INDIA'S DILEMMA  1
The tragedies of the October war continued relentlessly into November and December. It left us among the dead, the debris and the crumbling structures. The smell of putrefaction clung to the fresh morning air. The terror of the army on every street corner, molestation and even rape became facts of life.
It left us paralysed - benumbed as a community in a political and structural vacuum. It also left us with this terrible knowledge that people are but dispensable numbers: rape and molestation inevitable facts for the warring parties. It left us bitter, and angry that these gruesome consequences were even awaited with certain satisfaction as good material for international propaganda by the "leaders"of the people. The sadism of this situation seemed the greatest blow to the community. We sat by, watching the Indian military presence become well entrenched in our land, sea and sky, and Indian political dominance a creeping reality.
Unlike other analyses that have come up, we do not see the current crisis as resulting from distinct events that stand on their own and, therefore, one that is subject to being analysed episodically. As such we do not consider this war as a catastrophic consequence of a simple misjudgment on the part of the Tigers or India. Nor do we consider it as a consequence of the inbuilt fears that the Tigers are presumed to have of democracy and elections. Contrary to the popular view, we do not think that if the single event of handing over the 17 L.T.T.E. men had not occurred, every thing would have been fair and fine for the peace accord, the L.T.T.E., the Tamils and the I.P.K.F.. Though all these views have elements of truth in them, we agree with those who place the war in a geopolitical context. However we do not agree that the correct and methodical interaction of foreign policy institutions or the clever manoeuvring of foreign policy can simply determine this geopolitical reality in our favour.
All these opinions view history as a chain of events. Rather, history is an evolutionary process where events are manifestations. We see this war as a historical legacy of the way social forces within the Tamil and Sinhalese nations developed and interacted. An analysis of the political background of the war and Indo-Sri Lankan relations, would entail analysing not only the geopolitical situation, but also the internal contradictions of the Tamil and Sinhalese communities. Such a treatment is very important for us, because many Tamil intellectuals of nationalist leanings see the contradictions, objectives and interactions within the Tamil nation in a simplified framework in isolation of southern Sri Lanka. This cloistered view had been one of the deterrents to constructing a viable nationalist objective.
In this sketch an encompassing view is attempted, within the framework of historical analysis. However, this does not come in the best forms of polemical discourse enthralling left intellectuals and Marxist theorists, but rather breaks into emotional and descriptive scenarios. This has been inevitable for us, as we are participants in the pain and agony of a nation. This sketch is attempted principally to bring out into the open the little known side of our nation (already people are adapting themselves to living with reality, pushing and smothering the pain into the recesses of memory) and the underlying causative processes and forces. However, this study is incomplete as no particular force is dealt with in detail and the sketch draws in broad strokes certain outlines of the tendencies.
6.2 A Survey of the Background to the
6.2.1 Mother India: Illusion or Reality
Many in the Tamil community expressed shocked disbelief in the way the October war was conducted. The ruling classes of the Tamil nation had always seen India as a patron, an arbitrator, and an advocate of Tamil aspirations. This perception was not only based on the cultural and emotional links with southern India, but also on a studied intellectual approach. Ideas such as exploiting India's great power pretensions as a useful tool for advancing the Tamil separatist cause, have been put forward by Tamil intellectuals. But is this a correct perception? What is India's thrust abroad?
6.2.2 India's thrust abroad
It is argued that in the context of power relations in South Asia, India has some autonomy and its foreign policies may sometimes even conflict with imperial centres - although it still remains basically dependent. It has been proposed that the development of Indian capitalism pushes it to look abroad for markets and resources. This is further enhanced by the perception of India as a potentially great power. These analyses trace this great power perception to the colonial period when emerging Indian elites acted as imperial agents for Britain. Another reason given for India's thrust abroad is the pre-capitalist social formation in India, and the inability of the local market to respond to the needs of India's growing industrial power and further capital accumulation. This can be seen as part of India's diplomatic thrust in the neighbourhood. In this, those interests of India, that can supply goods at very competitive prices, would run counter to those of the western countries and Japan.
Therefore despite the fact that India is in size and scale a big nation in the region, its influence abroad is impeded by internal contradictions. Moreover its influence is uneven in the region. For example, take the case of Sri Lanka, the southern neighbour, and in the north of the region, Nepal and Bhutan. Nepal and Bhutan are more or less totally integrated into India economically, and due to their strategic importance (along the northern border), politically and militarily as well. But Sri Lanka had been able to circumvent such integration and control. To understand the reasons for the relative autonomy of Sri Lanka, we have to search the historical roots of Indo-Sri Lankan relations since the colonial time.
6.2.3 The Colonial past and the evolution of
Sri Lanka's Economy
During British rule some sections of the Indian elite assisted in the administration of colonial structures and the imperial capitalist system, not only in India, but all over the British Raj. In the imperial interests Sri Lanka was designated a crown colony and received preferential treatment in the region because of its smallness in size.This rendered it amenable to control. India's ruling class, because of its relative internal strength and independence, was always more of a threat to the colonial administration than the Sri Lankan ruling class. Furthermore, Sri Lanka's geographical position in the Indian ocean and the possession of a natural harbour at Trincomalee, made this accommodation and preferential treatment useful for continued control of the important sea-lanes of the Indian Ocean. Apart from the colonial designs to subjugate the whole region, internally there was overwhelming consensus on stubbornly maintaining Sri Lanka's relative autonomy from India. For instance, the East India Company administration was forced to withdraw the Indian civil administrators in its service, after agitation by the indigenous population. This shows a contrasting experience to that of countries like Nepal and Bhutan where Indian civil administrators and migrant traders were an instrument in controlling the indigenous people.
There is another side to this story of opposition to Indian influence however. In the mid-nineteenth century the colonial administration brought in large numbers of impoverished Indian Tamil peasantry from South India to work the plantations in Sri Lanka, when the local Sinhalese had refused to be incorporated into the plantation sector. These Indian Tamil labourers were brought in as indentured labour in conditions of near slavery. The Indian Tamil labour who built up the plantation sector and who, even to this day, remain the backbone of the country's economy, were simply grafted on to Sri Lankan society by their colonial masters and were rejected as aliens by the local population. In post-independence Sri Lanka their situation deteriorated. They were disenfranchised and became the most exploited and oppressed social group within the country. Unfortunately the growing contradiction between the local subsistence agriculture and the plantation sector manifested itself in the most fierce antagonism towards this under privileged group. Unscrupulous political elements used this contradiction to their advantage by portraying this dispossessed poverty stricken group as an arm of Indian expansionism. Even opposition to Indian supremacy in the region was expressed by victimising this minority group.
The local ruling classes, both indigenous Tamil and Sinhalese however, had an upward mobility during colonial rule. The Tamils especially in the lower rungs of the civil service; The Sinhalese in trading, small scale plantations, and satellite services to the plantation sector as well as in the civil services. In fact though there were prosperous Indian and Moor traders in Sri Lanka, they were viewed with intense antagonism by the Sinhalese trading class. The real content of this anti-Indianism was that the local ruling classes did not want another group that was exercising control.
6.2.4 Post Colonial Sri Lanka: Rise of
Unlike in many other small states in the region, Colonial Sri Lanka occupied a defined place in British imperial designs in the South Asian region, and the Sri Lankan ruling class had a competitive relationship with Indian counterparts who came into the island. Furthermore, the historical development of nationalist movements in Sri Lanka, showed that, though their anti-colonial ideologies were complementary to and derived inspiration from the Indian nationalist movements, they had also an underlying contradiction with them. This contradiction arose from the content of nationalism itself, which was based on the economy of the ruling classes of Sri Lanka. Colonial penetration had made the Sri Lankan economy totally integrated and fully absorbed into the imperial economic system. Plantations became the main economic activity of this island. The rising middle classes of the Sinhalese and the Tamil communities were integrated into servicing the colonial economy and administration. Therefore, though anti-colonial struggles were waged, and nationalism was espoused by the middle classes, the thrust was limited. The middle class had no strong economic base to rely on, except the colonial economy; nor did it have indigenous economic roots to compete with the colonial power. Thus the anti-colonialism of this class and its anger against domination were only emotional. Its link with the nation and the people took the form of cultural and religious identity. Its alienation made it necessary for its assertion as part of the broad sweep of the people. This assertion was articulated in terms of overwhelming enthusiasm for the emotional content of culture and past history. Its real economic contradictions, for example on the Sinhalese side, lay in its competition with the Tamil middle class and Indian trading class for colonial spill-overs. Therefore the contradictions between the rising Sinhalese middle class on the one hand and the Tamil middle class and Indian trading class on the other, made Sinhalese nationalism contain seeds of anti-Tamil, anti-Indian sentiments. Excellent studies on this subject have been done by Kumari Jayawardana.
In post-colonial Sri Lanka, under the system of parliamentary democracy, this class aimed at domination of its competitors from the Tamil community for the economic and political control of the newly independent state. Sinhalese chauvinism played on the cultural connection between the Tamils of Sri Lanka and the Tamils of South India and created fears of Tamils conniving with India to submerge the Sinhalese nation and destroy its language and religion. The Sinhalese chauvinists mythified their role in preserving the Buddhist religion, the Sinhalese race, and the language, and with this ideology they were able to appeal to a broad base, across class, caste and region. Thus it became the most useful ideology for a ruling class, who sought power through parliament. On the other hand, Tamil nationalism, though of similar class base and aspiration, could not attain to power in the independent state. Thus incipient anti-Sinhalese sentiments could never take the offensive in a concrete form.
Therefore, to sum up, for the ruling classes of both communities consolidation of power depended on the espousal of these narrow nationalist ideologies, and because, since independence "state power" rested in the hands of the Sinhalese ruling class, Sinhalese Buddhist chauvinism became institutionalised, over a period of time.
6.2.5 Sinhalese Chauvinism and Tamil Nationalism
This presentation does not provide the scope to digress into a detailed account of the history of Tamil nationalism. We instead concentrate on certain aspects which throw light on the nature of the forces leading to the particular history of the Tamils.
There was a basic difference in the material base of the ruling classes of the two communities. The plantation sector, the mainstay of the colonial economy, was physically placed in the South and it opened up many avenues for the Sinhalese ruling class to enter into the colonial capitalist system. There was no economic activity of comparable dimension introduced in the Tamil areas by the colonial rulers, that could stimulate indigenous economic enterprises and create wealth. Therefore the rising Tamil middle classes found economic prosperity by servicing the colonial administration in the South and elsewhere. The Tamil middle class sought to prosper by the assiduous pursuance of British education; and thus serviced the lower rungs of the colonial bureaucracy. They produced professionals and personnel to service other civil institutions, such as the schools. They were a class created by British colonialism.
