Whither the ‘Eelam’ project?

By Dr. S. Narapalasingam

The ‘Eelam’ project in the form perceived by many with its objective as the creation of a separate Tamil state in North-East Sri Lanka under the supreme control of the LTTE developed after the Thimpu talks in 1985. This was the only time when all Tamil militant groups (LTTE, TELO, EPRLF and PLOTE) and the then main political party, the TULF joined in the struggle for gaining the rights deprived by the majoritarian rule inherent in Sri Lanka’s Constitution. The safety and security of minority Tamils particularly after the 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom were also major concerns of the Tamils. In fact this tragic event energized the 1976 Vaddukkoddai Resolution that called for the creation of a separate independent State of Tamil Eelam.

This Resolution was the consequence of the utter frustration of the Tamil leaders since 1956 due to the failure of numerous appeals made in the Parliament and non-violent protests outside the House demanding equal language rights and economic opportunities as well as security for the Tamil speaking people. These were quelled by violent methods and in some instances mob violence against Tamils in the South as in 1983 with the tacit backing of the authorities. The militant Tamil youth were convinced of the ineffectiveness of peaceful methods of campaigning for the Tamil cause and the need for armed struggle against the State. It is fair to say the majority of Sri Lankan Tamils in the aftermath of the tragic events in July 1983 also thought likewise. This writer recalls some Tamils in Colombo telling him – “we cannot live in peace and prosper amongst the Sinhalese”. Also a disillusioned Tamil youth in Colombo told angrily, if every single proposal for equal rights and justice for Tamils is dismissed as a move towards separation, why not go for it without enduring the state of indignity, fear and hopelessness?

Divisive politics and violence unleashed against the politically powerless Tamils, promoted the concepts of Tamil homeland and independent Tamil Eelam. The Tamil issue was used by the main rival parties competing for power as pawn in their usual game. It is recalled the majority of Tamils embraced the unitary structure in the 1947 (Soulbury) Constitution and rejected federalism. What made them turn against this structure is crucial at the present time, when the majority of the people in all ethnic communities are desperate for a political settlement and lasting peace. When some analysts focus on the pre-independence era as far back as that of Dutugemunu, Vijayabahu III and Rajasinghe II, they are only diverting attention away from the real issues that need to be addressed for solving the pressing national problem. The existing political system is damaging not only to ethnic unity but also to the stability, peace and welfare of the country. It has served well the interests of the egocentric few who held the reins of government.

The 1978 Constitution with the tailor-made electing system to ensure no single party gains a convincing, let alone two-thirds majority in the Parliament was not introduced from a national perspective but to serve the interest of the political party and its leader at that time. It is now a major hindrance to peace and political, social and economic development of the country. The new Foreign Affairs Minister Rohitha Bogollagama is reported to have said during his recent visit abroad that “for the first time since independence in 1948, a government has managed to bring about a true southern consensus with 15 political parties including a section of the main opposition party supporting the ruling coalition”. He did not mention the areas where the southern consensus exists! The sceptical Tamils who keep saying, ‘the majority Sinhalese will never treat the minority Tamils as equals as long as they control the governing power’ will not change their stance until some positive results are seen. They have been using such negatives to justify the ‘Eelam’ project.

India’s intervention

The 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom in which many innocent Tamil civilians were massacred and properties worth several millions destroyed drew the attention of the whole world to the plight of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. Many in the Tamil Diaspora are those who fled Sri Lanka after 1983 and their descendants. Tens of thousands of the more disadvantaged people sought refuge in southern India, Tamil Nadu. India was compelled to intervene in Sri Lanka’s ethnic violence and ensure the security and future of the Tamils in the island. The Thimpu talks between the Sri Lankan government and the groups representing the politically and physically victimized Tamils took place under the initiative and patronage of the Indian government in 1985, two years after the national tragedy that shattered the hopes of those who aspired to a stable, serene, united and flourishing country.

