SRI LANKA

The Tamils may have lost their mil­i­tary strength with the death of Prab­hakaran but they are re­group­ing to con­sol­i­date their po­lit­i­cal strength in Sri Lanka and around the world.

Southasia - - Front page - By S. Mu­rari

Is the Tamil lead­er­ship ca­pa­ble enough to unite and strengthen

its po­lit­i­cal stand­ing?

Vellupil­lai Prabka­ha­ran took up arms at the age of 17 for an in­de­pen­dent home­land for Tamil mi­nori­ties in Sri Lanka and died in battle against Sri Lankan forces in May 2009 at the age of 54. He claimed all his life that he was the sole pro­tec­tor and rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Tamils and be­lieved in the dic­tum “af­ter me the del­uge”. Mil­lions of Tamils all over the world are still to come to terms with the fact that he is no more. As a re­sult, he has died un­honored. With not just his im­me­di­ate fam­ily, but the en­tire LTTE lead­er­ship wiped out, his Ee­lam dream lies in ru­ins.

As a log­i­cally corol­lary, the vic­tor and Sri Lankan Pres­i­dent Mahinda Ra­japaksa has, through a se­ries of pro­nounce­ments since the elim­i­na­tion of Prab­hakaran and his clan, made it clear that in his vi­sion of a home­grown so­lu­tion to the decades old eth­nic strife, there will be no dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing ma­jor­ity and mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties, there will be no spe­cial rights for any­one and all will be treated as Sri Lankans. There will no longer be any eth­nic con­clave like the Tamil­ma­jor­ity north and east, where the sep­a­ratist war was waged since 1983 and all cit­i­zens will have the right to set­tle any­where in the coun­try.

No one can quar­rel with any of these premises or with his view that he was not against Tamils, but sep­a­ratists and, there­fore, there could be no win­ners or losers. The LTTE was a des­ig­nated ter­ror­ist out­fit, there­fore there was no need for any­one to mourn the pass­ing away of Prab­hakaran. In short, post-LTTE, the Pres­i­dent fore­sees a united Sri Lanka where all com­mu­ni­ties can live in har­mony like in Sin­ga­pore where the Chinese, Malays and Tamils proudly sport their all-em­brac­ing na­tional iden­tity. With this in view, he has even ap­pointed a na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion com­mis­sion like the one Nel­son Man­dela set up in South Africa.

Ide­ally, he is right. But the ground sit­u­a­tion is quite dif­fer­ent. While Mahinda is a so­phis­ti­cate, his presently dis­graced army gen­eral Sarath Fon­seka has put it rather bluntly that Sri Lanka be­longs to Sin­halas and Tamils other mi­nori­ties can live here, but on their terms. No sur­prise that in the post-Prab­hakaran phase, Sin­hala chau­vin­ism has raised its head.

In the clos­ing stages of the eth­nic war in May 2009, nearly 40,000 un­armed civil­ians were killed, ac­cord­ing to UN es­ti­mates. Since the end of the war, Prab­hakaran’s par­ents have died. His fa­ther Vellupil­lai was never part of the sep­a­ratist move­ment and he lived in peace­ful re­tire­ment in In­dia af­ter dis­tin­guished ser­vice in the Sri Lankan Gov­ern­ment. Velupil­lai and wife Par­vathi joined their rebel son Prabka­ha­ran only to­wards the clos­ing stages of the war. Yet, the Mahinda ad­min­is­tra­tion let him die in army’s cus­tody in the sub­urbs of Colombo last year. His wife Par­vathi died endFe­bru­ary 2011 in her home­town in Jaffna af­ter a pro­longed ill­ness. Not just Colombo, even New Delhi cold shoul­dered re­quests from Par­vathi’s rel­a­tives and other Tamil lead­ers to let her go to Tamil Nadu for treat­ment.

