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The Re-Emergence of the Tamil Nadu Factor

In India's Sri Lanka Policy

Commentary on Dr. M. Mayilvaganan's article in Strategic Analysis by TamilNation, June, 2008

Dr. Mayilvaganan is also right to point out that -

'..it is well known that in the absence of a genuine devolutionary arrangement any Tamil outfit supported by India or Sri Lanka will lose out to the LTTE in terms of its support among the Tamils of Sri Lanka'.

This then is the nub of the matter - and it is here that New Delhi may find itself  between a rock and a hard place. The rock being the people of Tamil Nadu and the LTTE - and the hard place being the uneasy balance of power in the Indian Ocean region -

Front Note by tamilnation.org

Dr. Mayilvaganan's article in 'Strategic Analysis' [Volume 31, Issue 6, November, 2007, pages 943 - 964 published by the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, India (ISDA)] is an useful addition to the literature on India's involvement in the Tamil Eelam Freedom Struggle. It is understandable that as an Associate Fellow of a New Delhi based Indian think tank, Dr. Mayilvaganan takes the view that -

'India has to impress on the (Sri Lanka) political leadership the urgent need for a devolutionary power-sharing arrangement acceptable to all communities, in line with its oft-stated policy on Sri Lanka.'

Strategic Analysis Dr.Mayilvaganan is right to point out that India's policy on Sri Lanka is an oft stated one. The Achilles Heel in India's oft-stated policy is to be found in the words 'acceptable to all communities'. Professor Marshall Singer gave expression to this Achilles Heel in 1995 -

"...One of the essential elements that must be kept in mind in understanding the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict is that, since 1958 at least, every time Tamil politicians negotiated some sort of power-sharing deal with a Sinhalese government - regardless of which party was in power - the opposition Sinhalese party always claimed that the party in power had negotiated away too much. In almost every case - sometimes within days - the party in power backed down on the agreement..."

Professor Neil Devotta said it in 2005...

"...Beginning in the mid-1950s Sri Lanka's politicians from the majority Sinhalese community resorted to ethnic outbidding as a means to attain power and in doing so systematically marginalised the country's minority Tamils...parties in power seek to promote dubious conflict resolution only to be checkmated by the respective (Sinhala) opposition which typically claims that the proposed solutions are bound to eventually dismember the island" 

And Sathasivam Krishnakumar of the Liberation Tigers said it in June, 1991, long before both Professor Marshall Singer and Professor Neil Devotta -

"Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism has been institutionalised in Sri Lanka and today it has become more powerful than the politicians themselves. Indeed even if the Sinhala politicians seek to settle the conflict, Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism may try to prevent such a settlement. This is the political reality that those who are aware of the Sri Lankan situation are well aware of. This Sinhala chauvinism which was nurtured by Sinhala politicians for their electoral advantage, has grown into a Frankenstein monster which now has the power to destroy and make politicians. This we understand very well..."

India's oft stated policy fails to openly recognise that which Tamils living in many lands including Tamil Nadu have long recognised - the existence of a Sinhala Buddhist ethno-nation intent on conquering and ruling the people of Tamil Eelam

"...In the Sinhala language, the words for nation, race and people are practically synonymous, and a multiethnic or multicommunal nation or state is incomprehensible to the popular mind. The emphasis on Sri Lanka as the land of the Sinhala Buddhists carried an emotional popular appeal, compared with which the concept of a multiethnic polity was a meaningless abstraction..." [Sinhala Historian K. M. de Silva in Religion, Nationalism and the State, USF Monographs in Religion and Public Policy, No.1 (Tampa, FLA: University of South Florida 1986) at p31 quoted by David Little in Religion and Self Determination in Self Determination - International Perspectives, MacMillan Press, 1996]  

Tamils have long recognised that 'Sri Lanka' is in truth a Sinhala Buddhist ethno nation which seeks to masquerade as a Sri Lankan 'civic nation' - a Sinhala Buddhist ethno nation with a Sinhala flag, with an unrepealed Sinhala Only Act,  with Buddhism enthroned in the Constitution, with a Sinhala 'Sri Lanka' name which it gave itself unilaterally in 1972, and for whom Sri Lanka is the land of the Sinhala Buddhists.

