Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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The Naivete and Rascality of N. Ram

by Sachi Sri Kantha, October 28, 2008

In the past, the Hindu reporters such as Nirupama Subramanian, V.S. Sambandan and currently B.Muralidhar Reddy, stationed themselves in the comfort of Colombo and have reported on the Sinhalese-Tamil conflict from there, regurgitating the inflated, propaganda feeds provided by the Sri Lankan armed forces and other ministeries. As such, almost all of their reports and commentaries suffer from 'reality deficit.' This can be rectified if the reporters bother to live in the Tamil territory and file their findings on the war from the heart of events.

Since I penned my previous commentary on Malini Parthasarathy’s malodorous malady, The Hindu (Chennai) of Oct.18th had carried an editorial, captioned ‘Sri Lanka: What needs to be done’ on the prevailing conditions in the North-east of Sri Lanka, where indigenous Tamils live. This is not the first time I have critiqued the naivete and rascality of The Hindu’s chief editor N.Ram’s stand on the Eelam Tamil issue. If you bother to google (as I did on Oct.29th) the name Narasimhan Ram, 205,000 items are presented; the second item on the list was my critique penned on Jan.2, 2006, titled ‘A Low-down on Narasimhan Ram’.

A subsequent editorial that appeared in The Hindu of Oct.25th (entitled, ‘Curbing dangerous tendencies’), which make reference to the Oct.18th item, prompted me to write this critique. For the record, I provide the complete text of the Oct.18th editorial below, before I critique the naivete and rascality of Narasimhan Ram.

Sri Lanka: what needs to be done

“The global financial crisis has spawned a new term that is fast acquiring the status of a cliché — ‘bailout package.’ Now attempts are on, internationally and in Tamil Nadu, to craft a bailout package for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Just what kind of political animal is the LTTE? The answer is straightforward. It is a dreaded terrorist organisation — described by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as “amongst the most dangerous and deadly extremist outfits in the world” — that claims to be the sole representative of Sri Lankan Tamils and pursues the secessionist goal of ‘Tamil Eelam’ in an uncompromising way. What is its present situation? For all its success in building, over time, low-intensity fighting capabilities that are the envy of extremist and terrorist organisations the world over, the LTTE has taken a military battering as never before. Every credible independent assessment indicates that it faces a crisis of depleted infrastructure, combat strength, and morale, and has dug itself into a deep hole in its eroding strongholds in Mullaithivu and Killinochchi districts in the mainland North.

The terrorist crimes and atrocities of Velupillai Prabakaran’s organisation are too well known to detail here. Suffice it to note that its extremist character is expressed by the fact that it has rejected, out of court, every worthwhile proposal for devolution of power to the Tamil regions within a united Sri Lanka. Following the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi on Indian soil by an LTTE squad in May 1991, India became the first country to ban the LTTE as a terrorist organisation — whose supremo, Prabakaran, continues to be wanted as Accused No. 1 in the Rajiv assassination case. Since the Indian proscription, nearly 30 countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Malaysia, the European Union, Canada, and Australia, have banned or listed the LTTE as a terrorist organisation.

For several years now, some small political parties and fringe groups in Tamil Nadu have been involved in ineffective chauvinistic propaganda and activities to enable the LTTE to stage a political comeback in India. They got no political purchase for the simple reason that the overwhelming majority of the people of Tamil Nadu, something like 95 per cent, did not want a reprise of the secessionist campaigns and violent activities of the Tamil Tigers in one of India’s most peaceful States. Now several mainstream parties that have no love lost for the LTTE found themselves taking a strident stand on the Sri Lankan Tamil question. In six resolutions adopted at a recent all-party meeting chaired by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, they alleged ‘ethnic genocide’ and issued an ultimatum to the Central government to provide humanitarian assistance to the Tamils (through international agencies such as the Red Cross), cease all military assistance to the Sri Lankan government, and bring about a ceasefire within two weeks — or else all Tamil Nadu MPs would resign, presumably bringing the United Progressive Alliance regime down with them.

Official and political India must avoid a serious conceptual trap: equating the politico-military crisis of the LTTE with an existential crisis for Sri Lankan Tamils. For political parties in Tamil Nadu, expressing concern over, and putting their best foot forward to help resolve, the humanitarian crisis created by the military conflict in the Wanni would be the just and proportionate response. Giving moral support for a political solution along federal lines within a united Sri Lanka will also be consistent with the long-term thrust of Indian policy towards Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict. The humanitarian crisis in the Wanni is defined by the plight of an estimated 230,000 displaced people and a large number of civilians affected by the recent battles. Reaching food, medicines, fuel, and other essential goods to them in the zone of low-intensity conflict is a major challenge. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, responding to humanitarian concerns raised in Sri Lanka, internationally, and by India in an October 6 démarche, has promised to overcome the practical obstacles and reiterated (in a telephonic interview to The Hindu) his assurance that “all hardships faced temporarily by our brothers and sisters in the North will be brought to an end in a short time.” The military has charged the LTTE with using civilians as ‘human shields.’

