by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) which determined the course of Sri Lankan politics for more than two decades is no more a functional entity today. The LTTE would have celebrated its 36th birth anniversary on May 5th if it was an active organization now.
Adverse developments on the war front in Northern Sri Lanka leading to the military debacle at Mullivaaikkaal in Mullaitheevu district in May 2009 have brought about an end to the tigers in Sri Lanka. This has caused bewilderment and disappointment to many supporters and sympathisers of the LTTE.
There were many who thought that the LTTE was going to defeat the Sri Lankan armed forces conclusively and deliver an Independent state of Tamil Eelam on a platter.
They were willing to overlook, gloss over, ignore or blatantly deny the various human rights violations perpetrated by the LTTE because they thought these were necessary evils on the path to liberation.
Anyone expressing criticism however constructive it may be was slandered and condemned as a traitor.
Even when it was pointed out that the course of action followed by the LTTE would not succeed and that decisive defeat was on the cards, such advice was rejected and spurned by the tigers and their fellow travellers.
The dominance of militarist thought within tiger circles and the belief that military victory was the only solution made them disregard well-intentioned advice
I have personally experienced cruel and degrading treatment at the hands of the LTTE and their acolytes for daring to warn the tigers that they were not going to succeed in achieving their professed goal.
I have on many occasions pointed out some grave errors made by the tigers and urged an immediate course correction.
What I wanted was for the LTTE to transform itself but this was unacceptable to those living in a world of self-delusion.
When the LTTE observed its 32nd anniversary on May 5th 2008 I wrote an article in “The Bottom Line” of May 7th 2008 outlining the progress of the tigers and implored the LTTE to abandon its impossible dream of Tamil Eelam in the larger interests of the Tamil people.
The article headed “LTTE AT 32: Whither The LTTE”? was welcomed by many readers who sent me a lot of positive e-mails.
At the same time tiger and pro-tiger elements sent a great deal of derogatory mail saying that military victory was on the cards and that Tamil Eelam was inevitable.
Subsequently I reproduced the same article on my blog on January 19th 2009 under the heading”Whither the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam”?.There were 125 comments released.
The tigers then suffering military reversals were retreating while the armed forces enjoying military successes were advancing.
By this time the writing was on the wall and the tone and tenor of many comments reflected that mood. Of course there was harsh criticism from some die-hard tiger supporters.
Barely four months later it was all over and Veluppillai Prabhakaran was lying dead on the banks of Nandhikkadal lagoon.
This marked the effective demise of the Tamil Armed struggle that led to countless deaths, immeasurable destruction and massive displacement.
Today the battered and shattered Sri Lankan Tamils reduced in numbers to being the fourth largest ethnicity in the Island are slowly struggling to pick up the pieces and get on with life.
Deep down most responsibly thinking Tamils know that life will never be the same again.
Today, many of those who criticised me bitterly then are confused and stunned by this turn of events.
I have been surprised by the volume of private e-mails I receive from readers about the current situation.
Some have pointedly referred to my earlier articles in “The Bottom Line” and “dbsjeyaraj.com” blog and remark that the wisdom of hindsight has altered their earlier perspective.
Prabhakaran and the LTTE who had the power and capability to bring about a satisfactory termination of the Tamil national question failed and in the final analysis betrayed the Tamil people.
I myself experience feelings of sorrow as I sometimes reflect on the “ what might have been “had the LTTE had gone into negotiations in good faith and evolved a negotiated settlement with Colombo that ensured Tamil equality within a united Sri Lanka
Currently the Tamil people bereft of pragmatic, unselfish leadership run about crazily like headless chickens mouthing empty rhetoric and engaging in quixotic exercises that are doomed to fail in the long run.
I know that the sadness I suffer will not go away until I die! It will only increase incrementally as I witness the Tamil people steadily declining and diminishing in Sri Lanka
But then I console myself philosophically and hark back to the memorable verse of Omar Khayyam in the Rubaiyat translated into English by Sir Edward Fitzgerald.
