Colombo, Diplomacy, International Relations, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Post-War

Eelam War and the Long Arm of the Indian Rearguard Across the Palk Straits

Indo- Sri Lanka relations made a dramatic and unprecedented change with the beginning of the Eelam war. This change   contributed to bringing about   far reaching military and political consequences within Sri Lanka and its two destructive wars. The JVP led anti-devolutionary Sinhalese rebellion had been the direct result of the changed Indian policy. The most destructive Eelam war was the other. These developments have fundamentally shaped the future course of Sri Lankan politics. Since 1983 India had begun supporting the Tamil militant groups to train and arm its cadres for military confrontations with the Sri Lankan state. Their bases in Tamil Nadu provided a rearguard and they could retreat safely to these bases after mounting deadly attacks to the Sri Lankan security forces. The current Indian policy has changed positively as India has become pragmatic but Sri Lanka needs political investment in the form of political devolution and inclusiveness of ethnic minorities in order to effectively de-activate the rearguard in Tamil Nadu.

This short essay attempts to analyze the impact of Indian policy on the Sri Lankan political and military developments for the last 30 years through the rearguard in Tamil Nadu and how it has shaped our political agenda on the ethnic issue.

Role of the rearguard

The Tamil armed struggle had a trustworthy, stable and dependable rearguard which was easily   accessible by sea from the North and East. It became their main supply line throughout the war. It was politically and militarily supportive and culturally compatible since it was historically connected with the Sri Lankan Tamils. Such a rearguard for guerilla warfare is an ideal one for sustained protracted guerilla warfare against a militarily and politically powerful enemy if used strategically. However, the LTTE’s   lack of political maturity and the pursuit of unprincipled and dangerous application of violence changed the political support they could enjoy in Tamil Nadu. The decision to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi proved to be a costly mistake for the LTTE. The LTTE’s political and military ruthlessness has often been seen as strength, feared but also admired. While it has sometimes been as seen as bad for their image, the role that the LTTE’s violent politics played in placing them into a strategically weaker position both politically and militarily has not been sufficiently considered. After Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, Tamil Nadu could no longer be counted on for the level of support it had once provided the Tigers. .  When the LTTE leadership was cornered and decimated by the Sri Lankan army on 18 May 2009, in Vellamulaivikkal the Tamil Tigers paid in full for their past mistake. Had not the LTTE assassinated Rajiv Gandhi, the conclusion of the Eelam war could have been entirely different.

The protracted guerilla war against the Sri Lankan state has been possible due to the existence of    the Indian rearguard and its stable base in Tamil Nadu. The Indian rearguard had a twin purpose, military as well as political throughout its existence. Firstly it enabled a group like the LTTE to conduct a war using a rearguard in a foreign soil with a relative safety.  The Sri Lankan    state had no capacity to place a watertight naval blockade to stop any supply lines. As a consequence, the feared Sea Tiger wing was able to establish a complete domination of the sea across Falk Strait until the last phase of the war. Secondly, the Eelamists were able to exert pressure on the Indian Government through Tamil Nadu to gain political and military advantages when the war was not going well in their favaour. The Indian rearguard would have been the envy of any guerilla leader elsewhere but Prabaharan showed his inability to understand or appreciate its value in political and military terms for the LTTE’s future when he ordered the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in1991.

The Indian government had its own political reasons for allowing Tamil militant groups the use of Tamil Nadu since 1979. The LTTE’s activities there would not have been possible without the knowledge of RAW. After the 1983 riots in Colombo, the Congress party allowed the training of guerilla fighters in Tamil Nadu for use against the Sri Lankan state, enhancing the party’s support in that region.    In addition to this internal political advantage it also provided greater possibilities for India to re-balance the   regional political forces in the South Asian region. The Indian contention has been that the Tamil grievances among Sri Lankan Tamils were    unresolved. The sharp contrast between the basic democratic rights enjoyed by people living in Tamil Nadu as opposed to the Sri Lankan Tamils gave a legitimate weight to India’s efforts to resolve the ethnic issue in Sri Lanka.

Military intervention

In 1987, Indian troops came to North and East following the Indo-Lanka Agreement signed between Rajiv Gandhi and President J.R. Jayewardene. This led to the second JVP rebellion as they portrayed the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) as an invading army   of the Indian imperialism supported by the USA and its imperialist policies. The Indo -Lanka Agreement   pushed for the devolution of power to the Tamil community in the North and East through the 13th amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution which inflamed anti-Tamil and anti-Indian sentiments in the Sinhalese south. The JVP led armed struggle against Jayewardene and the UNP became destructive and    the JVP was able to deepen its Sinhalese political and social base. Some sections of the SLFP and Buddhist clergy were attracted by anti-Tamil and anti-Indian ultra-nationalist passions and proved responsive to the JVP’s message.

