Feature Article

'Give way to Tamil Eelam and avoid Sinhala blackmailing for ever'

[TamilNet, Saturday, 08 November 2008, 17:28 GMT]
Don't abandon the Tiger. A Sinhala-dominated Sri Lanka is not in India’s interests, writes T S Gopi Rethinaraj, a Singapore National University scholar, in the November 2008 issue of Pragati, the Indian National Interest Review. A unified Sri Lanka under Sinhalese domination will be deeply inimical to India's interests. Colombo will permanently exploit India in the absence of a buffer that an Independent Tamil Eelam could provide, he wrote.

Pragati is published by The Indian National Interest—an independent community of individuals committed to increasing public awareness and education on strategic affairs, economic policy and governance.

Excerpts from the article, later followed by full text:

Pragati
"India has reached an impasse because of its stated policy to safeguard the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka and unwillingness to recognise LTTE’s standing in the conflict. Unless India overcomes this fixation, the Sinhalese dispensation will continue to exploit New Delhi and pursue its agenda without inhibitions."

"Frequent reminders by Colombo’s ruling elite that the ethnic minority will have to accept the country as Sinhalese land only confirms that the ongoing war is not really about defeating the LTTE, but part of larger strategy to Sinhalicise the entire island."

"Since the LTTE remains the only roadblock to this Sinhalese agenda, its military defeat will ultimately result in the political, social, and psychological subjugation of Tamils living in the North, East and other parts of the island. "

"Unlike its antagonists, the LTTE has rarely been accused or found guilty of rape and other crimes against women and children during combat. The conduct of the Sri Lankan state reveals that the ongoing military campaign has an almost genocidal streak, [...]"

"[Colombo] has also carefully cultivated certain Indian bureaucrats and journalists whose views on the ethnic conflict are compatible to the Sinhalese project. "

"A unified Sri Lanka under Sinhalese domination will be deeply inimical to Indian security and strategic interests. Presence of two states in India’s southern frontiers will act as a powerful deterrent to both successor states from pursuing policies that are prejudicial to the Indian Navy’s predominance in the region."

"India would do well to remember how it lost all leverage with China by meekly accepting the latter’s invasion of Tibet."

"Colombo will permanently continue to exploit India in the absence of a buffer that an independent Tamil Eelam could provide."

"Once the Sri Lankan state achieves [its] objective, India will be, according to a popular Sinhalese refrain, 'discarded like curry leaves.'

Full text of the article follows:

Don't abandon the Tiger:
A Sinhala-dominated Sri Lanka is not in India’s interests


IN THE April 2008 issue of Pragati this writer had argued that the survival of the Tamil Tigers is India’s insurance policy against Sri Lanka swinging over to interests of powers that might seek to contain India in the Indian Ocean region. Now that the ethnic conflict has resurfaced as a factor in Tamil Nadu politics, India can ill afford to be seen as actively colluding with the Sinhalese to subjugate the ethnic Tamils. While the recent competitive jostling among political parties over the issue is largely due to fragile electoral alliances in the state, there is also growing public sympathy for Sri Lankan Tamils due to the grave humanitarian crisis generated by the military campaign against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

India has reached an impasse because of its stated policy to safeguard the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka and unwillingness to recognise LTTE’s standing in the conflict. Unless India overcomes this fixation, the Sinhalese dispensation will continue to exploit New Delhi and pursue its agenda without inhibitions. India should also recognise that the Sinhalese majority is yet to show any inclination to moderate its racist vision for Sri Lanka’s future. Frequent reminders by Colombo’s ruling elite that the ethnic minority will have to accept the country as Sinhalese land only confirms that the ongoing war is not really about defeating the LTTE, but part of larger strategy to Sinhalicise the entire island. Sri Lankan government efforts to alter the demographic character of traditional Tamil areas by settling Sinhalese peasants and creating high security zones are mainly to weaken the Tamil resolve.

Since the LTTE remains the only roadblock to this Sinhalese agenda, its military defeat will ultimately result in the political, social, and psychological subjugation of Tamils living in the North, East and other parts of the island. The Sri Lankan state has mostly achieved this objective in areas not under LTTE control. This is the reason why this writer had argued earlier that ethnic Tamils in the island and India will lose leverage with Colombo once the LTTE is militarily defeated. However, the LTTE leadership should also realise that the Sri Lankan Tamils have the best opportunity to secure an honourable settlement when they are still militarily relevant and explore alternative ways to quickly resolve the ethnic conflict.

While the LTTE’s violent methods—forced recruitment, employment of child soldiers, and unrelenting militancy—are repugnant, their largely ethical conduct in the civil war has gone almost unnoticed. The LTTE has been mostly fighting a defensive war restricting their combat within what they perceive as traditional Tamil areas, and their guerrilla attacks have mostly targeted military bases and security forces. This is in contrast to almost all other militant/terrorist organisations in the world which mainly target civilian infrastructure and inflict massive civilian casualties.

Ironically it is the Sri Lankan state that has been deploying its firepower and aerial bombing capabilities over civilian areas in the north, resulting is massive civilian casualties and damages to residences, hospitals, and other civilian infrastructure. Unlike its antagonists, the LTTE has rarely been accused or found guilty of rape and other crimes against women and children during combat. The conduct of the Sri Lankan state reveals that the ongoing military campaign has an almost genocidal streak, with the deliberate targeting of civilian areas mainly aimed to deter civilians from supporting the LTTE.