This colonial legacy ensured their position as an intermediary controlling group even in majority Sinhalese areas of the South. This privileged position produced an overblown psychology of superiority. However the underpinning material base consisted of economic activity totally under the control of the state structure, and dependent on the South. This weak and paradoxical position was to produce both the impetus as well as the impediments to the growth of Tamil nationalism.
After independence the state gradually pursued overtly discriminatory policies against the Tamils. As Sinhalese Buddhist chauvinism became institutionalised, the pervasive influence of this ideology touched every aspect of Tamil life-employment, land, education, and industrial development. The discriminatory policies eroded the mainstay of the Tamil middle class's economic base. This increasing threat to their livelihood in the state structure and in the South, and the feeling that they were being pushed around and treated as second class citizens, frustrated and angered the middle class Tamils. However, being economically dependent, they could not be free. Thus they continued to be accommodating, while suppressing their bitterness and anger. The political parties of this class harnessed this anger to consolidate their power. They also reflected this paradox of conflict between their emotions and the economy. Their rhetoric was fiery and appealing to the consciousness of the Tamils, who considered themselves intellectually superior to the Sinhalese. But the political practice was one of bargaining with the Sinhalese leadership for parliamentary power sharing- reflecting their dependency in fundamental areas..
However the most important aspects of national oppression, such as the question of the state aided land colonisation of Tamil lands by Sinhalese, and the encroachment into Tamil fishing areas by marauding Sinhalese fishermen with state patronage, were hardly identified as the primary issues by the nationalist leadership of the T.U.L.F.. These issues were simply exploited to raise rhetorical cries in parliament about national oppression. In fact there was no attempt to mobilise and take forward those poorer sections of the Tamil community whose very existence was threatened by these activities of the state. Thus they ignored the erosion of the material base of the broad masses of the Tamil people and concentrated on a few problems of the Tamil ruling class. The Sinhalese leadership was fully immersed in its chauvinistic ideology, which was intolerant of any real power sharing with the Tamils. Invariably, up to the 1970s, the Sinhalese parties had to rely on some participation of Tamil nationalists in forming governments and this created an illusion among the Tamils regarding power sharing. In 1970 the S.L.F.P. came to power with an absolute majority and thus exposed the Tamil leadership's parliamentary political limitations in parliamentary politics. Discrimination and oppression worsened over the 1970s Passive protests by Tamil nationalists were quelled violently with the use of state power, and worse still, from 1977 onwards, anti-Tamil mob-violence (euphemistically called "race riots") was periodically let loose, at increasing frequency.
The failure of the Tamil national leadership to get anything from the Sinhalese ruling class through parliament was in contradiction with the rhetoric of anger and the slogans of valour they were feeding the electorate. As a consequence of this a sense of frustration and bitterness was created among the people. And as brutal mob violence was the reply to non-violence, Tamil nationalism no longer confined itself to a class but reached out to all sectors of the people across class, caste, and regional barriers. Sinhalese chauvinist oppression became the objective common denominator. Anger and frustration at this ignominy and threat to life brought a binding emotion and a feeling of togetherness in the community. The youth who were most affected by the discriminatory policies (such as media wise standardisation in higher education and the quota system in employment) demanded a more autonomous life and voiced the anger of the people..
The youth and the more radical elements felt that the parting of the ways had come and that coexistence with the Sinhalese was no longer possible. Thus the Tamil bourgeois leadership had to adopt the slogan of "Tamil Eelam” - the cry for a separate state-for their political existence. But they had no concrete programme towards this objective. Of course the Tamil nationalist leadership could not pull the Eelam rabbit out of the parliamentary hat. The leadership had put forward a cry that they knew could never be fulfilled in a constitutional way, and Eelam had never been practicable with their class's economical integration and dependency on the South. Moreover they failed to discuss these realities with the people and give them a more viable alternative. They kept the people under an illusion, by such slogans calling the T.U.L.F. leader Chelvanayagam the Mujibur of Eelam, and even hinted at taking up arms from the election platforms. Critics of these slogans were called traitors to the "cause". However little progress was made inside or outside parliament apart from the T.U.L.F. leadership's praising the President as the greatest democrat in South Asia.At the same time the Tamil people faced the 1977 race riots and they had to run away, again hunted. The T.U.L.F. was impotent. As a result the sense of betrayal was acute amongst the youth and the people.
The Tamil national struggle became increasingly isolated and separatist through the intransigence of the Sinhalese nationalists, in whom the power of the state resided. But it would be wrong to view Tamil nationalism, even though the cry of secession was raised after three decades of increasing oppression, as defensive in every aspect; or that it became narrow nationalist and aggressive only after the ascendence of the militancy.(Tamil nationalists like their counterparts, had a sense of superiority. Their historical build up from the feudal past was equally mythical and romantic. They were feeding their electorates and the youth with images of valour, preservation of race and language, and a history heavily loaded with anti-Sinhalese, pro-Indian ingredients.
Tamil politicians often drew images from history harking back to the "glorious" days of the Tamil kings and the days of the Chola empire in South India. They contrasted the antiquity and purity of the Tamil language with the more recent development of the Sinhalese language, scoffing at the latter as a derivative of other Indian languages. They attributed the high levels of literacy and education amongst Tamils to their superior intelligence as opposed to the Sinhalese whom, they claimed, were lazy and less intellectually inclined. The anger that the old guard Tamil leadership felt against Sinhalese domination was due to their perception of themselves as rulers in the past now enslaved by an "alien" people.
Though nationalism was meaningful due to the threat to existence under the Sri Lankan state, its narrowness, violent rhetoric and bigoted imagery were the reactionary elements that were to remain with the nation. The militants were not the initiators; they were the continuation of this history. The ideology in its totality, goes to the credit of the "moderate" and "middle of the road" nationalists, who were the initiators of this narrowness.
The extreme narrowness of their ideology prevented them from organising at grass roots level around the real issues of national oppression. They whipped up nationalist fervour from election platforms, repeatedly evoking these reactionary images and sentiments. The people were not politically conscientious or prepared for the kind of events to come. Their political consciousness was simply taken up to a secessionist stage, just for the political existence of a party and its need to get into parliament,
Another serious defect of Tamil nationalism was its regional bias. The nationalist leadership even within the ruling class was confined to the educated middle class which was mainly from the Jaffna peninsula. This group, most affected by state discrimination in education and employment, unfortunately became the leading force in the struggle.
The Eastern Province, despite its extreme underdevelopment in comparison to Jaffna and the South, remained a rich agricultural area, self sufficient in major crops such as rice. Some sections of the ruling class in the Eastern Province had their base in large land holdings and were not as dependent on the South or on state patronage as the Jaffna Tamils. Therefore they responded to the state's oppressive measures rather differently from the peninsula Tamils. Historically, the two regions developed in different directions with regard to economic and social organisation and cultural practice. Further, the Jaffna Tamils acted on behalf of the state as civil administrators and officials in the Eastern Province and established their dominance. As a result the Batticaloa Tamils learned to regard the peninsula Tamils and their motives with deep suspicion. All these factors contributed to Tamil nationalism taking on primarily a Jaffna face. And when Sinhalese chauvinism revealed its most sinister motives through its policies such as the disenfranchisement of Tamil plantation workers and the colonisation of Tamil lands with Sinhalese settlers, the Tamil leadership offered no tangible way forward.
After independence the successive Sinhalese governments created a policy of land alienation in areas of Tamil concentration to Sinhalese settlers. Bands of settlers were brought into these Tamil villages with state patronage. Over the years this changed the whole demography of some areas in the Eastern Province such as the Ampara District, the strategically important town of Trincomalee and the villages surrounding it. Tamils who were the majority in all these areas have now become minorities. It has even tilted the electoral balance further in favour of the Sinhalese. The hill country Tamils lived concentrated on tea estates, surrounded by Sinhalese villages. Geographically, they were separated from the native Sri Lankan Tamils who lived in the North and the East. All along the indigenous Tamils shunned them socially, mainly because of their lower class and caste backgrounds. The first Sinhalese government disenfranchised the Indian Tamils. Some sections of the upperclass Sri Lankan Tamils also viewed the Indian Tamils as a potential threat in the future and supported the move. The more moderate or liberal Tamil politicians were at best indifferent to the plight of the plantation labour. Their issues were taken on often to bolster their propaganda war. This trend continued even when the militant movements took over the nationalist mantle.
6.2.6 Sinhalese Chauvinism and Indo-Sri Lanka
Relations: Control or Coexistence ?
As we saw earlier, Sinhalese chauvinism was essentially anti- Indian. Such factors made Sri Lanka keep itself at the peripheries of the Indian ambit, and pushed the Sinhalese ruling class to further ties with countries outside the Indian orbit, particularly with the industrialized West and China.
However, these ties were never developed to the levels of being antagonistic to India. All Sri Lankan ruling parties, before 1977, co-existed with a tactical understanding of Indian aspirations. In hindsight it can be seen that India also did not push its influence on its smaller southern neighbour. For India to play a more aggressive role there would have to have been one of two causes: either a danger to its strategic defence or the needs of its expanding economy.
Also a more aggressive Indian role seems to have been curtailed by its own perceptions. The plight of the Indian Tamil plantation workers in Sri Lanka who were viewed as India's fifth column by the Sinhalese, is a case in point. When the Sinhalese racist parties wished to repatriate the Indian plantation workers back to India, the Indian Government signed the Sirima-Shastri Pact without any reservation. The Sirima-Shastri Pact repatriated more than 500,000 plantation workers, many against their will, breaking up communities and even families in the process. The Sinhalese perception that India will use these workers to gain a foothold in Sri Lanka is mistaken, because the Indian state is conditioned by the fact that they are mere workers and not possible rulers.
6.2.7 Sinhalese Nationalism and
Sri Lankan Governments
Sinhalese supremacy was the basis on which especially S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike's S.L.F.P. came to power in 1956. But economically it proposed a state capitalist structure and a welfarist and reformist policy. Though the programme itself contained some egalitarian principles, because of the Sinhalese chauvinistic bias, the Tamil population was politically and economically affected. The Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam pact - one of the most generous and rational packages to be offered by chauvinist governments - had to be abandoned due to protest from the U.N.P. with the connivance of the Buddhist clergy. The course was set for deteriorating communal relations.
