Colombo, Constitutional Reform, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance

Is this the end of the Tamil struggle?

For reasons I shall explain later I don’t think what we see at present marks the end of the Tamil struggle for independence. The popular perception may well end up in a mirage.  Clearly, a new chapter of the Tamil campaign is in the making, and the signs are that the next episode is going to be even more formidable than the Tamil Tigers’ mini-state project.  With South India’s full backing – also, with the international community’s blessings – the Tamils are going to press for just two options: either a confederation or total separation.

Ironically, Sri Lanka’s ruthless war aimed at crushing Tamil separatism seems to have triggered a phenomenon that has strengthened the Tamils’ resolve for independence as never before. In other words, if the Sinhala leaders’ target was to save the country from splitting into two, the war has set a process in motion that may bring about exactly the opposite result.

Quite apart from adding one more to the list of examples that expose the global institutions’ hypocrisy and the resultant impotence in tackling barbaric wars by ‘state-terrorists’, this war has demonstrated before the world in no uncertain terms why Tamils cannot live under the Sinhala rule. In other words, the war has unambiguously legitimised the Tamils’ demand for independence.

The terminology and the logic Sri Lankan leaders used in public to justify the war to the world have unwittingly betrayed the chauvinist mindset behind the government’s war strategy. Sri Lanka’s military chief Lt. General Sarath Fonseka said: “I strongly believe that this country belongs to the Sinhalese; but there’re minority communities and we treat them like our people….They can live in this country with us, but they must not try to, under the pretext of being a minority, demand undue things.”

[I wonder what the Scots would have done if the British Prime Minister said something similar about the English majority…oops, I’m sorry, British PM, Gordon Brown, is a Scotsman!]

The Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa said: “In any democratic country the majority should rule the country. This country will be ruled by the Sinhalese community which is the majority representing 74% of the population.”

[Ironically, the London parliament had to offer a separate parliament to the Scottish region precisely for a similar reason. The Scottish people kept on voting the Labour party while the English majority continued to put Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative party to power. Scots became furious and their campaign for a separate state began to strengthen in leaps. The separate Scottish parliament was the result.]

How could such politicians replace a supremacist system – that produced Tamil separatism in the first place – with a new constitution that respects individual and national rights? I don’t think they can – particularly not in the present context when the rulers’ toxic mindset is mixed with soaring war hysteria.
Thus, I predict, crushing of the Tigers’ mini-state solves nothing. With or without Prabakaran, the Tamil struggle is bound to move forward in a far more sophisticated form – this time with an explicitly separatist agenda whole-heartedly backed by people all over the world, more relevantly by millions of Tamils in South India. And, the Tamils will not need a mini-state to convince the world of their campaign’s legitimacy.

The war’s sheer brutality has created new realities:

Rising rage among Tamils all over the world, particularly among the Tamil Diaspora’s second-generation youth, seem to surpass the Muslim anger over the dragging middle-east wars.

The South Indian Tamils now support the Tamil case for separation as never before. Jayalalitha’s unprecedented rhetoric during India’s election campaign – to militarily intervene in Sri Lanka and help Tamils get an independent Tamil Eelam, like India did in Bangladesh – is the clearest indication of this new phenomenon. Remember, this rising mood in India coincides with Indian ruling elite’s increasing awareness of China’s strategic schemes in Sri Lanka. India knows why China went to remarkable lengths to assist Sri Lanka’s war effort financially and militarily. [Read the Times-On-Line article in the Sri Lanka section of under my heading: Who was behind Sri Lanka’s dazzling military success against Tamil Tigers.]

Quite apart from the changing Indian politics, the Sri Lankan government has definitively lost the propaganda war internationally – not just among global leaders but ordinary masses in general. Sri Lanka’s image is likely to remain tarnished as a rogue state for the foreseeable future. And, from now on the world’s perception of the Tamil struggle could become far more favourable than ever before.

Tamils living inside and outside the so-called welfare camps in Sri Lanka will be quiet for the time being for obvious reasons. But, their rage will continue to fester jeopardising the chances of winning Tamils’ hearts and minds for a very long time.

The crux of the matter is this: These new realities have emerged at a time when 95% of the Sinhala army is stuck in Tamil towns for the foreseeable future and the Sri Lankan economy is facing nightmarish prospects in the midst of the worst global economic downturn since 1930s.

If the government thought it could end the security nightmare that stifled Sri Lanka’s economy for so long by militarily defeating Tigers’ conventional army and occupying the ‘Tigerland’, they are mistaken. Unless there’s a substantial transformation of the post-colonial state structures – which the present government (as I argued above) is incapable of carrying out – the situation would deteriorate further in the coming months. Cosmetic devolution of power to provincial councils – while the centre remains firmly in the “Sinhala hands” – will not tackle the problem.

The most likely post-war scenario would not, in my view, be a peaceful one. Economic calamities, labour unrest, attacks on media institutions and political dissent, rise of “urban warfare” and state-terrorism and disappearances are likely to be the hallmarks of the foreseeable future. It is with this kind of tragic picture in mind I wrote my last article “A Common Programme for a United Left Front in Sri Lanka” [], in which I pointed out the importance of all Sri Lanka’s socialist parties forming a united front under the banner of a clear political and economic programme for fundamental change in the country.

However, it is important to realize that none of what we leftists promise in the south is going to impress the Tamils in Sri Lanka or abroad – and understandably so. They have undergone too much oppression since independence under chauvinist regimes.

Under Ceylon Tamil Congress, the Tamils of newly liberated Ceylon looked for an equality-based solution within a unitary state. When that failed, the Federal Party launched non-violent campaigns for a federal solution which were violently crushed by chauvinist regimes. Finally, the LTTE-led separatist armed-struggle emerged to challenge the Sinhala establishment militarily. This led to decades of destructive war which culminated in the present war effort inflicting untold sufferings on Tamils in order to destroy the separatists’ mini-state.

Now on the Tamil side a worldwide campaign for a separate state is in the making and nothing we say is going to convince them until they see the change in the flesh. Thus, it will be the duty of the left to respect the Tamils right to self-determination as the first step towards winning their hearts and minds – which the chauvinists have ruined – and tirelessly work to rebuild the lost trust and achieve a socialist republic of Sri Lanka & Tamil Eelam.