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Will Sinhala extremists agree to a fair deal?

[Express Buzz, Friday, 13 November 2009 08:09 No Comment]

The battle of Sri Lanka’s Tamils for their rights is something everyone in South Asia needs to think about and draw the appropriate lessons. Colombo’s success was the result of President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s determination to end the threat of the Tamil Tigers. At the end, the LTTE’s struggle was a failure. All interventions by other countries, including India, for compromise were rejected. The Lankan army had its own reasons for going for the kill as Prabhakaran had tried to assassinate its chief. And Rajapaksa had won the elections on the promise of ending the LTTE menace.

It is instructive to recall the last chapter in this struggle as it unfolded in the context of the general elections in our country. It was natural that people in Tamil Nadu were disturbed by TV pictures of thousands of Tamils in Sri Lanka wading through the lagoons of Mullaithivu and seeking refuge in the open with no facilities whatsoever.

What surprised many in other states was the sudden rush of sympathy for The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and even Prabhakaran among Tamil political parties. The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) was a bitter opponent of the LTTE for decades, but now Jayalalithaa was asking for the Indian army to move into the island to save Prabhakaran.

The ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) too was swept into this demonstration of sympathy, changing its stand of opposing the human bomb expert. Suddenly, there were a spate of demonstrations for the LTTE all over Tamil Nadu. But election results showed that its backers had only marginal support among voters.

In this demonstrated distance between the entire political spectrum in Tamil Nadu (except the Congress and the Bhartiya Janta Party) on the side of Prabhakaran and the true feelings of people on this issue, lies much that political parties have to chew and digest. When it comes to the crunch militant postures, even if wrapped in ideology, do not appeal to Indians as such.

Prabhakaran developed human bombs as a strategic weapon to perfection. The Rajiv Gandhi killing was the worst demonstration of this ‘art’. For years this drained any sympathy Prabhakaran may have had among our people as such.

In the end perhaps it was the systematic elimination of rival Tamil leaders and the killing of Sinhala leaders like President Premadasa (Prabhakaran’s collaborator in opposing the Indian presence in Sri Lanka), Athulathmudali, Laxman Kathirgamar, the attempt on President Kumarathunga, that alienated everyone even among the Tamils. Such violence takes its own toll and the movement split.

That violence does not pay, or even if it pays it only leads to more violence among the winners, is the historic lesson. If we carefully analyse what happened in Punjab similar trends could be discerned. In Jammu & Kashmir too we find violent militancy increasingly losing public support — in the last assembly elections there was a clear rejection of the separatists despite the open appeal to communal sentiments by the Valley’s politicians over the Amarnath affair.

The end of the LTTE’s armed struggle does not, however, eliminate the root cause of the problem of the ethnic divide in Sri Lanka. The problem also lies in the extremism of some Sinhala leaders and the competitive militancy they adopted to gain their own individual leadership.

The question that now haunts the Tamils: Will the defeat of the LTTE encourage the Sinhala extremists to push ahead with more discrimination or will it lead to a fair arrangement for share of power? In the mid-1980s then president J R Jayawardane had sought Rajiv Gandhi’s assistance to work out a power sharing formula. A reasonable arrangement had been worked out.

The LTTE sabotaged that agreement and the Sinhala extremists led by then prime minister and later president Premadasa were not far behind. Every effort at compromise through the ’90s, and in recent years, was blocked by the politically active Buddhist clergy and politicians.

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