The JVP also assassinated left activists and others who supported the devolution of power under the 13th amendment. All the democratic and left activists who supported the devolution package were branded as the fifth column of the Indian imperialism by the JVP. The IPKF was not prepared to leave Sri Lanka but they found no one on their side either militarily or politically except the EPRLF which could not assert its political independence .The IPKF was militarily vulnerable and politically isolated. The LTTE also fought   against the Indian Army in the North and East until the IPKF was finally withdrawn from Sri Lanka by the end 1989. President Premadasa who was elected as President after Jayewardene had provided   weapons to Tamil Tigers secretly to fight against the IPKF. His political naivety in trusting the LTTE was disastrous and his misjudgment was probably driven by his desire for regaining Sri Lanka’s sovereignty. Later on 1 May in 1993, the LTTE assassinated President Premadasa in Colombo. Rajiv Gandhi had also become a victim of a LTTE suicide bomber in Tamil Nadu in 1991.  India had her own bitter lessons in the destructive nature of Sri Lankan politics. Nevertheless, they remained vocal in support of the devolution of power to the North and East. At the same time the militant groups also learnt their bitter lessons. They could not go beyond India’ political interests and never agreed for a separatist political solution to the Sri Lanka’s ethnic issue. When the LTTE refused to accept a solution based on the 13th amendment India committed its troops to fight against the LTTE.

Even after the IPKF withdrawal the Indian influence on Sri Lankan politics has not diminished. The Indo-Lanka Agreement signed in 1987 and its political objectives of devolution of power still drive our political process and this will continue in the foreseeable future and beyond. The Indo-Lanka Agreement and its political proposals have made a lasting impact on the issues of political democracy and pluralism despite the bitter and destructive civil war it generated in both communities in the country.

Closing the rearguard

Closing down the Indian rearguard is primarily a political act .The Indian request for the devolution power to the Tamil community in Sri Lanka is a prerequisite in this endeavor. Unless Sri Lanka is prepared to do their bit, the political closure of the Tamil Nadu support for a separate state in the North and East will not simply go away. Even after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi the Tamil Tigers were able to get the support in order to get the war going against Sri Lanka.Howver   following the defeat of the Tigers a political solution to the Tamil community will offer a greater capacity for India to close down the rearguard in Tamil Nadu. India has assured the Sri Lankan State time and again that it will respect Sri Lanka’s territorial integrity to allay the Sri Lankan fears and to encourage political devolution of power. However, the Sri Lankan leadership so far has not made a firm commitment to devolution despite the Indian assurances.

The problem has been the lack of political courage and imagination on the part of the Sri Lankan leadership to overcome the opposition by the Sinhalese chauvinist political forces in implementing a package of devolution to the Tamil community in the North and East. As long as a solution is not offered the external threat of political interference remains   and that will continue to destabilize Sri Lanka. India will bring up the issue again and again as it has done so far at the diplomatic front. This will encourage the Tamil community to action as they realize in their day to day existence that the Indian diplomacy is morally and politically correct and India has been advancing solutions to their grievances since the Eelam war has begun. It is politically ironic and nationally   embarrassing in a democracy when your neighbor has taken up the issue of political democracy on behalf of a community that lives within your own political borders. When the Indian diplomacy is exhausted the Indian rearguard will re-emerge even without the Indian patronage. This is a vicious cycle that    Sri Lanka cannot politically and militarily afford experience again.

The Sri Lankan political leadership needs to understand that the defeating the LTTE is not going to resolve the democratic rights issue and we need to address it not simply   because of the Indian concerns but because the devolution of power is morally and politically correct .We need to be realists and India is our powerful neighbor . Given the regional political balance of forces and the political history of ours we need India on our side. Political stability in Sri Lanka would benefit both India as well as Sri Lanka.

Conclusion

The LTTE’s comprehensive military defeat at the hand of the Sri Lankan military has taken us back to the fundamental political issue that is the test of our resolve and courage to offer a reasonable political solution to the Tamil grievances. When this was not forthcoming India redefined its role as Sri Lanka’s neighbor. The Indian intervention in Sri Lankan    politics through the Indian rearguard and the shadow of its long arm should be dislodged .However, in order to remove this Sri Lanka should act in a way that it fulfills the democratic aspirations of the Tamil community within a united Sri Lanka.The devolution of power through the 13th amendment will be a basic democratic requirement in this exercise. Our sovereignty as a democratic nation will be safer only when we resolve the Tamil community’s grievances. In the absence of a political solution, will the history repeat itself?

Time will tell.

  • Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

    Right on target.

  • Pearl Thevanayagam

    Does India honestly care about Sri Lanka or even Tamils for that matter?