The economy continued in the same pattern with various modifications - but Sinhalese chauvinism still remained the dominant ideology, continuing its oppression of the Tamils. A break in the economic system, and change in political thinking came in 1977 when the U.N.P., with J.R. Jayewardene at the helm, swept into power mainly on an economic programme of free market policies. It was put forward as a panacea for the evils of the welfare capitalism of Mrs.Bandaranaike with its stagnation, queues, unemployment etc. Though the U.N.P. manifesto adopted a more conciliatory tone on the national question to go with its capitalist open economy programme, its political existence seemed again to rest on a base whose dominant ideology was Sinhalese-Buddhist chauvinism. At the time of the elections the overriding economic concerns seemed to obscure the ideological underpinnings,but the dormant chauvinism showed up with the eruption of the 1977 race riots.
The alienation of Tamil nationalists, increasing discrimination, and violent oppression of the Tamil community, had created the conditions for the phase of armed struggle to be born. J.R., a die-hard, pro-American politician, developed pro-Western economic programmes and alliances, and, in his attempt to smash the Tamil resistance, sought the help of Western allies. The United States' good offices brought in Israel as a military advisor, and a V.O.A. base was established in Chilaw, disseminating American propaganda. Trincomalee harbour was made available, ostensibly for refuelling facilities for American ships, and more ambitious plans were rumoured.
These moves were perceived by India as openly subverting its interests. The U. S. and the West saw in the Sri Lankan state a staunch ally and an important check to India's growth as a regional power, especially after India's ties with the Soviet Union were strengthened. The strategic importance of Trincomalee, the natural harbour, underscored the superpowers' interests.
6.2.8 1983 - A Turning Point
1983 was the watershed for local and regional forces - for the Sinhalese chauvinist state, the Tamil militants, for Indian interests; revolutionary politics and militarist tendencies. The June 83 mob violence broke the unstable equilibrium at which contradictory forces were interacting, struggling and evolving. It set in motion at a tremendous pace, the process that was to lead eventually to the October 1987 war. The destruction and chaos seem nothing but a natural outcome. When the July 1983 mob violence against Tamils occurred as a government engineered plan, India voiced its "humanitarian" concern.
For the Sinhalese ruling class which had always feared the espousal of the Tamil cause by India, these indications were seen in a paranoidal manner. And the mainstream press and Sinhalese Buddhist organisations fanned anti-Indian propaganda.
India discerned a tangible advantage in using Tamil aspirations for its own interests. The Indian government saw the armed liberation movements as good vehicles for the destabilisation of the Sri Lankan state, with the aim of checking the threats to its strategic interests,posed by Sri Lanka's moves. Overtures were made by India offering to assist militarily the armed Tamil movements. Though the Indian government's decision was never openly acknowledged, training camps were being set up in India. However, India gave its political support to the parliamentary party of the Tamils - the T.U.L.F..
In the meantime, Indian assistance was the talk of the living rooms of expatriate Tamils in London, New York and Boston. The Indian military assistance gave confidence to the expatriate community that a separate state for the Tamils in Sri Lanka was a historical possibility, and a respectable cause. From afar, they were ready to invest for a future. Standing order support started to snowball for the Eelam cause. Luncheons, and dinner parties were held to raise support for the armed groups. Those who raised funds for movements became community leaders among the expatriates. Discussions were addressed by political front-men from all the groups. The armed groups became monetarily more sound and politically more important. Expatriate big wigs breezed in and out of New Delhi and Madras, seeking appointments with Indira Gandhi, and talking to Prabakaran and Uma Maheswaran in separate rooms. They were surprised, but not disturbed by their inability to get the latter two into one room. Sri Lankan Tamil platform speakers did the rounds in Tamil Nadu. An expatriate doctor from the U.. S arrived with the Eelam flag designed by him and a commissioned recording of the Tamil Eelam national anthem. Indian assistance spurred recruitment, and swelled the ranks of all groups, thus bloating unnaturally the rather small and infantile politico-military structures of the groups. The sweep of Indian military assistance created shifts in political opinions and the class character of the struggle became well established. It was after the '83 riots and Indian help that taking up arms became popular with middle class youth. Though the ideology of nationalism was that of the middle classes, and the rhetoric was out of their consciousness, the harsh life underground, and the persecution by the police did not make it appealing to the youth of this class in the early days. Before 1983, the rank and file of the groups were young men mostly from the oppressed and deprived sections of the community. However, 1983s gruesome mob violence, the enormous suffering of the people and Indian assistance, tipped the balance. In the process armed actions became the total focus of the struggle among the groups and, in general, within the community. It unlinked political accountability from military action, the fundamental experience of all people's struggles. Liberation struggle became synonymous with armed action. And politics took a back seat in the community and in the movements. But in India's interests, the destabilisation of Sri Lanka could not be better organized than through these politically stunted organizations. India organized the aid through the R.A.W. (Research and Analysis Wing), and it was mainly in the form of training. An empirical analysis of R.A.W.'s activities shows the trends in the political thinking of the Indian state vis-a-vis the Tamil militant groups.
6.2.9 The R.A.W. and the Tamil Militant Groups
The first group that was chosen for training was the T.E.L.O.. The T.E.L.O. at that time was a handful of persons without a clear cut organisational base or theoretical perspective. With Indian assistance the T.E.L.O. became a front line armed group. Recruitment in Tamil Eelam commenced on a massive scale. Once the training took off, the T.E.L.O. launched some daring and successful armed raids on the Sri Lankan security forces.
The scramble for military training offered by India intensified. Five militants movements out of many were chosen by the R.A.W. and training was offered separately as separate packages. The L.T.T.E. had always felt that they had the moral right to leadership because they had sacrificed much in performing many armed actions, and thus had suffered the most for the "cause". Moreover, their narrow nationalist ideology could not accommodate the existence of other movements. They as a group denied the historical contribution of other movements to the cause, and felt cheated when they were not chosen as the sole beneficiary of the Indian assistance. This was one among the many reasons that laid the foundations for their decision later to eliminate physically the competing groups. Nevertheless the L.T.T.E. did not let its bitterness jeopardise its relations with the R.A.W. or India. They, like the other movements, solicited assiduously the military aid on offer. Moreover, the L.T.T.E. and all the other major movements shored up their support by meshing their own with Tamil Nadu's politics. Until the splits came into the open, all the movements were generally referred to as "Tigers". But it was predominantly, the L.T.T.E.'s image of glamour and heroism that caught the popular imagination in Tamil Nadu.
One did expect other movements like the E.P.R.L.F. and the E.R.O.S. with left-wing leanings, to be more cautious about the Indian military training, especially as they had criticised the L.T.T.E.'s military strategy. But the reality was that the atmosphere of total focus was on military and armed action. This proved too much of a pressure for these movements as well. They lacked well organised politico-military strategies of their own to counter this militaristic focus; and they also lacked the conceptual depth that was required to handle the reality of India, and assess the pros and cons of Indian help. Therefore they, like the others, surrendered to the Indian plan wholesale. Their fault was not their receiving of military assistance, but their lack of a coherent structure, a political theory, and popular base which made them unable to control India's dominance and keep the initiative in their own hands. Thus, the slow but steady surrender to India became their destiny.
Therefore when we analyse the level of influence and penetration of the R.A.W. into the movements, one aspect is clear. It is that its influence is far reaching in all the movements. But the degree of penetration varied. The T.E.L.O was fully penetrated. Others were able to keep a fair distance from this secret service. the E.P.R.L.F. and the EROS had an ambivalent relationship with it. The L.T.T.E. was the most resistant to R.A.W.influence among all five groups. The Tigers who had evolved with the political history of the popular nationalist movement in the homeland, had already built a tightly knit centralized armed structure with fanatical dedication to the cause of their movement, and, most of all, their leader. Therefore, though the L.T.T.E. was a reactionary and stifling phenomenon, the R.A.W. found it difficult to penetrate it fully or to destabilise its structure.
The R.A.W. offered training in separate packages on different terms to the different groups, and thus not only intensified intergroup rivalry, but also ensured a diffused build up of trained personnel, so that no one movement should get ahead of the others militarily. The dangerous and sad aspect of this was that, using the antagonisms between groups to its advantage, the R.A.W. collected information on the movements from each other. India also saw to it that no movement could establish tangible connections with liberation struggles elsewhere or with other countries.
The conclusions we could derive from the above observations are that, though the RAW and India wanted the growth of armed Tamil movements, it was planned in such a way that none of them would be able to supersede the other, and ultimately pose a threat to India or to Sri Lanka. They penetrated the most politically naive of the movements, the T.E.L.O., and used them as their agents. Their competitive offerings in action offset their greater internal rivalries and fragmented support base.
One gathers from all available reports that the R.A.W.'s objective was to use the militant movements to exert pressure on the Sri Lankan state to concede some of India's interests, together with some devolution to the Tamils. Abortive instance of the latter was the Thimpu talks of 1985, where the militants were said to have been "frog marched" to the talks by the R.A.W., and the proposals of 19th December 1986. What was on offer was a far cry from the militants' stated objective of Eelam- a separate Tamil state. The effect of the R.A.W.'s involvement on the social and political consciousness of the Tamils was an unmitigated disaster.
6.2.10 Indian Training, the Nationalist Struggle
of the Tamils and the Sri Lankan State
The Indian military training saw to it that the movements became more successful in containing the armed forces.On the other hand, the Sri Lankan government with the loss of control of the North, sought to chip away at the nationalist argument, and the territorial integrity of the Tamils and thereby make Tamil Eelam a worthless claim. They made moves in the East, the more fertile parts of Tamil Eelam, and escalated colonization in an effort to change the demography of the region. From amongst the Sinhalese colonizers they also built up such paramilitary corps as the home guards, who began to carry out acts of violence against the indigenous Tamils. This started a frontier type of war, especially in the Trincomalee district, and resulted in brutal murders of Tamils and created conditions for a life of terror in the East. The L.T.T.E. in response could not mount an organised defence of the indigenous Tamils, but carried out retaliatory raids not only on the colonizers but even on traditional Sinhalese villages outside the Tamil homelands committing brutal acts of murder and arson. The restrained slogans of pre 1983-L.T.T.E., were abandoned in favour of their instinctive emotional slogans.
Furthermore, the greater sophistication of the liberation movements' armed activities, tied up the Sri Lankan government head to foot in a destructive war which also crippled it economically.
6.2.11 National Consensus: A Facade
Though many considered the period after Indian military aid as one of progress in the Tamil nationalist struggle - the wresting of control of the northern district within a mere three years - this apparent advance and triumph is falsified by other aspects of the struggle. The Eastern province, the other area of Tamil concentration, had remained for a long time outside the sphere of Tamil nationalism. The Batticaloa Tamils and other Eastern province Tamils were reluctant to join a struggle that was Jaffna dominated.