And so long as that Sinhala Buddhist ethno nation believes that it can conquer the Tamil homeland and rule a people against their will through quislings, so long will it fail to see the need to talk to the Tamil people on equal terms. So long also will it fail to see the need to recognise the existence of the Tamil people, as a people, with a homeland and with the right to freely choose their political status. So long also will it fail to see the need to structure a polity where two nations may associate with each other in equality and in freedom.

Here, Dr. Mayilvaganan is right to point out the re-emergence of the Tamil Nadu factor in relation to the conflict in the island of Sri Lanka -

"...There is a view in Tamil Nadu that India played a role in the division of LTTE, primarily to weaken the LTTE and force it to come to the negotiating table. But people in Tamil Nadu would rather argue that any effort by India aimed at trouncing the LTTE at the moment, when the government of Sri Lanka has launched its full-scale offensive against the LTTE, would be construed as inimical to the interests of the Tamils and give rise to spontaneous opposition by the people of Tamil Nadu... and have adverse consequences for internal politics in the state by strengthening pro-LTTE Tamil nationalist forces."

Dr. Mayilvaganan is also right to point out that -

'..it is well known that in the absence of a genuine devolutionary arrangement any Tamil outfit supported by India or Sri Lanka will lose out to LTTE in terms of its support among the Tamils of Sri Lanka'.

This then is the nub of the matter - and it is here that New Delhi may find itself  between a rock and a hard place. The rock being the people of Tamil Nadu and the LTTE - and the hard place being the uneasy balance of power in the Indian Ocean region -

"...as India and China gain economic heft, they are moving to expand their control of the waterway, sparking a new - and potentially dangerous - rivalry between Asia's emerging giants...Encouraging India's role as a counter to China, the U.S. has stepped up exercises with the Indian navy and last year sold it an American warship for the first time, the 17,000-ton amphibious transport dock USS Trenton. American defense contractors - shut out from the lucrative Indian market during the long Cold War - have been offering India's military everything from advanced fighter jets to anti-ship missiles... Meanwhile, Sri Lankans - who have looked warily for centuries at vast India to the north - welcome the Chinese investment in their country." Gavin Rabinowitz, Associated Press, 6 June 2008

Again, despite American defense contractors 'offering India's military everything from advanced fighter jets to anti-ship missiles', India may be concerned to march to the beat of its own drummer -

"...Last April (2007), at a two-day workshop at the Indian Defense Studies Analysis (IDSA), a New Delhi-based think tank, discussions took place on emerging U.S.-Indian strategic relations. One Indian analyst pointed out that although Indians are eager to obtain U.S. technology, a "trust deficit" still exists, based on past U.S. sanctions on India, and Indians worry that at a crucial time they might not be supplied with replacement parts if the relationship goes bad again.... A senior Indian military official delivering a luncheon address to the conference cautioned that Indo-U.S. relations are likely to remain fluid, and unpredictable. He asserted that those relations can be better described as an "evolving entente," and argued that given its size, location, and ambitions, India will always march to the beat of its own drummer..." Geostrategic Import of the Coming Bay of Bengal Naval Exercise -  Ramtanu Maitra, Executive Intelligence Review, 27 July 2007

Unsurprisingly, Sinhala Sri Lanka seeks to use the political space created by the geo strategic triangle of US-India-China in the Indian Ocean region, to purchase the support of all three for the continued rule of the people of Tamil Eelam by a permanent Sinhala majority within the confines of  one state. And so, we have India in the Trincomalee oil farm, at the same time we have a Chinese coal powered energy plant in Trincomalee; we have a Chinese project for the Hambantota port, at the same time we have the attempted naval exercises with the US from Hambantota (to contain Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean); we have the grant of preferred licenses to India for exploration of oil in the Mannar seas, at the same time we have a similar grant to China and a 'road show' for  tenders from US and UK based multinational corporations;  meanwhile we have the continued presence of the Voice of America installations in the island and the  ten year Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) was signed by the United States and Sri Lanka on 5 March 2007.

