Colombo, Human Rights, Human Security, IDPs and Refugees, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance

Four things done, Four things undone: The self-immolation of the LTTE

It is clear, even amongst the most liberal of the western political academic circles that the end of the LTTE is now inevitable. Backed by the widow state of Sonia Gandhi and designed by the US counter terror agencies for the GOSL, the SLA under the command of the wondered and vengeful solder of Mj. Gen. Sarath Fonseka and the non-elitist Rajapakese brothers, have now achieved what all the SL governments for the last 30 years dreamed doing. An annihilating of the LTTE at any (human) cost. Has ambassador Jayathilake echoes, one question that observers of SL politics and conflict studies in general are busy finding answers is how did the fall of the ‘invincible’ LTTE happen so quickly so dramatically?

As a concerned observer of the political war theatre in SL but who does not claim to have any superior affiliation or insights to any side, (that is from the GOSL or of LTTE). I attempt to map four key events that the LTTE did and another four, they failed to do in designing their own future. To my somewhat distant analysis, the following 4×4 reasons are possible trajectories on which the LTTE traveled fast, to arrive at the present thin strip between the devil and the deep (Mullaithivu) see. The LTTE in the operational strategies of their three decades of tigerish campaign offers many strategic and political theory lessons. These lessons, for the most part will remain as a text book thesis for future studies of non state actors and their ability to organize and wage separatist wars (as a means of winning the rights of an oppressed minority nation or megalomaniac reasons: depending on how one would select the analysis).

Because of the nature of this citizen journal and the preference of the majority of its readership, I avoid using any academic theoretical/conceptual framework analysis or impressive contemporary academic terminologies. I hope those who prefer such a discourse will pardon me.

Four things Done

1. Transforming a mass-minority struggle into a monoethnic-military campaign
By the end of 80s the LTTE managed to dominate all other similar groups (see Narayan Swami 2000). The sheer ruthlessness that was unleashed by LTTE by assassinating the leaders of any rival group send shocking vibrations, first in the social psyche of the Eelam Thamilar and then among other varied sympathy groups. Intra conflicts are common among armed groups (see: Arab Nationalism in the 20th Century. Adeed 2005). However, the long term consequent of this desire of domination rather than for corporation is to stand as the entry point of demonization of LTTE by many moderates and opponents. This dominance not only alienated the LTTE and its leadership from some key sections of the Thamilar, it further generated an army of anti or harden critiques of -LTTE in varied forms. The UTHR (J) ( ambassador Jayathilake, and Minister Douglas Devananda represent only few such groups.

The transformation of the LTTE in the 90s further offers a particular type of lesson into the modus operandi of the group and its inner thinking. Group elitism, intransigent and openly arrogant belief in their ability to succeed as ‘sole’ players in the game of independence on their own account, insensitivity towards the local populous, elimination of any and every critique, are factors that eroded the image and the affiliation of the LTTE in the minds of many moderate Thamilar who lived (and died or left) the Jaffna peninsula. LTTE lost a reservoir of support from many liberal intellectuals and the middle class bourgeoisie. Vast majority of individuals who once dreamed and worked for the struggle left the group and immigrated to many western states.

The unchanged attitude of the LTTE was further fuelled by the on slaughter of many ill planned military campaigns of SLA and its deployment of poor strategies in the 90s. One such act was the use of civilians as informants in around the main cities in the North. Many a time these informants worked as double agents and produced disastrous results for the SLA. However, the use of few individuals from the Muslim community who lived in metropolitan Jaffna was to produce results. In the early 90s the SLA found inroads and respectable success due to this collaboration. The reaction of the LTTE was a use of force in absolute inadmissible scale. In October 1992 forced eviction of nearly 92,000 Muslims within 48 hours from Jaffna with a maximum assert of 300 rupees, was a clear act of ethnic cleansing though not by murder but by forced migration. The Muslims of Jaffna who in almost every aspect were Thamilar became the ‘other’ instantaneously. This is one of the earliest political suicides of the group. Because, if the Catholics and Christians in the Northeast are considered as Thamilar, one cannot see a reason why not the Muslims? I would argue that the separate Muslim political identity and its developments under the commendable leadership of charismatic Ashroff was an energy lost by the LTTE. The evicted Muslims who after 19 years, in their second generation live as IDPs around the Putthlam district are a permanent political stigma against the LTTE. The pan-island Muslim withdrawal from the Thamil minority struggle and radical youth leadership for an exclusive Muslim Polity represented by rural individuals like my friend Dawaam of Akkaraipaththu, and politics represented by minister Bathiuddin, an IDP himself are the direct results of an exclusive ethnocentric approach to the struggle. This ethnocentric approach of the LTTE planted doubts in the minds of many non-SL, non Thamil academias from Uppsala to LSE who were supportive of the group at least in the theoretical sense. History of separatist movements indicates that no monoethnic identity group has ever won the support of the liberal west. Further, this inward looking ethnic identity was to create fatalistic fraction within, which we witnessed later.

