Indian Media's fishing expedition

Indian Media’s fishing expedition in Sri Lankan troubled waters


Dr. Victor Rajakulendran



The Norwegian-facilitated peace process in Sri Lanka has suddenly got into a stalled mode for the last few weeks, with the announcement by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) that they are suspending their participation in peace talks.  They have reasoned out that they are compelled to do this in order to give more time for the Sri Lankan government (SLG) to fulfil the commitments it has made so far.   The LTTE also have announced that they are not going to participate in the donor conference to be held in Japan in June.   

This has obviously created a panic situation among the parties behind the conference, namely Japan, SLG, USA, EU and Norway.  Reaction from the USA came through its ambassador in Colombo in the form of a press release critical of the LTTE's decision.  Japan and Norway have sent their high level diplomats, Yasushi Akashi, special envoy to Sri Lanka and Jan Peterson, the Foreign Minister, respectively to Sri Lanka.  They have met both the SLG and the LTTE in order to pave the way to bring the LTTE back to the negotiating table and to persuade the LTTE to attend the reconstruction conference in Japan.  Sri Lanka has been busy briefing India on the developments and soliciting advice.  Admirably, the Indian government has avoided complicating the situation by making unnecessary comments like that of the USA ambassador.  Instead, the Indian Government has expressed all the support for the advancement of the peace process. 

While all these parties interested in a solution to the ethnic crisis in Sri Lanka were busy trying to revive the stalled peace process, the Brahmin-controlled media in India like "The Hindu", "Frontline" and "Hindustan Times" were working overtime trying to fish in this troubled waters.  Their reporting on this unfortunate situation has been full of deliberate misinterpretations, assumptions, speculations, and reflecting their own expectations and wishful thinking.  Their main aim of this kind of reporting was to portray the LTTE as an organisation that will not stay in the peace process for too long.  Some of them, making use of the situation even went to the extent of trying to persuading people like Yasushi Akashi to change their perception of the situation to one similar to their own.   V. S. Sambandan and N. Ram of  "The Hindu" and "Frontline" and P. K. Balachnadran of the "Hindustan Times" are the key people who were involved in this type of mischievous journalism.  These Brahmin Tamils and the media institutions they serve cannot tolerate any other Tamils as a group becoming a politically dominant entity.  They also seem to consider it as their duty to use these media to see that their own community does not deviate from their own way of thinking.  They always have been playing a dual role.  In addition to functioning as journalists, disguising as journalists, they also serve the interests of the Indian policy makers. 

Ram of "The Hindu" is a classical example and a seasoned expert in this kind of manoeuvring.  During the days when the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's administration was arming and nurturing the Eelam Tamil militant groups in South India, Ram used to project himself as an admirer of the leaders of these groups, including Velupillai Prabakran, the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eeelam (LTTE).  He has written extensively admiring them then.  He also befriended the then President of Sri Lanka, late Mr. J. R. Jayawardana and almost served in the capacity of an adviser to him, during the pre-Indo-Sri Lankan accord period.  After the LTTE rebelled against this accord and exposed the hidden agenda behind this, Ram turned the tide against LTTE and he is still continuing.  Before I go into the details of Ram's latest misadventure, I will first show what the other two have tried lately. 

In an article published in the April 26-May 9, 2003 (Volume 20, issue 9) issue of the "Frontline" V.S. Sambandan has made a statement as follows: "Even as the Sri Lankan peace process enters a crucial phase, the LTTE continues to be treated with suspicion by the international community, especially the United States and India".   Sambandan has made this statement just after the US Assistant Secretary of State, Mr. Armitage, made the following statement about the LTTE in Washington during a meeting attended by representatives of the nations and organisations keen on helping Sri Lanka financially:  "The way the current negotiations are going, the United States can see a future for the LTTE as a legitimate political organisation, but it is still up to the LTTE to change this situation".  When the US administration had this view and the Indian government has not commented on or questioned about the sincerity of the LTTE, Sambandan expecting his readers to believe him sounds underestimating the intelligence of his readers. 