Given the uneasy balance of power in the Indian Ocean region,  Dr.Mayilvaganan's invitation to New Delhi to go down the so called 'genuine devolutionary power-sharing' path may also evoke in New Delhi feelings of deja vu. It was Winston Churchill who reportedly remarked that the farther you look back into history, the further you can look forward. And in the case of India's search for 'genuine devolutionary power-sharing' we need  to look back only a mere 20 years.

In 1987 (given the balance of power between the US and the then Soviet Union) India's the Foreign Secretary Romesh Bhandari spelt out India's approach -

"..Sri Lanka is a small island strategically located in the Indian Ocean having harbours on which some outsiders have their eyes. Continued strife and disorder only weakens Sri Lanka and makes itself vulnerable to foreign interference, presence and even involvement. None of these can suit India.....it has been made clear at all times to Sri Lanka, that India's national compulsions cannot also be set aside. In any final reckoning these would prevail over anything else... " Sri Lanka - Settlement by Persuasion, Romesh Bhandari, Indian Foreign Secretary, 11 July 1987

In the final reckoning India's national compulsions did prevail over everything else. And it was the people of Tamil Eelam who were called upon to pay a heavy price for the Exchange of Letters between Sri Lanka and India directed to secure India's strategic interests in the Indian Ocean Region. The war crimes committed by Rajiv Gandhi's Indian Army in Tamil Eelam are engraved in the memory of the people of Tamil Eelam.

"..the Indian Army came here, massacred innocent Tamil civilians, raped our women and plundered our valuables. The acronym IPKF will always stand for Indian People Killing Force where we are concerned. We will one day erect a memorial in the heart of Jaffna town, in the centre of Hospital Road, in memory of all the innocent civilians – ranging in age from the very old past 80 to young children massacred by the IPKF and to the women who were raped." IPKF - Innocent People Killing Force,  Dr. T. Somasekaram   

"...as an Indian I feel ashamed that under the Indo Sri Lanka agreement, our forces are fighting with Tamils whom they went to protect...I believe that the Indian Government has  betrayed its own culture and ethics...The guilt, therefore, rests entirely on those who sent them to do this dastardly business of fighting in Sri Lanka against our Tamil brothers and sisters..." India's former Foreign Secretary, A.P.Venkateshwaran,  speaking in London in April 1988

And with the full might of the Indian Army present in Sri Lanka, all that India was able to 'persuade/pressure' Sri Lanka to offer was the comic opera of the 13th Amendment - a sophisticated script, but nevertheless, a comic opera.

".. Under the Sri Lanka Constitution executive power will continue to be vested in the President and in respect of provincial matters it will be exercised by his loyal servant the Provincial Governor... And it is the Governor who will have financial control. It is the Governor who will be in control of the provincial public service. The 13th Amendment may, take credit for inventing a new constitutional species - Provincial Ministers without ministerial power.  In the delightful phraseology of the 13th Amendment, the functions of the Chief Minister and the Board of Ministers are 'to aid and advice' the Provincial Governor in the exercise of his functions.

...In days gone by, the ruler of a people appointed Ministers to 'aid and advise' him. But today we live in a 'democracy'. And so, we have an executive President, who will appoint a Provincial Governor, who will be aided and advised by Ministers, who will be elected by the people. The Tamil people should be duly grateful that they have been permitted to 'aid and advise' their rulers. The Tamil national struggle has at last borne fruit! The unselfish friend of the Tamil people, the Indian Government, with the might of the 4th largest army in the world, has persuaded the Sri Lankan Government that the Tamil people should be actually permitted to 'aid and advise' their rulers. The mountain has indeed laboured. And there are some amongst us who even urge that we should not look a gift horse in the mouth!.." Thirteenth Amendment to Sri Lanka Constitution - Devolution or Comic Opera,  Nadesan Satyendra, March 1988

Furthermore, though the 1987 Indo Sri Lanka Accord recognized the Northern and Eastern Provinces as areas of historic habitation of the Tamil people, the 13th Amendment and the Provincial Councils Act refused to translate that recognition into constitutional reality. And here let us  recognise that even if the Northern and Eastern Provinces are joined together, the Tamils will continue to have an Executive Governor appointed by, and holding office during the pleasure of, a Sinhala President. If the Northern and Eastern Provinces are not joined together, then the Tamils will have the privilege of having two Governors appointed by, and holding office during the pleasure of, a Sinhala President.