An In­dian Par­lia­ment mem­ber from Tamil Nadu who wanted to at­tend the fu­neral was not al­lowed to land in Colombo and was sent back. Even Par­vathi’s other chil­dren, in­clud­ing a son and two daugh­ters, all abroad, were not de­nied per­mis­sion to visit Sri Lanka for the fu­neral and the last rites were per­formed by other rel­a­tives in Jaffna. Her body was cre­mated as per Hindu cus­tom. Heavy army pres­ence de­terred many from at­tend­ing the fu­neral. Tamils al­lege that the next morn­ing they found in the grave half-burnt car­casses of two dogs with bul­let wounds and Par­vathi’s ashes strewn. Gov­ern­ment is yet to deny it.

Who was re­spon­si­ble for the present plight of the Tamils?. Prab­hakaran him­self. In pur­suit of mo­nop­oly of power or un­com­pro­mis­ing

strug­gle for an in­de­pen­dent Ee­lam, he sys­tem­at­i­cally elim­i­nated al­ter­na­tive Tamil lead­er­ship, mod­er­ate and mil­i­tant alike. In the course of the 25-year strug­gle he also pe­ri­od­i­cally tried to cre­ate a lead­er­ship cri­sis in the south by ruth­lessly as­sas­si­nat­ing top Sin­hala lead­ers. Prab­hakaran’s vic­tims in­clude not only mod­er­ate Tamil United Lib­er­a­tion Front (TULF) leader A Amirthalingam and Nee­lam Tiru­sel­vam, but also ri­val Tamil mil­i­tant groups like Sri Sabarat­nam of Tamil Ee­lam Lib­er­a­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion (TELO) and EPRLF chief Path­man­abha. Among the top Sin­halese lead­ers as­sas­si­nated by Prab­hakaran were Sri Lankan Pres­i­dent R Pre­madasa, Min­is­ters Rajan Wi­jer­atne and Lalith Athuthu­mu­daly, Gamini Dis­sayanake. The gory cli­max was the as­sas­si­na­tion of for­mer In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Ra­jiv Gandhi dur­ing an elec­tion rally in Tamil Nadu in May 1991. All be­cause Prab­hakaran feared that if Ra­jiv was re­turned to power, he might mil­i­tar­ily in­ter­vene in Sri Lankan af­fairs again. He also wanted to avenge the killing of Tamil civil­ians by the In­dian Peace Keep­ing Force dur­ing its stay in Sri Lanka from Au­gust 1989 to March 1990. It is a dif­fer­ent mat­ter Prab­hakaran per­ma­nently alien­ated the peo­ple, not just of Tamil Nadu, but the en­tire coun­try, by dar­ing to as­sas­si­nate Ra­jiv Gandhi. Ul­ti­mately, it was this which led to In­dia as­sist­ing the Sri Lankan army in its fi­nal fight to the fin­ish with Prab­hakaran in 2009.

The TULF, once the united front of all Tamil mod­er­ate groups, frag­mented af­ter the elim­i­na­tion of top lead­er­ship. In its place came the Tamil Na­tional Al­liance, a new group of for­mer TULF mem­bers and some of for­mer mil­i­tant groups like the TELO and EPRLF. The TNA came to be known as the voice of the Tigers in Par­lia­ment. With the LTTE it­self gone, the TNA has no one to turn to for guid­ance and is too weak to take on the Mahinda ad­min­is­tra­tion which, gung ho af­ter the mil­i­tary de­feat, has be­come in­creas­ingly au­to­cratic.

The Ee­lam Peo­ple’s Demo­cratic Party (EPDP), headed by for­mer EPRLF mil­i­tant Dou­glas De­vananda, can pro­vide al­ter­na­tive lead­er­ship, but he is con­demned as a be­trayer by the Tamils as he is part of the Sin­hala es­tab­lish­ment and is a min­is­ter in the Mahinda ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Also in the same bracket is for­mer No 2 in the LTTE Karuna, now part of the rul­ing Sri Lanka Free­dom Party (SLFP), whose revolt against Prab­hakaran even­tu­ally led to the mil­i­tary de­feat of the group.

The LTTE it­self is in ut­ter ruin with all top com­man­ders choos­ing to die with Prab­hakaran. They in­clude top notch guerilla fight­ers Pottu Am­man, Nate­san, Su­sai, and many more.