The growing entrenchment of the Sri Lankan military in the East, and increasing the colonization, rendered the Eastern situation more complex; the lack of vision on the part of the leading group, the L.T.T.E., whose Eastern front was small seemed to have handed the Easterners on a platter to the brutality of Sri Lankan S.T.F. and Homeguards, when the North was relatively trouble free. This brought in further division and increased the basis of prejudice between the North and the East, besides enhancing the anger and frustration in the East at Northern hegemony and step motherly treatment. This shook the cohesion that seemed to have developed after the 1983 anti-Tamil mob violence.
The development of the northern front occurred at the expense of many fundamental tasks of nation building. The blind spot in the concept of the Tamil nation was the question of two large sections of the Tamil speaking people - the Muslims or the Islamic Tamils and the hill country (plantation) Tamils. Tamil nationalism was the ideology of the Tamils of Sri Lanka. Historically, it had very tenuous links with the ideology of the Islamic or hill country Tamils of Sri Lanka.
The case of the Islamic Tamils spotlights the weakness of Tamil nationalism with clarity. They are a grouping with a unique economic, socio-political structure, and cultural characteristics. Large sections of them live in the East, with pockets of them well entrenched all over Sri Lanka, but isolated from each other. The cohesive factor binding them is Islam, not Tamil. Not only do they have historical contradictions specific to themselves with the Sinhalese, but have suffered during anti-Tamil "race riots" as well.
Though the slogans and programmes of all movements paid lip service to the rights of Muslims, there has never been a concrete programme to realise their goals, or the articulation of their needs and objectives during the process of the struggle. What has been proclaimed is a programme designed by the Tamils for the Muslims. There are immense contradictions and prejudices between Tamils and Muslims, which should have been handled during the years of struggle, a common basis built and an organic cohesion produced. What we have is tokenism, some tenuous slogans, a token presence of Muslims in the movements and the imposition of the hegemony of the Tamils (especially peninsula Tamils) which led to increasing contradictions. Therefore the advance of the Northern front was a facade. Internally,the inner core of the nation was cleaved, and many sections were inarticulate, isolated and in disarray. This situation was successfully used by the Sri Lankan government to increase the animosity between the Tamils and Muslims by even arming small groups of Muslim youths to escalate the conflict.
Not only was the nation cleaved on a regional basis, but also the intensified inter-group rivalries, ultimately culminated in the L.T.T.E. annihilating group after group with brutality unparalleled in the history of liberation struggles. This led the community to be broken into dissenting segments. Their discontent and hatred were reduced to sullen silence by the terror of the L.T.T.E. and other leading movements. We were not only losing on the home front, but there was a slow and steady erosion of international support, as brutalities within and between groups and against Sinhalese were on the increase.
One detrimental aspect of Indian assistance was found in all movements, especially in those where armed actions formed the total axis (like the Tigers and the T.E.L.O.). In them the military machinery grew out of proportion to the political structure The structures were neither dependent nor connected to the people of the land. And there was hardly any accountability to the people. This lack of accountability was partly the reason why movements like the Tigers could pursue brutal supremacist struggles, while those like the P.L.O.T.E. and the T.E.L.O. indulged in large scale torture and murder of dissidents with impunity.
The Tigers not only brutally eliminated other movements, but they also suppressed any other opinion among the people. All peoples organisations were terrorised into toeing the line by the power of the gun. Very soon many civilian organisations such as the Jaffna mothers' front, trade unions, citizens' committees, teachers' unions and the local press that were all started through the independent initiative of the people, were either suppressed or appropriated by the L.T.T.E.. Though the L.T.T.E. seemed to have ascended to dominance, it was not an organic growth. It was achieved by terror.
Although all movements talked of India only as a rear base, none of them inclusive of the L.T.T.E., could establish any real autonomy from India organisationally. This was principally due to the fact that none of them seriously considered de-linking themselves from India, and building alternative structures, organising the people towards self-sufficiency-economically or socially or politically - to at least a limited extent. This dependency afforded India scope to use a carrot and stick method with Tamil militant groups in its political and diplomatic manoeuvres with the Sri Lankan government. From Thimpu to the 29 July Peace Accord, the Tamil movements had no autonomy.
6.2.12 Negotiation: Anathema
The seemingly successful period of the Tamil militant groups was interspersed with armed actions against Sinhalese villages as a reprisal to the state's activity in Tamil areas. This led to a Sinhalese chauvinist backlash and gave a greater momentum to the forces of reaction within the southern political scene. The resurgence of the J.V.P., the rise of the M.E.P. and the chauvinistic tilt of the S.L.F.P. are classic examples of how narrow nationalism became a relevant ideology despite the onward march of the country towards capitalist progress for almost a decade. Due to the increasing neocolonialist penetration and dependency under the Jayewardene government, the Sinhalese nation was experiencing a disintegration of social structures, relations and values. This coupled with Sinhalese anger at the government's inability to smash the L.T.T.E., resulted in a resurgence of petit bourgeois militancy. The content of this new militancy was narrow nationalism, romanticism and the glorification of the past and traditional feudal values. The remarkable rise of the J.V.P. on the populist crest in recent times, signals the revival of narrow nationalism with a new vigour.
Though it is apparent that a rational approach to the national crisis lay in finding a political solution between the leaderships of both communities and thus reducing the possibility of Indian involvement, the Government caught in the trap of its own ideology, could envisage participation in negotiations only from a position of strength vis-a-vis the Tigers. That is why negotiations set up at the dictates of India and pressure from the international community, were a failure. And the state continued to build up its military potential.
As the first step, the Sri Lankan state launched its first offensive to wrench control of the North. The defence of the Tamils was weakened by the internal killings, which made it difficult for the L.T.T.E. to sustain the fight and it had to withdraw, losing its control over the crucial border areas, and the land connection with the East. Though the L.T.T.E. still had its bases and moved fairly freely, its earlier position of free access was heavily curtailed. The Tiger control zone shrunk to the peninsula, north of Elephant-Pass. This success gave a psychological boost to the Sri Lankan security forces. A military solution and negotiation from a position of strength were becoming a reality for the Sri Lankan state while India's December 19th proposals were on the table. This was a heavy blow to the Tigers who also would have preferred a position of strength before any negotiation. The Sri Lankan state started its relentless pressure on the Tamil support base. An economic blockade was imposed and sporadic aerial bombardment of so called Tiger camps preluded the final offensive - the so called Operation Liberation.
As the time bomb exploded in the commercial heartland of Colombo on 21 April 1987, the conquest of the Jaffna peninsula was on the cards - the ensuing frenzy of the Sinhalese-chauvinist platforms demanded it.
6.2.13 Operation Liberation or The June War
On the surface it looked a success for the Sri Lankan state. It had smashed a stronghold of the Tigers, the vanguard area of Tamil nationalism - Vadamaratchi. But the war itself and the manner in which it was conducted brought about an international outcry. India stepped up its "moral" pressure, and, by a show of strength rather than by physical invasion, aborted the final Sri Lankan onslaught on the heavily populated Jaffna city and its hinterland. Sri Lanka's allies threatened economic sanctions and demanded a political solution. On the Tamil side, the L.T.T.E. and the Tamil nationalist cause were never in such a defensive position. The Tiger control zone had been whittled down to a corner of the Jaffna peninsula.
On the other hand, India had never found a more opportune time for the offer of its "good" offices. It offered the Sri Lankan government the final package, put in clear cut terms its strategic needs, reiterated the sovereignty of Sri Lanka and pushed the solution down the throats of the Tigers. To the world at large, it took away the image of Indian expansionism and portrayed India as a genuine "peace keeper". To the war weary Tamil community, peace seemed a sweet reality.
6.2.14 The Peace Accord
When the Peace Accord was signed, there was euphoria in the Tamil community. But the L.T.T.E. could not rationalize the Accord to its cadres. The Tiger leadership had been pushed into accepting it.
But such a position was taken while the Tigers were at their lowest and in their most defensive position. The Tiger leadership had erred partly because of certain misconceptions in constructing their relationship with India. They had surmised that India's political aspirations in the region would cause it to look for agents for the destabilisation of pro-Western Sri Lanka. They had openly spoken on platforms about the Tamil struggle and their "Movement" having given this opening for India into Sri Lanka, and said that Tamil Eelam as a separate state would continue to be friendly to India and thus ensure the existence of India's control over south Sri Lanka. This perception was based on some ideas prevalent amongst Tamil intellectuals. With this perception they could not grasp the reality behind India's continuous reiteration of the fact that it respected the territorial integrity and unity of Sri Lanka.
Some Western analysts saw India's opposition to a separate linguistic state as stemming from a fear that it would give impetus to nationalist movements within its own borders. Though one cannot deny that this is an important aspect of India's perception, it is more important to analyse it in terms of the economic and strategic defence needs of the Indian ruling class.
Though India found the pro-Western defence alliances of Sri Lanka detrimental to its interests, the free economic policies of the Sri Lankan government were in fact a boon to the interests of Indian capital. As we mentioned earlier the development of capitalism in India was stimulating it to look abroad for markets, especially in the South Asian region. To compete with Japan, the West, and the newly industrialised countries India needed to modernise and refine its technology and its management and marketing techniques. Moreover, the big capitalists of India (such as Tata and Birla) were expanding their business interests at an international level and linking up with big multinational companies. Already India had made sizable investments in Sri Lanka's Free Trade Zone and its banking sector. The suggestion that Sri Lanka might become what a Hong Kong is for China, is not so far from the truth when we take into consideration the above facts. Therefore, the maintenance of a stable united Sri Lanka with policies that satisfy India's economic expansion and defence requirements, would be India's objective. Thus, it is not surprising that in the Peace Accord, the letters and annexures which deal with Indian interests are well defined in minute detail, while the part dealing with several key issues of the national question, is vague and given only in broad outline. On the Sri Lankan side, one could rationally view the Peace Accord as affording J.R. Jayewardene a solution or at least an escape from the grip of chauvinism, giving foreign investment a spur and the economy a truly capitalist impetus. However, it was not to be so.
