sri Lanka to become a hotbed of anti-India activities nor can we allow it to be used as a base for potential anti-India forces or even as base for other nations which may not be overtly inimical to India but whose presence can destabilize the region
Today Israel is already there. Normally we do not have to worry about Israel because it is a friendly country and in the short-term their presence in Sri Lanka need not worry us. but in the long-term if it gets a permanent foothold in Sri Lanka, then it is definitely a cause for concern because in several countries of the world, Israel acts as a surrogate for promoting and protecting American interests. We have to keep this in mind always.
COUNTER TERRORISM PERSPECTIVE
We are faced with the problem of terrorism for over a decade now. We had it in the Punjab, we have it in Jammu and Kashmir, we have it in the North East, we have the problem of Islamic fundamentalism in several parts of this country, we have naxalite terrorism, and terrorism of the Left-extreme variety. India has been trying to bring together other countries, which are also faced with similar terrorist activities, to jointly fight the counter-terrorism war. The basic principles upon which there is total agreement is that no terrorist movement, however legitimate its demand, whether it is a political demand or religious demand, should be allowed to succeed. The LTTE is a terrorist organization. Its aspirations may be legitimate, its demands may be legitimate, the Sri Lankan Tamils may be subjected to oppression and discrimination. But there are other ways to find answers and solutions to these problems. Terrorism is not the way. Today if we allow the terrorist methods to succeed in Sri Lanka, what we call ‘copy-cat’ terrorism, several groups which have taken to terrorism as a methodology and which are being subjugated and controlled, will then get a fillip and may feel encouraged to persist in their ways.
THE POLITICAL PERSPECTIVE
If we have to prevent the LTTE from succeeding in its objective, if we have to prevent terrorism from succeeding, there has to be an alternate method available for resolving the basic problems. People there have grievances; there maybe disagreement over the genuineness of these grievances – political, religious and economic, but these have to be dealt with. There must be an alternate way for resolution of these grievances. The only alternative is the political process. There has to be political consensus, there has to be a political solution.
And this is going to be a very very difficult path to tread. The Sri Lankans are faced with their biggest dilemma in looking for a political solution because there can never be a political and democratic solution with the LTTE and there can be no solution at all without the LTTE. There can be no democratic and political dealing or solution with the LTTE because it is a fascist organization, which is not prepared to countenance any other alternate Tamil leadership emerging in that country. And there can be no solution without the LTTE being a party to it because the LTTE has shown itself to be an effective and ruthless wielder of the gun.
Any kind of solution is possible only when you take the gun away from the LTTE. And this can be done in two ways. The first is to defeat it militarily. From 1983, the Sri Lankan military has been trying to do only this. If they are not able to achieve this, I can only see the present situation continuing endlessly with more and more lives being lost and more and lives being disrupted and destroyed. There has to be some way of moderating those that have taken to terrorism, who believe that terrorism is the only way, and they have to be persuaded to come to the negotiating table. And it is here that I see a role for India. If we have to discredit the terrorists, if we have send the message that terrorism does not pay, if we have to protect our interests, then we must make it possible for both warring parties to meet at the table. To achieve this, we must establish a line of communication with both sides and exert our influence on them.
But unfortunately, after the dastardly assassination of Rajiv Gandhi by the LTTE, we no longer have this line of communication with the LTTE and our capacity therefore to influence any solution has also been reduced and we have had to watch another country – Norway, assume this role. Today Norway, the USA and other countries are saying that any solution must have India’s approval and that it is important to keep India informed at every step of the peace process but I don’t think they are going to do this. They may be saying this to allay our apprehensions about the increasing presence and influence of the West in the region. I know for a certainty that if they succeed in brokering any kind of solution by engaging both sides, it will be a solution, which will be in the interests of the West, whatever their interest in Sri Lanka. So it will be a great mistake on our part if we are lulled into a sense of false security from what Thomas Pickering or Eric Solheim may say about India’s importance in the region. I cannot emphasize enough the need for India to regain once again her role as an influencer of events. To regain that role we may have to rethink our policy towards Sri Lanka, the policy we have adopted in the last four or five years.
I am not saying we should send in our forces again into Sri Lanka. It was a mistake when we did that the first time and it will be a mistake to do so again. But there are ways by which we can influence both the Tamils and the Sri Lankan government so that we have a say in the nature of the solution.
