Great Expectations: Prabhakaran’s Appeal to India
At a decisive stage in the ongoing hostilities in Sri Lanka, Prabhakaran’s Heroes Day speech on November 27 sprung quite a few surprises. Far from being perturbed by the heavy losses that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have faced over the past few months, besides tremendous civilian casualties among the Tamils, Prabhakaran insisted that the “yearning for freedom remains strong” among the Tamils. Not compromising on his dream of a separate state of Tamil Eelam, he stated with optimism that “It is true, Tamil Eelam is a small nation on the globe. However, it is a nation with great potential. It is a nation with a characteristic individuality. It has a distinctive language, cultural heritage and history.”
The bitterness and desperation that underlay the Heroes Day speech of 2007 was conspicuous by its absence this year, a time when the Tigers are faring their worst. Prabhakaran, who claimed in 2007 that the Tamils had lost confidence in the international community, seems to have regained hope after the series of demonstrations and protests in Tamil Nadu expressing solidarity with the Eelam struggle. Thanking the leaders of Tamil Nadu, he said, “Notwithstanding the dividing sea, Tamil Nadu, with its perfect understanding of our plight, has taken heart to rise on behalf of our people at this hour of need. This timely intervention has gratified the people of Tamil Eelam and our freedom movement and given us a sense of relief.”
While taking great pains to emphasize that the Tigers never considered India their enemy, Prabhakaran appealed to the “Indian superpower” to view the struggle for a Tamil Eelam in a positive light, and to revoke the ban on the LTTE, “which remains an impediment to an amicable relationship” between India and the Tigers.
Strong public expressions of solidarity with the Eelam Tamils by social organizations, intellectual forums, labour unions, student unions and political parties in Tamil Nadu reflect public sentiment in Tamil Nadu, which feels increasingly alienated from the approach of both the central and state governments towards the issue. The various outfits, besides condemning the genocide of Tamils in Sri Lanka, have also put forth the demand that the central government should enforce a ceasefire in Sri Lanka. But genuine public sentiments and political pressures apart, what can India do now?
Tamil politicians frequently cite Indian intervention in East Pakistan in 1971, in view of the alleged atrocities by the Pakistani army and a refugee influx in India, leading to the creation of the independent state of Bangladesh, and argue that India should do the same in Sri Lanka, where the ethnic conflict has claimed the lives of over 1,00,000 Tamils. Let us assume that India interferes in the conflict in the favour of the Tamils, would it favour the Tigers or a separate state of Eelam? It is nigh impossible for a Congress-led government to reconcile itself with the “killers of Rajiv Gandhi.” So, as some political novices like Subramaniam Swamy have suggested in the past, India would attempt to disband the Tigers and support other Tamil groups, and facilitate the implementation of the Indo-Sri Lanka accord of 1987. But history has shown that the LTTE, which, incidentally, has the support of a sizeable section of the Tamil population, considers itself to be the sole voice of the Eelam Tamils and has displayed ruthlessness in crushing dissent. So, India intervening on such a plane would only lead to a fiasco, similar to the IPKF intervention of 1987.
Should the BJP come to power in the next general elections, a change in approach towards the Eelam issue can be expected. Indian intervention under the BJP, which with its agenda of Hindu nationalism has been relatively more inclined towards the demands of the Tamils, who are predominantly Hindus, could create a separate Tamil Eelam state. But then again, a semi-fascist organization like the BJP, which unabashedly professes a supremacist agenda, would never allow a revolutionary socialist organization like the LTTE to be in charge of affairs in the new state. It would only prefer a puppet government that would ensure Indian hegemony in the region. So, while Eelam would be created, it would have lost its purpose – independence.
Besides pressures from Tamil Nadu, there are other forces which shape India’s approach towards Sri Lanka. Ever since its decisive victory over Pakistan in the war of 1971 and its emergence as a regional nuclear power, India has consistently pursued an agenda of imperialist expansionism. Lenin argued in Imperialism that “an essential feature of imperialism is the rivalry between several great powers in the striving for hegemony, i.e., for the conquest of territory, not so much directly for themselves as to weaken the adversary and undermine his hegemony.” In its attempts to retain its economic and political hegemony over countries in South Asia and to score points over Pakistan and China, India has extended overt and covert support to undemocratic polities like the former monarchy of Nepal and the militarist regime of Burma. Does it then come as a surprise when Pranab Mukherjee, India’s External Affairs Minister, tells Sri Lanka that India can meet its security requirement “provided you do not look around”?
The Indian government is more likely to negotiate a settlement with the Sri Lankan ruling class, one which is favorable to its own strategic interests, than favor a minority waging an armed struggle for independence against the Lankan state. And it is precisely for this reason that the Indian ruling class and their agents in the media conjure theories that a separate Tamil Eelam may provoke secessionism in Tamil Nadu, thereby dismissing the very question of support to Eelam. India’s paranoia about secessionism and genuine struggles for liberation within its own soil is obvious from the way it has brutally suppressed the genuine demands of various nationalities like the Kashmiris, the Assamese, the Nagas and the Manipuris. So, from one rogue state to another, the Indo-Lankan alliance seems natural.
A drastic reaction from the public of Tamil Nadu and the political parties may change India’s agenda, but that doesn’t seem to be happening. Until that happens, Prabhakaran’s wish for aid from India would remain what it is – a wish.