Politicians need to speak and act intelligently to save Sri Lanka
By Satheesan Kumaaran
Wednsday, May 21, 2008

Politicians who become the lawmakers are often victims of sinister motives in developing countries, sending these countries deeper into corruption and scandal. These politicians often speak in discriminatory ways, issue misleading statements, and often encourage violence for their own political survival. But, the general public has little ability to understand these politicians. Sri Lanka is a great example.

In a May 16, 2008, interview with Tamil daily 'Thinakkural' from Colombo, Sri Lanka's Prime Minister, Ratnasiri Wickramanayaka, drew attention because he claimed that terrorism was the only prevailing problem on the island, and that the GoSL would eliminate the LTTE with the support of India (although India plays off both sides). Tamils wonder if they should take Wickramanayaka's statement seriously because the government of India has a history of issuing contradictory statements from time to time for its own benefits.

Will India support the GoSL?
Deeds speak louder than words. This is true in the case of India. India has always maintained a hands-off policy regarding Sri Lanka's Tamil problem since it failed to bring about a peaceful settlement in the 80s. There are two reasons for this; one, India does not want to antagonize Sri Lanka, and two, it does not want to distance itself from the LTTE either.

India would never antagonize Colombo because Colombo is located in the south-west of India, an access point through the seas between the deep Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea. If India antagonized the GoSL, Sri Lanka would have no choice but to cooperate more closely with India's rival, Pakistan. India is always worried that, should Pakistan set up base in the south of Sri Lanka, Pakistan's ships and navy would ply frequently between the Sri Lankan waters in the south and waters of Pakistan in the north. This would interfere with India's efforts to dominate the Arabian Sea off its western flank.

Bombay and other major important economic centres are located on its western side. India would do anything to keep this passage safe from any other powers' influence, especially its key rivals. So, India does not give much importance to the killings or any other forms of violence taking place in Sri Lanka. India only wants to ensure that the violence on the island does not boil over into India.

Does India support the LTTE?
India also does not want to antagonize the LTTE because India knows very well the strategic location of the Tamil areas in Sri Lanka. Two-thirds of Sri Lanka's seas belong to the Tamils. One hundred percent of India's southern coast belongs to India's Dravidian race which shares common ancestry with the Tamils living on the other side in Sri Lanka. Both hold the belief that they should not be oppressed by any other forces. They are also aware that if they adopted policies against the interests of the LTTE, the policies would also affect the Dravidian race, and India still feels threatened by the so-called 'Aryan' race. South Indians once flourished in the north, northeast and northwest of the subcontinent and were pushed deeper into south by the successive invasions by the Aryans from central Asia.

India has to befriend the LTTE indirectly because the LTTE is legally banned outfit. This relationship ensures that the LTTE will not use its influence in Southern India against New Delhi. Sometimes Indian authorities take actions against innocent Eelam Tamils to show Sri Lanka that it is taking actions against the LTTE, but these Eelam Tamils have no connection with the LTTE whatsoever.

Strategically, India wants to keep good relations with the sole representative of Eelam people because the LTTE can play a vital role against Indian interests, if it failed to cooperate with the LTTE both economically and militarily. If the LTTE were to offer land for a base to India's enemy China, for example, China would be privy to information from India since there are only 21 miles between Eelam and India. Indian policy makers may not have thought of this critical aspect, but the reality is that China would do anything to make that happen.

The LTTE could also create instability in India because they are much more familiar with the geo-politics of Southern India than New Delhi. India has no option but to befriend the Eelam people and their representative.

Who are the losers?
The Sri Lankan government has not clued in to India's two-sided game. In the end, the GoSL will ultimately lose because Sri Lanka has less influence over India. Sri Lanka has no option but to depend on India for its own economic and political survival, so it has to praise India forever regardless of India's teeter-totter politics.