    Pardon me my naivete, but what seems to emerge as seen through various developments and trade relations India is embarking on with renewed fervour following the end of the war with the LTTE such as the opening of Kachchathivu issue, loans and not grants offered to Sri Lanka, trade agreements and their slow but sure dominance in building infrastructure here is that India has very selfish motives in stretching its hands out to Sri Lanka.

    Inida has shown interest in building an airport in the South. State-run Indian Oil Corporation operates a tank farm in Trincomalee supplying a third of the country’s fuel demand.

    Plans are afoot to set up a coal-fired power plant as well in collaboration with CEB.

    Politically India has offered no solutions or support in the interest of Sri Lanka.

  • Huh

    Pearl, I completely agree with you. To me, it’s some kind of sick, sad irony–for years, Sri lankan nationalists have whined and complained about western imperialism and the tamil invaders from that imperialist country, india. Now that the invader country with 1 billion people is completely acting in their own best interests in regards to Sri Lanka, is it just me, or do those same nationalists seem not to care?

  • Dayapala Thiranagama

    Dear Pearl

    “Politically India has offered no solutions or support in the interest of Sri Lanka”.Your statement does not take into account India’s contribution.

    It was india who pushed Sri Lanka for the devolution of power.They stood by Tamils in 1983 and beyond.They opposed a seperatist solution to the ethnic problem in the country. The 13th ammendement is India’s solution to the ethnic issue.These are compatible with Sri Lanka’s political interests.

  • Pearl Thevanayagam

    Dear M Thiranagama,

    While we were transported in cargo ships to Jaffna following the July pogrom of 1983 after watching our possession our forefathers accumulated over generations burn and being looted, wasn’t it Dixit while dropping parippu also agreed with Casper Weinberger when JR asked what he should with the Tamils who said,”bomb them”.

    I remember this vividly.

  • wijayapala

    Dear Dayapala,

    Dayan J. may have forgotten, but during the IPKF period didn’t Varatharajaperumal sell out SL to India while Karunanidhi sold out India to the LTTE?

    Is this how devolution makes a country’s sovereignty safer?

  • Kathir

    I agree with your suggestion in implementing a political solution to solve the ethnic and minority problems in Srilanka. If we want to totally defeat the Imperialism which is failed in interfering through the ethnic conflict, the Government has to immediately implement the 13the Amendment without any delay. Not only that we also have to totally defeat the TNA which is the worst enemy of the( Island/Indian ocean)people including the Tamil people .Because TNA is another stooge of Imperialism just like the Mafia LTTE or Tamil Tigers.
    The Imperialism has succeeded in Yugoslavia through its agent like KLF /Kosovo Liberation Front in disintegrating the country and separating Kosovo from Serbia. KLF is very parallel to the Mafia LTTE. Both are no more liberation organizations but they are the Mafia movements.
    Therefore our immediate task is to implement the 13th Amendment and totally defeating and eradicating the TNA from the political scene of the country.
    If you want to collect more in formations on the Mafia KLF please go to web site www. globalresearch.ca

    Thank you

  • ModVoice

    India being genuinely interested in Tamil people’s plight is same as saying US was after peace-building efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. As an emerging “power,” they have got their own self-interests. It is no mystery that India’s got a good share of development projects in the north-east. In other words, the head is sold out to the Indians and the tail to the Chinese – where is the “sovereignty” people were talking about?

  • Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

    In a fortunate coincidence, Dayapala’s article is republished in the Daily Mirror today ( Sat) where it acts as a rational and intellectually superior counterpoint to a moronic piece on much the same theme, appearing just above it in the web edition of the DM.

  • Heshan

    I think the approach taken by the Sri Lankan State to the “Tamil” question closely parallels the methodology adapted by the Israeli’s to keep the Palestinian Intifida (and by extension, the Palestinians) in check. This approach basically consists of a massive military buildup in the “occupied” territories and eventually colonizing such territory with members of the invading “nation”, thereby gradually altering the demographics over time. Any resistance by the subjugated population is crushed via overwhelming force. The subjugated population is monitored 24/7. They cannot move about freely without permission from the invading army. The invading army can arrest, torture, and murder any individual at will. Now, I have no doubt that S. Lanka would like to take such an approach. The only problem is that occupation can be quite expensive – in the case of Israel, expense is not really an issue, as Israel is a first-world country and receives 9 billion USD in aid, annually, from the USA. S. Lanka, however, is not nearly as independent and relies on foreign donors even for the simplest of things, such as building a road. It will be interesting to see how the S. Lankan occupation plan of Tamil lands pans out, say in 10-15 years.

  • Dayapala Thiranagama

    Wijayapala
    Today there are new opportunities as well as new challenges. There are no military outfits to hijack the Tamil people’s struggle for their democratic rights. India or Tamil Nadu cannot dictate or control the Tamil political parties. It is possible to hold the elections in the North and East now. We need to use these opportunities and manage the challenges. What is crucial will be winning the trust of the Tamil community for a democratic change through the devolution of power. If our political leadership fails to understand it at this historical moment, we expose our political inadequacies for our neighbors to interfere with. Unless we build stronger and inclusive Sri Lankan nation our sovereignty is vulnerable given the balance of forces in the region. This gives the opportunities for armed outfits to re- emerge. This will take us back to the situation in the early 1980s.