THE HUMANITARIAN PERSPECTIVE
When I said that this problem has to be considered from the humanitarian perspective too, I meant primarily that we must not forget that any solution that is effected in Sri Lanka must address itself to the problems of refugees – those refugees who continue to come to India and those who have been staying here for several years now. Before I go into detail into this aspect, I wish to draw your attention to the fact that many experts, including Prof.Suryanarayan have been writing about the need to have a National Refugee Law.
There are two types of refugees – the trans-border refugees and the trans-seas refugees. The trans-border refugees are those that come from immediately across the national border, from a neighbouring country. The trans-seas refugees are those that come from countries not immediately neighbouring us. In India we have the problem of trans-border refugees. We have refugees from Tibet who came along with the Dalai Lama in 1950, a large number of them who are still in India. We also have the Lishu and the Tangzang Nagas who came from Northern Burma in the 1960 s, we have the refugees from the then East Pakistan in 1971 and the Chakmas from Bangladesh and between 1992 and 1995, when Karachi was in flames there was the danger of the Mohajjirs who are the Muslims of undivided India who opted to move to Pakistan after partition and who still have relatives in India, coming back to India. Fortunately for India, that did not happen. So whenever we think of the humanitarian angle, whenever we think about a refugee law, we must remember that there is a lot of instability in the countries around us. we must be careful not to give these countries the wrong idea. While India has always kept her borders open for every kind of refugee, we must also send out the signal to those governments in countries like Sri Lanka that we cannot remain mute spectator to events which are driving their people into our country as refugees. We must keep nothing but our own national security and national interests in mind. Which is why I am not in favour of having a national refugee law because that may obstruct the government’s operational flexibility in dealing with the problem. There must be a deliberate overt vagueness, a policy ambiguity about our approach to refugees whenever there is an exodus into India. This is to ensure that if and when a refugee influx takes place we do not find ourselves tied down by our own laws, with do and don'ts that have been codified into law. We need flexibility so that we can decide on what to do on a case by case basis.
Once we allow refugees to come in on humanitarian grounds, we are faced at once with several problems, particularly when we have refugees coming in from our immediate neighbouring countries. Problem number one – they affect the internal stability of the locality where they settle down. Secondly, they radically alter the demographic composition of the population of our villages and districts. The problem is compounded when this happens in our border districts. See what has happened in Pakistan. Three million Afghan refugees in that country, all of them Pathans who came to Pakistan during the Afghan war. Of these one million have gone back but two million continue to remain in Pakistan. These have moved into Baluchistan and with the complicity of the Pathan bureaucrats in the Baluchi regime, they have managed to get citizenship certificates, they managed to get jobs with the result that Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan, is today a Pathan majority city, large numbers of them not Pakistanis but Afghans. There is thus a constant tension between the local population and the refugees leading to internal instability. Baluchistan has never experienced the kind of internal instability it is facing now. This has happened only because of uncontrolled refugee influx into the province leading to alarming demographic changes in the population.
The second danger from this kind of refugee influx is that it affects the State to State relationship of countries. The exodus of Tibetans into India for example. Fortunately for us, the Chinese government has not made its displeasure public but in private interactions, they are not very happy with our policy of not stemming the exodus, they are also unhappy about the activities of the Dalai Lama, of the refugees who use India as the base for their activities. Whenever there is an opportunity, the Chinese government never hesitates to take up this issue with us. And when refugees take to crime particularly mega-crime like arms smuggling, and drug trafficking, it compounds the problem, adds to our difficulties and complicates State to State relationship.
It is to enable us to deal effectively with the problems created by refugees in our country that we should maintain operational flexibility. And that is why I am against formulating any refugee law because this will create a rigid framework for dealing with them and this can tie down a government from taking effective measures to control them.
I know this has not been a structured presentation but these were the issues that came to my mind when I thought about the problem and I wanted to share them with you all. Thank you.
L.GANESAN (TALK DELIVERED IN TAMIL)
Respected elders, after having listened to the erudite presentations made by the two distinguished speakers before me, and being in complete agreement with them in all that they have said, I really think anything I say will be rendered redundant. But because ‘Vigil’ has asked me to place before you all the position of the BJP and the NDA government on the issue of the civil war in Sri Lanka and where we position ourselves with regard to it, I will try to do so to the best of my ability.