So, Wickramanayaka's statements are not well thought out or well planned. Sri Lankan leaders need to act intelligently because they make decisions on behalf of over 20 million people. These politicians who become multi-billionaires from tax-payers' money often flee the country to settle comfortably in western countries, leaving the common people to face the burden of their representatives. Sri Lanka needs to act slowly but steadily to make things better for the empowerment of Sri Lankans.

Can the GoSL defeat the LTTE?
Wickramanayaka further said that there was no ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. He failed to acknowledge the Tamils' grievances. Tamils have felt alienated by the State since 1956, eight years after Sri Lanka gained independence from Britain. If there is no ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, how would Wickramanayaka describe the systematic violence, murder, rape, and looting against Tamils in 1956, 1958, 1977, 1979, 1981 and 1983. This targeting a particular community would fall within the globally acknowledged definition of systematic ethnic cleansing. The Tamils became a strong national identity until the State-sponsored holocausts in 1956. In 1983, nearly half a million Tamils were escorted from the Sinhala south to Jaffna by Indian ships because they were born to Tamil families, even though they had lived in the Sinhala south for centuries. India provided the escort after Tamil Nadu told New Delhi that Tamils in the south would be wiped out if they were not escorted back to their villages in the Northeast.

The prime minister asked, "How can Tamils live in Wellawatte of Colombo if such (ethnic conflict prevails)?" He claimed that Tamils were the only terrorist on the island. He said, "We are confident that we will defeat the LTTE in the war front. The victory against the LTTE is in the hand reach...We are not worried if fifteen nations declare independence tomorrow. But our expectation is that no division is allowed in Sri Lanka...We will stop that division at any cost...We will not stop the war."

Wikramanayaka is old enough to remember the history of violence against Tamils from 1956 to 1983. Since 1956, Tamils could not even walk on the streets in Colombo alone because they would be discriminated against by the majority. The Tamils were denied their fundamental rights and freedom of expression. Many Tamil businessmen abandoned their business establishments in the south, and moved back to their native villages in the North and East.

Wikramanayaka should remember that the Tamils in the south have lived without massed murders once the LTTE began their military campaign. The GoSL thought the LTTE would launch retaliatory attacks targeting Sinhala civilians. More importantly, the GoSL realized that the 1983 holocaust drew the international attention towards Eelam Tamils, and the GoSL did not want pressure from the IC for failing to maintain law and order.

The senior editor of the LTTE's official media organ 'Viduthalaipuligal', Mr. S. Ravi, wrote in his column on May 9 that the LTTE had proved its military prowess in Muhamalai/Kilaali by defeating the well-equipped and well-trained 53rd and 55th divisions, last month. These divisions played vital roles in capturing LTTE areas in the past. The 53rd division has the record of driving half a million Tamils out of their homes by capturing the LTTE's former strong-hold. The GoSL used the same divisions to capture Elephant Pass last month, and then the entire Vanni region, but their attempts were foiled by the LTTE. The majors of these divisions were transferred out by the army leadership for their failure to defeat the LTTE. Ravi argues that appointing new majors or commanders will not prevent these divisions from further failures at the hands of the LTTE.

Ravi said: "Sri Lanka will never stop its military operations until the 53rd and 54th divisions which are being stations in Jaffna peninsula are destroyed...Sri Lanka's military overtures will pave way for the LTTE to make it easier to destroy the trusted divisions."

The Sri Lankan prime minister's statements and the LTTE's positions present a clear picture that the war is deepening. Neither the IC, nor India can maintain a hands-off policy indefinitely. India will eventually have to break its silence, and stop playing political games to stay on the good side of Sri Lanka's two conflicting parties. This will only lead to further destruction of property and growing civilian casualties. Sri Lanka, India and other powers should keep in mind that the Tamils have grievances in Sri Lanka. The grievances should be addressed through peaceful means with third party mediation. Violence will only create further violence for the next generations. Politicians should not be sowing bad seeds. Bad seeds will yield nothing. Only good seed can yield products for the people's use. Only peaceful actions between both parties can save Sri Lanka from further human and property loss.

(The author can be reached at: satheessan_kumaaran@yahoo.com)