    Pearl
    India’s political commitment to the devolution of power is commendable. I never knew Dixit’s agreement with Casper Weinberger to bomb the Tamil in 1983. However, even if he agreed it did not represent India’s policy towards the Tamils.

  • wijayapala

    Pearl,

    wasn’t it Dixit while dropping parippu also agreed with Casper Weinberger

    US and India were not friendly in those years. Why would Dixit make common cause with Weinberger? Perhaps you were thinking of Lalith Athulathmudali, not Dixit.

  • wijayapala

    Dear Dayapala,

    Thank you for responding.

    What is crucial will be winning the trust of the Tamil community for a democratic change through the devolution of power.

    How much devolution is needed to win the Tamils’ trust– there appears to be a disconnect between what you and Dayan want- 13th Amendment- and the claims of the TNA that the 13th Amendment is inadequate.

    Aside from Douglas Devananda, whose support base is extremely limited among the Tamils, which Tamil leader champions 13th Amendment and will sell it to his/her constituency?

    As much as I hate to say this- and I hope that I’m entirely wrong or that someone will refute this and put this view in the doghouse- I do not believe that it would be possible to win the Tamils’ trust in the near future. This is NOT to suggest that we thus have no obligation to the Tamils and should do nothing for them, far from it. What I am saying is that what we do for the Tamils should not be tailored around getting them to like us. Rather, it should be focused around concrete things like making sure they have the basics- food/water/shelter, security/freedom from paramilitary or security forces harassment, job opportunities, and access to government through implementing language provisions.

    Without these basics, more abstract concessions like “devolution” will not accomplish anything. There will be the claim that it’s not enough, like what the critics say about 13th Amendment. We need to conduct a focused study on what rights the Tamils do not have that Sinhalese have, instead of treating devolution as the magical wand or silver bullet panacea that will fix everything.

  • Heshan

    This article does not mention the impact that the 1983 riots had on the LTTE. The riots ensured that the LTTE would have a strong following for many, many decades to come (just think of the diaspora, if you will). It also greatly enhanced the level of Indian support for the coterie of Tamil militant groups present at the time. Secondly, the article posits the 13th amendment as a potential solution to the Tamil question. In fact, it is not a solution. The 13th amendment was formulated more than 20 years ago… it does not take into account the many developments that have transpired since then. Also, it should seem obvious to any neutral observer that the Tamils deserve quite a bit more than the 13th. As I have said elsewhere, the only long-term sustainable solution is federalism. That is what has worked for India – maximum devolution of power from the Center to the State level. What the article does not bother to explain is why, in SL, the Center is so hesitant to loosen its grip on power. Could it be because such power is connected to nepotism, corruption, etc? In which case, it is not merely an ethnic question… clearly, the entire island suffers if such vast amounts of power remain tightly compressed into a small corner. Instead of blaming our neighbors across the Palk Straits for the fortunes of the LTTE, perhaps it is worthwhile to do a little self introspection.

    The article does make one good point. And that is that SL would not have won the war without Indian support. We can generalize this to mean that SL will never be a military powerhouse in the region. Now, that is just fine. But if your military will always be third-rate, there is little sense in investing so much of your money in the upkeep of the armed forces. Mighty India can come along one day and drop a few nuclear bombs from the sky – then all that money you invested in defense will have come to naught.

  • wijayapala

    Prof Heshan, where did Dayapala say that SL would not have won the war without Indian support? What support did India give?

  • Huh

    Dear Heshan,

    ” What the article does not bother to explain is why, in SL, the Center is so hesitant to loosen its grip on power.”

    I think you and I(and other reasonable, progressive Sinhalese people) know the answer to this is not just rooted in the concepts of nepotism and corruption. It is also rooted in the fact that many bogus upper-middle class Sinhalese nationalists in Sri Lanka(and many abroad who are, ironically, educated in the west) are paranoid that federalism=separatism and feel that federalism or, hell, any other kind of devolution(including the 13th ammendment) to the Tamil people in the north and east will be ushered in by Indian and western ” imperialists”. The politicians and upper-middle class Sinhalese nationalist ” intellectuals” exploit this feeling–not to mention the paranoid notion of the north and east breaking off and joining with Tamil nadu and creating a chain-effect of chaos in Delhi–amongst voting Sri Lankans and they don’t want to see any power-sharing in place. To them, power-sharing is synonymous with separatism and the death of the Buddhist-Sinhalese nationhood as they know it(or, so they think). Heshan, to get an idea of how paranoid some of these people are, please read this article and the conclusion it reaches about the 13th ammendment and read the even more ridiculous comments at the bottom(please take notice of how, apparently, Mr. Dayan Jayathilake is an evil, Catholic sadist bent on destroying Sri Lanka):

    http://www.lankaweb.com/news/items/2010/06/30/a-response-to-dayan-jayathilake/

    If most Sinhalese people read articles like the below-pasted one about federalism, I think paranoia would die down a bit(at the very least). I found this under the information section for the group on facebook titled ‘ Sri Lanka federalist movement'(there are only 24 members in the entire group, unsurprisingly):