On September 1, the Sri Lankan government proposed a ‘humanitarian corridor’ to enable civilians trapped in battle zones to flee from the Tiger-held territories. Conflict-generated problems have cropped up in coordinating the relief work with United Nations agencies and international NGOs. The U.N. recently announced that a major World Food Programme convoy carrying 750 tonnes of food, which attempted to go into the Wanni, was “forced to turn back due to fighting” and that it would seek “renewed security assurances from the two sides before attempting the route again” soon. This is the kind of humanitarian situation where India’s developed logistical capabilities, combined with substantial fraternal contributions of food, medicine, and fuel, can make a real difference, as was splendidly demonstrated in Sri Lanka in the wake of the 2004 tsunami. The Tamil Nadu government and political parties can make a handsome contribution to such a timely humanitarian project. It goes without saying that India’s assistance to the Tamils must be routed through the Sri Lankan government and coordinated with the U.N. and reliable international NGOs.”

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Ram’s stature as a Ranking Journalist?

N.Ram (born 1945), with all the panoply at his disposal, projects himself as a ranking Indian journalist. Tamil Nadu has seen quite a few ranking journalists – such as Subramanya Bharathi (1882-1921), R. Kalki Krishnamoorthi (1899-1954), R.K. Narayan (1906-2001) and C.N. Annadurai – Anna (1909-1969). But, N. Ram is not a ranking journalist, despite his pompous pretensions.

Bharathi was an eminent Tamil poet, Kalki and Narayan were illustrious story-tellers in Tamil and English respectively, and Anna was a polymath. What has Ram to show for his credit, as achievement for the past 40 years? – Neither a poet, nor a story-teller, and not smart enough to be compared with Anna. So, how does one characterize Ram’s credentials? – he has a streak of aligning himself as an intangible asset of Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese politicians in power – whether they be J.R.Jayawardene (via Gamini Dissanayake), Chandrika Kumaratunga (via Lakshman Kadirgamar) and currently Mahinda Rajapakse.

In the above cited editorial, Ram writes about the ‘bailout package for LTTE’ in pejorative terms. What should not be forgotten is that since 1987, it has been the practice of Ram and the House of Hindu to provide ‘bailout packages’ to the racist Colombo politicians.

It is evident that not only is Ram naïve about the history of Sri Lankan Tamils, but also he is clueless about the revolutionary and political history of the U.S.A, though he claims to have a post-graduate degree from Columbia University’s graduate school of journalism. On LTTE, the Hindu editorial of Oct.18th notes, “It is a dreaded terrorist organisation — described by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as “amongst the most dangerous and deadly extremist outfits in the world” — that claims to be the sole representative of Sri Lankan Tamils and pursues the secessionist goal of ‘Tamil Eelam’ in an uncompromising way.” There are two issues here. First, as Jawaharlal Nehru wrote in his 1936 autobiography, “It is very easy and very fatuous to condemn persons or acts without seeking to understand the springs of action, that causes the causes that underlie them.” [An Autobiography, 1988- sixth impression, pp. 174-175] towards the use of the T-word by the British imperialists to the militancy of India’s freedom fighter Bhagat Singh, has Ram in any way comprehended the origin of militant violence among the Eelam Tamils, and that it was sponsored on the initiative made by Nehru’s daughter Indira Gandhi?

Secondly, when did, FBI’s words become the gospel of truth? As I have indicated in one of my previous essays contributed in January of this year, “On Jan. 10, 2008, the venerable Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of the USA issued a report entitled ‘Taming the Tamil Tigers: From Here in the US.’ To say the least, I was delighted that the LTTE, at last, has received such a meritorious badge from the FBI. As an institution established 100 years ago, I’d say that the FBI has functioned gallantly as the ultimate arbiter of American bureaucratic morals. I repeat that the FBI has been the ‘ultimate arbiter of American bureaucratic morals’ – and not the arbiter of social, academic and popular morals…. In its 100 years of existence, the celebrated folks who have been named, targeted and harassed by the FBI as “subversives” for their beliefs and deeds surely make a Dream Team of 20th century’s ranking thinkers, literati, scientists, social activists, artists and entertainers. For a sample, I provide the following names who were identified by the FBI as “subversives”: Albert Einstein, Thomas Mann, Charlie Chaplin, Sinclair Lewis, Carl Sandburg, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, Arthur Miller, Jonas Salk, John Steinbeck, Aldous Huxley, Paul Robeson, John O’Hara, Tennessee Williams and Martin Luther King Jr. Now, what would you say? Isn’t the LTTE and Pirabhakaran in great company?”

So, here is my posture to Narasimhan Ram, the pundit? By the same token, are you willing to concede that all these guys who have been tagged by FBI are subversives?

Narasimhan Ram facetiously regurgitate the Sri Lankan army’s line, that “The military has charged the LTTE with using civilians as ‘human shields.’” The key phrase here is, ‘the military’. Whose military is this? What is its current ethnic composition? Do Tamils have representation in this military, according to the population ratio? For comparative relevance here are the numbers for the U.S. armed forces and how the minorities are distributed in the U.S. armed forces. American Blacks, though constituting 12.3% of population are represented in the armed forces at 20.1%. Hispanic Americans, though constituting ~12.5% of the population, have 7.9% representation. Other minorities (Native Americans, Alaskan Natives and Pacific Islanders) make up 6.3% of U.S. armed forces. In sum, minority representation in U.S. armed forces is around 34.4% (source: New York Times Almanac, 2004). Minority Tamil (both indigenous variety and Indian-Tamil variety) representation in the blatantly racist SL armed forces is a state-secret, which even Ram cannot pry out from the President of Sri Lanka.

The Oct. 18th editorial also claims that the Hindu has had a ‘telephonic interview’ with President Mahinda Rajapakse and repeats his posturing as a savior of ‘brothers and sisters in the North’. This sort of cliché has been floating in Colombo’s hot air since 1956 and Eelam Tamils never gave any credence for the words of Sinhalese politicians, whether they were uttered in the parliament or in the UN podium or to the editor of the Hindu newspaper. Ram seems oblivious to the fact that Eelam Tamils (with the sole exception of a few political parasites) never placed their trust on the sugar-coated words of leadership of SLFP party, since 1956.

Ram is a master of cliché. His contemptuous needling on “some small political parties and fringe groups in Tamil Nadu have been involved in ineffective chauvinistic propaganda” (Oct.18th editorial) and on the speeches and activities made by leaders of “some fringe groups in Tamil Nadu” (Oct.25th) deserves rebuke. As an ex-Communist apologist (In his earlier incarnation, Ram was a propagandist for the Student Federation of India, Communist Party of India, Marxist – established in 1964) currently parrot-mouthing the virtues of democracy, Ram seems ignorant to the historical facts that some small political parties and fringe groups, both in India and Sri Lanka (such as DMK in Tamil Nadu, SLFP and the Federal Party to which A. Amirthalingam belonged, in Sri Lanka in early 1950s), have been catapulted to power on how they reflect their constituent’s wish-fulfillment.

The Fallacy behind being banned “by nearly 30 countries”

That Narasimhan Ram cannot think on his own is clearly proven, when he rehashes and vomits the propagandist viewpoint of Colombo that LTTE has been banned “by nearly 30 countries”. The logic behind this spurious claim deserves dissection. In what century, Ram seems to be living? First, over 195 countries are represented in the UN. As of now, that 165 countries have not instituted a ban on LTTE reveals that the decision making process of this “nearly 30 countries” is rather defective, and promulgated for ad-hoc conveniences. Secondly, the prevailing mindset of the political leadership of those 30 countries (touted as ‘democratic’) has to be checked. The lead players of these 30 countries (such as USA, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Denmark and Australia) have a notorious past as colonial aggressors and plunderers, and majority of nations that received independence during the past 50 years never bother to toe a line taken from an angle of colonial racist mentality.

The claim that “the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi on Indian soil by an LTTE squad” in 1991 resulted in India banning the LTTE may stand out as a politically convenient, nerve-jerk reaction in 1992. Subsequently, a saner and rational notion (call it ‘karmic view’) has come to prevail among millions of Indians that Rajiv Gandhi was not the first and the last leader to lose his life, due to his timidity, immaturity and reliance on unwise advice from his political handlers. Ram, and his fellow-travellers such as Subramanian Swamy, with an accusatory mindset may turn a blind eye on the faults of Rajiv Gandhi’s imperial dreams and deficits that irked both Sri Lankan Tamils and Sinhalese, in the latter half of 1980s. First amongst Rajiv Gandhi’s errors in dealing with the Sri Lankan Tamil issue was that he betrayed his mother Indira Gandhi’s policies in spirit and execution, and he paid with his life for such a betrayal.

To learn realistically about how much influence LTTE has on Eelam Tamil lives, Ram and his understudies who report from Colombo for the Hindu and its sister journals, have a time-tested route. In the past, the Hindu reporters such as Nirupama Subramanian, V.S. Sambandan and currently B.Muralidhar Reddy, stationed themselves in the comfort of Colombo and have reported on the Sinhalese-Tamil conflict, regurgitating the inflated, propaganda feeds provided by the Sri Lankan armed forces and other ministeries. As such, almost all of their reports and commentaries suffer from reality deficit. This can be rectified if the reporters bother to live in the Tamil territory for the entire length of their tenure and file their findings on the war. But one hardly doubts, whether the Hindu reporters will sacrifice that much for the purpose of finding the truth. This has not been in their training and tradition.

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