“The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it”
It is against this backdrop that I reproduce the article on the LTTE on its 36th birth anniversary.
I know it is pointless to talk of the past unless one is willing to learn lessons that would help to understand the present and anticipate the future.
My intention in posting it here again is to gauge the responses and reactions of serious readers to it. I do hope some pertinent comments would be forthcoming.
Here it is friends and please remember it was written in May 2008 when the LTTE was still a vibrant organization – DBSJ
THIRTY-SIXTH BIRTH ANNIVERSARY OF THE LIBERATION TIGERS OF TAMIL EELAM
by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
Thirty-two years ago, on May 5, 1976, around 40-50 Tamils met clandestinely at a secret location in the Jaffna peninsula and formed themselves into an organisation called the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Umamaheswaran became its Leader. Prabhakaran was made Military Commander. A five-member committee was appointed to control and coordinate the new movement. Both Umamaheswaran and Prabhakaran were members of this committee.
Their objective was unambiguously clear. The LTTE goal was to establish an independent state called Tamil Eelam in the Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka . A revolutionary armed struggle relying on guerrilla warfare was to be waged against the Sinhala-dominated Sri Lankan state.
Nine days later, on May 14, the newly-formed Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) passed a resolution at Vaddukkoddai demanding Tamil Eelam-a separate state for the Tamils of Sri Lanka.
In July 1977, the TULF contested the Parliamentary elections on a secessionist platform. The TULF said in its manifesto that the elections were a referendum and that votes for the party meant a mandate for Tamil Eelam.
The TULF swept the polls in the Tamil majority electorates of the north east, winning 18 seats. TULF General Secretary Appapillai Amirthalingam became Leader of the Opposition.
The goals of the TULF and LTTE were the same on paper. In practice, the relatively moderate TULF was prepared to compromise and eventually agreed to the District Development Councils as an alternative to Tamil Eelam.
The militant youths referred to as ‘Boys’ did not agree with this and continued to pursue their goal of Tamil Eelam through violent methods.
The anti-Tamil pogrom of July 1983 was a watershed that brought moderate and militant Tamils together temporarily.
Meanwhile, the LTTE split in two. A large number of members broke away under the leadership of Umamaheswaran and formed the People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE). Some like Nagarajah, Aiyer, etc., went their own way.
Only a handful of the original LTTE members remained loyal to Prabhakaran. A frustrated Prabhakaran went away to India and stayed there for a while. In his absence, a triad comprising Seelan, Mahathaya and Ragu ‘managed’ the LTTE in Sri Lanka
At one point the LTTE, with its depleted ranks, began working together with the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO) led by Thangathurai and Kuttimani.
There was a time when Prabhakaran wanted to merge the LTTE remnants under him with the TELO and form a new organisation. This, however, did not happen.
The arrests of TELO leaders Thangathurai, Kuttimani and Jegan by the Navy in 1981 brought an end to TELO-LTTE cooperation.
Fight for Tamil Eelam
The LTTE began functioning independently under Prabhakaran, who was both its Leader and Military Commander. Later Charles Anthony, alias Seelan, became Military Chief.
By July 1983, the LTTE cadre numbered 30. There were 23 fulltime members and seven part-timers. There were also many ‘helpers’ of all ages from different walks of life.
The LTTE killed 13 soldiers through a landmine at Thirunelvely on July 23, 1983. This resulted in the 1983 anti-Tamil violence. There was a spontaneous ‘rush’ by Tamil youths to join the militant movements and fight for Tamil Eelam. India began training and arming the movements.
The struggle for Tamil Eelam itself underwent many bizarre twists and peculiar turns. There was internecine warfare among the movements. The LTTE became the dominant Tamil group.
The Indo-Lanka Agreement of July 29, 1987 caused a sea change in Tamil politics. Except for the LTTE, all other Tamil parties and organisations accepted it and opted to give up the Tamil Eelam struggle and accept devolution provided under the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
The LTTE also agreed initially, surrendered some arms and even accepted a monthly payment of money from New Delhi as an ‘incentive’ in the early stages. The Tigers, however, changed track soon and resumed hostilities, daring to take on the Indian Army.