Within India, especially after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, there has been a carefully orchestrated portrayal of the LTTE as the source of all troubles on the island. While the LTTE’s role in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi deserves the strongest condemnation, that singular episode alone cannot be the basis for India’s Sri Lanka policy or for condemning Sri Lankan Tamils to eternal suffering. Suggestions that the emergence of an independent Tamil Eelam will hurt Indian security interests are disputable, because its ethnic and political ties to India through Tamil Nadu will be much stronger than that of the Sinhalese dominated state. However, given a chance, most Sri Lankan Tamils will be happy to live under a greater Tamil Nadu—comprising traditional Tamil areas in the North and East of the island—as Indian citizens. But India failed to explore that option to integrate the North and East with Tamil Nadu when several opportunities presented that outcome before 1987.

The historical baggage—some of which dates pre-Christian times—also continues to remain a major impediment to a peaceful resolution of the conflict. The British failure to present a partition plan to accommodate the political aspirations of the Sinhalese and Tamils allowed earlier historical grievances to fester. Since Sinhalese-Tamil social relations never assumed violent proportions like the Hindu-Muslim problem in pre-1947 India, the problem could have been easily sorted if the Sinhalese majority had been reasonable in their approach toward the ethnic minority. Until 1956 all ethnic groups at least shared a common identity and future as Ceylonese. The Sinhala Only Act and failure of Colombo’s ruling elite to produce a multiethnic national identity and vision for Sri Lanka deepened the social divide and paved way for separatism.

Competitive pandering to Sinhalese-Buddhist extremism by political parties gradually resulted in the constitutional alienation, linguistic disenfranchisement, and denial of education and economic opportunities of Tamils. Failure of conventional political methods to address these grievances and various state-led anti-Tamil pogroms eventually led the Tamil youth (from which the LTTE would emerge as the pre-eminent force) to wage an armed struggle for political separation.

The racism and blatant government discrimination against Tamils in jobs, education, and economic opportunities that produced the original conflict are still intact. Hence attempts to equate Sri Lanka’s ethnic problem with various insurgencies faced by India are not only incorrect but an unfair characterisation of the Indian state. India represents very different social and political values and every conceivable religious, ethnic, and linguistic group in India enjoys constitutional equality and protection.

Thus viewing Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict through the prism of Indian federalism is misleading. India has always been keen in ending the ethnic conflict by actively engaging with the Sinhalese, and has consistently advocated a federal solution to Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict. This, according to New Delhi’s assessment, would meet the aspirations of all ethnic groups in the island. While the federal political structure has worked remarkably well in the context of India, where coexistence of several ethnic/linguistic states acts as buffer to any chauvinism from the Hindi heartland, it is unlikely to work in Sri Lanka where there are only two main ethnic groups. But Colombo is not even prepared to offer Tamils the Indian-type solution, which would still preserve their political dominance in Sri Lanka. The failure to take into account this deep Sinhalese-Tamil divide explains the stagnation in India’s Sri Lanka policy.

Colombo has always keenly followed political undercurrents in India and within Tamil Nadu and benefits from the prevailing chaos. It has not only been successful is driving a wedge between the concerns of Tamil Nadu politics and the central government, but has also carefully cultivated certain Indian bureaucrats and journalists whose views on the ethnic conflict are compatible to the Sinhalese project. Historically too the Sinhalese have cleverly played one Indian kingdom against another to have an edge over the Tamil Hindu Jaffna kingdom. India’s succumbing to this contemporary scheming is, in the long run, deeply inimical to its interests and security.

Unless India makes a course correction, some political parties are likely to exploit the situation to revive the long-forgotten separatist propaganda in Tamil Nadu. While the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government was more sensitive and remained equidistant from the two warring groups, the current United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has been providing significant military assistance to the Sri Lankan government. This policy is inadvertently contributing to the Tamil subjugation project of the current Sri Lankan government.

India must not allow its long term interests to be corroded due to the machinations of the Sinhalese regime and its Indian supporters. It should intervene as it did in East Pakistan if Colombo does not show any sincerity and returns to its old ways. Indeed, a strong case could be made that an independent Tamil Eelam will not only be in India’s interests but permanently avoid exploitation by the Sinhalese. A unified Sri Lanka under Sinhalese domination will be deeply inimical to Indian security and strategic interests. Presence of two states in India’s southern frontiers will act as a powerful deterrent to both successor states from pursuing policies that are prejudicial to the Indian Navy’s predominance in the region.

India would do well to remember how it lost all leverage with China by meekly accepting the latter’s invasion of Tibet. India’s appeasement policies in response to developments in Tibet in the 1950s not only paved way for Tibet’s invasion, but emboldened China to lay claim over vast tracts of India’s territory. Of course India doesn’t have any border to settle with Sri Lanka, but it occupies its soft underbelly and a strategic position in the Indian Ocean. Colombo will permanently continue to exploit India in the absence of a buffer that an independent Tamil Eelam could provide.

Already, India has been shamefully remiss in failing to take the Sri Lankan navy to task over the issue of frequent killings of Indian fishermen. The fact that Sri Lankan navy could kill a few hundred Indian fishermen with impunity is a sign of the future behaviour of the Sinhalese state once it secures a military victory over LTTE and impose a solution on ethnic Tamils on its terms. Once the Sri Lankan state achieves that objective, India will be, according to a popular Sinhalese refrain, “discarded like curry leaves.”


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