That the Tamils were the original inhabitants of the island and that the Sinhalese people were those who, several thousand years ago had migrated to Sri Lanka from Orissa across the oceans, is a historical account of the origins of these two communities, which is accepted by both the Tamils and the Sinhala people. I have been associated with the RSS since my childhood days and to tell the truth, I have been shaped, and my mind has been informed, only by RSS thoughts and values. I am as moved and inspired by Bharat Mata as I am moved and inspired in a temple when I stand before Goddess Durga. Like all Hindus I worship several deities. One of the deities I worship is Bharat Mata. She is present in my home and she is present in my room at my workplace, to watch over me, to guide my every step. To put it in a nutshell, the deity of Bharat Mata whom I worship with total devotion, encompasses, embraces Sri Lanka too.
Culturally, we are one people. History will attest to the fact, that the Sinhala people are our own and the Tamil speaking people are also our own. The passing of time, even if it is over a thousand years, cannot divide one people into two. They may seem like two different people today but for me, who believes that from the heights of Kashmir till the southern borders of Sri Lanka, we are all one people culturally, civilizationally, it is unacceptable that the problem in Sri Lanka be described as an ethnic conflict. Ethnic conflicts happen between two culturally different groups of people but when both the Sinhala and Tamil peoples are our own, their problems cannot be an ethnic conflict.
But it is also true that there is a sharp division today between these two communities in Sri Lanka today. Professor Suryanarayan spoke eloquently about the common cultural and civilizational heritage that both peoples have inherited. Sri Lanka is referred to as ‘maragatha theevu’ in Tamil. There are five important centres of pilgrimage there – Munneeswaram, Mamangeswaram, Koneswaram, Kedeswaram and Nakuleswaram. Of these Koneswaram and Kedeswaram are centres of particular significance because the Nayanmars have sung in praise of Lord Shiva in these temples. These are what we call in Tamil ‘paadal petra sthalam’ – temple cities which have been graced by the visits of our Bhakti saints, the Alwars and Nayanmars.
The people of Sri Lanka have indeed inherited the best of both religions – Hinduism and Buddhism. Traditionally the Sinhala speaking people who are Buddhists and the Tamil speaking people who are Shaivite Hindus have offered worship in both Hindu and Buddhist temples. This has been the custom of the people of Sri Lanka. And this tradition derives from the great tradition of monarchy in our country. Our kings have always set the finest example of religious tolerance, the Hindu kings, I mean. There has been no State religion in any of the kingdoms in India. Dharma was supreme but the religion of the King was never the religion of the State. There was no State religion – except during the reign of one King – he whose symbol graces our national flag – the Emperor Ashoka.
It was during the lifetime of Ashoka that his daughter Sanghamitra undertook a State visit to Sri Lanka or Ceylon, to propagate Buddhism. It is believed that Buddhism officially gained in status when the King Deivanambi Dissan took to Buddhism as his religion. For Hindus, Buddhism is only an off-shoot of the Hindu religion and the Buddha is revered and worshipped as one of the ten avataras of Maha Vishnu. When the people are one, when both Shaivism and Buddhism are integral parts of Hindu Dharma, like Sikhism, Vaishavism, Kaumara or Shaakta worship, it is incomprehensible how experts can project the conflict in Sri Lanka to be an ethnic conflict. It is because this is a war within the same family, it is a war where brother has taken to arms against his brother, that the tragedy of it all is so heart-rending. And this is my perspective as a devout Hindu.
In Sri Lanka nearly 35 lakhs of Tamil speaking people live in the provinces of the North and the East. Another half of this number of this population lives in other parts of Sri Lanka. And it is the regions of the North and the East, which is referred to as ‘Eelam’. Why does the BJP not support the cause of an independent ‘Eelam’ nation? We are committed to the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. This very morning, the Prime Minister, Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee has reiterated that India will never support the cause of secession and an independent ‘Tamil Eelam. Why? Let me make myself very clear on this issue. There are many reasons why we will never support the creation of an independent Tamil Eelam. The most important being – undivided India or Hindustan was a nation-civilization whose history is several thousands of years old. People of different religions, different modes of worship, have lived together on this soil under the protective umbrella of the Hindu Dharma. Until we had a situation where people of a particular religion, the followers of Islam, whose numbers had concentrated in certain parts of this nation, they divided this ancient nation of ours in the name of their religion, in the name of Islam.