However, Sri Lanka was to be continually confounded by the paradox that existed between its ideology and the economy. Though the economic programme was capitalist, its political existence depended on a reactionary ideology that was anti-Tamil and vehemently anti-India. Thus the populist forces in south Sri Lanka shouted "sell-out" when the peace accord was signed. This stage need not have arisen if the U.N.P. had sought a rational solution, and explained to the electorate the impending Indian problem if the national crisis was not neutralized. For neutralization it had to produce a programme for decentralization and give certain powers to the Tamils in the North and East and ensure the territorial integrity of the Tamil homelands without total division of the country. It could have allayed the fears of the Sinhalese majority and accommodated Tamil aspirations to work towards a rational bourgeois solution. Their irrational and military approach had given India a powerful role, albeit an apparently peaceful one, to play. This enabled it to gain a foothold in Sri Lanka without being seen as aggressive.
On the other hand, the Tamil nationalist struggle under the L.T.T.E. leadership had gone on a path of internal destruction and terror, alienating and cleaving the community. It was failing in its objective by not conceptualising the needs of a struggle whose primary objective was creating a self-sufficient, autonomous state (as far as possible) out of an inextricably linked Sri Lanka. It was falling short by not perceiving India's true aspirations. The result was a failure to construct any means of dealing with the geopolitical reality that avoided total dependency and capitulation. The L.T.T.E. could not grasp, even at this late hour, that "Tamil Eelam" had ironically been rendered an empty slogan, at least to some extent, by their own efforts.
The urgent need here was to work for a rational solution to save the Tamil nation from total Indian hegemony and Sri Lankan control. The surrender of the island to the manipulations of a regional power resulted from the intolerance and intransigence of narrow nationalist forces on both sides.
6.2.15 The Left: A viable Alternative ?
Last but not least of our failings was the lack of a viable alternative to counter this narrow nationalism: a third force. And that brings us to the Left. So far we have not outlined the evolution of this small but politically and historically important force in both communities. But we wish to draw out some observations. It is the failure of this force historically that had cleared the way for the ascendency of narrow nationalism to the core of our political life. The Left had the capacity to lead us out of this quagmire. As early as 1947, at the congress of the Communist Party of Ceylon, a resolution calling for regional autonomy for Tamils was put forward. In the debates against the one language policy of S.W.R.D..Bandaranaike in 1956, the Lanka Sama Samaja Party ( the Trotskyite left party) and the C.P.'s enlightened position on the parity of languages and its prophetic pronouncements regarding the future - "One language two nations, two languages one nation " - stand as landmarks and show the role the Left could have played. It is their subsequent, capitulation and lack of creativity that lost the initiative to nationalists.
In the contemporary neocolonialist era, the traditional nationalists such as the T.U.L.F., because of their weak economic base, cannot successfully lead a national struggle towards liberation without capitulating to imperialism. They have no real independent economic power and this leads them one way or another to become integrated and dependent on international capital. The only way they can sustain their nationalist aspirations (stemming from colonial and now neocolonial domination) is by adopting a rhetorical and emotional ideology. Essentially a section of the ruling class uses this to consolidate its power. It is apparent that only a force that represents the interests of the broad masses of the working population, and is therefore opposed to the economic dependence on foreign capital, could design a strategy and a concretised programme to limit the neocolonial penetration and thus lay the foundation for a national economic base. Because our economy was already integrated with international capital and because of specific features of our social formation, the national struggle required a creative and far sighted leadership for a consistent struggle against the forces of reaction. This was not given.
The Sri Lankan Left's base has been traditionally in the urban working class. The leadership comprised petit bourgeois intellectuals who held a Marxist perspective. They were at one time able to predict the development of the national question. But in time, when they opted to participate in the parliamentary process, they had to accommodate the force of Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism. Their entry into electoral politics abandoning all other forms of struggle, coincided with the powerful revival of Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism which tapped the populist consciousness of the people, especially from the rural base. Since the Left had never represented the rural poor, this base rejected them decisively. In this way a large section of the population was abandoned to the bourgeois political parties' control. The Left, in a desperate attempt to consolidate what ever was left to them, made recourse to the Sinhalese chauvinist line themselves, further eroding their strength.
The lack of clear political leadership among the leftist forces was not only due to their urban bias, petit bourgeois leadership and capitulation to the parliamentary path. The crisis within the international communist movement and the great debate in the 1960s about the future was another factor. The split in the communist movement fragmented the left forces in Sri Lanka. Most of the fragmented left parties dogmatically and mechanically applied experiences of revolutionary struggles in other parts of the world and isolated themselves from the masses in both communities. Their theoretical outlook and internal party struggles were products of mechanical imposition and the adoption of frameworks developed in the international communist movements. The dominance of the Soviet Union and China in the Communist movement also played a great role in narrowing and stereotyping the outlook of these movements.
The major extra-parliamentary left - wing party was the Communist Party (Peking Wing), which gathered together the most radical and militant elements of the Sri Lankan Left. Unlike the parliamentary Left, it had a power base amongst certain sections of the oppressed castes in Jaffna where pitched battles against caste oppression had been waged in the mid - 1960s. The majority of left-leaning intellectuals amongst Tamils were also with the Communist Party (Peking). It was also the first left party to build up a solid base among the hill country plantation Tamils. Despite all this, it was also not totally immune to Sinhalese chauvinism. It failed to comprehend the primacy of the national question in the politics of the island and left the fighting for the rights of the Tamils in the hands of the Tamil bourgeois parties. It had no coherent line linking class struggle with the national question. Therefore it could not consolidate its base amongst the hill country Tamils and the Sri Lankan Tamils. This error in its theoretical understanding of class struggle in the Sri Lankan context, led the party to just drift along with the events and merely respond to the measures that the state was taking.
As a result it began to lose support and to disintegrate in the late 1960s. The fragmentation occurred over the theoretical conflict regarding the legitimacy and nature of armed struggle. The efficacy of armed struggle and the political and strategic means of conducting armed activities against the state also had to be tested and proved.
The strength of the J.V.P. lay in the fact that it adopted the powerful weapon of Sinhalese Buddhist Nationalism. Its leader, Rohana Wijeweera had broken away from the Communist Party. The famous "five classes" conducted by the J.V.P. included the topic of Indian expansionism in which the hill country Tamils were portrayed as India's fifth column. Their anti-Tamil stance gave renewed vigour to the racist feeling of the petit-bourgeois rural youth in the south of the country. The J.V.P. gained much ground by raising this patriotic cry, mixed with Marxist rhetoric. This culminated in the 1971 insurrection which was crushed brutally by the regime of Mrs.Bandaranaike, who was later on an ally of the J.V.P. for a short time during the aftermath of signing of the Peace Accord. in 1987. The 1971 youth insurrection was limited only to the Sinhalese South. The North and East watched it passively.
When the Tamil youth were getting ready to launch their armed campaign against the state in the mid-1970s, the Sri Lankan Left was nowhere to be seen. Thus the leadership of a struggle that would create the most decisive political crisis in the history of Sri Lanka slowly and steadily passed into the hands of narrow nationalism. And it is also clear that it is the Left's internal weakness and contradictions that provided the primary means for external forces to infiltrate their way to controlling the nation.
6.3 The New Phase: Post October 1987
6.3.1 The October War: The people do not matter
Brigadier Manjit Singh of the I.P.K.F. once told a young man in Jaffna, “Be happy that you are alive”. Yes, in this brutal war, to be dead was your right, to live was your privilege. In the terror stricken nights of those October days, listening to the continual whizz of the shells, the pounding of great big cannon, the roar of the tracked vehicle and the sharp piercing crack of automatic weapons - to be alive seemed a privilege. Days would dawn and nights filled with fear, would drag, not even knowing what the morrow would bring.
The nation was on the roads, their worldly belongings in plastic bags, their children on their hips, in the blistering noon day heat, from refugee camp to refugee camp, from village to village, fleeing from the withdrawing Tigers and the advancing army. This was 12 - 20 October 1987, in the central Jaffna villages of Kopay and Urumpirai where the war was raging. We heard the women say:
"...my children, run to safety, do not linger any longer, tell your father that I am dead... we left our mother, shot by the army, to die and walked away.”
“..we stood still, motionless. I gave my breast to the baby to suck, to keep it quiet. The firing continued all around us unabated. I thought we were as good as dead.
“..when we fled in panic from the raining shells and firing we stepped over bodies, lying on the roads.”
“..I cycled fearfully and furiously, everywhere along the road I could see only smashed up houses and bodies on the road - the smell was unbearable.”
"..We lay flat among the dead, pretending to be dead...for 18 hours.”
"...They had looted our rooms, pulled out the clothing, we found boot marks of blood on our clothing - the boots soaked on the blood of those who were shot on the floor below..”
"... We buried her in the garden, stood around and sang a hymn and said a prayer...she was shot dead in the kitchen, with a half done sambol1 still on the grinding stone.”
In those early days of the war, successful landmine attacks took in fair numbers of Indian army jawans. During the heroics of 12 October, 29 Indian commandos had died. Many spoke with a swagger:
“The Boys are doing great. The fourth biggest military power in the world is humbled.”
But as days advanced, what the heroics brought down was the stamp of the Indian boot with unrestrained brutality, and the sacrificial pyre consumed people in great numbers. Then came the shells, cannon, tank fire, helicopter fire and even bombs from the Sri Lankan bombers. When Tiger sentry point after sentry point withdrew without a whimper, only firing rounds of automatic fire thereby luring the Indian army, the people were the sacrifice. The brave talk sounded empty and hollow.
21 October was the day of the massacre at the hospital. The Tigers were there: maybe it was a deliberate ploy on the part of the L.T.T.E.. They came in two lots. When the doctors had pleaded with them to leave, the Tigers went away only after firing some rounds widely and leaving some weapons inside. The Indian army came an hour or so later, at which time there was no retaliatory fire. But they stormed the hospital and brutally killed, taking the lives of the sick and those who were caring for the sick in and around the area. The killing went on throughout the evening, night and the next morning.
The pattern became established - the Tigers would lure, and sometimes kill a few jawans. Then the Indian army would run berserk - shoot, stab, molest and rape. It was unarmed defenceless people who were paying the price. The famed cadjan fences of Jaffna were burnt; sometimes whole settlements of huts were burnt. Invariably houses, and public buildings were shelled or bombed. Kondavil, Kokuvil, Urumpirai, Kopay, Manipay, Sandilipay, Pandatheruppu, Chavakachcheri, Suthumalai....there was hardly any village to tell a different story.
6.3.2 Terror: The Peacekeeper's Tool of Control
These reprisals were not a momentary display of anger at the scene of the death of a fellow jawan, nor an aspect of indiscipline of a massive army. It seemed to be a tactical part of the strategy. A responsible officer told some senior citizens:
“If the Tiger chaps are here, and even if one jawan dies, we will scorch this place.”