Having rejected the Sri Lankan government’s proposal to establish District Councils under the same undependable unitary structure with devolved authority from the central government on specified subjects, all the Tamil groups at the Thimpu talks wanted recognition of the following four principles for reaching a realistic political solution to the Tamil problem:

1.Recognition of the Sri Lankan Tamils as a nation;

2.Recognition of the existence of an identified homeland for them in Sri Lanka;

3.Recognition of their right of self-determination; and

4.Recognition of the right to citizenship (of the descendants of the Indian Tamils who were recruited by the foreign planters before independence) and the fundamental rights of all Tamils in the island.

The Government delegation responded in the following mode:
1.Recognized the existence of the Tamils as a distinct ethnic group and community;

2.Recognized their rights to a status of equality and dignity with the rest of the communities which constitute the Sri Lankan Nation;

3.Recognized the right of all communities in the Island-nation to preserve, protect and promote their cultural heritage and linguistic traditions and to practice their religion without prejudicing the sovereignty of the State; and

4.Willing to consider reasonable proposals for special rights and preferential treatment of the strong concentration of Tamils in certain parts of the island in order to preserve their ethnic identity, as long as the claims are not inconsistent with the fundamental principle of equality and equal protection. This was the indirect negative response of the Government delegation to the issue pertaining to the recognition of identified Tamil homeland and guarantee of its territorial integrity. The dilemma here is that it has been proved by more than 50 years of experience the unitary system cannot guarantee ‘the fundamental principle of equality and equal protection’.

The right of self determination meaning the right of secession from and out of the ‘Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka’ and the right to create a separate State was stated as totally unacceptable to the Sri Lankan Government. The government delegation rejected it in that form. It is recalled here in the December 2002 Oslo communiqué/ understanding both sides accepted the concept of the right of internal self-determination in the quest for a political solution within one undivided Sri Lanka. The elusive LTTE supreme leader later rejected the Oslo communiqué and thereby retained the aim of the ‘Eelam’ project.

Although India was disappointed with the deadlock of the Thimpu talks, the union government in New Delhi continued with the mediation efforts to end the conflict peacefully. Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was keen on settling the conflict within united Sri Lanka. It was this keenness that cost the life of one of India’s promising leaders from the Nehru dynasty. His understanding of the Tamil problem and steadfastness to preserve the unity, sovereignty and the territorial integrity of India’s southern neighbour are evident from the agreement reached with the Sri Lankan Government on 29 July 1987- known widely as the 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord. The following are 3 important factors in the preamble to the Accord considered as essential for a reasonable political settlement within united Sri Lanka:

* Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic and a multi-lingual plural society consisting, inter alia, of Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims (Moors) and Burghers.

* Each ethnic group has a distinct cultural and linguistic identity which has to be carefully nurtured.

* The Northern and Eastern Provinces have been areas of historical habitation of Sri Lankan Tamil-speaking peoples, who have at all times hitherto lived together in this territory with other ethnic groups.

The preamble also stated that the both India and Sri Lanka were conscious of the necessity of strengthening the forces contributing to the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka as well as preserving its character as a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-religious plural society in which all citizens can live in equality, safety and harmony, and prosper. All successive governments in India, including the present coalition government led by Dr. Manmohan Singh have stuck to this stipulation. In other words, any political solution to the ethnic problem should promote and safeguard and not endanger the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. The ‘Eelam’ project as envisioned by the LTTE leader is unacceptable to both parties to the 1987 Accord because it contradicts with this basic requirement.

The anticipated developments as indicated in section 2.9 of the 1987 Accord (given in next paragraph) failed to materialize. This was mainly due to the rejection of the Accord by the LTTE and Sinhala nationalists within the Sri Lankan government as well as outside, notably the JVP. President J. R. Jeyawardene’s successor President Ranasinghe Premadasa of the same UNP was opposed to India’s intervention and had little interest in implementing the Provincial Council Act enacted under the thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution. The amendment was made in accordance with the terms of the 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord. The anti-Indian feeling in the South was a blessing to the LTTE which had decided to proceed with the ‘Eelam’ project disregarding India’s political initiative and military intervention necessitated by LTTE’s refusal to surrender the weapons and abandon the ‘Eelam’ project. With the exception of the LTTE, all other Tamil militant groups surrendered their weapons and joined the political mainstream.

Section 2.9, inter alia, stated – A cessation of hostilities will come into effect all over the island within 48 hours of the signing of this agreement. All arms presently held by militant groups will be surrendered in accordance with an agreed procedure to authorities to be designated by the Government of Sri Lanka. There was only a token surrender of weapons by the LTTE. The Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) came to quell the continuing defiance of the LTTE. This was possible because of section 2.16 (c) of the Accord. It stated – “In the event that the Government of Sri Lanka requests the Government of India to afford military assistance to implement these proposals the Government of India will co-operate by giving to the Government of Sri Lanka such military assistance as and when requested”. As stipulated in the Accord, the Sri Lankan army and other security personnel were confined to barracks in the existing camps. The Indian troops replaced the Sri Lankan armed forces in the clash against the LTTE. The ‘Eelam’ project managed to survive despite the heavy losses suffered by the civilians in the N-E. The tactics used are in the next section.

Some provisions of the Accord seem relevant even now and these are:-

2.11 The President of Sri Lanka will grant a general amnesty for political and other prisoners now held in custody under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and other Emergency laws and to combatants as well as to those persons accused , charged and/or convicted under these laws. (At that time there was no Sri Lankan convicted by Indian courts for homicidal offenses.)

2.13 If the framework of the resolutions is accepted, the Government of Sri Lanka will implement the relevant proposals forthwith.

2.14 The Government of India will underwrite and guarantee the resolutions and co-operate in the implementation.

2.16 (a) India will take all necessary steps to ensure that Indian Territory is not used for activities prejudicial to the unity, integrity and security of Sri Lanka.

2.16 (b) The Indian Navy/Coast Guard will co-operate with the Sri Lankan Navy in preventing Tamil militant activities from affecting Sri Lanka.

2.16 (e) The Governments of Sri Lanka and India will co-operate in ensuring the physical security and safety of all communities inhabiting the Northern and Eastern provinces.
2.18 The official language of Sri Lanka shall be Sinhala. Tamil and English shall also be official languages.

Although the Official Language Act was amended as per section
2.18, it has not been fully implemented. This failure has been mentioned recently by many concerned Sri Lankans in newspaper articles as well as by moderate politicians in the South. According to the statement issued by the chairman at the conclusion of the two day (January 29 and 30) Sri Lanka Development Forum held in Galle, the donors stressed the importance of harnessing the linkages among poverty reduction, governance, peace and equality, and the need for addressing issues related to the implementation of the language policy.
India’s exit

Some observations in this section are also relevant to President Rajapaksa’s dual approach, namely, seeking political solution through the APC and the marginalization or as some hawks want the annihilation of the LTTE unless the ‘terrorist’ movement (the term now used frequently by him and government’s spokespersons) lays down the weapons and join the democratic political mainstream. When President R. Premadasa tried to tame the Tigers in 1989, the situation was very different from what it is now. Incidentally, most of the information presented here on the Government –LTTE talks 1989-1990 are in the report by Bradman Weerakone, Adviser to President R. Premadasa also the author of the book – ‘Premadasa of Sri Lanka: A Political Biography’.

Premadasa had openly opposed the 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord. He also despised the presence of the IPKF on Sri Lankan soil. The LTTE found someone with the same pressing aim as theirs, although the political goals were different. Restoration of peace through ‘Consultation, Consensus and Compromise’ was a major plank of Premadasa’s election manifesto. On April 12, 1989 he announced unilateral ceasefire by the Security Forces throughout the country. The IPKF also announced that its forces would observe the ceasefire in areas under their control. The LTTE in an open letter to the President said they would be no ceasefire on their side “until the invading Indian army withdraws”. At the same time (on April 15) the LTTE accepted the Sri Lankan Government’s invitation for talks. President Premadasa’s demand that India withdraws the IPKF completely in 3 months was seen as a positive step by the LTTE. When the talks began in May 1989, there was a formal ceasefire between the Sri Lankan Security Forces and the LTTE but not between the IPKF and LTTE.

Maximum security was provided by the government to the LTTE team staying at the five-star Hilton hotel (seventh floor) in Colombo. According to Bradman Weerakone, President Premadasa was very keen on confidence building and creating the right environment for a trusting relationship. The first meeting with the LTTE team was held at his private residence – ‘Sucharita’- on 4 May 1989. There was agreement that the modalities and the issues would be identified in the first stage of the talks. And this started the very next day at the Hilton Hotel. The following issues were identified:
* The role and function of the IPKF in the North and East;

* The disabilities faced by the Tamil-speaking people and human rights issues arising from the ‘occupation’ by the IPKF;

* The disruption of economic activity of the civilian population such as agriculture, fishing, industry and trade;

* State-sponsored colonization which was apparently continuing under the Mahaweli Authority, particularly in the Eastern Province;

* Conscription of youth, the building–up of the Civilian Volunteer Force (CVF) and their training by the IPKF; and

* The need to seek a negotiated political settlement, taking into consideration the aspirations of the Tamil-speaking people.

It is to be noted that out of the 6 issues, 4 pertain to the presence of the IPKF. The irony is some of the difficulties faced by the people are considered to be issues, only when these are caused by the enemy. The head of the Government team for the first round (5 -30 May 1989) and second round (16 June – 2 July 1989) of Talks was A. C. S. Hameed, Minister of Higher Education. The fact that he was proficient in Tamil served in establishing good rapport with especially younger members of the LTTE team. Present Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, the then Minister of Industries was a member of the government team. The second round of Talks took place at the Army Sports Club Pavilion. To quote Bradman Weerakone: “Orchestrating the whole process and controlling each move was the President himself. Not all the members of all the groups ever knew the whole of what was happening “. There were sensitive issues such as “handing over weapons to the LTTE” and the transfer of funds to fight the Indian soldiers which could not be discussed in the formal Talks. These were “reserved for the higher level discussions which the President regularly had with Anton Balasingham and later on with Mahattaya (Kopalaswamy Mahendrarajah, LTTE Deputy Leader) when he arrived in Colombo in November 1989. On the government side, issues such as the arms transfer would have been discussed by the President only with persons like Mr. A. C. S. Hameed, Mr. Ranjan Wijeratne and the Secretary of Defence.”

In addition to the two levels of discussion, Premadasa with the aim of bringing the LTTE in the multi-party political mainstream structured another forum. This was the All Party Conference (APC). It was convened on 12 August 1989 at the BMICH with the broad agenda of deliberating on the ways to resolve the national crisis both in the North and South, where the JVP had launched a campaign to destabilize the government. This intensified after the signing of the Indo-Lanka Accord and the arrival of the IPKF. The LTTE had an ally in its desire to evict the IPKF. Some of the pronouncements of the leaders of the same radical party are now supporting the ‘Eelam’ project. Premadasa persuaded the LTTE to register as a political party for representation at the APC. The registered name of the party was the ‘People’s Front of Liberation Tigers’ – PFLT (without the appellation of Tamil Eelam).

Premadasa often cryptically said that he was prepared to give not Eelam but ‘ellam’. Since the discussions on the shape and form of the political solution to the Tamil problem were contingent on the withdrawal of the IPKF, the agenda in the initial stages focused on forcing the withdrawal of the IPKF at the earliest opportunity. With Rajiv Gandhi as Prime Minister this was found to be difficult. But the change of government in India at the end of 1989 with V. P. Singh as Prime Minister, the withdrawal of the IPKF eventually took place. The last batch left on 19 March 1990.

Bradman Weerakone has also said: “High on the political agenda during the course of the negotiations were two critical concerns which finally became the Achilles heel leading to the breakdown of the relationship of trust, which Premadasa had been at such pains to construct”.

Thesewere:
1. The repeal of the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution – According to Article 157A , ‘No person shall, directly or indirectly, in or outside of Sri Lanka, support, espouse, promote, finance, encourage or advocate the establishment of a separate State within the territory of Sri Lanka’.

2. The dissolution of the North-East Provincial Council and the holding of new Elections at which the LTTE/PFLT would be able to contest – It is a moot point whether or not this was the real intention, given the LTTE’s claim as the sole representative of the Tamil people. The reason advanced by the LTTE for the dissolution of the NEPC was that the EPRLF led administration did not reflect the will of the electorate as it had won the 1988 elections (which the LTTE boycotted) because of the “machinations of the IPKF”. The LTTE also maintained that the Chief Minister Varatharaja Perumal was a puppet of the Indians.

The problem then as it is now was that President Premadasa did not have the two-thirds majority for Constitutional change. With regard to the dissolution of the N-E Council, the LTTE pointed out that the ‘Unilateral Declaration of Independence’ by the Chief Minister Varatharaja Perumal in late November 1989 was sufficient grounds for the dissolution. But this required an amendment to the Provincial Council Act. The amendment enabling the Government to dissolve the Council was passed only in July after the war had broken out again on 11 June 1990. In the view of the LTTE, the inability of the Government to deliver agreed political undertakings proved the Government’s and President’s mala fides about any political solution which involved territorial autonomy for the Tamils as a distinct ethnic group with the right of self-determination vide the Thimpu principles. The third round of Talks was in November 1989 at President’s private residence with only 3 key members (including the President) from each side participating. Mahattaya, Anton Balasingham and Yogaratnam (Yogi) were the members of the LTTE team.

India and ‘Eelam’ project

India’s stand on the ‘Eelam’ project is well known from the time of Mrs. Indira Gandhi, who helped in building up the Tamil resistance against the JR regime. Apparently, she had some personal grudge against JR. She made it clear in India’s Parliament (Lok Sabha) that her support for the Sri Lankan Tamil militant groups was not for separation. All successive governments in Delhi have maintained this stance very rigidly. The U-turn in the attitude of the Indians sympathetic to the ‘liberation struggle’ occurred after Rajjiv Gandhi’s assassination on Indian soil. Prof P. Radhakrishnan (senior professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai) said in his recent analysis: “When the LTTE started its fight for Eelam, there was great admiration for it in India, particularly in Tamil Nadu. India extended all kinds of support to Prabhakaran, material, moral, and what have you. But after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination any talk of Eelam is sedition in India and an anathema on Indian nationalism.” The subsequent happenings, particularly after the 2002 cease-fire inflicted extensive damage to the LTTE/Tamil cause. The international sympathy it had enjoyed earlier and the recognition as the sole spokesman for Tamils in Sri Lanka waned. The Sri Lankan government is now exploiting to the maximum the ‘terrorist’ title given by many powerful countries. This shift in emphasis gives rise to the concern that it might sidetrack the international community that is pressing for a political settlement to the ethnic conflict.

The Rajapaksa government has convinced the international community that ‘terrorism should be separated from finding a solution to the conflict’. Thus the ‘terrorist’ label has gained increased credence after the recent political killings and other tragic events. Nevertheless the Government has been reiterating its readiness to negotiate with the LTTE which is the urge of the international community. After the recent military victories in Sampoor and Vaakarai in the East, it wants the decommissioning of weapons in stages by the LTTE as a condition for the talks. President Mahinda Rajapaksa made this announcement on February 3 from the captured Vaakarai. At the same time it has set up the All Party Conference (APC), the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) and the Advisory Committee (Expert Panel) to assist the APRC in recommending proposals for Constitutional reform. These will be considered by the APC. The President also invited the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the proxy of the LTTE in the Parliament to join the APC. Addressing the nation on the 59th Independence Day at the Galle Face Green he said: “From this platform I wish to make this appeal to the Tamil National Alliance to join us so that innocent Tamil people of the North can be liberated from terrorist intimidation and misdeeds of violence”. With mixed signals from Colombo it is difficult to say, the ‘Negotiation’ card is being played merely to ease the external pressure and to stall the constitutional-reform process.