If demand for partition was evil, then consenting to it was the most horrendous mistake committed by our own leaders in 1947. Pakistan was created as a result of partition. This partition created one of the largest displacement of peoples in history. Peoples moving out of India and peoples moving into India. This movement, this migration did not take place peacefully. Those Hindus who moved into India from those regions which are Pakistan today, did so fearing for their lives, fearing for the dignity of their women. This partition of our nation was accompanied by an orgy of violence, of rape, plunder and mass murders. This is history. History will also testify to the fact that not one Muslim in India or those that chose to migrate to Pakistan can ever say that the Hindus of India had demanded the ouster of even one Muslim. The Hindus, whose nation this was, never asked the Muslims to leave, not even after Pakistan was created. We never asked the Muslims to leave, we never said that having demanded and created a Muslim Pakistan, what remained of India was for the Hindus alone. We never asked the Muslims to leave because that is our culture. To welcome and feed and protect all those who choose to live with us is in our psyche.
But we cannot say for sure that this will be true of Sri Lanka. If after the creation of a Tamil Eelam, can the Tamil leaders in Sri Lanka who are demanding it, or those leaders in Tamil Nadu who are advocating it, can they guarantee the safety of those tens of thousands of Tamil speaking people living in the rest of Sri Lanka? Can they guarantee that what happened to the Hindus forcibly driven into India in 1947 will not happen to the rest of the Tamils living outside the North and East of Sri Lanka? There is a significant section of the Tamils in Sri Lanka who have stated openly that the creation of an independent Tamil Eelam is not the solution to the problems of the Tamils.
Even as the war was raging in Sri Lanka, one of the leaders of the Tamil groups there, living in Jaffna called me over the telephone. He told me that since he was in no position to talk to the Indian Prime Minister then, I should convey to the Prime Minister the following message. He told me it seemed likely that Jaffna would soon fall into the hands of the LTTE. I asked him what it was that he wanted from India? Did he want our troops to be sent there again to restrain the Sri Lankan army from attempting to regain it? No, he said. India must do everything in its power to see that Jaffna does not fall into LTTE hands!! I was surprised. This was a good friend of mine and he told me that in the event of the LTTE capturing Jaffna, the first victims of the LTTE entering Jaffna will be the Tamils themselves. This was duly conveyed to the Prime Minister. The bottom line is that the Tamils of Sri Lanka are as afraid of Prabhakaran as they are afraid of Chandrika Kumaratunga. That the LTTE is detested by large sections of the Tamils of Sri Lanka is the truth and Tamil Nadu politicians who seek to bury this truth are not serving Tamil interests. It is therefore that I tell you all, when the BJP or the BJP led NDA government or when the Prime Minister staunchly refuse to support the creation of a Tamil Eelam, it is not betraying the Tamil cause, to the contrary, it is to protect the Tamils from the LTTE and to serve their larger interests.
But let me tell you that successive Sri Lankan governments have been responsible in no small measure to the growth of the LTTE. I have heard from the leaders of the Tamils themselves that both communities lived together in the greatest amity and harmony. Truth to tell, my friend told me and this was attested to by Professor Suryanarayan too in his talk, the Sinhala speaking people are gentle, peaceable people. It was we Tamils who were ruling the roost in every walk of life. The Sinhala people never could have imagined that they could ever set up and manage an industry or that they could ever assume leadership role. Then who sowed the seeds of discord between the communities? The Tamils of Sri Lanka will tell you that it was our own Dravidian politicians from Tamil Nadu, who at the height of their campaign for an independent Tamil Nadu in India who during their visits to Sri Lanka, sowed the idea of separatism there and instigated the Sri Lankan Tamil groups to agitate for a separate Tamil Eelam. The instigators from Tamil Nadu have renounced their objectives to seek greener political pastures but the fire continues to burn in Sri Lanka.