And this was not an isolated comment; in every village, in every street corner, the officers gave the people the same message. What can we surmise, except that reprisal raids were part of the strategy - to give a message of Terror. Terror is now the law of the land. It did work, it does work: but for how long?
It was not only that the hospital operation was conducted with callous disregard for the human cost, or that terror was a tactic and reprisal raids were the order of the day. The entire community felt degraded as their women faced molestation on a large scale on the excuse of checking for arms at sentry points, in people's own homes and in the refugee camps. Raping, not just by one, sometimes by two and in one instance by three. To scream was the only defence the women had against this monstrosity.
Even in matters of less importance, the Indian Army showed complete disregard. As Jaffna was being taken, they announced over the radio that the entire population should go to three places for refuge: two schools and the Nallur Kovil (temple). Out of these, the Nallur Kovil did not even have sanitary facilities. At one point there were twenty to thirty thousand people at the temple, in the drenching monsoon rain without any shelter. No functioning hospital, no drugs. The children were dying of diarrhoea and fever. For the Indian Army it was military action. Operations had to be done and the people in these areas did not matter much or were just an after thought.
The people were the killing fodder not only for the occupying Indian Army, but also for the Tigers. It seems a strange twist that the so called leaders of the people wanted them to die defenceless. Invariably the Tigers have used the vicinities of refugee camps as places to mount attacks from (Kokuvil Hindu college where 34 people died is an example) and then withdraw at great cost to the people left behind. They turned a deaf ear to the people's sufferings and their entreaties.
They continued to lure the army, just to run away, letting the people face the result. It was cruellest of all when they told the people that another 500 to 1000 must die for them to have a viable international publicity campaign. This was not an isolated instance or the statement of a group without contact with the leadership. It was pronounced at many places and in many forms. When the people were starving, wandering around like dogs for rice, the Tigers issued leaflets asking the people to boycott Indian distributed food.
When the children were dying with diseases, they threatened those who cared for them, ordering them not to issue Indian drugs. Did they offer alternatives, so that we could eat Tiger food and give our children Tiger drugs ? Many important and searching questions surfaced during the crisis. How was it that the movement that claimed to be the leaders of the people, acted with such a disregard for the people? Why did they choose this path of bull-like collision, well knowing our defenceless position? Why did they not understand that the task of rescuing the nation from Indian military and political domination, from the present position of weakness, would entail enormous creativity and not simple slogans and rhetorical, intransigent positions? One has to search in the roots of the Tigers to explain these aspects of our history. Though many factors contributed to this short-sightedness, some aspects of Tiger psychology are pertinent.
6.3.3 The Messiahs and the People
The Tigers were a historical product of nationalist ideology and saw themselves as its legitimate representatives. They grew voicing the disenchantment of the youth, rebelling against the bankruptcy and hypocrisy of Tamil nationalist leaders in parliamentary politics. They held in contempt their slick lawyer politics and verbose debates and decided to replace them with action. They emphasised an action oriented programme and built an organisation centred on a tightly knit centralised armed group. Altruism, nationalist ardour, determination and rebelliousness were marks of the youth who made up the core. Dedication to the slogan of Tamil Eelam, and more so to the “Movement” was the central axis of the organisation. Anything could be justified in the name of the sacred “Movement”. This elevated religious sense was nurtured in all its members. They performed daring armed actions, and propelled history by a kind of politics of heroism - the L.T.T.E.'s politics of heroism had individual heroes going forward, holding the banner and doing the impossible.
The guiding ideology was a nationalism of extreme narrowness, deriving its energies from primitive instinctive loyalties - in our case to language and race. Romantic, idealised imagery and rhetorical slogans appealing to the anger and emotions of the nation were the core content of this ideology. Behind the slogans, there is an emptiness - the classic example is the slogan of “Tamil Eelam”. Though the Tigers saw themselves as the vanguard of this nation and the leaders of an incipient separate state, they did not explore any of the fundamentals of nation building. Nor did they expose the present social weaknesses, or grasp the weakness of the economic base of the Tamil nation, dependent on and inextricably linked to the South and the state machinery. Nor did they address the contradictions arising from regional minority groups, besides class and caste differences. They had no coherent policy to lead the people to overcome these divisions during the struggle. Taking the case of external factors, though they assiduously sought India's help and protection, they had no concept of the geopolitical context and the thrust of Indian hegemony.
They had no theory or analytical framework to explore complexities. They preferred simply formulated answers and fed the people with simple solutions. Their simplicity had an appeal and earthiness. Their people's politics emanated from the satiation of populist desires, fears and sentiments. The other side of the history of such ideological groups is that their idealised, emotional content leads to fanaticism, since the imagery is in absolutes - the Nation, the Language, and the Movement. They are intolerant of others - other nationalities, groups and opinions. They possess a sense of greatness and of awe inspiring duty - which rationalises and purifies even brutality. As one woman dissident aptly described,
“Thambi (Prabakaran, leader of the L.T.T.E.) had a sense of history, a Messianic fervour, and this marked him out as a leader from the start. But these characteristics in the man who had only an idealised and narrow ideology led to fanaticism and brutality.”
This woman further exemplified both the appealing and the reactionary sides in two quotations from Prabakaran taken from talks given to his men:
1. “Only a good cook is a good fighter” (when men in his movement thought cooking was degrading)
2. “Politics is there to explain armed action. Not to guide it.”
A.S. Balasingham, the so-called "theoretician'" of the L.T.T.E., played the assigned role to perfection.
The most poignant aspect of this idealized doctrine was the heroism of suicide. The unique characteristic of the Tigers is the swallowing of cyanide, when they are captured. This act was proclaimed to be sublime, the utmost sacrifice to their cause. It was glorified by the nation as an unparalleled act of dedication in the history of liberation struggles. However, cyanide signified a suicidal urge, to escape from reality, for those who could not handle material reality and its complexities. For an individual member this was an escape from the reality of persecution and torture, in place of building the will to overcome. For an organisation, this served as a means of not addressing objective reality. Given some imagined aspirations and needs, this state of the psyche, through a process of rationalisation, led increasingly to annihilatory ends.
It used to be wondered how a materialistic society such as obtains in Jaffna raised up idealistic youths who were prepared to give up everything for such a cause. Superficially, this may seem a paradox. But at a deeper level, this materialistic urge and this narrow idealism, are two sides of the same coin, whose workings are closely linked. People in certain circumstances, because of the narrowness of their perception, come to identify certain privileges and rights as being central to their existence. These values are propagated by a dominant section which sets the cultural mores. These values themselves have their roots in historical, social and economic factors.
When those rights and privileges that are deemed central to the community's existence are challenged, it creates amongst those affected a build up of idealist emotions, giving them the ability to fight back blindly with remarkable will - power. But these idealist notions have no material base to stand on. This leads to fanaticism.
In the case, especially, of the Jaffna Tamils, they had developed a system where education and jobs in the lower and middle reaches of the white collar government sector had become vitally important. Success in this became tied up with prestige, and financially well endowed and well connected brides. Discrimination in university admissions from 1971 challenged a right that had become indispensable to the Tamils. This need not have been the case, for the farming sector had begun to do well, and land, together with bank loans, was available. But making the change in the economic base was, perhaps for reasons of inertia, not publicly contemplated. Instead, the ideal state of Eelam came to be thought of as the answer to Tamil ills. Amongst the first to push this were those who were university students in the early 1970s.
Even with the liberation groups Eelam was no more than a slogan. They made no practical moves to create a material base, that would give flesh and blood to the concept of Eelam. For instance, none of the groups, for all their criticisms of the old leadership and their militant activity, had any grasp of the dimensions of the colonization problem, which was crucial to the integrity of the homeland. They had not developed any means of resettling Tamils in the East, nor could they do anything constructive to stop the colonisation programme of the state. Brutal and sadistic reprisal killings of Sinhalese settlers and villagers was their answer. This made mere existence itself, for Tamils in those areas, terror ridden and unbearable, as Sri Lanka's Special Task Force and the Homeguards took their revenge unresisted.
The plantation workers on the other hand, had very little to do with the national struggle except to be targets of Sinhalese mob violence. Almost all the groups mustered a few slogans about the plantation Tamils for their political convenience, but did not take any great pains to incorporate them into the struggle and left them undefended. The increasing fanaticism of the L.T.T.E. and the transient hysteria amongst its supporters, must be seen in the context of its unrealistic programme to achieve Eelam. The L.T.T.E.'s political objectives and the strategic means it employed were quite divorced from objective reality.
The narrow idealism of these groups had a specific dialectic in their relation to people. It is often repeated that “the people support the Tigers” - that the Tigers appeal to a cross section of the Tamil society, and that they reflect their emotion and pride. What exactly is this relationship of the Tigers to the people? Lenin wrote a leaflet criticising the Socialist-Revolutionary Party, which was a merger of several Narodnik groups and circles, advocating armed action in the absence of ground work amongst the masses. On the subject of the theory of excitative terrorism, he wrote:
"Each time a hero engages in single combat, this arouses in us all a spirit of struggle and courage, we are told. But we know from the past and see in the present, that only new forms of the mass movement or the awakening of new sections of the masses to independent struggle really rouses a spirit of struggle and courage in all. Single combat, however, in as much as it remains single combat waged by the Balmashoves, has the immediate effect of simply creating a short-lived sensation, while indirectly it even leads to apathy and passive waiting for the next bout."
The dialectic portrayed by Lenin is an apt description of the Tigers as well. However, in the case of the Tigers, not only was there no organic link with the people who were just passive spectators, but more importantly, people were held in contempt. This made the Tigers refer to the people as “Sheep”. This attitude made the Tigers disregard the people’s criticism. The disenchantment and resentment of the people, came into the open in those dark days of October. Ultimately as events revealed in those desperate hours, even the lives of people lost their significance for the Tigers. The Tigers often claimed that the 658 of their members who died during the struggle were the only martyrs for the Tamil cause. The thousands of people who died during the military offensives, and the cadres from other groups were all non-existent for them.
In their theoretical documents, the L.T.T.E. claimed their relationship with the people was as fish to the sea. But the sacrifice of the people who were their protective wall against penetration by the state's security forces; who provided the militants with food and shelter; who provided them with hiding places against the ever hovering threat of Sri Lankan secret services; who risked everything to succour them in those early days; was never appreciated nor commemorated. Individuals and people were used, as the Tigers used the deaths of ordinary civilians to campaign against the Sri Lankan state in international fora. Martyrdom was a private preserve of the L.T.T.E.. The offshoot of this kind of politics was that raising of the people’s consciousness, came to mean an appeal to the most instinctive and emotional levels of existence. As the period of Thileepan's fast showed, the Tigers aroused in the people an emotional hysteria where people deified Thileepan and at his death were ready to commit any act, even brutal murder and arson.