At the recent Sri Lanka Development Forum held in Galle, the donors with the World Bank taking the lead said that without any tangible progress in peace negotiations, development would be unsustainable. But this seems to have not been taken seriously. The recent military success in the East seems to have stimulated the urge the hawkish elements in the South to proceed with the military offensive. On the political front, some hostile attitude within the new 15-party coalition government towards the required constitutional changes gives rise to increased skepticism. The MEP, a coalition partner in Rajapaksa’s government has rejected Vitharana’s (Chairman of the APRC) proposals. In the interview (Hard Talk) with Daily Mirror (February 2), the newly appointed Jathika Hela Urumaya Minister of Environment Champika Ranawaka, a Sinhala-Buddhist nationalist said that the rationale for the JHU to join the government was to render support in its fight against ‘terrorism’. He also said: “We are also supporting the government because we want to fight any move to force a LTTE solution on the country. The conspiracy to force a solution was there from the beginning of post independent political history of this country. All the way up to the reforms of Chandrika Bandaranaike the federal conspiracy has been active. We have always believed that this is a move to force an LTTE agenda on the country and we will fight against that”.

With the SLFP-UNP MoU officially pronounced dead in the Parliament on February 6 by the UNP leader, following the 19 so-called reformists from his party joining the government, this is another cause for concern. The Morning Leader 7 February reported Ranil Wickremesinghe’s statement in Parliament as – ‘declaration of war against the government ’! The new alliance has also caused some disagreement within the SLFP. The SLFP Minister for Ports and Civil Aviation, Mangala Samaraweera addressing a ceremony held at the Matara Divisional Secretariat on February 3 to compensate the 2003 flood victims in the District said: “We do not need alliances of those who quit sides for portfolios, for power as their minds change. The only way forward is forgetting our racial, religious, communal and linguistic differences and bringing in a broad national alliance.” The negative outcome of previous moves for constitutional reform has been mainly due to such bickering. Right now there is total confusion about the approach to political settlement for lasting peace in the country.

Any project that has caused considerable human and other tangible and intangible (culture, education etc) losses and immense suffering to own people and which entails continuous mobilization of additional funds and recruitment of persons from curtailed supplies (forced child conscription was necessitated by the shortage of adult volunteers, despite international revulsion) for sustaining it with the same objective as intended initially should be reviewed. According to international experts, a violent struggle against an internationally recognized State by an armed group of guerrillas for achieving its political aim has an active life of about 30 years.

The experience of the IRA is a good example. Having realized the cost of continuing the violent struggle and the suffering of the people with little prospect of achieving its original aim, the IRA suspended the violent campaign and went for a negotiated political settlement. The situation in Sri Lanka is not exactly the same as in the United Kingdom for the LTTE to agree for decommissioning the weapons in their possession as a precondition for talks. The reason is obvious from the above analysis. Even the ‘Eelam’ project need not be abandoned completely, as it still has a useful role to play in future negotiations, if and when the LTTE decides to return to the negotiation table. It is a decision the leadership must make from the standpoint of safeguarding the usefulness of the project for which thousands of lives have been sacrificed. Given the past disappointing experiences with regard to broken promises and failures in implementing effectively agreements and declared policies under the centralized governing system, the project with suitable modification is useful for gaining autonomous powers for the people in the North-East as well as equal rights for the minorities in other regions by peaceful means. Those who want the project to continue regardless of its outcome merely to assert the determination and the bravado of the Tigers are injudicious and irresponsible. Obviously they are not affected directly by the current skirmish in the North-East.

A Norwegian professor who is widely regarded as the founder of the academic discipline of peace research, Prof Johan Galtung who recently delivered a talk in Colombo on the peace process, in a subsequent email interview with The Island (2 February 2007) was questioned about the possibility of defeating ‘terrorism’ militarily. He replied that this approach did not succeed in South Africa nor will it succeed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Supposing, “Killinochchi is flattened, Mr. P is dead, and LTTE dissolved. Will the Tamil dream of a Tamil Eelam die? Of course not. It will be revived, and new cycles of violence will occur; and probably new CFAs’ and possibly the same mistake, confusing ceasefire with peace, using it as a sleeping pillow to do nothing”. He was highly critical of the now lifeless peace process that was linked mainly to the objective of sustaining the cease-fire.

