Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Fighting Against Sri Lankan State Terrorism

by Vettivel

The point we should notice here is that, after capturing the Jaffna, state terrorists insisted that there was no need for devolution of power. The devolution of power topic emerged just after the state lost the Mullaithivu military garrison. The simple fact is that if one doesn’t have power, talk doesn’t bring anything.

The past fifty-five years of the Tamil struggle against Sinhala state terrorism can be divided into two phases: before and after the LTTE. Tamil leadership used totally different strategies in these two phases. The difference is not only between a non-violent and violent approach, but the fundamental leadership principles as well. In both phases, it is basically a fight against state terrorism.

In the first phase, the Tamil leadership worked on a conceptual level and tried to achieve its demands by applying soft pressure such as non-violent protests on the government. In the second phase, the Tamil leadership carried out the implementation, it built the infrastructure first, and then negotiated their demands with the government.

There was also a transition period between the first phase and second phase, and this unsmooth transition caused significant setback to the Tamil struggle. The intention of the article is not criticizing any of these leaderships, but trying to understand which strategy could be useful to fight against state terrorism and what can be done in the future.

Phase 1:

Tamils have been fighting against the state terrorism since 1948, immediately after Ceylon got independence from the British colonial ruler. Once the government was formed with the majority Sinhala leaders, it was very difficult for Tamils to fight against an established organization for their freedom. Tamils realized this when Sri Lankan state terrorists started their first mass scale terror operation in 1958. When the state used its armed forces to wage a terror campaign against Tamils, foreign countries pretty much stay as spectators, and few of them issued any condemnation, but continued their business with the state terrorist as usual.

Tamils leaders had no choice, so they continued to use very soft, non-violent methods, even when these were brutally oppressed by the state terrorists. Tamil parties continued to lobby for a federal system as a solution, and they signed some agreements as well. However, state terrorists continued Sinhala colonization and other form of oppression as usual.

Tamils had no choice other than just watching. India promise to help to resolve the issue, but India couldn’t do anything effectively. It can be easily noted that the Tamil leaders before the LTTE depended on others such as India to get anything substantial for the people they represented.

From 1948 to 1977, this Tamil leadership couldn’t get anything tangible. After realizing all the non-violent efforts had failed, they came to the conclusion that only a separate state could be a solution. However, they didn’t have a well thought-out plan or proper strategy to achieve the goal. During this period the well-known Tamil leader Thanthai Selva passed away. However, even in the '80s, the moderate Tamil leaders still played the leadership role for the Tamils.

Transition period:

Most interestingly, this mature Tamil political leadership passes the difficult task of creating a separate state to Tamils to newly formed groups led by youngsters. In 1977, the Tamil leadership decided that separate state would the only solution, and this mandate was overwhelmly approved by Tamils. The Tamil leadership knew that the separate state goal is only possible through an armed campaign; however they were reluctant to take part in the violent campaign.

Instead the mature Tamil leadership passed this vital responsibility to youngsters, and they called them ‘boys.’ More amusingly, these Tamil leaders named themselves ‘moderate leaders,’ and the term conveniently allowed them to continue their parliamentarian duties and meet Indian delegates.

There were several groups of ‘boys’ with different goals and principles that started to root themselves among the Tamil population. Eventually, they started an armed campaign against state terrorists. The Tamil leadership couldn’t manage the increasing number of ‘boys’ groups. It was unfortunate that after around 30 years of experience, the Tamil leadership simply removed themselves from the Tamil population. Lack of dedication and a dishonest approach distanced them from Tamils and forced them operate in Colombo. The moderate Tamil leaders delayed the transition process more than 10 years instead of completely handing over the responsibility to the ‘boys.’

Phase 2:

In the early '80s, there were so many groups of ‘boys,' and Tamils were quite confused about these sudden emergence. The Tamil population initially viewed these groups as their defensive force against Sri Lankan state terrorists. However, the reality was that most of these ‘boys’ were not capable of carrying out the task. Most of them were simply unfit because they were undisciplined, heavily dependent on others, and, most importantly, not sincere or honest for themselves. Only a very few of these ‘boys’ had a clear vision and dedication, and the LTTE was one of them. It was noted that, initially, this leadership tried to find a common ground with the others, but it wasn’t successful.

It is true that this leadership sidelined other groups in order to lead the Tamil struggle. Also, it is worth noting that Tamils has comparably less manpower and material power than the state terrorists. If Tamils wanted to effectively fight against state terrorism, it required a single leadership, and that leadership has to be dedicated to the cause, honest, and effective. People who advocate democracy and pluralism should notice that there is no pluralism in any country where there is a war going on. In such places, pluralism only allows weakening the fighting force. This is the ultimate motive for the state terrorism to promote pluralism in the form of semi-paramilitaries [ones that have both political and military wings -- Editor]. By carefully watching the other groups, one can agree the point that the sidelining strategy has proved to be correct.

In phase 2, the Tamil leadership, the LTTE, focused more on its military strength and creating a separate infrastructure for the Tamils in '80s and the early '90s, while keeping a low profile in politics. This Tamil leadership believed that military strength is the only force that can bring state terrorism to a stop. It also believed that only on the military balance can the Tamils talk to the state. Initially this strategy caused disadvantages to Tamils since state terrorism intensified its oppression of the Tamils. However, after increasing its military strength, the Tamil leadership finally made state terrorism kneel.

The point we should notice here is that, after capturing the Jaffna, state terrorists insisted that there was no need for devolution of power. The devolution of power topic emerged just after it lost the Mullaithivu military garrison. The simple fact is that if one doesn’t have power, talk doesn’t bring anything.

Concept vs. Implementation

One could argue about what has been achieved through this strategy. In this case, it is worth noting the 1977 mandate that stipulated a separate state for Tamils, and the situation in 2000. After 23 years, phase 2 really brought the mandate to a 70% reality. It is a valid argument to state that any solution that consists of self-determination,’‘recognition of homeland,’ and ‘Tamils as a nation’ can be considered as replacement for a separate state. The current Tamil leadership worked from the start to create an environment where the Tamil concepts have become a reality in the last 25 years. Implementation is a much more difficult task than putting together specifications or requirements. At this present stage, what is left for Tamils is that 30 % task to completely implement the mandate.

In future

In the current stage, the Tamil leadership is strong and capable of fighting against state terrorism both politically and militarily. State terrorism should be confronted with multi-prolonged tactics, and Tamils understand this well.

A common criticism about the current Tamil leadership is that of lack of pluralism and democracy. It is obvious that the purpose of insisting on pluralism and the cry for democracy is nothing other than an effort to find a way to promote the paramilitaries into the political mainstream in order to weaken the Tamil leadership. The use of paramilitaries is a very common and dangerous tool that is being used by the state terrorists to get away with their atrocities. Anyone who knows the so-called alternative Tamil leadership (other than the LTTE) or paramilitary can easily understand that these groups are just puppets of state terrorism. They work full time to weaken the Tamil leadership, but not against the state terrorists. They don’t have any vision or a consistent policy; therefore Tamils have no reason for trusting them.

Democracy and pluralism can be restored only after Tamils reach a permanent solution. Until then, Tamils certainly need a single leadership that can take decisions effectively in a timely manner. The track record of the LTTE in the past clearly showed that they are honest, trustable, capable and flexible with commitment to achieve a solution based on the Tamil mandate. On this basis, increasing support to the current Tamil leadership is the best way for Tamils to fight against state terrorism.

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