The past years have seen many rounds of peace talks between the LTTE and different governments in Colombo . None of them succeeded and the country suffers endless war interspersed with temporary spells of no war.
In the meantime, the LTTE has achieved tremendous ‘growth’ in certain aspects. The double-digit membership of 1983 is in five digits today. The LTTE is a transnational entity today with front organisations among the widespread Tamil diaspora.
From 1990, the LTTE has succeeded in keeping under its control sizeable parts of the north east. The area of this de facto state has fluctuated periodically.
Sphere of LTTE control
Tiger territory has increased and decreased according to the fortunes of war. Yet there has always been a sphere of LTTE control.
Within this LTTE area, the Tigers have set up structures like police stations, courts, inland revenue offices, TV, radio, film unit, newspapers, banks, immigration and emigration offices, business ventures, farms, etc. The Tigers have even drafted their own laws.
Militarily, the LTTE has grown. They have infantry brigades, women’s brigades, commando units and specialised divisions for laying mines, sniping, firing mortars and artillery, resisting tanks and armoured cars, etc.
The Tigers also have a naval wing known as Sea Tigers and a fledgling air wing called Air Tigers. The LTTE has many marine vessels and a limited number of small aircraft.
The LTTE also has an elaborate overseas network with the Tamil diaspora as its base. There are multiple media organs engaging in propaganda and myriad activists raising funds. The Tigers have the capacity to organise mass demonstrations at short notice in many Western cities.
The LTTE also runs many commercial enterprises in several countries both West and East. They also have a fleet of ships transporting arms acquired overseas to the north of Sri Lanka
In short, the LTTE’s growth in the past 25 years has been phenomenal. It is perhaps the only enterprise run ‘for, of and by’ the Tamil people in Sri Lanka that has registered a ‘success’ of this magnitude after July 1983.
Scorched earth policy
This successful growth has come at immense cost to the Tamil people of Sri Lanka . Vertically the LTTE may have gone up, but horizontally the Sri Lankan Tamils have gone down. This is the unpleasant and inconvenient truth that the LTTE and acolytes often deny and do not like to hear.
World War I was only four years long, from 1914 to 1918. World War II was six years, from 1939 to 1945. This war for Tamil Eelam has gone on for decades and decades with an intensity and ferocity that has debilitated the Tamil people immensely.
The Tamil areas have undergone a staggered ‘scorched earth policy,’ cunningly implemented in phases by different regimes. Death, injury, destruction, displacement, etc., are part of daily life.
Fishing has dwindled. Agriculture has diminished. Industry is virtually nonexistent. The economy has decayed and unemployment is rampant. Single parent families, widows, orphans, etc., are widely prevalent.
Education, the mainstay of Tamils, has suffered considerably. Many schools do not function. Hospitals are run down. People are displaced from their homes under the pretext of setting up security zones.
The quality of life has gone down. Infant mortality rates, malnutrition, stunted growth, etc., are areas where Tamils in the north east are affected more.
The social fabric of Tamil society is torn badly, cultural life is shrinking, values are being brutalised, and ethical codes are crumbling. These are the effects of long-term war on a small, powerless people.
The worst impact has been on demography. Tamils have left the country in very large numbers. Equally large numbers have moved to areas outside the north and east. Only 42% of Sri Lankan Tamils are said to be living in the north east now.
Some years ago at a seminar in Colombo , retired Indian Judge V. Krishna Iyer stated that Tamils be given full autonomy. Former Central Bank Governor N.U. Jayewardena wrote to the newspapers in response
N.U. made three observations. Firstly, he said the Sri Lankan population would stabilise to zero growth in 2025. Secondly, he said that the high rates of Tamils leaving the country indicated that the Tamils would only be 1.9 % in 2025. Thirdly, he said that 1. 9% was a “manageable minority that need not be given autonomy.”