To another crucial question concerning the feasibility of a political settlement, given the nature of the LTTE he replied: “There are excellent points in the Majority expert report. I had the honour of meeting with some of these highly competent people. And the base-line is not some European federation but your somewhat big and close neighbour: India, its linguistic federalism being a brilliant success, making Sri Lanka look like the non-success in that union – Assam and Naga-land. Look at the Indian boom now that all that pent-up energy used for conflict has been liberated for something constructive. The same will happen to Sri Lanka which is not a failed state but a stagnant state, bogged down since 1983 at least by the conflict. So, here is the point: If New Delhi could stomach a Tamil Nadu, watching the independence movement wither away with that name, then for sure Colombo could one day have a province named Tamil Eelam”.

Sri Lanka’s ‘Liberal Party’ in its memorandum to President Rajapaksa has pointed out that ethnic crisis could be solved only through dialogue and not by war. The 6 tenets listed for basing the proposals for constitutional change include – “re-demarcating the existing provincial boundaries according to the life style, culture, nature, environment and attitude with devolution of power and autonomy in order to satisfy all communities with new names given to all provinces or states to satisfy the communities.” One of the 5 new provinces to be formed by amalgamating the existing districts suitably is to be called, as mentioned by Prof. Johan Galtung, Tamil Eelam! The courage of the Liberal Party in putting forward the startling proposals should inspire others to come out of their closed thinking net. There are some points in the memorandum useful to the LTTE too.
The U.S diplomats in Colombo tried but failed to prevent the collapse of the SLFP-UNP MoU. In the light of the disturbing situation in Sri Lanka, 38 lawmakers (Democrats and Republicans) in Washington D.C. have asked the US President to appoint a Special Envoy to help bring about peace in the conflict-ridden island There is the intense feeling among all sections of the Sri Lankan Tamil community, including the LTTE and its supporters that there is a dire need for India’s pro-active role in ending the conflict and the suffering of the people by peaceful means. BBC Sandesaya (www.bbcsinhala.com) reported, an organizer of the protest in front of the Indian High Commission in London on February 5 had told that “the giant neighbour should exert pressure on Sri Lanka to find a solution in line with Indo-Lanka accord which is still valid. India should help Sri Lanka to find a solution in line with the accord.” The contradictory positions then (1987 +) and now are too obvious and does not warrant any elucidation.

Also Minister Douglas Devananda, the EPDP leader after participating in the seminar on ‘Sri Lanka: Quest for Peace’ in New Delhi organised by the Indian Council for International Cooperation said in an interview: “India, with its long links with Sri Lanka and its familiarity with and better understanding of the political and ethnic complexities in the island nation, can help speed up a final settlement of the Tamil problem” The other participants at the seminar included, India’s former external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha, former foreign secretary Shashank, Janata Party leader Subramaniam Swamy, former diplomat N.N. Jha, and S.C. Chandrahasan (the late S. J. V. Chelvanayakam’s son), who heads a NGO looking after the welfare of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees in India.

In conclusion

Before it is too late, the LTTE must reconsider the aim of the ‘Eelam’ project and the methodologies, strategies and underlying concepts from the standpoint of a fair and realistic political solution to the Tamil problem. The ISGA proposals have failed to get any support of the international community. There is an urgent need to regain the support lost in the recent past by placing undue emphasis on aggression. The need for such a review is also seen in the analysis of recent developments by Colonel R. Hariharan (retd.) a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia, who served with the IPKF as Head of Intelligence (Asian Tribune 12 January 2007). He has said: “The bottom line is that LTTE strategies of 1996 and 2000-2001 are not working in 2006 as international ambience has changed” and “some ‘gains’ of earlier years had lost their shine in 2006”.

Nikhil Mustaffa’s moving article in the Daily Mirror 8 February has some valuable points to ponder. There is no doubt that the ‘Island in the Sun’ “has gone to the sound of guns to the sound of hatred, to the weeping of the bereaved.” The enlightened comment on Autonomy vis-à-vis Separation deserves to be mentioned here. “Autonomy is a device to allow ethnic and other groups claiming a distinct identity to exercise direct control over affairs of special concerns to them, while allowing the larger entity those powers which cover common interests. Autonomy does not promote secession; on the contrary, true autonomy prevents secession.” Autonomy as defined above should be the objective now of the ‘Eelam’ project.

[The writer is Former Additional Deputy Secretary to the Treasury, Sri Lanka and UN Advisor, Development Economics/Planning]

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