    ‘Federalism will unite divided Sri Lanka’

    “This country is already divided. This is the ground reality. The Sinhalese people have to be told this. There is no point in talking about history now. The Indo-Lanka Accord, the Banda-Chelva Pact and the Dudley Chelva Pact have recognized the separate distinct identity of the Tamils in the past. The Sinhalese have to be told that the divided country can be united by granting a federal solution,” said Prof. S. K Sittampalam, a senior historian, speaking at a seminar on ‘Federalizing the Sri Lankan State’ in the University of Jaffna Sunday. “We have the same claim to this island as do the Sinhalese. The Tamils and Sinhalese are the common inheritors of the civilization that appeared on the island around 900 B.C,” Prof. Sittampalam said. Dr. Rohan Edirisingha, senior lecturer in law in the University of Colombo, stressed the need for understanding the nature of unitary and federal systems and their basic features. He said that there is a lot of ignorance among the Sinhala people about the federal system of regional autonomy and that much needs to be done to educate them on the matter. “Many of them think that it could be a stepping stone to separation,” Dr. Edirisingha said. He appealed for greater dialogue between Tamil and Sinhala intellectuals and opinion makers on the federalism during his presentation on Saturday. “The southern polity is not prepared to accept Sri Lanka as a pluralist state.

    Therefore how do we ‘sell’ the idea of federalism to the (Sinhala) majority? Is there enough to get out of this ghetto mentality and accept Sri Lanka as a pluralist state?” asked Mr. V. T Thamilmaran, senior lecturer in law in the university of Colombo, in his presentation at the seminar Sunday. “Internal self-determination should guarantee a judicial mechanism to ensure and uphold real self rule and shared sovereignty. Otherwise a federal constitution based on the principal of internal self determination would be nothing more than a piece of paper. It would have no more value in its application than the paper on which it is written on,” Mr. Thamilmaran said. “Internal self-determination should also guarantee territorial identity and strike a balance between the rights of individuals and the rights of a group, providing for a bill of rights charter in which special protection for the group should not be construed as a violation of the principle of equality,” he added. Mr. Thamilmaran pointed out that Articles 2, 3, 4, 75, 76 and 82 of the Sri Lankan constitution preclude the possibility of setting up a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution for Sri Lanka. The two day seminar and workshop were supported by the Fredrich Ebert Stiftung Foundation (Germany) in Colombo.

  • SomewhatDisgusted

    Dear Wijayapala,

    RE: “I do not believe that it would be possible to win the Tamils’ trust in the near future. This is NOT to suggest that we thus have no obligation to the Tamils and should do nothing for them, far from it.”

    Well argued. I too would like to see a good rebuttal of Wijayapala’s argument, because I more or less subscribe to the same idea. It appears that all our solutions revolve around making symbolic concessions to the Tamil people, with no real answers to their real problems or indeed, that of most Sri Lankans. The following argument is quite often raised (some might say by Sinhala nationalists?? that still does not automatically invalidate the argument though). The argument goes, over 52% of Tamils live in Sinhala dominated areas. So what good does devolution do to them? I think that’s a valid question. After all, does a Tamil living in a Sinhala dominated area need to move to a “Tamil province” to get equality?

    The answer I’ve received to this is that devolution helps everybody. But then, why is it discussed in a context of providing a solutions to Tamils, rather than finding solutions which solve the problems of all Sri Lankans? Bottom line – presenting solutions that *appear* to polarize communities on the surface, I feel will do exactly that – polarize communities even futher. I wonder whether it’ll bring about a situation where some will be going to “Tamil territory” and others will be coming over to “Sinhala Territory”, instead of the country being Sri Lankan territory. Somehow, I don’t see how that increases ethnic amity and gets us on the way to a modern plural nation. If someone can please explain how, it would be much appreciated.

