Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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How Gandhis and Karunanidhi Made Use of Lanka’s Ethnic Conflict

by T. Sabaratnam, The Bottom Line, Colomobo, February 11. 2009

“Why did not your leader come?” MGR asked Balasingham.

He told MGR that Pirapaharan was out of Chennai and would come next time.
MGR asked: Why didn’t you go for Karunanidhi’s meeting?

Balasingham: You called the meeting first. He called the meeting to beat you. That’s why we did not go.

MGR was pleased. He said: You have understood Tamil Nadu politics.
They had a long chat and at the end MGR asked: What help can I give you?
Balasingham told him that India was training 200 cadres, but they needed at least 1,000 cadres to fight the Sri Lankan Army. “We have the people. We have to train and arm them. We need money for that,” he had said.

T. Sabaratnam As I See ItMy colleague P.K. Balachandran, formerly the Colombo representative for the Hindustan Times and now working for the New Indian Express telephoned me on February 2 and asked: “Are the Tamils now weaker than earlier?”

I answered, “Yes” and added that the Tamils were in a strong position when they agitated for their rights non-violently under the leadership of S.J.V. Chelvanayakam. I also told him that Gandhis, RAW and Karunanithi-MGR rivalry were the main causes for Sri Lanka’s present situation.

Tamils were in a strong position during the non-violent phase of their struggle, which began with the Galle Face satyagraha on June 5, 1956. For nearly two decades, till the passage of the Vaddukoddai Resolution of May 14, 1978, Chelvanayagam adopted every non-violent method possible to win an autonomous federal unit for the Tamils in the north and east.

His struggle depended purely on the moral strength of the Tamil people. It was totally indigenous. The Tamil people did not depend on anyone’s support. The then film idol, M.G. Ramachandran asked Chelvanayagam when he visited Chennai in 1974, “What kind of help can be give you?” “Moral help,” Chelvanayagam replied.

Frustrated by the refusal of the Sinhalese governments to grant the Tamils their rights, Chelvanayagam proposed the Vaddukoddai Resolution, which called for the establishment of the separate state of Eelam for the Tamil people of the north and east, but insisted that that agitation too should be non-violent.

By the time of Chelvanayagam’s death in April 1977 there were only two tiny militant groups. Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO) headed by Thangathurai and Kuttimani and the LTTE headed by Velupillai Pirapaharan. Three more were added – Eelam Revolutionary Organisation of Students (EROS), Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) and People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) – by the time of the 1983 riots.

Police intelligence placed the total strength of all the groups at less than 200. Then the riots came. The angry Tamil youths were prepared to fight the Sinhala state and India stepped in, to provide organisational structure to that anger. Indira Gandhi formulated that scheme. Her objective was to destabilise President J.R. Jayewardene’s government.

She ordered RAW, India’s external intelligence agency, to recruit and train the angry Tamil boys who joined the militant groups to destabilise the Jayewardene regime. Groups of cadres from TELO, EROS, PLOTE and EPRLF were taken to North India for training. The last to join was the LTTE. Pirapaharan accepted the invitation after he met a RAW operative at a secret destination in Puthucheri. Please wait with me till next week for details.

The popularity of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and Congress had dipped considerably in Tamil Nadu, mainly in the rural areas, according to an opinion poll published on Saturday (7) by the Loyalla College Media Department. If the present mood continues till the Parliamentary election in May the DMK-Congress group will suffer, the opinion poll shows.

The popularity of Vaiko’s Marumalarchi Dravida Kazhagam is very high, followed by Thol Thirumavalavan’s Viduthalai Chiruthaigal and Indian Communist Party. These groups are in the Sri Lanka Tamils’ Protection Movement headed by P. Nedumaran. The popularity of DMK and Congress and Jayalalitha’s Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam had dropped drastically.

Widespread revolt is brewing among the political parties and groups that oppose the LTTE. K. Ravichandran, a local leader of the Congress had set himself ablaze on Friday protesting against the Congress policy about Sri Lankan Tamils. His funeral held on Monday had evoked an emotional surge.

Karunanidhi is under severe attack as selfishly seeking to preserve his Chief Minister post and family wealth. He is trying to go along with the Congress, which had 35 members in the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly, who had threatened to defeat his government, if he goes against the central government.

Nedumaran, in a biting article in Thinamani, had accused Karunanidhi of sacrificing the interest of the Tamil people for his selfish ends. Karunanidhi had done that throughout his life. In April 1984, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran invited the leaders of the Tamil militant groups, then living in Tamil Nadu, for a meeting. He announced that he would try to forge unity among them. Karunanidhi undercut him by inviting the militant leaders to meet him and fixed the meeting for the day before MGR’s meeting.

Pirapaharan did not attend but Sri Sabaratnam of TELO, Balakumar of EROS and Pathmanabha of EPRLF went. Karunanidhi took photograph with them and gave wide publicity. MGR did not want to admit defeat. He sent Deputy Inspector General of Police Alexander to the LTTE office and invited Pirapaharan for a meeting. Pirapaharan sent Balasingham, Baby Subramaniam, Shankar and Nithiyanandan.

“Why did not your leader come?” MGR asked Balasingham.

He told MGR that Pirapaharan was out of Chennai and would come next time.
MGR asked: Why didn’t you go for Karunanidhi’s meeting?

Balasingham: You called the meeting first. He called the meeting to beat you. That’s why we did not go.

MGR was pleased. He said: You have understood Tamil Nadu politics.
They had a long chat and at the end MGR asked: What help can I give you?
Balasingham told him that India was training 200 cadres, but they needed at least 1,000 cadres to fight the Sri Lankan Army. “We have the people. We have to train and arm them. We need money for that,” he had said.

MGR: How much you need?

Balasingham raised his right arm and showed his five fingers. He asked for five million. MGR said “Alright. Come home tomorrow night and collect it.”

Balasingham went there in a van driven by Shankar. MGR received him, took him by lift to the basement and told the guards to give five. Twenty boxes were loaded into the van.

Balasingham thanked MGR and said he was scared to take it in the night. MGR rang the IGP. The boxes were taken to Balasingham’s house under Police escort. When counted they found five crores (50 million of Indian rupees equivalent to 100 million of Sri Lankan rupees.)

It was with that money Pirapaharan bought his first shipload of AK 47s.