Death of Ealam Tigers : A Post-mortem

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Lankan forces might have killed the Tigers but not their ideology. One cannot deny the fact that, conflict of this magnitude cannot happen without the genuine demands/concerns on both sides. On one hand Sri Lankan Tamils and other minorities had a genuine reason for their struggle, i.e. demand for equality, dignity and decent standards of living. On the other hand democratically elected government at Colombo cannot be a mute spectator for intolerable violence practiced and propagated by LTTE; simply because security of citizen is the first responsibility of government. Lankan crisis is yet another example of class conflict based on language and ethnicity. Unless equality among Lankans is promoted with vigor, there is no reason to believe that another breed of Tigers cannot be born. 

1. Roots of Hatred
Sri Lanka secured independence (1948) from British through peaceful negotiations. No one then would have imagined that a mere disagreement in choosing official language could one day lead to huge humanitarian crisis in the island nation. From 1936 to 1944, Lankan leaders favored English for the official language. However, president J.R. Jayawardene (in 1944) favored Sinhala for official language. Prime minister Bandaranaike's proactive move towards making Sinhala as official language led to the passage of "Sinhala Only Act, 1956", which ultimately sown the seeds of ethnic riots. The civil war is a direct result of the escalation of the confrontational politics that followed.

Since then, Sri Lankan minority communities feel that, they had been discriminated by successive majority Sinhalese governments in Colombo. Many youngsters, with the support of diaspora around the world, formed a group to fight against alleged discrimination against Tamils and other minorities. This was the time when "Sun God" - Velupillai Prabhakaran's Tamil New Tigers (1972) was born, which ultimately led to the formation of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in 1976. Since then, [take a look at chronology of events],  several leaders including president Ranasinghe Premadasa, Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and over 80,000 civilians and millitary personnel were killed in the civil war. Peace was contemplated through negotiations but was never achieved. 

2. Tigers dragged their feets
Starting from negotiations at Thimpu, Bhutan in 1985, till 2002's ceasefire agreement, brokered by Norway, LTTE always dragged it's feet over one or other issue.  LTTE rejected an offer from former president Chandrika Kumaratunga, which provided powers of devolution (a federal solution) and attempted to assassinate her in 1999. After ceasefire agreement in 2002, LTTE signaled willingness to discuss a federal solution. But in 2003, it pulled out of talks after six rounds of negotiations, citing inadequate steps taken to rebuild war-hit areas. "By accepting no compromise and by continuing to use tactics such as assassinations of perceived 'enemies of the cause' and violent retribution, the LTTE brought about its own doom. [EPW, May 30, 2009]." 

3. Heightened frustration
Colombo had already lost many of its leaders and thousand of civilians. Assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar in February 2005 further escalated it's frustration. In the run-up to the November 2005 presidential election, president Mahinda Rajapaksa promised that he would fight Tigers to the finish. In August 2006, Rajapaksa and his core group made a political resolve to launch a "fight-to-finish" campaign against the Tigers. In the same year, "The LTTE provided the much-needed excuse for the assault when its cadre closed down the Mavil Aru sluice gates in the east, denying water to more than 30,000 civilians. The presidential core team in the campaign included his younger brother and Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and the army chief, Lt Gen. Sarath Fonseka, both of whom had scores to settle with the Tigers (Both had survived assassination attacks earlier).... The Defence Secretary and the army chief proved to be a lethal combination for the LTTE [Frontline]." 

4. Fight to finish
"Despite a systematic shelling and bombing campaign that killed thousands of civilians, the Sri Lankan army did not receive anything more than token disapproval or humanitarian appeals from the international community. The Sri Lankan government's ruthless drive to vanquish the "terrorist" LTTE was never halted in the final phase of war by an international community tired of "terror" - a stigma that LTTE carried for its past actions [EPW, May 30, 2009]" On April 26, 2009, LTTE declared a unilateral ceasefire as government forces surround an ever shrinking "no-fire-zone". Colombo rejected the declaration and called it a "joke". On May 18, 2009, V. Prabhakaran, the "Sun God" was finally set. Signalling the end of civil war between Sri Lankan government and LTTE. The vicotry rallies and celebrations due to "Sun God's" death does not hide the enormity of challenges ahead for Rajapaksa and his successors.  

5. Post war Challenges
Immediate post war challenge for Rajapaksa government is rehabilitation of more that 150,000 internally displaced civilians. President Rajapaksa has promised that he would complete the rehabilitation process within six months. Even though it sounds ambitious, it is not impossible if international community steps in and help expedite the process. Though Rajapaksa was successful in his "fight-to-finish" campaign against the Tigers, the roots of the conflict cannot be uprooted so soon. Lankan government must address genuine grievances of the Tamils. Present and future administrations at Colombo must make sincere efforts for the welfare of Tamils and other minorities. "Anything short of a federal setup that grants political rights for the oppressed Tamil population would only lead to a further festering of the deep wounds from years of marginalization and alienation of Tamils."

If Rajapaksa and his successors does not make sincere efforts to promote equality, dignity and decent standards of living for Tamils and other minorities, "the seeds would be sown for another militant organization - one that would have learnt from the past mistakes of theLTTE - espousing complete separation [EPW]."


Anonymous said...

Using terrorism to get what you need is never right. I feel the government of Srilanka did the right thing in exterminating the LTTE. With great power comes great responsibility. And if LTTE didn't realize that, they have to live with the reperucussions. RIP

Amit S said...

Srilankan government in my view did what they should have done long time back. They did mistake by letting LTTE grow in Prabhakaran's shed and it took toll of thousands of lives and war.

And I still do not understand why few Indians especially Politicians are concerned about LTTE.

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This work by Manjunath Singe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License. The views and opinions expressed in this work are strictly those of the author and do not represent his employer's views in anyway.