    [Oops! Reposting on this thread where it’s more relevant]

  • Dayapala Thiranagama

    Dear Wijayapala
    In my view,Tamil parties should accept the 13th Amendment now. The should be able to make improvements later.Given the opposition to the devolution of power to the Tamils in the Sinhalese community, this process has to be gradual and should be able to shift the Sinhalese mind set. After 30 years of a brutal war we are still arguing for “a focus study on what rights the Tamils do not have that the Sinhalese have”. Since Independence if you look at the Tamil grievances, what they have gone through, you will have the answers and that does not need a “focus study”. It is disappointing that the Tamil rights are still questioned and rejected even today. You also want to make sure that “they have the basics- food/water/shelter, security/freedom from paramilitary or security forces harassment, job opportunities, and access to government through implementing language provisions”. Why don’t we give them the opportunity to organize these basics through the devolution of power? These issues are intertwined with the issues of political democracy and you cannot reduce most of them to economics alone.

  • Heshan

    wijayapala:

    where did Dayapala say that SL would not have won the war without Indian support? What support did India give?

    See the following:

    “Had not the LTTE assassinated Rajiv Gandhi, the conclusion of the Eelam war could have been entirely different.”

    Dayapala did not just say that India assisted SL in the war, he said that the involvement of India had a direct impact on the outcome. In war there are only three possibilities: victory, defeat, and stalemate. In fact, “stalemate” is a misnomer because if one side packs up and leaves, without having been defeated in the conventional sense, the opposing side still wins. A very good example of this is the Vietnam War. We can say then that only two outcomes are possible: victory or defeat. Thus if Dayapala says the conclusion could have been entirely different – thanks to Indian intervention of some kind – it must mean that the LTTE would not have been defeated, as that is the only other possibility.

    On the other hand, I would say that my other generalization is even more important. If SL does not possess the capacity to become a regional military superpower, should it then invest so much of its own resources into the upkeep of the military? These days, the nations that have strong militaries tend to be industrialized – they also possess nuclear weapons. I do not imagine that SL can possibly possess a nuclear weapon during the next 3 decades. For one thing, I doubt India would allow it. It is also an expensive proposition. How North Korea manages is anyone’s guess. And finally, if chemical/biological/nuclear weapons are used in the next age of terrorist warfare, all the defenses currently employed in SL will come to naught. Why do you think the West is pressing Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions?

  • wijayapala

    Hi Prof Heshan,

    Thus if Dayapala says the conclusion could have been entirely different – thanks to Indian intervention of some kind – it must mean that the LTTE would not have been defeated, as that is the only other possibility.

    Dayapala can correct me if I’m wrong, but he was essentially arguing that India played a direct role in the LTTE being undefeatable in its early years because the Tigers could hide in India when things got rough in SL. Prabakaran was in Tamil Nadu for virtually all of Eelam War I leaving his minions Kittu and Mahattaya in charge in SL.

    In other words, if not for Indian intevention the LTTE would have been defeated at a much earlier date (1987, or 1982 if the Indians had extradited Prabakaran). Military power has little to do with the argument, which unfortunately makes your second generalization irrelevant.

  • ModVoice

    Dear Huh,

    “It is also rooted in the fact that many bogus upper-middle class Sinhalese nationalists in Sri Lanka(and many abroad who are, ironically, educated in the west) are paranoid that federalism=separatism and feel that federalism or, hell, any other kind of devolution(including the 13th ammendment) to the Tamil people in the north and east will be ushered in by Indian and western ” imperialists”.”

    I think the crux of the problem is the failure of the majority to recognize the existence of an ethnic issue that needs a solution. Majority of them believe that “terrorism” that was plaguing the nation is wiped off (thanks to the valiant soldiers and HE Mahinda Rajapakse, regardless of the method used to crush it) and now the nation could move forward in development. Perhaps you could see it through the comments here on Groundviews with respect to justifying discrimination as necessary to gain back what was lost to British, etc. This is one of the downs of removing LTTE out of the equation, so that now there is barely any pressure to put up the ethnic issue on the table, instead there is an emphasis on development and a talk of “there are no minorities.” Even India’s pressure for 13 A is offset by using the new player, China, in this strategic location. Anyway, in few years the question will not be whether 13 A or federalism but whether the claim for north-east by Tamils is valid, given the pace of on-going Sinhalization.

  • wijayapala

    Dear Dayapala,

    Given the opposition to the devolution of power to the Tamils in the Sinhalese community, this process has to be gradual and should be able to shift the Sinhalese mind set.

    But what would the Tamils think about this “gradual” approach? From their perspective, their gains may be too slow to be even be perceptible by them. As for the Sinhalese, after conceding a little they may say that the political solution has been delivered and that any further demands would be proof that the Tamils are inching towards separation. The Tamils undoubtedly are aware of this which is why they distrust a minimalist solution like 13th Amendment.

    The alternative would be to grant a radical solution- the dream of Colombo civil society “dreamers”- where an enormous amount of devolution is granted to a war devastated area with no clear leadership, and things become even more unstable than they already are.