Thanks to comparatively higher educational standards and social problems like dowry, late marriages, aversion to female children, etc., the Tamil birth rate has been on the decline even before 1983.
Census figures of 1963, 1971 and 1981 show gradual decrease percentage wise. If a proper census is taken now, the Tamil population percentage would be much less. It may not be 1.9 % as N.U. said, but it could certainly be less than 5%.
The Tamils may have proved a point by taking up arms against the state dominated by the numerically larger Sinhala people. But ultimately, demography would defeat the Tamils.
The LTTE and its supporters often assert that a guerrilla movement fighting for the goal of national liberation cannot be defeated militarily. This may or may not be true but the point to be taken note of is something else.
If the prolonged armed struggle for Tamil Eelam is leading to a gradual decline of the Tamil population in Sri Lanka , then the ultimate losers will be the Tamils themselves.
A minority would be made a microscopic minority and therefore made easily manageable by the numerical majority.
It does not matter then whether the LTTE is defeated or not because the Tamils will be weakened quantitatively and qualitatively.
To put it bluntly, the so-called ‘Sinhala state’ need not win this war. All it has to do is prolong the war and sustain the pressure. The Tamils would be drastically reduced in numbers. This is already happening in the island. It is against this backdrop that the LTTE turned 32 on May 5.
Through the sacrifices and dedication of its cadre on the one hand and the ruthless violence and authoritative intolerance on the other hand, the LTTE has become the dominant politico-military force of the Sri Lankan Tamils today.
The Tigers have become the self-appointed sole representatives of the Tamil people. This columnist does not accept the LTTE as the sole representatives of the Tamils. Not merely the LTTE, but no entity on earth can claim to be the sole representatives of a nation or people.
The reality, however, is that the LTTE remains today the dominant entity among Sri Lankan Tamils. It is the single-most powerful non-state actor among Tamils.
Along with such power should come a sense of responsibility. As former British Premier Stanley Baldwin once observed, “Power without responsibility has been the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages.”
The LTTE has been the determining force in Sri Lankan politics for many years. Tragically, the Tigers have been the sole arbiters of Tamil destiny in Sri Lanka
The LTTE asserts that creating Tamil Eelam is the only solution and that Tamils must suffer and sacrifice in order to achieve it.
According to Tiger acolytes, Velupillai Prabhakaran is the only Tamil leader steadfastly advocating the cause of Tamil Eelam. All others have abandoned it and are therefore traitors. But the multi-crore question is, at what cost?
The Bible queries whether it is worth gaining the whole world and yet losing one’s soul. There is a Tamil proverb, ‘Suvar irunthaal thaan sithiram varaiyalaam’ (one can draw a fresco only if a wall exists). Can Tamil Eelam be established in the island while the Tamil people reduce in number?
There is also the question of whether the LTTE can achieve Tamil Eelam. The real estate it controlled once has shrunk. Can it recapture these areas militarily?
Question of viability
The Tigers have alienated the Muslims living in the north and east and also the Sinhalese. In recent times, due to the Karuna revolt, a large number of eastern Tamils have spurned the quest for Tamil Eelam.
There is also the case of Tamils living outside the north east. Unless there is violence like in India during the time of partition, most of them would not like to return to Tamil Eelam.
The expatriate Tamils of an older generation may say emotionally that they would return but very few would actually do so.
As for the second generation, they are-as Prabhakaran himself once commented-a “lost generation” (tholainthu pona santhathi). At best they may come for extended vacations.
Apart from the desirability and attainability of Tamil Eelam, there is also the question of viability and the situation within Tamil Eelam if it materialises. Given the tenacity of the Sri Lankan state in resisting separation, there is little chance of Colombo accepting Tamil Eelam.
Assuming that Tamil Eelam comprises the present Northern and Eastern Provinces , the land and sea borders would be very long and large. There would be constant friction and strife.
Even if the Sinhala people accept Tamil Eelam, India would not. Thus India would move in quickly and crush it.
