Cows in Tiger Skin: Lessons from Jaffna 1987 and Geneva 2013
Also see at Countercurrents
In the political discourse of the Eelam Tamils, ‘thurohi’ or traitor is the worst abuse that can be hurled at a Tamil. While the armed struggle led by the Tigers began with a punishment meted out to a traitor, the term as such gained popularity in the landmark year 1987.
After Rajeev Gandhi’s India and Jayawardane’s Sri Lankan government signed the Indo-Sri Lanka accord in July 1987, the controversial 13th amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution, that promised minimal devolution of powers to Tamils within unitary Sri Lanka, was made. India also despatched the Indian Peace Keeping Force the same year to ensure the implementation of this accord.
Even as other Tamil militant groups were arm-twisted by India into accepting the accord, Pirapaharan’s LTTE stoutly rejected it. What followed, the LTTE-IPKF war, involving over a hundred thousand Indian soldiers at its heights, with Jaffna bearing the worst brunt of Indian army atrocities, is history. And the other Tamil militant groups who uncritically accepted the accord were branded as traitors not just by the Tigers but by the Tamils at large.
Why reject the 13th amendment? A few obvious points:
1. It does not recognize the sovereignty of the Eelam Tamil nation but desires to preserve “the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka”.
2. It does not recognize the North and East of the island (Tamil Eelam) as the historical homeland of the Eelam Tamil nation but that “the Northern and the Eastern Provinces have been areas of historical habitation of Sri Lankan Tamil speaking peoples, who have at all times hitherto lived together in this territory with other ethnic groups”.
3. The North and East are not unconditionally recognized as one inseparable unit, but rather the East may have a referendum to decide whether it should “constitute a separate administrative unit having its own distinct provincial council with a separate Governer, Chief Minister and Board of Ministers.” (The Eelam Tamil political pundits who are still talking about ‘internal self-determination’ should note this)
4. While the Tamils will be disarmed, there are no restrictions on the monopoly of violence that the Sinhala state holds in that “The Government of Sri Lanka will utilise for the purpose of law enforcement and maintenance of security in the Northern and Eastern Provinces the same organisations and mechanisms of Government as are used in the rest of the country.”
The other Tamil militant groups who welcomed this accord were not inherently intentionally bad political actors. Most, in fact, with the best of intentions and/or lacking the strength to critically oppose external pressures, adopted the wrong concept. Wrong concepts gave wrong ideas. And wrong ideas brought about wrong actions.
They were confined to the dustbins of history by the Tamils. Branded as traitors.
But the best argument these poor creatures put up at that time was that “If we oppose India, what else do we have for support?”
Come Geneva 2013 and the US resolution on Sri Lanka that was passed on March 21.
The student upsurge in Tamil Nadu, youth protests in the diaspora, several Eelam Tamil grassroots organizations in the homeland and in the diaspora have rejected it outright.
Why did the reject the US resolution which is according to some ‘against Sri Lanka’?
1. Let alone mention of the Tamil national question, there is not even mention of the word ‘Tamil’ in the resolution. Reading the resolution, a person unfamiliar with the conflict would get the image that it was an internal scuffle within a nation called Sri Lanka. Nothing close to the ground reality of an irreconcilable war between Sri Lanka and the Eelam Tamil nation.
2. Let alone mention of genocide, or even that weak term ‘war crimes’, there is no mention of even ‘war’.
3. The only hint of the Tamil movement in the island is that of ‘terrorism’, thereby delegitimizing the Tamil cause. Or course, with the necessary appeals to adhere to international law. “States must ensure that any measure taken to combat terrorism complies with their obligations under international law, in particular international human rights law, international refugee law and international humanitarian law, as applicable”.
4. While abuses should be avoided, and ‘minority’ rights should be safeguarded, the state is the final sovereign authority.
5. Explicit legitimization of LLRC, which does not recognize any Tamil traditional area, and is a blueprint for a protracted, structural genocide through Sinhala colonization.
Now, the people who welcomed this resolution call themselves ‘realists’. And the people who opposed this resolution, which practically is worse than the empty 13th amendment, on conceptual grounds are called ‘leftists’ or ‘extremists’.
Pirapaharan’s LTTE was called impractical for opposing the 13th Amendment and the IPKF by the other Tamil militant groups.
Just like the Tamil groups in Jaffna 1987, the ‘realists’ at Geneva 2013 also say “If we oppose the US resolution, what else do we have for support?”
The obvious historical questions, of course, elude these misguided souls. Why didn’t Pirapaharan do the same in 1987 and accept the solution that India offered? Why didn’t he accept Premadasa’s offer in the early 90’s for ‘ellaam but Eelam’ (anything but Eelam)? Why was he adamant in refusing to unconditionally accept any clause on ‘internal self-determination’ that was unwittingly promoted by certain Tamil sections during the peace talks?
Those who do not understand or who deliberately refuse to understand Pirapaharan the concept will never understand why he did these. Pirapaharan was also a realist – a realist who believed that conceptual weakness would scar the Tamil nation’s polity, a realist who recognized the intentions and interests of powers as regards the island, and a realist who understood that a people’s struggle is the greatest material manifestation of realism.
The Geneva ‘realists’ however seem to believe in a free lunch provided by powers. Rather than a clear calculation on the basis of the collective strength of their people, their experiences, their knowledge, they seem to have more faith that the world powers will be fed up with the intransigence of the Sri Lankan state and would offer them Tamil Eelam on a platter. Maybe this is why they disparage mass protests against the US resolution and prefer to be more western than the west while articulating Tamil concerns.
A popular adage among Tamils is “pasu thol pothiya puli” – Tiger in cow’s skin.
The current context demands the inverse actually. Especially considering that some of these lobbyists wouldn’t dare openly endorse reconciling with unitary Sri Lanka in Tamil forums.
Let the cows in Tiger skin keep waiting for their free lunch. The real realists in the Tamil polity must realize that there is going to be neither justice nor freedom for the Eelam Tamil nation without a concrete, conceptually clear struggle against the establishments.