2. From Rajiv to Rahul
In less than year later the LTTE in its sheer overconfidence and the belief in iconoclast planning carried out the murder of Rajiv on May 21 1991. Many sympathizers of LTTE did not believe this political audacity even while the Indian authorities had convicted Mr. Pirapaharan, until the ideologue Balasingham accepted the assassinations at the post CFA interview at Vanni in 2002 naming it as a ‘regrettable past’. Yet that past, however regrettable from the LTTE side has come to be the most powerful and the most strategic political and military opponent of the LTTE. As I key this article, (on the 22nd April) few hours ago in Amethi, Utthra Pradesh, the home base of the Gandhi clang, the adorable daughter Priyanka , heading the campaign for her brother and the family heritage of INC, reminded the nation that India cannot forgive supremo Pirapaharan for murdering its leader Rajiv. Her wards were careful but sharply political. She reminds a nation which is at a crucial election, that not only she, as an individual lost her father at a young age but the LTTE assassinated the future of India. Rajiv in many ways was the handsome representation of the political and social aspiration of an India that is dying –hard to catch super power statues and create an image beyond the ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ framework. The youthful and forceful Rajiv may have acted uppish towards the politics of GOSL and dismissed the LTTE. The Premadasa regime may have secretly enjoyed over the assassination carried out by its awkward bed lover. However, the international, futuristic, political and strategic cost of this act has turned to be the single most force that designed the death bed and the last coffins of the present day LTTE. India’s active and inactive support to the Rajapakse model of military campaign is no secret. Furthermore, she has managed to cage the Western ‘liberal’ powers in their own diabolical diplomatic double standards by showing them the economic cost of losing a 450 million middle class market and nearly 1 billion consumer, whether it is Star TV or Unilever tooth paste. The messiah type INGOs have listened to their donor masters and largely kept away from the ‘internal affairs’ of this war which is soon turning to be a near Rwanda.

Any student of South Asian society will agree that for the most part, Indian politics is not run by parties in power alone but by a draconian and all encompassing state administration force that is known for its corporate memories. LTTE with the assassination of Rajiv dismantled and destroyed the most fundamental support it ever had in its campaign (Dixit 2000). Killing Rajiv, the only surviving son of Indira, the powerful PM who once helped the LTTE with men money and machinery through her southern cine hero MGR, was a suicide jacket the LTTE wore on itself and gave the trigger to the unknown political emotions of the future iron lady in Sonia. It is an experience difficult to cope, however liberal, for anyone to lose her handsome university lover in the middle age of her culturally isolated life. And Sonia cannot be an exception. In the minds and hearts of a population that spends the most number of hours in the world watching matinees of Bolywoodian genre, the memories of Rajiv is a tear pumping turning point. This sentiment is true even in the Dravidian Thamil Nadu. Film director Seeman and vibrant Viko are unable to super impose the undercurrent memories of the gruesome murder of Rajiv on the soils of Thamil Nadu. If there is any post war analysis by pro-as well as anti LTTE study circles, whether indigenous or international, the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi will be a commons conceptual framework of analysis to begin with. LTTE even if it manage to leave behind any remnants of the current movement, will have to deal with Rahul Gandhi who for many Indian power blocks, is the prince waiting to be enthroned as the most powerfull man in the largest democracy in the world which just 28 kms away from an aspirant Thamil Eelamist.

3. Neelan: The bridge that was bombed.
LTTE, largely based on its military success against an unorganized and often led by an unwilling command in SLA, came to believe that military might can compensate an all encompassing approach to any power negotiations. In its strategic thinking, it was militaristic terror rather than persuasive negotiation or the skilful diplomacy that was going to bring the desired results. For this end, the LTTE continued to seek and eliminate any possible ‘in-betweens’. This centric thinking was displayed nowhere like in the act of murdering Dr Neelan Thiruchchelvam, an unarmed constitutional scholar. Neelan by far was one of the most prominent Thamilans that Eelam had ever produced. It is said that he has achieved in constitutional law what Ananda Coomaraswamy achieved in art. This is not merely because of his Harvardian scholarship or Bill Clinton level international connections, but also for his unmatched contribution and the way he had articulated the rights of the Thamilar amongst the international decision makers as well as with the liberal Sinhala south. He refused the post of Foreign Minister in the CBK cabinet because he wanted to remain as a TULF activist for the cause of the Thamilar. LTTE up to date has not been able to give any reasons why it decided to murder a soft man like Neelan in that tigerish manner.