After all, there should be no better way of governing the Tamil people than through a Tamil Governor appointed by, and holding office during the pleasure of, a Sinhala President. It would be an approach that would rival that of Hitler who sought to govern Norway in the 1940s through a Norwegian whose name was Quisling - and thereby made an everlasting contribution to the vocabulary of the English language.

Finally, the provisions of the Provincial Councils Act itself may be amended from time to time by a simple majority of members present and voting in Parliament. The 13th Amendment not only provided a constitutional script for a comic opera - it also enabled the Sinhala playwrights to change the script from time to time.

The short point is that under the 13th Amendment power  continued to reside in a Sinhala dominated Central government, within the frame of an unitary constitution with executive power vested in a Sinhala President. The blunt reality is that those who proclaim that the 13th Amendment was intended to share power between the Tamil people and the Sinhala people, are, to use a colloquialism, 'trying to pull a fast one' on the Tamil people.

And it was this Constitutional comic opera that Rajiv Gandhi's India sought to sell to the people of Tamil Eelam in 1987 as  'genuine devolution and power sharing'  - with disastrous consequences. Why was India unable to do more? Why was India unable to 'persuade/pressure' Sri Lanka to offer a constitutional structure where two nations may associate with one another in equality and in freedom and at the same time underwrite guarantees for the security of each?  Why was India unable to 'persuade/pressure' Sri Lanka to offer even a centralised federation such as the Indian federation?

Here, the circumstance that the 1987 Indo Sri Lanka Accord (and Indian armed intervention in the island) did have the overt support of the US is not without significance. On the surface, it was surprising that the US supported an Accord which called for the dismantling of the Voice of America installations in the island and increased potential Indian influence in the Indian Ocean - an Accord which was hailed by Rajiv Gandhi as having secured India's strategic interests in the region.

But, the US appears to have have taken the view that India's direct involvement was a way of ending the less manageable covert support that India had extended Tamil militancy during the period 1981 to 1986. The old story of the invitation extended by the spider to the fly comes to mind. The US was mindful that should India's influence in the island tend to become stabilised, President Jayawardene (who for many years was called 'Yankee Dick' by his political opponents) and US supporters in the Sri Lanka cabinet (like the then Sri Lanka Prime Minister Premadasa and National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali) could always be encouraged to delay or even sabotage the implementation of crucial terms of the Accord. It was after all a 'West leaning' UNP that was in power and not a 'non aligned' SLFP.

In the event, the arrest of top ranking LTTE leaders including Kumarappa and Pulendran did provide National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali with that opportunity. His insistence (backed by President Jayawardene) that the arrested LTTE leaders should be brought to Colombo for questioning despite the amnesty proclaimed in the Indo Sri Lanka Accord, forced Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to choose - and Rajiv Gandhi chose to support Sri Lanka (in an attempt to salvage India's role in the region). The subsequent suicide of Kumarappa, Pulendran and others was the final straw that broke the fragile peace that the Accord had secured. (see Eyewitness Account of Incidents in Jaffna - September to November 1987). Many may conclude that Rajiv Gandhi in the end succumbed to forces bigger than those that India could manage at that time.

"Inter-state relations are not governed by the logic of  morality. They were and they remain an amoral phenomenon.." Jyotindra Nath Dixit Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka 1985 /89, Foreign Secretary in 1991/94 and National Security Adviser to the Prime Minister of India 2004/05, speaking in Switzerland, February 1998

Inter-state relations may not be governed by the logic of  morality, but the failure of New Delhi to pursue a principle centered approach to  struggles for self determination in the Indian region weakens India -  and does not strengthen it.  An unprincipled approach, apart from anything else, may well  encourage the very outside 'pressures' which New Delhi seeks to exclude.