To recapitulate, L.T.T.E. had an ideology based on the most instinctive, emotional aspects of ethnic loyalties which was intolerant of others, and had an overwhelming sense of its own greatness. This ideology did not provide them with the necessary apparatus to handle complexities. Therefore they could only view the internal and external contradictions in a simple framework, and offered only simple solutions. Their politics ascribed a marginal role for the people - and if they mobilised the people, it was at a basic emotional level so as to only advance the narrow cause of their movement.
6.3.4 The L.T.T.E.: India's Prodigal Son
Against this background, if we view L.T.T.E.'s relationship with India, its somersaults and ultimate collision, a certain clarity emerges. The L.T.T.E.'s sense of greatness, and the feeling that they were the bearers of the torch of Tamil nationalism, made them feel that they had the moral right to leadership. This was enhanced by the fact that they believed they had sacrificed the most to build a basis for the armed struggle. This perception made them feel angry that India expected power sharing between groups and that India questioned their supremacy. Their anti-Indianism started on that score and had little to do with the interests of the Tamil people. Certain incidents throw light on the contradictory position of the L.T.T.E. vis-a-vis India.
In late June 1987, when Indian officials were ceremonially welcomed by the L.T.T.E. following the airdrop of 4 June and the aborted third phase of Operation Liberation, the L.T.T.E. handed over a memorandum asking the Indian government to recognize the L.T.T.E. as the sole representative of the Tamil people and Prabakaran as their leader. The Tiger controlled media went into euphoria stating that India would recognise only the biggest movement - namely the L.T.T.E.. When India dropped food parcels from the air, Tiger spokesmen, including Prabakaran, thanked India and expressed their appreciation of the action. How ironical it is that they are now asking the people not to receive any Indian food and are murdering individuals liaising between the I.P.K.F. and the people for basic amenities. When the Accord was in the offing, they denounced other movements as traitors for supporting the Accord. But later, when Prabhakaran was taken by helicopter on 24 July 1987 to talk about the Peace Accord by the Indian authorities, the same media again proclaimed a great victory and announced the recognition for the L.T.T.E. as the leading movement.
The somersaults in their political line prove that their anti-Indianism was not due to the realisation of the total potential of Indian thrust for dominance, but was rather due to the shallow individualised politics of supremacy of the movement and its leader. This was also an offshoot of their intolerance of other groups and opinions. To achieve this narrow end they could inspire their members’ blinkered dedication, to acts of extreme commitment. Thus Thileepan the Tiger went on a suicidal fast and the nation went on a bout of hysteria when the interim government was being planned. The propaganda line was that the fast was being held for five broad demands. Ironically another movement's, (E.R.O.S.'s) initiative on similar demands was obstructed by the Tigers.
The Tigers stopped the Jaffna University students participating in the march organised by E.R.O.S. and diverted two bus loads of people who were going for the E.R.O.S. march to Nallur, where Thileepan was fasting. It was quite apparent that these demands were only a front. What the L.T.T.E. wanted was a dominant role in the interim government with executive powers, together with the exclusion of other militant groups. These motives came out crystal clear when Thileepan died and India played up. The L.T.T.E. was given a dominant role and was the only militant group chosen to represent the Tamils. The L.T.T.E. proclaimed it as a great victory. These moves of the Indian government convinced the L.T.T.E. that India would pander to its wishes in order to put the Accord into practice.
With this perception of their indispensability for the success of the peace accord, and without an appreciation of even their own limitations and the defensive position of the Tamil nation, the L.T.T.E.'s subsequent political moves were totally estranged from reality. Their simplified thinking could not take into account other factors such as the South, and the political existence of the U.N.P. and J.R.. Nor could they allow for India's need to stabilize the southern government and J.R.'s leadership, India's need to neutralise the propaganda and politics against itself in the South, and last but not least, India's great-power psychology.
Reggie Siriwardene and Radhika Coomarasamy in their article bring forward a point of view on the evolution of the movements that possess such idealised doctrines:
"The mixture of idealism, a glorified sense of self and history and the messianic aspects contained in ethnic and religious identification is extremely conducive to fanaticism. Fanaticism has often been considered a situation where even though an individual's perception of reality is greatly at variance with the objective conditions, the emotional attachment to a set of beliefs propels him forward. Each setback instead of forcing re-evaluation of belief has an opposite effect and pushes the individual forward to martyrdom. Fanatic movements then lose all capacity to compromise, accommodate other points of view and refuse to adapt to changing conditions"
This presents lucidly the contemporary history of the Tigers. Thus it was not surprising that regardless of any future consequence, they pushed India to the wall when they started butchering the Sinhalese civilians in a fit of petulant anger. Therefore, in reality it was not only India's failure as a guarantor, but also the L.T.T.E.'s failure as a leader that triggered off the war in this way.
The Tigers' history, their theoretical vacuum, lack of political creativity, intolerance and fanatical dedication will be the ultimate cause of their own break up. The legendary Tigers will go to their demise with their legends smeared with the blood and tears of victims of their own misdoings. A new Tiger will not emerge from their ashes. Only by breaking with this whole history and its dominant ideology, can a new liberating outlook be born.
6.3.5 Vortex of Violence: India's Catch 22
The L.T.T.E. as an organisation may be disorganised and broken up, but in small bands they can sustain a hit and run war for a long time. The L.T.T.E. is able to sustain this not on the basis of support, but by imposition of terror. Though India claims that normality has returned, the war of attrition is continuing. Even after three months the L.T.T.E.'s small units perform sporadic armed actions and the Indian army continues its reprisal raids, round-ups and search operations and ad hoc curfews. Normality is an illusion. This atmosphere of terror pervades even as the new year dawns.
Along with these two features surfaces another element - with the L.T.T.E. on the defensive, other dissident groups have surfaced. At present in the peninsula those who have come to the front, in alliance with Indian army, are mainly from the P.L.O.T.E., the T.E.L.O., and the E.N.D.L.F.. The disturbing fact is that most of the members who are here at present are the remaining elements without an alternative. The dedicated members from the P.L.O.T.E. and the T.E.L.O. have been eliminated in internal and inter-group violence, torture and murder, or have run away in fear of their lives to far corners of the world, as refugees or as disillusioned individuals. The elements present here practise a politics of revenge - revenge against the L.T.T.E. for the brutal annihilation of their movements and against the peninsula Tamils whom they presume are supporters of the Tigers. These acts of revenge as well as their function as informants to the Indian army, destroy all hope of any leadership, evolving from these movements. The Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (E.P.R.L.F.) has always claimed that its hands were not as bloody as those of the other movements. But it has in recent times abandoned all its avowed goals and thrown the people's interests to the winds and has become a group of informants and proxy killers for the I.P.K.F.. Thus it seems inevitable that the doctrine of eye for an eye will be practised to its fullest. Though the Tigers are on the defensive, the killings by Tigers too have markedly increased. On the eastern front we have to add the other forces, the Sri Lankan S.T.F., and the Jihad, resulting in further instability.
In this scenario, India for its own interests tries and will try to bring in stability by the use of its military might. This kind of enforced equilibrium (a steady state) is not organic and will not be sustained, because, internally, the dominant forces are inherently in conflict and the stabilising forces are in reality weak. That is, the dominant forces of the Sinhalese chauvinistic state, the J.V.P. and so on and the narrow nationalist forces of the Tamils - the L.T.T.E. and other groups with basically the same outlook on the national issue - are in conflict. The stabilising forces are anti-racist left alliances and progressive nationalist movements. Thus the situation will continue to erupt on and off, breaking any semblance of normality.
6.3.6 The Peace Accord and Sinhalese Chauvinism
The southern situation is deteriorating fast, and before long, the island will be caught in a vortex of violence. The Peace Accord and the Indian military presence have given added energies to the Sinhalese chauvinistic forces. These populist forces have started rallying around the J.V.P.. The J.V.P. is a group that had all along propagated a narrow nationalist ideology that is anti-Tamil and anti-Indian. Its anti-Tamil sentiments are such that it does not recognize the depth of oppression of the Tamils and thus advocates a “no concession” position, apart from putting forward an abstract solution to the Tamil problem, called “rights.” At present it is not rhetorically and violently anti-Tamil for tactical reasons. But its abstract and meaningless solutions and its theoretical documents show its anti-Tamil racism clearly. In recent times it has successfully revived its armed action to keep in line with its ideology. Its rhetoric is flamboyantly romantic and its actions are violent. The J.V.P. talks about social issues as well as unemployment, deprivation, degeneration of society and conditions of living. The analysis is in a simple framework and the answers are simple such as “Women must bear children.. therefore a revolution must occur”, and the solutions equally naive. However, many in the South feel that the J.V.P. reflects the legitimate rights of the Sinhalese people and a cross section of southern society is capitulating to this view.
The J.V.P.'s real class base has been shown to arise from the small producer. An analysis of the prevalent mode of production in the Sinhalese rural areas shows that, in the agricultural base of the island and the small peasant economy, there are numerous strata of proprietor class. And this class is the main bearer of Sinhalese chauvinist ideology. Because of the pre-capitalist nature of the rural economy, the rural proletariats have assimilated the illusions of the petty producers. The urban-biased left parties had long abandoned the rural proletarians to the bourgeois parties' political control. This further reinforced chauvinist ideology amongst the rural population. Now with increasing neocolonial penetration in the South, the rural proletariat is facing a worsening economic situation. This class is therefore understandably looking for alternative leadership. The J.V.P. provides the right blend of egalitarianism, patriotism and chauvinism.
Thus the chances of the U.N.P. continuing in a bourgeois democratic framework, holding fair elections on a regular basis, are pretty slim. On the other hand, Ronnie de Mel (the Finance Minister in the previous government, who subsequently resigned from his post) argues the case for a rational bourgeois solution. He warns against the military option, urges the party to go to the electorate and explain to the people the Peace Accord, and gather strength and isolate the J.V.P. and other chauvinistic elements inside and outside the U.N.P.. Opposed to this option and to the pro-Peace Accord tendency is the U.N.P.'s populist wing. The rational option serves the interests of a small section, big business, entrepreneurs and other compradore sections. The populist aspect is espoused by no less a personality than the President, then Prime Minister, Mr.Premadasa. Therefore the U.N.P. is facing an internal power crisis as well.