Two realities emerged from the murder of Neelan. One: the generation that Nirgunan belongs to- decided to depart from the struggles of the Thamilar to a distance that is irrecoverable. Two: Lakshaman Kadirgamar, who was a colleague of Neelan yet totally unattached to the Thamil struggle was to become the most formidable international critic of the LTTE that any southern government was able to produce. LTTE while isolating itself from the international political stage indirectly produced its antithesis in Kadir. Kadir single handily set in motion an entire new discourse on the LTTE vs. its own claim of minority rights. The Eelam Thamilar Diasporas from Washington DC to Auckland could not mount an argument justifying the killing of Neelan nor was able to stop Kadir until his assassination. Since the assassination of Neelan, the replacement of Voddukkodai politics by Vellvattithurai militancy did not synchronize in its action or theory with the changing moods of politics internationally as much as the crucial sections of the Global Thamil world.

4. Reducing Ranil to Redundancy
2003 CFA, in many senses was the golden opportunity for LTTE if it had ever given any serious place for politics of compromise. Ranil, whatever the hidden agenda he may have hatched with his advisors from Bush administration, was apolitically bold in his act of singing the CFA which only few in own party or government had read fully. Then SLA commander Maj.Gen. Balagalle later confessed that when he sent internal memos to his field commands in the North, himself had not read the CFA in full details. Entering Mannar with a Colombo University don within few hours of the signing of CFA, I was able to feel and witness the sheer relief and the hopes of in the eyes of the ordinary citizens of Eelam. LTTE for its part put a commendable show at the international media interview in Vanni. Mr. Pirapaharan in his pearl blue safari presented hopes for a democratic transition. The opportunity created through the CFA was only second to the post Indo- Lanka accord when JRJ offered a 9 member ruling council of which 7 were to be named by the LTTE. However, ‘maximum milking’ has been the political motto of the LTTE. It failed to read the changed paradigms of the international stage in a post 9/11 condition. Here the Thamil Diasporas should take the greater share of the blame. The learned and other supporters of the LTTE in many capitals of the G8 countries either failed or refused to learn from IRA like groups world over. The US based IRA Diaspora reading the diminishing international pulse for violent armed struggles, changed course and engaged in serious negotiations with compromises resulting in the Good Friday Agreement. The ‘second generation’ Eelam Thamil Diaspora that is either fasting or blocking roads from Toronto to London may have been too young in age and politics to influence this outcome.

Pro- LTTE Indian circles were appealing to the LTTE to transform and work on an extended Indo-Lanka accord. They were imagining that Mr. Pirapaharan will allow a pro-LTTE political frontier to contest the provincial election and sweep the power in the Northeast. Senior Indian politicos such as former defence minister George Fernandez, who have witnessed more separatists’ wars than any single country in the world had the wisdom to advice that a politically transformed LTTE will be powerful in the regional and internal calculation. Furthermore, such outcomes would have enabled Ranil to justify his act and ask for greater flexibility from his southern Sinhala voters. However, the democratic possibilities after CFA was limited to scenario case studies of Colombo based (I)NGO workshops. While the Ranil led UNP was fighting the JVP and power-hungry sections behind CBK, the LTTE, as we know now, was busy preparing for the eventual war. The six rounds of talks from Bangkok to Geneva were not capable of implanting any desire for diplomacy and democratic nuances. The LTTE made it own political hand grenade and threw it at the window of opportunity created. The result is known. The JVP led by its poster boy politician Wimal W, who apparently has not even claimed the Sigiriya rocks, became the messiah of Jaathiya Galavaganeeme attempts in which all sections from Managala Samawaweera, Anura Bandaranaike and Arjuna Ranathunga and the likes gathered at the Lipton Circus to topple the UNP and bring home the third term of SLF led the PA. The LTTE once again displayed its abysmal ignorance of the southern politics and agreed to defeat Ranil by calling a boycott of the election. At that time neither Mangala, Anura nor many others in Colombo and, certainly the LTTE, did not dream that a 0.29% margin victory will eventually create a His Excellency Mahinada Rajapakse, the modern Dutu Gamunu to the Sinhala south and a true Destroyer to the LTTE.

The story of LTTE will be analyzed in many different aspects in many years to come in the study circles based in Berlin to Brussels. However, in a realpolitik sense the greater section of the Thamilar, be them Eelamist, Indian, moderate or separatists, will remember the LTTE for its unparallel self-sacrificing commitment to the rights of the Eelam Thamilar with some spectacular military campaigns. However, in the same breath no one will be able to forget its dismayed political failures. One lesson if willing to learn, stands clear as the midday sun: That is, be it the LTTE led by Velupillai Pirapaharan or the PA led by Percy Mahinda Rajapakse, failing to embrace democracy when it is at hand will bring the destruction that even a divine destiny will not be able to stop.

Four things what LTTE did not do will follow anon.

What Next?
This submission is in response to a question posed by Groundviews posed here that asked readers to opine on a war ‘over in 3 weeks’ and a ‘post-LTTE’ Sri Lanka. Please visit this original post to read a rich spectrum of opinion and commentary on the nature of post-war Sri Lanka.