    The point I’m trying to make is that we are in a lose-lose situation. Whatever we do, the Tamils will feel cheated and that we did not deliver enough (and again, I really want someone to prove me wrong). That is why I argue for focusing on the basics of rebuilding instead of complicating things with a poorly-thought out “political solution.”

    Since Independence if you look at the Tamil grievances, what they have gone through, you will have the answers and that does not need a “focus study”.

    I’m afraid that I disagree. We need a “focus study” because we clearly have different views on how the war started.

    The commonly-argued “civil society” answer trotted out for Western consumption is that the war started because there was no devolution of power, blithely ignoring the fact that there was no condition of war in SL from 1949 when the Federal party was established all the way up to 1983. If this “civil society” notion of history were accurate, the war should have started in the 1950s or 60s not the 80s.

    My argument is that the war started because the Tamils increasingly lost their basic security in the 1970s and early 1980s, culminating in the 1983 riots which started the war. I believe the blame for this primarily falls on JR Jayawardene’s govt although some Tamils argue that the trend had started with Mrs. B. I see the basic problem not in terms of “political solution” but rather security. Today when I hear about the high crime rate in Jaffna that is guarded by tens of thousands of soldiers, I see that there is a very fundamental problem with the govt’s definition of security.

    Why don’t we give them the opportunity to organize these basics through the devolution of power?

    Good question, which deserves another question: where will the war-devastated North and East find the resources to deliver their own goods and services to rebuild? The TNA itself appears to be focusing more on getting Mahinda to deliver the basics rather than trying to win power through devolution.

  • wijayapala

    Huh,

    V T Thamilmaran was a rather poor choice to cite in support of federalism. He was the primary legal luminary behind the ISGA and was a hardcore separatist going back to his involvement in the Suyatchi Kazhagam in the 1970s.

    Involving people like him in their project is one reason among dozens others why the federalists have never been able to advance their cause. They simply live in a different world.

  • Heshan

    Dayapala can correct me if I’m wrong, but he was essentially arguing that India played a direct role in the LTTE being undefeatable in its early years because the Tigers could hide in India when things got rough in SL. Prabakaran was in Tamil Nadu for virtually all of Eelam War I leaving his minions Kittu and Mahattaya in charge in SL.

    That is not what Dayapala said. He clearly said the outcome of the war would have been entirely different. The outcome of the war and the early years are mutually exclusive.


    In other words, if not for Indian intevention the LTTE would have been defeated at a much earlier date (1987, or 1982 if the Indians had extradited Prabakaran). Military power has little to do with the argument, which unfortunately makes your second generalization irrelevant.

    Your simplistic claims do not correlate with the dynamics of the war, by any remote measure. In fact, my second argument is still the most insightful: that, in fact, the Sri Lankan military is weak by any modern standard, and in fact, has always been weak. It is only due to the Karuna split, plus the advancements in technology, plus the assistance from many other nations, plus the total disregard for civilian casualties (a relic of ancient wars), that the Sri Lankan military was able to do what it did. To add some context to this example, no doubt you are familiar with the attacks on Elephant Pass, Mullaitivu, etc. These sorts of attacks on big bases – where the said base was overrun – has never occurred in Afghanistan or Iraq, as per NATO. Unlike the way the SLA almost lost Jaffna in the last 90’s?, NATO has never been in danger of losing a city it has occupied.

  • Heshan

    *late 90′s?

  • Heshan

    Huh,


    I think you and I(and other reasonable, progressive Sinhalese people) know the answer to this is not just rooted in the concepts of nepotism and corruption. It is also rooted in the fact that many bogus upper-middle class Sinhalese nationalists in Sri Lanka(and many abroad who are, ironically, educated in the west) are paranoid that federalism=separatism and feel that federalism or, hell, any other kind of devolution(including the 13th ammendment) to the Tamil people in the north and east will be ushered in by Indian and western ” imperialists”.

    You are no doubt correct. It seems as if any request for power-sharing is a request for separatism. On the other hand, I would imagine that these upper middle-class “nationalists” also benefit from the status quo as it is, support the ruling elite (read: SLFP), so as to keep the socio-economic situation the way it is.

    The politicians and upper-middle class Sinhalese nationalist ” intellectuals” exploit this feeling–not to mention the paranoid notion of the north and east breaking off and joining with Tamil nadu and creating a chain-effect of chaos in Delhi–amongst voting Sri Lankans and they don’t want to see any power-sharing in place. To them, power-sharing is synonymous with separatism and the death of the Buddhist-Sinhalese nationhood as they know it(or, so they think). Heshan, to get an idea of how paranoid some of these people are, please read this article and the conclusion it reaches about the 13th ammendment and read the even more ridiculous comments at the bottom(please take notice of how, apparently, Mr. Dayan Jayathilake is an evil, Catholic sadist bent on destroying Sri Lanka)