Given the current geo-strategic configuration, there is no chance that New Delhi would ever countenance an independent Tamil state in the Indian Ocean unless the Sinhala government does something incredibly stupid.
Even if that happens (highly unlikely) the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka may be attached to India as a union territory or protectorate. There would be no independent Tamil Eelam.
If and when Tamil Eelam evolves, notwithstanding these factors, the resources of the nascent state would be devoted mainly for military purposes. In a climate of war, very little foreign investment could be expected. The Tamil Eelam state will be an economic basket case.
The focus on national security will result in a negation of democracy, pluralism and human rights. All these would be denied under the pretext that an external enemy is at the gates.
The despotic rule of the LTTE in the regions under its control would be replicated on a much larger and institutionalised scale.
Even though the LTTE boasts about its parallel state administration, the reality is that food and fuel have to come from outside. Besides, the salaries and expenses of government employees, school teachers, medical staff, etc., are all being currently paid by Colombo .
The LTTE may have made a name for itself through its armed struggle. But its strength is basically its destructive capacity and not constructive capability.
In recent times, the LTTE has acquired a negative image internationally. The conscription of child soldiers, suicide killer attacks and the adoption of terrorist modes at times have given it a terrible reputation.
Despite its impressive feats on the battlefront, the LTTE is isolated internationally. Some of the most powerful nations of the world, including the USA, India, Britain, Canada and the EU countries, have proscribed it as a terrorist organisation.
Significantly, the LTTE does not enjoy support on a large scale even among the Tamils of India. There is sympathy for the Tamil plight but very little regard for the LTTE. The support of Tiger sympathisers like Nedumaran, Vaiko, etc., is negligible.
It is in such a situation that the LTTE reaches 32 years in age. After decades of fighting that has debilitated and diminished the Tamil people, what are the concrete gains made by the LTTE in winning back the lost rights of the Tamil people?
Death, displacement and destruction have enveloped the Tamil areas for many years. Despite all this suffering and sorrow undergone by the Tamil people, what has the LTTE achieved in its perennial quest for Tamil Eelam?
Their redressing of valid Tamil grievances and the accommodation of legitimate Tamil aspirations is possible in two ways. One is through the arduous route of secession and the other is through equitable power sharing arrangements within a united but not necessarily unitary Sri Lanka
The LTTE, while paying lip service to the concept of a political solution, has sabotaged any worthwhile effort aimed at meaningful negotiations. It would have the Tamils believe that only Tamil Eelam can achieve results and that only the Tigers can quench this thirst for Tamil Eelam.
The truth, however, is that the LTTE has many, many miles to go before it can ever hope to attain Tamil Eelam. Even then the quest is elusive as the odds are stacked effectively against it.
It is like the search of a blind man for a black cat in a dark room. Only in this case, the cat is not there. Also, the Tamil people are made to pay a heavy price.
All or nothing gamble
Like a compulsive gambler, Prabhakaran has risked the entire existence of the Tamil people as a vibrant ethnicity in Sri Lanka for the elusive goal of Tamil Eelam. It is an all or nothing gamble for him.
He is like an invading military general who burns his boats so that his soldiers have no choice other than to fight on for victory or face death. There is no turning back. If the soldiers win the war, the general will be praised for his steely determination. If they lose, there won’t be anyone left to tell the tale.
Ultimately the success or failure of the LTTE cannot be gauged by the size of its military assets or the destruction and losses inflicted upon the enemy. The proper criteria is to see how far the LTTE has progressed on its journey towards Tamil Eelam.
In terms of a cost benefit ratio assessment, is the progress (if any) achieved commensurate to the heavy price being paid by the Tamil people?
The ultimate political destination of the Tamil people can only be the full restoration of lost rights. The important question is whether the LTTE is on the right track.
How long will the LTTE persist with its unrealistic quest for Tamil Eelam? How long must the powerless Tamil people suffer due to this protracted war?
It is time for the 32-year-old LTTE to do some soul-searching