Sambandan in the same article has claimed the following:  "The LTTE now find its claim to being the “sole representative” of Sri Lankan Tamils being seriously challenged by two major international players – India and the United States”.  “What has hurt the tigers the most is the fact that their exclusion from the Washington meeting directly challenges their claim as the sole representatives of the island’s Tamils – a claim not accepted by other Tamil political parties”.  What Sambandan has tried to hide here is that the Indian government has never challenged this LTTE’s claim because India very well knows that an overwhelming majority of the island’s Tamils has clearly endorsed this in the last parliamentary elections.  Balachandran also have tried to make a bogus claim that this LTTE’s claim is not accepted by other Tamil political parties.  What Sambandan has tried to hide here is to spell out the names of those parties.  All the Tamil political parties represented in Parliament have united together under one banner, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and declared publicly the LTTE as the sole representatives of the island’s Tamils.  The only party that has challenged this claim is the Eelam People Democratic Party (EPDP).  The island’s Tamils know very well that this party got few seats in the parliament through vote rigging with the help of the Sri Lankan security forces.  Therefore the island’s Tamils do not care for this party’s opinion.  If the LTTE were excluded from the Washington meeting because other Tamil parties do not accept the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamils as Sambandan claims, US should have invited the EPDP for the Washington meeting.  Instead, the US Assistant Secretary, Richard Armitage explained publicly in his speech, why the US could not invite the LTTE for the Washington meeting. 

These people very often use journalistic jargons, like  “political leaders and analysts are of the view”, to provide some credibility to their own views.  In this article Sambandan says, “ I don’t see the Tigers staying out of Tokyo”, said a political leader, “not when they are so close to putting their hands into the pot of money”.  What Sambandan is trying here is to use some journalistic jargon to create a bad image about the LTTE as an organisation that is only worried about money.  As his aim was to demonise the LTTE in the eyes of his readers, Sambandan did not bother to follow this with another comment, although it was contradictory to the one above.  He goes on to say that, “However, there is also the view that the threat should not be overlooked.  If the Tigers are serious about not participating in Tokyo, it means imminent war”, quoting a military analyst.  He is using this statement to scare his readers that the Tigers are going to resume fighting and to create resentment against the Tigers among the Tamil people. 

Sambandan also has stated that, “The two important messages from Washington were; the Tigers continue to be viewed by the global community as “terrorists”, and India, the country “which can make or break peace” will have nothing to do with the Tigers”.  If this is so, why has the global community forced the Sri Lankan government to negotiate with these “terrorists”?  Is it not true that the stand of major members of the global community is not to negotiate with “terrorists”?  If India has nothing to do with the Tigers, why is India publicly announcing again and again that they fully support the peace negotiations between the Tigers and the Sri Lankan government? 

Sambandan is trying to jump the gun to put his wishful thinking across to his readers when he says, “ Its much – sought – after transition from being an organisation of “terrorists” to that of “freedom fighters” remains as illusive today as it was a year ago, with none of the major powers concerned – India, the UK and the US – revising their opinion on the matter”.  Sambandan has done this out of a psychological fear developing among his Brahmin community that the LTTE also will be soon accepted as “freedom fighters” like the same way their own Prime Minister late Indira Gandhi recognised the PLO as “freedom fighters”.  Therefore he is trying to reassure his own community that this change will not happen. 

P.K. Balachandran is only a correspondent in Colombo.  Therefore he does not have too much of opportunities like Sambandan has, to project his own views.  But he attracts the readers with sensational titles to his news reports, filed from Colombo to fulfil the same ambitions as Sambandan’s. 

In a news item titled “Sri Lankan peace envoys to make a beeline for New Delhi” that appeared in the May 2, 2003 issue of the “Hindustan Times” Balachandran wrote, “Given the complications of the Sri Lankan situation in the past week, few days, and the increasing demand for a pro-active Indian role in the peace process, peace envoys from Sri Lanka, Norway and Japan will be making a beeline to New Delhi to brief the Indian government on the latest development”.   Before and after each round of negotiations these people have been visiting New Delhi and updating the Indian government on the progress of the peace talks.  Therefore it was nothing unusual for these people to visit New Delhi when 7th round of negotiations got stalled.  But Balachandran opted to exaggerate these visits and wanted to make big news out of this and create excitement among his readers. 

Balachandran released another news item titled “LTTE invites Sri Lankan negotiator for talks” in the May 1, 2003 “Hindustan Times”.  In this he wrote, “The LTTE’s climbing down from the high horse, is attributed to the tough line taken by the US and the UK and the Sri Lankan government’s tacit threat it will go ahead with Tokyo donor’s meeting, whether the LTTE comes or not”.   If Balachandran is correct in this, why all the peace envoys, Yasushi Akashi, Eric Solheim, Vidar Helgeson and Jan Peterson are making a beeline to Wanni now?   Balachandran assumes that his readers have a very short memory, but it is not the case.  