In the post-Prab­hakaran phase, the guerilla group has suf­fered splits. K P Path­man­ab­han, once the trusted lieu­tenant of Prab­hakaran and his fund-raiser and gun run­ner wanted by the Interpol, has since the end of the war has been caught in Bangkok and ex­tra­dited to Colombo. He is now on Mahinda’s side, claim­ing that now that the armed strug­gle has come to an end, the Tamils have to learn to pur­sue their strug­gle in a peace­ful and demo­cratic man­ner. It was KP who an­nounced to the world the death of Prab­hakaran.

The Lankan Tamils across the globe, known as the Di­as­pora, are equally di­vided. Emerg­ing as a ri­val to KP is U.S.-based at­tor­ney Ru­draku­maran who is the chair­man of pro­vi­sional Transna­tional Gov­ern­ment of Tamil Ee­lam. The aim is an Ee­lam with­out bounders, or a gov­ern­ment in ex­ile. It has even held ref­er­en­dum in seven coun­tries among Tamil ex­pa­tri­ates. Ru­draku­maran has ap­pointed him­self prime min­is­ter of the TGTE and formed a cabi­net of min­is­ters.

Ru­draku­mar has said in a re­cent in­ter­view that his aim is to sus­tain the strug­gle by lob­by­ing with the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity. As he put it, “the Tamils have lost their mil­i­tary might with the pass­ing of Prab­hakaran,” and they have to con­sol­i­date their po-

lit­i­cal strength across the world.

The Di­as­pora has al­ways been away from the heat and dust of the battle and have been salv­ing their con­science by lib­er­ally con­tribut­ing to the LTTE’s cof­fers. They have lit­tle rel­e­vance in the post-Prab­ha­ran phase in the home­land ex­cept as pow­er­ful and monied lobby groups..

In the Pres­i­den­tial and Par­lia­men­tary elec­tions held in Sri Lanka in Jan­uary and March 2010 in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of Prab­hakaran’s death, the lo­cal Tamils showed lit­tle in­ter­est. Yet, the em­bit­tered Tamils in the North and East rooted for LTTE proxy TNA, help­ing it to win 14 seats out of the to­tal 31 seats from this re­gion. The other 17 seats have gone to Sin­hala par­ties like the SLFP and the UNP and the Sri Lankan Mus­lim Con- gress, which have won mainly from the multi-eth­nic east­ern prov­inces of Trin­co­ma­lee, Bat­ticaloe and Am­para. In other words, the North­ern Prov­ince which was once out and out a Tamil re­gion is yet to ac­cept out­siders.

But the de­mo­graphic pro­file is chang­ing with more and more Sin­halese set­tling in Vau­nia and Jaffna. Be­sides, the en­tire north and east have been mil­i­ta­rized to pre­vent to re­vival of the LTTE. As a re­sult, the for­mer battle zone has now be­come a string of gar­ri­son towns with at­tend­ing ser­vices like schools, Bud­dha and vi­ha­ras com­ing up to serve the sol­diers. In other words, the Sin­hala army, seen as an oc­cu­pa­tion force, has come to be ac­cepted as an in­evitable evil by the lo­cal Tamils.

The de­mo­graph­ics are chang­ing be­yond recog­ni­tion. In a few years, the so-called Tamil home­land that Prab­hakaran and other Ee­lamists fought and died for, will be wiped off the face of the earth. With the Tamil par­ties dis­il­lu­sioned and hope­lessly di­vided, there is lit­tle hope of an al­ter­na­tive lead­er­ship emerg­ing in the fore­see­able fu­ture. In any case, there can never be an­other LTTE and there can only be one Prab­hakaran, call him a ter­ror­ist or a free­dom fighter de­pend­ing on where your sym­pa­thies lie. He was a prod­uct of his time. The writer is a se­nior In­dian jour­nal­ist who has been cov­er­ing Sri Lanka for the past 25 years. He has been associated with the Ban­ga­lore-based English daily Dec­can Her­ald and re­tired as an as­so­ciate edi­tor of the news­pa­per.

While the Tamil lead­er­ship in Sri Lanka gropes for direc­tion, the Tamil pop­u­la­tion

con­tin­ues to live in un­cer­tainty.

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