As the speaker before me pointed out, even prior to 1962, the separatist Dravidian parties were forced to give up their separatist political ideology because the central government had declared its intentions to ban those parties advocating secession and the cause of an independent Tamil Nadu. And I am glad they did so and I applaud the wisdom of politicians like Arignar Annadurai who gave up such demands and opted to join the political mainstream. And if today Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Shri Karunanidhi can take pride in the fact that it is Tamil Nadu which has mobilised the largest amount towards the Kargil relief fund, if today Shri Vaiko in all his public meetings in Tamil Nadu devotes the first thirty minutes of his speech to extol the sacrifices of our brave jawans in the Kargil war in the truest spirit of patriotism and nationalism, I can only feel thankful for the positive direction that Tamil Nadu politics has taken and feel grateful for the wisdom of our politicians who have given up their separatist ideology.
While I am glad about the direction that Tamil Nadu politics has taken, I am saddened by the fact that these very same politicians who have given up the demand for a pan Tamil nation have not been able to douse the fire that they have lit in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka continues to burn and the Sinhala people will never again trust the Tamils of their country who are threatening to partition their nation. Today, the Tamils have to confront and contend with, not just the Sri Lankan government and its military but also the powerful Buddhist clergy, which is also highly politically motivated. The Buddhist clergy is not the ahimsa preaching clergy but a clergy, which will take to arms and goad the Sinhala people too to take to arms. They do so because they are nationalists, staunch patriots who will not allow their country to be partitioned.
Having said that, we cannot deny that it was under pressure from the Buddhist clergy that the Sri Lankan government gradually set in motion a political process by which the rights enjoyed by the Tamils was gradually eroded. As Professor Suryanarayan said earlier, the ‘Sinhala first’ policy of the government relegated the Tamils to the status of second-class citizens. Denial of the right to vote to ten lakh Tamils of Indian origin in the plantations, the removal of section 29 of the Sri Lankan constitution which guaranteed protection and constitutional rights to the Tamil language, the dismantling of the Tamil senate, the abrogation on June 5, 1956 of the official language status to Tamil, all these retrograde measures fanned disaffection among the Tamils in Sri Lanka and became a fertile ground for the seed of separatism sowed by the Dravidian politicians of Tamil Nadu. However, Selvanayagam agitated for the continuance of the Tamil language as the official language in the provinces of the North and East and the Sri Lankan government was forced to concede his demand.
It cannot be denied that the Sri Lankan government went out of its way to fuel the anger and resentment of the Tamils. It is possible to neutralise the LTTE and restore normalcy in Sri Lanka. To do so, the Sri Lankan government must resist the pressures of the Buddhist clergy and restore to the Tamils their rightful place in the nation, must restore all constitutional rights and guarantees and ensure equality of rights and status for the Tamils on par with the Sinhalese. Schools have been closed, industry and business is at a standstill, there is rampant hunger and the cruelest of all, exploiting the poor living conditions of the Tamils, the LTTE is recruiting children into its fold and placing guns and explosives in their tender hands. And in these training camps they are brainwashed into believing that it is glorious to die for the cause of a separatist Tamil Eelam.
The prime accused for having created this support base for the LTTE is the Sri Lankan government which had set in motion a political course of action that impoverished the Tamils and caused their economic backwardness. Poverty and economic backwardness make the youth vulnerable to the blandishment of the unscrupulous who promise them riches and fame in return for taking to terrorism. The BJP is therefore in no position to support the Sri Lankan government or the LTTE. There is no question of supporting the LTTE but the Sri Lankan government is responsible for the fact that today we have around 70,000 refugees in Tamil Nadu. The Sri Lankan government has to create the conditions for their return. And this condition can be created only when the Sri Lankan restores to the Tamils all the rights that it has taken away from them. It must also restore to them their dignity. And I firmly believe that it is the duty and the responsibility of the Indian government to exert pressure on the Sri Lankan government to do so at the very earliest.