"...Peoples speaking different languages, tracing their roots to different origins, and living in relatively well defined and separate geographical areas, do not easily 'melt'... A people's struggle for freedom is also a nuclear energy and the Fourth World is a part of today's enduring political reality..." The Buddha Smiled - Nadesan Satyendra, 12 June 1998

"... to equate a resistance movement fighting against enormous injustice with the government which enforces that injustice is absurd.... does this mean that people whose dignity is being assaulted should give up the fight because they can’t find saints to lead them into battle?.... " Arundhati Roy in conversation with Shoma Chaudhury, March 2007

Now, twenty years after 1987, the 13th Amendment comic opera is once again being touted as opening the path to  'genuine devolution and power sharing'. And this time round, the uneasy balance of power in the Indian Ocean region includes not only the US but also a rising China as well. We are reminded of George Santayana's reflection that those who do not learn from history are condemned to relive it. 

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The Re-emergence of the Tamil Nadu Factor in India’s Sri Lanka Policy - Dr.M. Mayilvaganan

Abstract

The Tamil minority in Sri Lanka have traditionally exerted a sympathetic pull on their co-ethnics in Tamil Nadu. This has inevitably influenced India’s policy towards Sri Lanka. The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 changed this pattern and the popular sympathy for Tamil militancy ebbed considerably in its aftermath. However, the spontaneous reactions by the political parties of Tamil Nadu to the Sri Lankan government’s indiscriminate air attack on Tamil majority areas since mid-2006 and the flight of refugees to India indicate that Tamil Nadu may have resurfaced as an important factor in India’s Sri Lanka policy. For New Delhi, it can neither afford to see the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) strengthen its foothold by taking advantage of influx of refugees, nor can it be a silent spectator to the humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka as the Government of Sri Lanka appears determined to find a military solution to the ethnic problem. There is, therefore, a need to analyse the re-emergence of the Tamil Nadu factor in the post-Rajiv Gandhi assassination phase.

From the Conclusion

"...There is a view in Tamil Nadu that India played a role in the division of LTTE, primarily to weaken the LTTE and force it to come to the negotiating table. But people in Tamil Nadu would rather argue that any effort by India aimed at trouncing the LTTE at the moment, when the government of Sri Lanka has launched its full-scale offensive against the LTTE, would be construed as inimical to the interests of the Tamils and give rise to spontaneous opposition by the people of Tamil Nadu.... although India has limited options in Sri Lanka, there is a general perception in Tamil Nadu that India is shirking its role in the Sri Lankan crisis to its disadvantage. Indian inaction would, many believe, complicate the situation and perpetuate the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka and have adverse consequences for internal politics in the state by strengthening pro- LTTE Tamil nationalist forces.

If the conflict intensifies, it would certainly lead to large-scale influx of refugees to Tamil Nadu, compelling India to react. Moreover, the LTTE might use the influx to build its support-base in Tamil Nadu, as it is trying now. This will complicate the internal security scenario. LTTE might already have established new supply and support bases in the state with the help of organised smuggling groups.

There is an overwhelming belief that India can and should work as an impartial facilitator, because it has enough leverage with both parties to persuade them to come together for a meaningful dialogue. This was indicated to the author in his fieldtrip to Tamil Nadu in early 2007 by many respondents. In this process, India needs to work closely with the international community. To devise an appropriate policy response, India has also to factor in the reluctance of the Sri Lankan government to accede to the legitimate demands of Tamils and the failure on its part to evolve a devolutionary framework acceptable even to the Sinhalese majority.

India has to impress on the political leadership the urgent need for a devolutionary power-sharing arrangement acceptable to all communities, in line with its oft-stated policy on Sri Lanka. It is well known that in the absence of a genuine devolutionary arrangement any Tamil outfit supported by India or Sri Lanka will lose out to LTTE in terms of its support among the Tamils of Sri Lanka. Thus the primary onus lies with the Sri Lanka state to evolve a genuine devolutionary arrangement, and India can help it in this exercise. Many in Tamil Nadu also suggest that India find some indirect way of communicating with LTTE, may be through TNA, and persuade LTTE to look for alternatives beyond absolute secession."