Indian Central Government and Sri Lankan Tamils


Indian central government policy on the national question of Sri Lanka has always given priority to India’s regional interests. Policy making has been aimed at not just exercising hegemony over the whole of South Asia but beyond it to cover the whole of Asia. In particular, it has been compelling every South Asian country to accept its role as ‘big brother’. Refusal has been met with threats or attacks under some pretext. Sri Lanka, for example, has experienced this in the past.

Sri Lanka has strategic importance due to its geographic location in the Indian Ocean. The US, the West and India need the island of Sri Lanka in their respective bids for global or regional dominance. It was when JR Jayawardane, out of loyalty to the US, sought to surrender the country to the US, that Indira Gandhi and India took a keen interest in Sri Lanka. The opportunity came when ethnic violence was unleashed on the Tamils in 1983. India used it as pretext to get involved in Sri Lanka and used the issue as a device to serve its own purposes.

The conservative Tamil nationalist leadership, which was incapable of analysing why India showed an interest or assess it from a long term perspective, trusted India in full faith, from its standpoint of narrow nationalism. It was believed that Tamil Eelam will be carved out for the Tamils like Bangladesh was carved out of Pakistan in 1971 by the Indian armed forces under the leadership of Indira Gandhi. Sadly, a vast majority of the Tamil people were convinced to that effect by the Tamil United Liberation Front. The Tamil nationalists also ridiculed the logical arguments put forward by Marxist Leninists who placed before the people the facts and the objective reality to firmly declare that Tamil Eelam was not feasible in this fashion. They even denounced Marxist and socialist positions and expressed to the hilt their loyalty to India. Another group was immersed in its faith in the US and the West which were instrumental in the creation of Israel.

It was amid such developments that India began to strengthen its position to tighten its grip on the whole of Sri Lanka. The present Mahinda Chinthana government suits that purpose very well. Indian economic infiltration has gushed with speed into Sri Lanka, and has developed to the extent that Sri Lanka could soon be considered a strong colonial possession of India. India will not tolerate anything that stands in the way of this development. The chauvinistic government of Sri Lanka and the hegemonic state of India concur on this. The manifestation of this is evident from the activities of the Mahinda Chinthana government during the past three years.

India has resented the influence and interference of the US, the West and Japan in the Sri Lankan national question. There lies the essence of the inherent rivalry for regional hegemony. Having realised that the international allies of the LTTE had a foothold in the US and the West and knowing the implications of Norwegian facilitation and the role of Ranil Wickramasinghe in it, India began to make its moves; and the Mahinda Chinthanaya government made way for it. Indian hegemonic diplomacy started to act on the economic, political and military fronts. Norway was eased out of its role as facilitator. That was followed by closer ties on the military and political fronts with Sri Lanka, through which there were attacks on the LTTE in the Vanni, military success and a ban on the LTTE.

The US and the West, caught in a dilemma in the context of their strengthening ties with India, found themselves unable to do anything in Sri Lanka and maintain an embarrassed silence. The US and the West are on a low key in the face of the bellowing by the Sri Lankan government about its war against terrorism, since they had already banned the LTTE and Sri Lanka followed suit. Under the conditions, it is only the support from Tamilnadu that is a voice of consolation to the Tamils. But anyone who knows anything of the acrobatics of Tamilnadu politics will also know that it is not a sincere and unanimous voice. The political parties of Tamilnadu can only plead with the central government of India but cannot compel it to do anything. It has not happened in the past and it will not happen in the future either.

The central government of India will not come forward to bring an end to the war in Sri Lanka, since the war in Vanni was commenced on its signal. It has provided military assistance in many ways including the supply of arms. After all this, for the Tamil side to plead with the central government and the Tamilnadu state government is a show of weakness arising from the lack of a policy of self-reliance in struggle.

The Tamil parties conduct themselves in a manner where they seem to plead that, irrespectively of whether they are struck, kicked or spat on by India, India remains their master. Is this not an insult to “the self respecting Tamil race”? It is, however, not possible to change this attitude of expectations on the part of the Tamil leadership. Their reactionary politics is marinated with it.

Members of the Tamil National Alliance made several trips to meet the Indian premier Manmohan Singh, but failed to have even five minutes of hearing. It was said that Sonia Gandhi had pledged to Karunanidhi that Pranab Mukherjee will be sent to Sri Lanka. But the one who turned up was Shivashankar Menon who discussed matters of mutual interest. The unending pleas of the TNA which fail to appreciate the implications of these developments only further humiliate the Tamil people. Rival Tamil leaders will not free themselves of this. One after the other they will seek to define themselves as devotees of India. Indian hegemony thus seems to have penetrated at various levels.

In contrast to this, there is a need for the emergence of honest and far-sighted political forces from among the Tamils. Past experiences need to be studied; and decisions should be based on a long-term view of how the right to self-determination within a united Sri Lanka can be won, and about the policies and principles appropriate to the decisions. There should be clear decisions about who their friends and who the enemies are. The ordinary Sinhalese in the South should be persuaded that it will be possible to build a united, strong and prosperous Sri Lanka by the establishment of autonomies and autonomous units for the nationalities as a political solution to the national question.

No struggle could be won merely with brave fighters and modern weapons alone. The struggle should be a people’s struggle where the people decide their own fate and become the heroes of the struggle. On the other hand, a handful of fighters, however brave they may be, cannot fight on their behalf and win. This is the lesson that history has taught us. That “people and the people alone are the motive force of history” should be an unforgettable lesson of history. In a true struggle of the people, the people have never been defeated. The final victory is always theirs. That requires taking a clear and correct line of struggle. To seek the bases for it is what is essential today for the Tamil people.

Translation of article in Tamil, Puthiyapoomi, Jan-Feb 2009
Courtesy: New Democracy – Theoretical Organ of the New Democratic Party (Sri Lanka), February 2009

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