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Endgame and tragedy in Sri Lanka

By Rajeev Srinivasan
May 04, 2009 17:36 IST
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The news and the images coming out of Sri Lanka are horrendous: 100,000 Tamil civilians trapped on a tiny beach, where the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam are fighting, trapped and ignoring an ultimatum to surrender. The LTTE is using the civilians as shields (according to the Sri Lankan government); and government troops have shelled hospitals and killed thousands of non-combatants this year (according to The Economist quoting human rights groups).

The photographs of long-suffering Tamil refugees fleeing the war with nothing more than the clothes on their backs remind us of the curse of the Indian subcontinent: religion- and ethnicity-based conflict, leading to the genocide of Hindus.

We saw this in 1947 and 1971. Millions of Hindus were ethnically cleansed from Pakistan and Bangladesh then, and the handful remaining are now fleeing the newly-Talibanised territories; now they are being driven out of Jaffna and the Eastern Provinces at the fag-end of a brutal civil war.

The LTTE certainly did not expect to fade into oblivion, their leader Velupillai Prabhakaran a fugitive. A couple of years ago, the Tigers were rampant, scoring victories on land and sea, and terrorising Colombo with their makeshift air force. What turned things around? Probably much covert aid from governments, including India's, wary of the Tigers' propensity for redrawing boundaries by force (and China's, fishing in troubled waters).

That, and internal dissension. The turning point was the defection in 2004 of 'Colonel' Karuna Amman (a nom-de-guerre), formerly LTTE commander in the Eastern Province. The LTTE ran a tight ship, and defectors generally were liquidated, but Karuna – as reported by The Wall Street Journal last year -- thrived, and has become a minister, although he is at loggerheads with his erstwhile protege and now-chief minister of the Eastern Province, Pillaiyan.

After sama (negotiations) and dana (give-aways) failed, bheda (creating dissent) worked, and now the Sri Lankans are applying the last of the four tactics of classical Indian stagecraft, danda (punishment).

This is an object lesson for India's pusillanimous politicians who advocate sweet-talk and appeasement of terrorists; and for Obamistas, advocating land-for-peace (India's land, that is, to be given to Pakistan, so that the Inter Services Intelligence would leave the Americans in peace).

Pandering does not work, the iron fist does. Crush the terrorists first, then talk to real people.

With the demise of the LTTE, the Sri Lankan government can negotiate from a position of strength. Tamil militancy and terrorism has achieved nothing other than catastrophe for Tamils. The Sinhalese, if they are wise, will deal magnanimously with their Tamil fellow countrymen and reconcile with them, recognising that the LTTE brutalised Tamils all over the world, and that the LTTE are not synonymous with Tamils. Then Sri Lanka can become the success story of the subcontinent with its superior health and education record.

But there is a startling silence in India about the plight of the Sri Lankan Tamils. This has to do with two factors: one is that most of the shrieking banshees in the human-misery cottage-industry do not care about the human rights of Hindus, and Sri Lankan Tamils are about 85 percent Hindu. Second is that the killing of Rajiv Gandhi by the LTTE, and the incessant whining and moaning by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and other Tamil-first parties in favor of the LTTE has genuinely turned off many people.

Let us note in passing that the LTTE's idea of Tamil Eelam (they used to have maps on their Web site showing this) consists of north and eastern Lanka, all of Tamil Nadu and Kerala and parts of Karnataka and Andhra. This is not very different from the jihadi wet-dream of a Mughalistan consisting of most of north India.

There is also the very dubious role of the church in this entire affair. It is a curious coincidence that most of the top cadres of the LTTE are Christians (examples Prabhakaran, a Methodist despite the Hindu name, Anton Balasingham and the suicide-bomber Dhanu). Many of the top non-Christians, curiously, have been captured and swallowed cyanide, have died in battle, or been liquidated by the LTTE itself. It is entirely possible that this had a role in Karuna's defection as well. And the LTTE has ruthlessly wiped out all other groups -- of which there were many -- representing the Tamil cause.

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Rajeev Srinivasan