Out of the trio I have chosen to demonstrate my point, N. Ram is more experienced and more cunning than others and as an editor has more resources at his disposal, too.  The same way he befriended the Late President J.R. Jayawardana before the Indo-Sri Lankan accord was signed, he has recently approached the Japanese special peace envoy to Sri Lanka, Yasushi Akashi and tried to poison him with his ideas on the Sri Lankan conflict and the LTTE.  He had the option to poison either the US (Armitage) or the Japanese official.  He tried the same trick like the devil that came in the form of a serpent to spoil Adam and Eve.  Like that serpent, he too decided to approach the one he thought the weaker.  Ram travelled all the way to Tokyo and approached Yasushi Akashi under the disguise of getting an interview for his “Frontline” magazine.  During the interview he has tried to impart his ideas and opinions to Yasushi Akashi.  But Yasushi Akashi was too wise to be deceived by Ram.  The interview can be read in full at  

Ram was talking about measuring the tangible progress of the peace process.  Yasushi Akashi cited the case of recruitment of underage soldiers as an example.  He said that the LTTE have already released quite a number of children and UNICEF is actively involved in monitoring the process and that could be a measure.  But Ram tried to quote the Sri Lankan government sources that child conscription has actually gone up in the last few months and gave the reasons for that as people want to leave and they don't want to fight.  They want to go away to study and to work and so the LTTE is finding difficult and that is why they are going after children, Ram said.  But Yasushi Akashi refused to accept Ram's stand on this, and brought back UNICEF's new role in this matter as the evidence for his conclusion.  As a result Ram had to change the subject of discussion.  

Then Ram tried to tell Yasushi Akashi the limits of Japan's involvement in Sri Lankan affairs.  Ram said that Japan's role would be "generous but principled" as described to him by a Japanese official source.  Yasushi Akashi replied "very well said," but when he expanded on this he also said that, "We have a stake in peace and stability in the world today, particularly in Asia".  Then Ram persuaded Yasushi Akashi to define the limits of Japan in its involvement.  Yasushi Akashi explained Japan's new plans to get involved even in UN Chapter VII operations (actions with respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace and Acts of Aggression) although Japan has so far restricted its involvement to Chapter VI operations (covering pacific settlement of disputes).  Yasushi Akashi also emphasised that their Chapter VII operations will be restricted to cases under UN decisions or resolutions and restricted to rear area operations - logistics.  Ram did not anticipate this from Yasushi Akashi and hence he tried to tell Yasushi Akashi that Japan has no experience with federalism to contribute politically to the process.  Although Yasushi Akashi accepted that Japan is not a federal system, he did not hesitate to tell him that the Sri Lankan minister Milinda Morogada was visiting the Governor of Mie Prefecture, which is one of the vocal voices for greater local autonomy in Japan. 

Ram who must have felt defeated in his purpose at this stage, tried to justify why India cannot participate in the Tokyo conference due to legal and political reasons.  Yasushi Akashi argued that there are other governments like the US, Canada and the UK where the LTTE is proscribed and this does not seem to prevent them from participating in the Tokyo conference.  Yasushi Akashi also told Ram that nobody is asking the Indian government to make a statement in support of the LTTE.  He also said that his government does not make such statements either.  Yasushi Akashi also reminded Ram how the US handled the situation during the Oslo conference, to demonstrate that dealing with someone and participating in a conference in which someone will be present are not identical to each other.  Ram still tried to justify by saying that, providing assistance through organisations or fronts associated with the LTTE may pose legal problems in the Indian courts and India's assistance to Sri Lanka is only bilateral.  Yasushi Akashi replied, that the Japan's assistance is also from government to government in principle but with the consent of the Sri Lankan government that assistance may be distributed in areas where the government shares power with an autonomous entity.  He also said that Japan might provide assistance in such a way that it benefits the life of people in those areas under their control.  In other words Yasushi Akashi was trying to convince Ram that if there is a will there is a way to do it.  At this stage Ram realised that Yasushi Akashi is not like Eve or even President Jayawardana for that matter, to be bought over so easily and gave up his persuasion. 

It is hard to believe that some Tamil journalists across the Palk Strait, for some selfish reasons, are prepared to sow the seeds of negativity about the peace process among their readers as well as the participants, and contribute to the prolongation of the sufferings of the Tamils in Sri Lanka.  What these people are doing could also be considered as a kind of crime against humanity.  I hope one day they will realise this and change their kind of journalism for the sake of humanity.