The President represents, and depends on, the chauvinists for support and thus could only turn to the electorate and populist forces to resolve the internal power struggle. Therefore he is directly appealing to the ordinary masses with his grand grass roots programmes tainted with anti-Indian populist politics. Ultimately this may lead him to alliances with other chauvinistic forces outside the broad front. Such alliances, will have far reaching consequences for the U.N.P. as a parliamentary party.
Brute force and repressive legislation are likely to be used to smash all opposition. A sign of the developing sinister tendencies is the paramilitary training of the U.N.P.'s rank and file, forming units referred to as the “Green Tigers”. These units are coming to resemble the death squads of the Marcos regime. Against this background the Sri Lankan military aspirations and their relation to Indian interests also play a part in determining future developments.
Though the evolution of political forces in the two nations look mutually exclusive, the whole process is inter-linked. The J.V.P. and the L.T.T.E. are groups which, although having developed in different backgrounds, profess similar ideologies, and have a common framework and parallel social bases in the two ethnic groups. They share an intolerance of other opinions and other groups, and they both indulge in brutal murders and torture of their own dissidents and of members of rival groups. Many who give their overt or tacit support to the J.V.P., try to forget these aspects. It will grow into demonic proportions when the movement grows larger - a historical phenomenon parallel to that of the L.T.T.E.. As the Tamil community was to learn bitterly, when the necessary checks are not made and questions are not asked in the formative days, the people would later have no control. Massacres went on for days and our history was stained with the blood of our own people when the L.T.T.E. turned its guns on the T.E.L.O., the E.P.R.L.F., the P.L.O.T.E. and ordinary civilians; when the T.E.L.O. turned its violence on dissidents and ordinary civilians, or when the P.L.O.T.E. tortured and murdered its own dissidents. Similarly in the South, this brutal tendency will add to the U.N.P.'s state violence for sectarian and private ends.
Furthermore, it should be realised that it would be incorrect to believe that by the espousal of narrow nationalism, India's dominance would be contained, or conversely that Indian penetration would contain the violent rise of Sinhalese chauvinism. Both are interlocking phenomena. The J.V.P.'s simplistic “India bashing” does not take into account, the geopolitical reality, India's aspirations, and as a militant Sinhalese nationalist group with a chauvinistic ideology, its own geographic constraints. This might provide a basis for further entrenchment of India in the Tamil area and increasing domination of the North and East, and later also of the South. And on the other hand, increasing India's role in Sri Lanka's internal political life would give further impetus to narrow nationalist movements in the South.
A good example is found in the current situation in Trincomalee. The Indian military presence in Trincomalee removed the patronage of the Sri Lankan security forces and the state machinery given to the Sinhalese. When the patronage was removed, the Sinhalese, feeling vulnerable and fearful, fled to refugee camps. The indigenous Tamils retaliated for the years of terror at the hands of the Sinhalese. Therefore the Sinhalese refugees fear to resume their earlier life pattern. The Sri Lankan security forces who were the patrons of Sinhalese violence in the Trincomalee district have voiced their frustration to foreign journalists; and Sinhalese refugees are even more rabidly anti-Tamil and anti-Indian, making them fertile ground for fresh J.V.P. recruitment. On the other hand the I.P.K.F. seems to be the only guarantor of the Tamil people's safety in Trincomalee. The Indian military has also successfully marginalised other Tamil militant movements, making the Tamil people totally dependent on Indian authority. Against this backdrop, the Indian army is seen to move heavy armour to the China bay area, entrenching its defence position.
Therefore in this complex interaction of forces India's role, though it seems to be external, is totally interlocked. Western foreign policy writers have tended to view the Indian role in terms of regional crisis management. India appears to have gained a foot-hold into the territory and politics of its southern neighbour in a role formally approved by the West and the Soviet Union as peace keepers and crisis managers.
But India has enmeshed itself in a difficult situation here. Its most important objectives cannot be achieved without what seems to be the most elusive phenomenon - stability. India needs stability for its gains in defence and economy. Furthermore it is the essential justification for being on this island. Ideally, India would like stability with preservation of the unitary state structure in Sri Lanka, and the realisation of the legitimate rights of Tamils with India as guarantor.
However, in the North and the East, the L.T.T.E. is going to last a long time. The operation to disarm the Tigers caused much civilian damage in both life and property. Inter-group rivalry and senseless murders are a regular occurrence. The local population is terrorised, living in a political vacuum. Despite pledges the U.N.P. will not be able to bring off easily measures to alleviate the Tamil nation's problems, without endangering its political existence. Thus, India might have to back-track on many issues regarding the Tamils, or try strong arm tactics. Either way it will spur the growth of narrow nationalism and anti-Indian bitterness amongst both Sinhalese and Tamils.
Thus India will not be able to solve the conflict. It has not only triggered off volatile and destructive tendencies which have lain dormant, but also has this time managed to get enmeshed in them. India may not gain a reputation as model arbitrator from the International community, but may rather be tolerated as an immature regional power as are most big powers of this world.
6.4 A note on Economic Factors in the
For persons with an intellectual bent, the situation in Sri Lanka provides an interesting case study in terms of the interaction between politics and economy. The Sri Lankan ruling class, since independence, through various state structures and processes, have attempted to consolidate power. While making the changes from a British type parliamentary system to the creation of the executive presidency, and from welfare state, centralised state capitalism to a fully open economy, the different factions of the ruling class attempted to consolidate power and accumulate wealth. In the developed capitalist countries, the various forms of parliamentary democracy negotiate power for the ruling elite and create a sense of complacency among other classes, thereby ensuring the stability of the system. Being on the periphery of the world capitalist system, dealing with fluctuating markets for what are often cash-crops, and having low industrial development and stagnant rural agricultural sectors, parliamentary democracy has resulted in a less stable mode of entrenching the system to the sole benefit of the ruling class. The ruling class' super-exploitation could not be offset by affluence acquired through colonialism or neocolonialism, as was possible in the developed nations. This exploitation is naked and the masses of people in its home base are deprived. Within this context, the need to hold on to power through parliamentary democracy in a situation of meagre resources, has led the ruling class to adopt from Western economic theorists such concepts as "trickle-down" development. The satisfaction of the electoral power base is obtained by sidestepping real issues dealing with the economy, and crusading on secondary issues that have emotional content. Thus, in Sri Lanka, electoral victory and control of the state apparatus was obtained only through the satiation of the aspirations of the majority community. These aspirations arose from a belief that their ills were fundamentally to do with minorities, race, language and religion. Such campaign issues always required the formation of alliances with the petit bourgeoisie. Since the ideology of the petit bourgeois small-producer dominated the widespread rural areas of the Sinhalese South, this class played a pivotal role in the parliament. As shown earlier, the triumph of the narrow nationalist ideology, whether in the context of a fully fledged open economy or in a protective nationalist state capitalism, was eminently evident.
This sort of dependent economies lack the buffer to absorb the shocks of internal subversion. From the early days, armed conflicts, whether the 1971 J.V.P. insurrection, or the current J.V.P. subversion, brought about disarray in the political situation and a downward plunge for the economy. This phenomenon is more or less due to the economic instability of the dependent capitalist system and its paradoxical dependence on narrow nationalist ideologies. Thus, although the U.N.P. was committed to the market economy in toto, it could never sell itself as a paradise for multinational investment. Its free-trade zones never took off and no large scale investment took place, making Colombo a failed "paradise city," and tourism soon felt the ill effects. After a decade of self-destructive civil war, the ruling party tried to listen to its capitalist sensibilities and neutralise ethnic tensions. This resulted in a backlash of petit bourgeois nationalism in the South and a revival, with new vigour, of the J.V.P..
In a bid to stave off the violent situation created by the militancy, and to ensure political and economic stability, the ruling party replaced the faction within itself that was committed to a capitalist programme with the faction that is populist and narrow nationalist. That is, the Premadasa faction, with its grand grass-roots programmes, replaced the more Westward looking Jayewardene faction. However,despite these many political manipulations and machinations, the changes in the legislature and the state structure, have not provided the local ruling classes with their political or economic stability. Thus, the economic vagaries of the dependent capitalist state, its lack of ability in offsetting internal dissent, and the precarious nature of its economy, together undermine and frustrate the political consolidation of its ruling classes. As such, the Sri Lankan bourgeoisie are unable to provide a solution to the present crisis and are in a state of disarray. Moreover, the situation reflects the economic and political realities of pushing an open economic programme and unleashing market forces in the peripheries of the world capitalist system.
Again it is the neocolonial situation with its economic and geopolitical realities, that would prove to be the important challenge to the J.V.P.'s narrow political vision. It is fairly obvious from the activities of the J.V.P. that it aspires to capture state power. Its present simplistic slogans and bravado against Indian hegemony and its political and economic programmes, which do not account for the realities of a country locked in the mesh of the world capitalist system, will be exposed if the J.V.P. ever assumes power. It would have to either collapse or compromise. And then the true nature of its petit bourgeoisie class interests would be exposed.
Thus, again, we seem to arrive at a historical dead end. The bourgeoisie, of whatever race or faction, cannot hold power without an effective alliance with the petit bourgeoisie. The petit bourgeoisie, although overtly seeming to be progressive in their resistance to domination and neo-colonialism, given the nature of their class base, have always compromised or taken a path of adventurous self-destruction. While the bourgeoisie brought about various degrees of neocolonialist penetration, thereby bleeding the people, the petit bourgeois ideology of narrow nationalism, drawing on a brutal culture of violence, cripples the people's moral strength and weakens organised resistance against oppression. Furthermore, the political tunnel vision of the petit bourgeoisie is leading the country into abortive episodes that seem to pave the way for more domination, more deprivation, and tragedy.
One can see that although the self-image and ambitions of the Indian ruling class are great, and India's need to assert its dominance in the region has been fashioned out meticulously, its economic and political situation as a dependent capitalist country at the vagaries of the world capitalist system makes its involvement in a war of attrition both detrimental to the ruling class' power perception and debilitating to its economy. Nevertheless, its wars are beneficial to its expanding defence industry and to the ruling class which controls power. It is also an avenue for sharpening the oppressive machinery of the military, and the C.R.P.F., making them more efficient in quelling internal subversion. Thus there might be short term gains for its ruling class, although in the long run, due to its dependence and uneven development, that it will be able to absorb the shocks of prolonged conflict is doubtful. The enormous loss would be to the millions of India's oppressed and poor, for whom this brings more dangers and deprivation and has no meaning. [Top]Next||Previous||contents
1A common coconut preparation.