Feature Article

The Idea of Eelam- Taraki

[TamilNet, Sunday, 22 May 2005, 13:59 GMT]
In the 14th March 1990 issue of Sri Lanka's English daily, Island International, popular journalist and military analyst, late Dharmeratnam Sivaram, provided insight into how the concept of Eelam in its various interpretations were adopted or dismantled as the basis of the armed struggle of different Tamil liberation movements.

Sensing perhaps the bitterness and misery that were to tarnish the Tamil militant movement, a friend once told me that he often wished that he were dead while the dream of Eelam was still fresh in him. He was a brave and honorable warrior whose simplicity and sincerity were such that it never occurred to me to draw him into a conversation on the concept of Eelam. Many moons later, just before the LTTE decimated the TELO, I heard that the sea had taken him.

The concept of Eelam has been taken up by two kinds of people. The one being those who have from the beginning or along the way of the struggle for Eelam looked beyond it and who have consciously or otherwise used it as a slogan or a tool in their Machiavellian perception of means and ends. The other being those like my friend and many others who saw it as an end in itself a non-negotiable goal.

Whatever their difference in attitude towards the idea of Eelam it has confounded the former and consumed the latter. The elder statesmen among the Tamils may have thought that like its counterpart the Dravida Nad of the Dravidian movement of Tamil Nad it may not live beyond the limited purpose of a political threat factor in a multi ethnic state.

The earliest reference to Eelam is in the earliest Tamil poems in the sangam authorities. There is a poet by the name of Eezhathup-puthuthevannar, Puthan- Thevanar of Eelam. It could have most probably referred to Sri Lanka. The EPRLF could say that the Eelam in their name denoted Sri Lanka when they applied for recognition as a political party. There were Tamil texts to prove their position.

A fundamental distinction between the concept of Thamileelam and Eelam has subsequently been overlooked. What is generally understood by Eelam for many of the uninitiated is that the area comprising the north and east of the island claimed to be the traditional homeland of the Tamil speaking people. But Eelam for the EROS and EPRLF have another meaning and geography. It includes along with the north and east a part of the hill country as well. This was a concept first by E Ratnasabapathy, the founder of the EROS. In the Tamil militant movement it is Tamileelam that denotes the Northeastern traditional homeland.

Curious Map: Therefore, the EROS and EPRLF which was formed form its student wing GUES had a rather curious map of the state which they were struggling to establish. (The idealism was such at the time that there was a minor difference between the EROS and the EPRLF as to where that part of the hill country which included Badulla connected with the east.) The two organizations were operating in the hillcountry.

The Tamileelam groups were the LTTE, TELO, PLOT, TELA, NLFT and a host of others, which had taken over the idea of Tamileelam denoting the north east from the TULF. Even though the idea of a separate state for the Tamils in the North and East had been there for a long time, it was first put forward as the final solution to the woes of the Tamils at the crucial Vaddukoddai conference of the TULF. The general elections in 1977 were taken as a mandate by the Tamil people in the north and east for a separate state by the Tamileelam groups.

Be it Tamileelam or Eelam a category mistake which few bothered to correct was at work behind the political articulation of these concepts. It was characterized as a liberation struggle and it was the liberation struggle of the Tamil nation. Therefore it became a national liberation struggle and the idea was promoted without the least concern for defining it in its specific context.

The struggle was compared to those of the Cubans, Vietnamese etc, where nations with already defined, demarcated and internationally accepted borders had struggled to capture the seat of power from despots or colonial masters.

There were very few who pointed out the category mistake since their ideal of national liberation had become overwhelming. Surprising as it may seem now there was a general reluctance or apathy to define the struggle as a separatist one akin to those of the Ibo’s in Nigeria, the Basques in Spain, the Eritreans in Ethiopia etc.

Such a definition would have entailed the corollary about the establishment of Tamileelam or Eelam which would have upset much of the political and military romanticism that had developed in association with the notion of national liberation. The corollary to the concept of a separatist struggle would have defined the ultimate goal as holding a certain border until such time that it is accepted and ratified as such by treaty: a next to impossible situation in the post world war II international system.

War of attrition: The National liberation concept led to the nation of engaging of the enemy in a war of attrition; the application of the ‘FOCO’ theory of Ernesto Che Guevara.

The LTTE was so fascinated by the Latin American revolutionary that it failed to scrutinize the mass massacre of the Ibo who wanted to carve out Biafra out of Nigeria.

The Indian connection after 1983 led to a fundamental change in attitude towards the idea of Eelam. Two organizations revised their views in the context of the geopolitical reality of Indian interests. The TELO took up the position that it was India alone which could create a Separate state. Sri Sabaratnam gave an interview to this effect in the second of their official publication Elutchi- which shocked many of the local national liberation theoreticians. The PLOT on the other hand realized that a separate state was not possible given India’s concerns in this point of the region. This in conjunction with the strong left wing influence in that organization -both internal and external- resulted in a process of gradual dismantling of the Eelam concept within that organization.

Even after the imposition of the Indian reality on Eelam the EPRLF remained quite muddle headed about it despite their submission to will of Delhi. The LTTE is the only organization that still refuses to submit the dream of Tamileelam to the dictates of political and geo-strategic realities. For the LTTE the moral obligation is more important than political reality. It still feels that it should not betray those who like my friend laid down their lives for the cause while the dream was still fresh in them.


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