Is India breaking its silence over Sri Lanka?
By Satheesan Kumaaran
Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The blessings of the Indian central government coupled with the recent events in India and abroad have brought a sense of hope to Sri Lankans that India will finally break its 18 year silence on the Sri Lankan national question. Sri Lankans hope that the direct mediation of the Indian government will end the ethnic conflict and finally bring peace to Sri Lanka. Sri Lankans do not want any more bloodshed on the island. The violence in Sri Lanka has taken thousands of lives since the ethnic conflict began in the 1970s. Sri Lankans feel that there has been enough human sacrifice in the struggle for the solution to the national question to be delayed any further.

When the international community called on both parties to end the ethnic conflict through talks, the warring sides only indulged in violence. Both sides accused each other of violating the truce. The Scandinavian monitors (SLMM) failed to monitor the situation even as both parties engaged in military actions.

Since 1990, India has maintained its silence with its foreign ministry reporting that they did not want to risk getting directly involved to bring peace to the island. India saw the LTTE as its arch enemy, even though India was home to Tamil military bases, including the LTTE. Furthermore, the killing of former India's prime minister in May 1991spurred Indian policy makers to bring stern measures against the LTTE. It branded the LTTE as a banned outfit on its soil, motivating other countries to do the same.

Given this relationship, India had no desire to become involved and end the bloodshed in Sri Lanka until recently.

LTTE's appeal to Tamil Nadu to save their brethren in Eelam

The LTTE issued an official statement on March 10, 2008, urging Tamil Nadu to act quickly to react to the Indian government's efforts to help the Sri Lankan military. The statement was given after India's red carpet welcome to Sri Lanka Army Commander, Maj. General Sarath Fonseka, who was even taken to military bases in Kashmir during his six-day visit to India.

The LTTE's statement said: "The Indian State must take the responsibility for the ethnic genocide of the Tamils that will be carried out by the Sinhala military, re-invigorated by such moves of the Indian State…LTTE wishes to point out to the Indian State that by this historic blunder, it will continue to subject the Eelam Tamils to misery and put them in the dangerous situation of having to face ethnic genocide on a massive scale."

And, to Tamil Nadu, the following statement was made: "On behalf of the Eelam Tamils, LTTE kindly requests the Tamils of Tamil Nadu to understand this anti-Tamil move of the Indian State and express their condemnation.

Immediate reaction from coalition partner CPI
The day after the LTTE issued the statement, the influential Communist Party of India (CPI - a coalition partner of India's ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA)) Tamil Nadu branch General-Secretary, Pandian, gave an interview to the BBC's Thamil Osai on March 11. He said: "The Sri Lankan government is engaging its armed forces against the Tamils in an uncivilised way. In such a situation, receiving the Sri Lankan military chief in India or Indian military officials visiting Sri Lanka to advice them should be avoided. The Sri Lankan government is unjust in every respect. Instead of condemning, it is despicable for Indian government to have any relations with it. Even if there was any before, that should be terminated now."

He also lambasted the LTTE for appealing to the people of Tamil Nadu to condemn the Indian central government. He said that the LTTE does not have to advise the Tamils in Tamil Nadu what they need to do because they know what is to be done. He said others (LTTE) need not tell them. But, will others (LTTE) listen to us?

In the meantime, the CPI national chapter adopted a resolution on March 26 during the party's four-day meeting in Hyderabad, seeking New Delhi's direct intervention in Sri Lanka to end the ethnic problem towards finding a political settlement. The resolution also stated that: "India should immediately stop supplying arms to Sri Lanka that was mindlessly killing Tamil people." It said: "The CPI appeals to the Indian government to exert its political influence over the Sri Lankan government to stop using armed forces against her own people and restart the negotiations. The Indian government should stop all military supplies and help to Sri Lankans till peace is restored in that island."

Vaiko and Lankan leaders engaged in heated arguments in Oslo
Vaiko was among leading politicians from south Asia to visit Oslo to take part in the two-day International Conference on Peace and Reconciliation in South Asia held on April 10 and 11 organized by the International Association for Human Values. Other participants included Sri Ravi Shankar (founder of Living Arts Foundation - India), Jayalath Jeyawardene (UNP parliamentarian - Sri Lanka), Arumugam Thondaman (parliamentarian from Ceylon Workers Congress - Sri Lanka), Colin Archer (Secretary General, International Peace Bureau -Switzerland), Erika Mann (Member of the European Parliament), Hilde Salvesen (Special Advisor, The Oslo Center for Peace & Human Rights), Rajiva Wijesinha (Secretary General, Secretariat for Co-ordinating the Peace Process - Sri Lanka), Hanssen-Bauer (Special Envoy of Sri Lanka, Foreign Ministry of Norway) and Brahmanawatte Seevali Nayaka Thero (Deputy Secretary General, Sri Lanka Amarapura Mahanikaya).

Vaiko, gave a lengthy, aggressive speech in which he blamed the Sri Lankan government for unleashing violence against Tamils in Eelam. He branded the Sri Lankan government a state-sponsored terror. He further asserted that Sri Lanka unilaterally broke the ceasefire agreement signed in 2002 with the facilitation of Norwegian government.

He also accused Sri Lanka of not respecting human rights and having drawn the attention and the ire of international human rights organizations.

He said the eviction of Tamil-speaking Muslims from Jaffna by the LTTE was justified because of the hostility of Jaffna Tamils towards Sri Lanka-sponsored Muslim militants' treatment of the slaughter of their brethren in the Muslim and Sinhala-predominant East. The LTTE evicted them from the North in order to protect them from further violence. However, Vaiko expressed that the eviction by the LTTE was an unfortunate event.