The general position of most political parties in India is that India must not interfere in what is perceived to be an internal matter of Sri Lanka; but the BJP has always maintained that since Sri Lanka is contiguous with Tamil Nadu and since anything that happens in Sri Lanka is bound to spillover into Tamil Nadu and into India, we must involve ourselves to the extent that we try and bring this civil war to an end in a manner that will ensure for the Tamils their rights and their dignity. Involving ourselves does not mean that we send in our troops. And how can we not involve ourselves in the problem considering that more and more refugees are coming into India and the responsibility to shelter them and provide for them has been thrust upon us? Therefore the BJP passed a resolution to that effect in our Working Committee, calling upon the Indian government to adopt a proactive role in Sri Lanka. This resolution is not in support of the LTTE or the Sri Lankan government. It is in support of the legitimate demands of the Tamils of Sri Lanka. And it is the hope of the Tamil Nadu BJP that the Vajpayee government will indeed play a proactive role now.
Professor Suryanarayan mentioned that there are political leaders in Tamil Nadu who commit the horrible mistake of comparing Prabhakaran to Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru. In this context I wish to tell you all of an incident in Veer Savarkar’s life. a young man by the name of Madanlal Dhingra, inspired by the Savarkar, kills Sir Curzon Reilly. He doesn’t run away after killing him because these were patriots and not terrorists. Like the LTTE they did not kill innocent civilians, did not blow them up with explosives and did not wage a coward’s war. These patriots did not run away because it was in the supreme sacrifice of being arrested and maybe sentenced to death that they knew they would be able to tell the world why these Englishmen had to die. Dhingra is arrested and he tells the British that he killed Reilly to protest the arrest of Lokmanya Tilak. He is sentenced to be sent to the gallows. At this time a group of Indian Tamils residing in Britain convene a meeting and pass a resolution ‘unanimously’ condemning Dhingra. Veer Savarkar who happened to walk into the venue of the meeting goes up the dais and introduces himself – “I am Vinayak Damodar Savarkar”. The name was frightening enough to send people into a frenzy, some of whom hide under the seats while others leave the venue in a hurry. The meeting is disrupted. One group however physically assaults Veer Savarkar who is injured in the process. He is roughed up badly enough to break his nose, and his glasses fall off and are broken. It was then that Va’.Ve.Su.Iyer who was also present, enraged at the assault upon Savarkar, draws out his gun and points it the person who had assaulted him. Savarkar restrains him and tells him that the bullets in the gun are not meant for Indians but for the colonialists who had enslaved our nation. Men like Tilak and Savarkar, and Subhash Chandra Bose were indeed militants. To call the murderous bunch of the LTTE ‘militants’ and to compare them with our nationalists like Savarkar and Bhagat Singh, is to insult their memory and their sacrifice. They were militants indeed but these are a murderous group of terrorists. Let us call them by the name they deserve. Be it the murderous groups in J&K, or the ULFA or the naxalite, or the LTTE or those terrorists in Punjab, they all have two things in common. All of them peddle drugs to finance their terrorist activities. They are nothing more than drug peddlers. Their primary currency is drugs. Another thing that they have in common is that they have all targeted one community as their adversary but in the end they have all murdered more of their own people in terrorist attacks and more of their own people have been victims of their senseless terrorism than their adversary. I can therefore not refer to the LTTE as militants. They are terrorists.
In India be it the Communists or the RSS, we all revere Bhagat Singh. He was a militant; and so were Lokmanya Tilak and Sukhdev and Rajguru and Veer Savarkar. I cannot bring myself to speak of the LTTE in the same breath. It is funny isn’t it? That the RSS and the communists should both revere Bhagat Singh? Bhagat Singh had two things to hand down as heritage – fierce and unswerving patriotism and the path of armed struggle to achieve one’s objective. After his death, the RSS inherited his patriotism while the communists opted to take to violence as a means to achieve their social objectives. I have often wanted to ask of those experts who have lived in Sri Lanka and know the nuances of the civil war. If ever there is a democratic election in the future in all of Sri Lanka, will Prabhakaran come forward to participate in the democratic process? And assuming he does participate, will the Tamil people whose cause he professes to espouse, will they vote for him? Today people may say things to please him out of fear; but in a democratic process it is doubtful if the Tamils will ever trust him to renounce violence and render justice to them through the democratic political process. There is a very large section of the Tamils who will never forgive him for having liquidated the entire non-LTTE Tamil leadership. How many good people has he murdered – Amirthalingam, Padmanabha, Kumara Ponnambalam, Neelam Thiruchchelvam, Yogeswaran, Sree Sabarathinam, Umamaheswaran, all those moderate leaders who had espoused a peaceful method for achieving their objectives, leaders who had faith in the democratic process, leaders who had dared to oppose Prabhakaran and the murderous ways of the LTTE, Prabhakaran had liquidated them all. And the Tamils of Sri Lanka will not forgive him for that.
I would now like to draw your attention to the support base that the LTTE has created for itself in Tamil Nadu. There was time when Smt. Indira Gandhi supplied the LTTE with arms and ammunition. I have the greatest admiration for her. She was a nationalist and I have no doubt that when she decided to provide the LTTE with a base in India, she would have done it with a mistaken sense of national interest. In the course of a conversation I had with some of the fishermen in Rameswaram they told me that it took them seven days to download the consignment of arms that Indira Gandhi sent to the LTTE. The fisher folk who live in Vedaranyam and Rameswaram ferry goods for the LTTE from Tamil Nadu. As long as we have Indians who will aid and abet terrorists for money, it will be impossible for any government to finish off terrorism. It is not just in Rameswaram that we have Indians to betray the nation and endanger national security. We have such people in the districts bordering Pakistan and Bangladesh too.
A situation has arisen today that the Sri Lankan government and the Buddhist clergy want India to intervene and involve itself once again to find a solution to the civil war. If the LTTE can be persuaded to come to the negotiating table too and we have politicians in the NDA who will gladly offer to be our messengers to the LTTE in this regard, then we can hope to find a negotiated solution to the problems of the Tamils of Sri Lanka. There was a time when in villages of Tamil Nadu there were training camps for the LTTE and the people of Tamil Nadu provided the LTTE with food and other logistic support. But he assassination of Rajiv Gandhi and the LTTE’s proclivity to annihilate the non-LTTE Tamil leadership alienated the people of Tamil Nadu and the government of India. In those days those that spoke against the LTTE and its separatist agenda were the exception and not the rule. The BJP and Cho Ramaswamy were two such exceptions and we were all dubbed anti-Tamil. But today it is the supporters of the LTTE who are the exception and the LTTE has only itself to blame for that. The people who suffered most as a result of this alienation are the refugees in our refugee camps. The LTTE’s actions have negatively affected the lives of the Tamils more than it has served them.
I completely agree with ‘Vigil’ that Shri Karunanidhi’s statement on a possible solution to the war in Sri Lanka, is for that country to be divided into two between the two communities like Czechoslovakia, not only to be inaccurate but also unfortunate in respect of the analogy to a failed marriage. But the NDA government has conveyed to the DMK that while it will not accept the DMK’s view on Sri Lanka it will still be provided the opportunity to express its views in National Security Council meeting. And I am very happy to note that yesterday, at the meeting of the NSC, the DMK minister in the NDA, Shri Murasoli Maran has stated categorically that there were no differences within the NDA on the government’s position on Sri Lanka and also that whatever Shri Karunanidhi may have said about the Czech model, was his personal opinion.
Lastly, I wish to conclude by remarking that while the LTTE has lost the affections of the Tamils even in Sri Lanka, their disaffection with the Sri Lankan government is even more and want to see the government worsted in this war. And the reason for this intense dislike of their government is the decades-long discrimination against the Tamils which has become a national policy. It is therefore that the BJP has consistently taken a pro-Tamil stand. The BJP is not pro-LTTE or pro- Sri Lankan government. It is pro-Tamil in its policy. It was said that the Tamils of Sri lanka never call themselves Hindu but define themselves only as being Tamil. I agree that it is so. Let me point out that if there had been no RSS in Tamil Nadu, the Tamils of Tamil Nadu too, at least large sections of them, as a result of several decades of the Dravidian anti-Hindu propaganda, would have also defined themselves only as Tamils and never as Hindus. They have made the Tamil identity akin to a caste! What Sri Lanka needs today is an organization like the RSS which will educate the people to subsume their regional and smaller identities within the larger identity of their religion and nation. I hope that the war in Sri Lanka ends soon and also that the Tamils can resume a normal life with their rights and dignity restored to them constitutionally. I thank the organizers for inviting me to participate in a meeting as important as the war in Sri Lanka. Thank you all.