    Politicians are strange creatures. In fact, they don’t care what the masses think, except insofar as it wins them the next election. In an odd sort of way, acquiring massive amounts of wealth and power somehow liberates you from silly nationalist ideologies. Take the example of Hitler. In prison, he was quite the revolutionary – he wrote a long book outlining his arguments against Jews. Hitler the politician was different – he was obsessed not with Jews, but architecture and the military. He let other people handle the “Jewish question.” I think that that is what being a politician is really about – knowing how to use and exploit people using other people. So let me ask you, do you really think the Rajapakses are paranoid about Tamil separation? I don’t think so. But it is convenient for them if the masses are. One stupid person is not very useful. 10 million stupid people, however, can win you an election. So if the island is to be “saved” from its own grave, it is not enough to go after just politicians. The people themselves have to be educated.

  • Huh

    Dear Wijayapala,

    I think that another reason federalists have never been able to advance their cause is because federalism is synonymous with separatism in the minds of many people in the island.

  • ModVoice

    “I think that another reason federalists have never been able to advance their cause is because federalism is synonymous with separatism in the minds of many people in the island.”

    Not just federalists but anyone suggesting devolution will never be able to advance their cause unless there is a way to link prosperity with power-sharing. Rajapakse was elected by the masses in the pretext of eradicating terrorism and not with a vision of political solution – according to him, there are no minorities. For the masses, democracy and devolution mean nothing next to food, security, and money for survival. The challenge then is to link development and economic prosperity to a negotiated political settlement just like GSP was linked to human rights, which is not quite possible unless there is some international pressure in the post-LTTE scenario.

  • wijayapala

    Prof Heshan

    The outcome of the war and the early years are mutually exclusive.

    Not really, if the outcome of the war could have been determined in its early years.

    Your simplistic claims do not correlate with the dynamics of the war, by any remote measure.

    I am fortunate that a military genius such as yourself is here to educate me. Genghis Khan, Napoleon Bonaparte, Horatio Nelson… all morons compared to your dazzling intellect.

    If only you were leading the LTTE, then we can all be smiling today with the continued suicide bombings and child soldiers.

    In fact, my second argument is still the most insightful: that, in fact, the Sri Lankan military is weak by any modern standard, and in fact, has always been weak.

    I fail to see how it is insightful. The SLA is clearly strong enough to hold the N-E and there hasn’t been a single suicide bomb since Prabakaran croaked. SLA sounds like winners to me, I’m afraid!

    It is only due to the Karuna split,

    That may explain how the SLA took the east so quickly, but how about the north?

    plus the advancements in technology, plus the assistance from many other nations,

    Could you explain the advancements in technology? Wouldn’t that contradict your argument that the SLA is weak?

    To add some context to this example, no doubt you are familiar with the attacks on Elephant Pass, Mullaitivu, etc. These sorts of attacks on big bases – where the said base was overrun – has never occurred in Afghanistan or Iraq, as per NATO. Unlike the way the SLA almost lost Jaffna in the last 90′s?, NATO has never been in danger of losing a city it has occupied.

    A very good point, which leads me to ask why the LTTE was not able to launch such large-scale attacks after GR was put in charge?

  • Heshan

    Not really, if the outcome of the war could have been determined in its early years.

    The SLA has not changed significantly since the 80’s, except for an increase in manpower. Why do you think GOSL had a press censorship in place for war reporting in the North… part of the reason was to hide the high casualty rate that the SLA experienced. Let’s put this into perspective: the USA has been in Iraq since 2003, and had a total casualty rate of 4,282 over a 7 year period. The Sri Lankan military lost 3000 men during the Mullaitivu battle alone. This proves beyond a doubt that the Sri Lankan military is third-class and lacked the capability to defeat the LTTE without vast amounts of outside help. During the “early years” – early 80’s – military technology was not at all what it is today… so it does not take a genius to figure out that the incompetent SLA would have been 10 times more incompetent during that period.

    Genghis Khan, Napoleon Bonaparte, Horatio Nelson… all morons compared to your dazzling intellect.

    All of which are irrelevant examples.

    I fail to see how it is insightful. The SLA is clearly strong enough to hold the N-E and there hasn’t been a single suicide bomb since Prabakaran croaked. SLA sounds like winners to me, I’m afraid!

    Assuming the SLA was even able to do so, it would have taken several years to capture the North, had there been no Karuna split. Not only did the LTTE lose 2,000 men thanks to the Karuna split, but Karuna provided valuable intelligence.

    A very good point, which leads me to ask why the LTTE was not able to launch such large-scale attacks after GR was put in charge?

    The LTTE ran out of weapons thanks to the Indian naval blockade as well as satellite imagery provided by the Indians to Sri Lankans, which the Sri Lankans acted on. When your supply line is cut off, you can only engage in a defensive war, as opposed to the offense kind.

  • Heshan

    *as opposed to the offensive kind