He also highlighted the aerial bombardment by the Sri Lankan air force on the Chenchcholai orphanage where more than 60 schoolgirls were killed and 150 wounded on August 14, 2006, in the LTTE-held Mullaitheevu while engaged in a two-day first aid residential course. He described this event as the tip of the ice berg and many other events similar to this take place against civilian targets, the government labelling these targets as LTTE positions.

In response, Rajiva Wijesinha objected to all of Vaiko's claims saying that it was LTTE fighters who were killed in the aerial attack. He further said that the government will amend the 13th Amendment, and that provincial elections would be held in the east (election, scheduled for next month).

Vaiko countered, saying that he had proof that it was children that were killed, not LTTE soldiers, and cited reports from international organizations that identified the dead as orphans. He also said that the government is trying to hoodwink the international community by holding elections in the East. The Sri Lankan government encourages anti-LTTE groups and will coerce the people in the East to vote for the pro-government and anti-LTTE groups at gun point. He said the Sri Lankan government is committing a further blunder by dividing the North and East into two separate entities. Tamil leadership won't accept this concept. The North and East are the traditional Tamil homeland, and these two provinces were recognized as a single unit when India and Sri Lanka signed the accord in 1987. He concluded that no-one can prevent the birth of a separate 'Tamil Eelam'.

Tamil Nadu leaders demand India intervene directly to end Lanka national crisis
Various Tamil Nadu leaders, including Tamil Nadu chief minister and DMK leader, M. Karunanidhi, PMK leader, R. Ramadoss, VCK leader, Thol. Thirumavalavan, MK leader, K. Veeramani, MDMK leader, Vaiko, and DMDK leader, Vijayakanth, have appealed to the Indian government to intervene directly to end the Tamil question in Sri Lanka.

The PMK leader Ramadoss wrote a letter to the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, on March 29 saying that: "Feelings of love, affection and mutual sympathy are very strong and deep rooted between the Tamils on both sides of their historical waters." He described Sri Lanka as a failed state calling it "a condominium of anarchy, and a shame on humanity that terrorized its own Tamil citizens." He further said: "It was not possible to remain by-standers to this human tragedy at our doorstep." He further said: "The sixty-million Tamils in India cannot wait and watch while their sisters and brothers are being decimated across the Palk Straits and Gulf of Mannar."

Further to the letter, he met face to face with Manmohan Singh in New Delhi on April 18. The meeting lasted 30 minutes and was described as cordial and fruitful. Later, Ramadoss said that he submitted another copy of his letter during the meeting.

Vaiko met Manmohan Singh on March 17 and later with Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee to brief them about his earlier trip to Europe, including his participation at the two-day conference in Oslo as well as his meetings with Norwegian government representatives who facilitated the talks between the GoSL and the LTTE.

During the meeting, Singh told Vaiko that he was aware of Pakistan and China supplying arms to Sri Lanka. Vaiko urged the Indian government to exert pressure on Colombo to abide by its earlier pledge to honour the contiguity of the traditional homeland of Tamil speaking people in a merged Northeast.

During the meeting with Mukherjee, Vaiko expressed the plights of Eelam Tamils. In response, Mukherjee told Vaiko that India had repeatedly reminded Colombo that a military solution would not solve the Tamil question.

In the meantime, Tamil Nadu chief minister, M. Karunanidhi, during an interview to the Times of India on April 18, said: "India should organize negotiations between the warring parties in Sri Lanka to bring peace to the island nation....""to bring about peace in Sri Lanka, New Delhi should come forward to organise useful negotiations so that a proper political solution is thrashed out."

In another political twist, the daughter of Rajiv Gandhi, Priyanka Vadra, visited Vellore in south India on March 19 and met Nalini Sriharan. The Indian national, Nalini, married Sri Lankan national, Sriharan alias Murugan, and was sentenced to capital punishment for her involvement in the killing of Rajiv Gandhi on May 21, 1991. Her sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment after Rajiv's wife, Sonia Gandhi, pleaded for clemency.

While recalling her mother's intervention in Nalini's case to India's national news agency PTI Priyanka said, "I do not believe in anger, hatred and violence, and I refuse to allow these things to overpower my life."

Sri Lankan Tamil leaders applauded the meeting between Nalini and Priyanka saying that the compassion shown by Sonia Gandhi and her children would never be forgotten by Eelam Tamils. This is considered one of the political stepping stones toward India breaking its silence over the Sri Lankan issue.

The Indian Congress Party does not want to antagonize regional political parties because it would result in a tactical blow in next year's election to be held for Lok Sabha. The Congress does not want the present Opposition Bharathiya Janatha Party (BJP) to win that election with the help of regional political parties, especially with the support of DMK, MDMK, PMK or VCK. The Indian central government will have to face a greater challenge in keeping Colombo and Indian regional political parties in balance in order to win the election, so it has to play a constructive role in bringing the warring parties to the negotiating table for its own political survival.

Recent events in India show that the Indian central government is leaning toward directly intervening in Sri Lanka to mediate an end to the Tamil national question between LTTE and GoSL. The events in Europe and India in favour of Eelam Tamils seem to indicate that the Indian central government and its intelligence units have already established contacts within the LTTE and GoSL to stop the military overtures in Eelam and create a settlement through dialogue. The activities of Indian politicians and religious leaders, as well as the Indian Congress party members amply demonstrate that India is trying to forget the past bitter experiences with the view to bringing about a just and peaceful solution in Sri Lanka. In return, peace in Sri Lanka will no doubt help India's aspiration to become superpower in the region and its own political survival.

(The author can be reached at: