Originally published on Sangam
Is Pirapaharan dead?
Ten years back, TamilNet senior editor and military analyst Taraki Sivaram wrote a brilliant piece on the political legacy of Pirapaharan at fifty. Come 26 November this year, the founder-leader of the LTTE and one of the most brilliant military minds of South Asia will turn sixty. Quite a lot has been said, by both admirers and adversaries, about the life of the man. But what is his meaning?
It is impossible to understand Pirapaharan unless one understands the interrelated essences of Sangam poetry – love and war – and its influence on the Tamil military tradition. The ethics of Tamil akam poetry, that of unconditional love towards the object of concern influences the ethics of the puram poetry, which calls for unconditional fidelity to the king and the kingdom. However, even this unconditionality carries within it a condition that reinforces the unconditionality. For instance, the woman of virtue (Tamil progressives will, and with ample justification, criticize this, but let us leave discussions about gender problems in epic poetry for another day) is the object of love because she is a woman of virtue, the love has a platonic character because of the virtuous nature of the object. Likewise, the soldier’s fidelity to the king is because the king is loyal to the kingdom, and the king’s loyalty to the kingdom commands the soldier’s fidelity. The object of love and the object of fidelity function as cornerstones in a discursive network, without which the network would collapse. In other words, they provide meaning to the meaning of things.
In a sense that is Pirapaharan. At sixty, in what some call the ‘post-conflict era’, the symbolism of Pirapaharan speaks that Tamil nationalism is alive and kicking. The 5 lakh students who got out on the street in Tamil Nadu in early 2013, and thousands of protestors in the diaspora who challenged the injustice of the international community carried his image. These activists believe that this image signifies Tamil nationalist resistance to oppression. But isn’t this ‘idol worship’ problematic?
Commenting on the veneration of revolutionary leaders, Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle writes “‘Hero-worship’ becomes a fact inexpressibly precious; the most solacing fact one sees in the world at present. There is an everlasting hope in it for the management of the world. Had all traditions, arrangements, creeds, societies that men ever instituted, sunk away, this would remain. The certainty of Heroes being sent us; our faculty, our necessity, to reverence Heroes when sent: it shines like a polestar through smoke-clouds, dust-clouds, and all manner of downrushing and conflagration.” An oxymoronic, mostly moronic, ‘liberal left’ discredits the idea of leadership. No less a person than Lenin believed that a revolution required revolutionary leaders who stuck to their principles, and were willing to make decisions that the ordinary could not make. This belief is reinstated by contemporary philosophers like Slavoj Zizek and Alain Badiou, who also argue that a true revolutionary leader represents a Universal over and beyond narrow particulars.
While Lilliputian minds would fix a region, religion or caste label to Pirapaharan, the real ideological significance of Pirapaharan is that he transcends these narrow particularities and serves as a Universal referent for Tamil nationalists. Not only is Pirapaharan now a symbol of Eelam Tamil nationalism, he has also transfigured as a symbol of Tamil civilizational consciousness. What else explains the tens of thousands of youth in Tamil Nadu considering an Eelam Tamil leader as their own Tamil hero who provided a promise of Tamil renaissance?
But every great uniter is also a divider. As Pirapaharan becomes the symbolic standard that unites patriots, he is also the standard that separates traitors. The Pirapaharan school of thought, which is the radical extension of the thoughts of V. Navaratnam and SJV Chelvanayagam, as much as it is a standard for evaluating patriotism, also becomes the scale by which treason is judged. To be a true Christian, it is imperative to believe in the struggle between Good and Evil, not just external Evil, but also the Evil that is internal. Likewise, to be a Tamil nationalist in the footsteps of Pirapaharan means not just an opposition to the Sinhala state and its allies, but also traitors who undermine the struggle from within. And for that, we need to keep reminding ourselves what Pirapaharan means, what is the idea of Pirapaharan.
Coming back to the original question – Is Pirapaharan dead? This might confuse some people, but I would say that Pirapaharan the individual died when he founded the LTTE. Ever since, what has existed is an idea. An idea that means sovereign Tamil Eelam; the creation of a society that is based on universal principles of justice and equality; a society without regionalism, communalism, sexism or casteism; a society where the love of heroic passions replaces the lust for trivial sentiments; a society without particularist chauvinism or cheap liberal cosmopolitanism; the creation of a people who resonate the glories of the Tamil past purging it of all darkness and enriching it with the emancipatory narrative of a universal future; the idea that the impossible can be made possible by the Will to Freedom.
And ideas, like heroes, are immortal.
Finally, when people ask questions like “Will Pirapaharan come back,” I remember a conversation I had with a Jesuit in Chennai. I asked him “Do you really believe in the Second Coming of Christ?” He replied nonchalantly, “I do not know if he will come or not. But if he does, I want to be sure that I have remained a true Christian, that I have done all in my power to serve the humanity he so loved so that he will be pleased on arrival.” This is precisely the spirit that Tamil nationalists must adopt now.
மரணக் கலாச்சாரத்தைப் புலிகள் பின்பற்றிணார்கள் என்று ராதிகா குமாரசாமி போன்ற ஒரு சில பெண்ணியவாதிகள் பழி சுமத்துகிறார். ஆனால் இனப்படுகொலைக்கு எதிராக, ஒரு ஒடுக்கப்பட்ட மக்களின் தாயகத்தை மீட்க்கும் ஒரு போராட்டத்தை நடத்துபவனுக்குத் தான் புரியும், புலிகளின் கலாச்சாரம் வாழ்க்கையின் கொண்டாட்டமென்று. இது அவர் பயன் படுத்திய ஒரு சில சொற்களிலிருந்து நாம் அரிந்துக்கொள்ளலாம்.
“வார்த்தைகளும் ஆயுதமே” என்று லத்தின் அமெரிக்க எழுத்தாளர் எடுவார்டோ கலியானோ (Eduardo Galeano) சொன்னார். புலிகள் பயன்படுத்திய ஒரு சில வார்த்தைகளைப் பார்ப்போம். போர் களத்தில் விழுந்த போராளிகளை இறந்துப்போனார் என்று சொல்வதில்லை – காவியமானார் என்று சொல்வார்கள். காவியமான போராளிகளைக் கல்லறையில் பிதைப்பதில்லை – துயிலும் இல்லத்தில் விதைக்கிறார்கள். விதைக்கப்பட்ட போராளிகளைத் தியாகி என்று அழைப்பதில்லை – மாவீரர் என்று அழைக்கிறார்கள். களத்தில் நின்ற கடைசி நாள்வரை, ஒவ்வொரு சொல்லையும் மக்களுக்கு வாழ்க்கையிலும் வெற்றியிலும் நம்பிக்கை தரும் முறையாகப் பாவித்தார்கள்.
ஹுசேன் புல்ஹான் (Hussein Bulhan) என்னும் மனத்தத்துவ விஞ்ஞானி சொல்கிறார், தொடர்ச்சியான, ஓய்வுப்பெராத ஒடுக்குமுறையைச் சந்திக்கும் மக்களுக்கு வாழ்க்கையில் வெறுப்பு வந்து, தன்னைத்தானே அழித்துக்கொள்ளும் நோக்கங்கள் வரும். இது இனப்படுகொலை புறியும் அரசின் ஒரு உளவியல் போர் தந்திரம். மனச்சோர்வு, குழப்பம், “அய்யோ இப்படி ஆயிருச்சே” என்ற வருத்தம், அரசியலிலும் போராட்டத்திலும் அவ நம்பிக்கை, மரண ஆசை, போதையின் மீது காதல், வாழ்க்கையிலிருந்தும் சொந்த மக்களிடமிருந்தும் தப்ப வேண்டும் என்ற ஆசை – இது அத்தனையும் உளவியல் போர் உண்டாக்க கூடும். முள்ளிவாய்க்காலுக்குப் பின், இந்த உளவியல் போருக்கு பலியான பல நபர்களை நம்மாள் அடையாளம் கான முடியும்.
இதனை எதிர்க்க ஒரே வழி தான். நம்பிக்கை. ஒவ்வொரு விடுதலைப் போராட்டத்தின் அஸ்த்திவாரமே நம்பிக்கை தான். வாழ்க்கையின் மீது, மக்களின் மீது, உங்கள் கலாச்சாரத்தின் மீது, உங்கள் மொழியின் மீது, உங்களின் மீது… மிகவும் முக்கியமாக, உங்கள் மாவீரர்களின் மீது, தலைவரின் சிந்தனை பள்ளியின் மீது.
நம்பிக்கையின் இனைப்பிரியா சகோதரி சிந்தனை. நம்பிக்கை இல்லாத சிந்தனை தோல்வி மனப்பான்மையையும் துரோக அரசியலையும் உண்டாக்கும். சிந்தனை இல்லாத நம்பிக்கை எங்கும் போகாத பாதைக்குள் இழுத்துச்செல்லும்.
நம்புங்கள். சிந்தியுங்கள். தமிழீழம் நாளை பிறக்கும்.
ஐ. சி. ஜீ (ICG – International Crisis Group) முன்னால் தலைவரான கரெத் இவான்ஸ் சில நாட்களுக்கு முன்பு ஈழ தமிழருக்கு நடந்தது இனப்படுகொலை இல்லை, மற்றும் இனப்படுகொலைப் பற்றின விவாதம் புலம்பெயர்ந்த தமிழ் மக்களின் பிரச்சாரம் என்று சொல்லியிருக்கிறார். இனப்படுகொலையிலிருந்து பாதுகாப்பதற்காக மக்களுக்கு வழங்கப்பட வேண்டிய இறைமை (remedial sovereignty) தமிழ் மக்களுக்கு உள்ளதா என்ற கேள்விக்கு இவர் ‘அதையெல்லாம் இப்பொழுது பேசாதீர்கள்’ என்று சொல்லியிருக்கிறார். அவரைப் பொருத்த வரையில், இலங்கை தவறுகள் செய்தது, ஆனால் இப்போதைக்கு இலங்கை அரசாங்கத்தை பொறுப்புள்ள அரசாங்கமாக ஆக்குவது தான் சர்வதேசத்தின் கடமை.
இவான்ஸ் என்பவர் தமிழ் மக்களுக்கு எதிரான போர் நடந்த நேரத்தில் ஐ.சி.ஜீ.யின் தலைமை பொருப்பில் நின்றார். சர்வதேச அரசியல் தத்துவத்தில் (International Political Theory) இவர் ஒரு முக்கிய புள்ளி. ஈழ விடுதலை போராட்டத்துக்கு எதிராக மேற்கத்திய நாடுகளில் ஒரு தவறான கருத்து உருவாக்குவதில் ஐ.சி.ஜீக்கு ஒரு பெரிய பங்கு உண்டு. ‘மனித உரிமை’, ‘குழந்தைகள் உரிமை’, ‘பெண்ணுரிமை’ என்ற போர்வையில், புலிகளுக்கு எதிராக ஒரு அறிவிக்கப்படாத தகவல் போர் (undeclared information war) இதுப்போன்ற அமைப்புகள் நடத்தினார்கள்.
இரண்டு வருடத்துக்கு முன், தமிழ்நெட்டில் வந்த ஒரு பேட்டியில், ஐ.சி.ஜீயின் இலங்கை பொருப்பாளரான அலன் கீனன் சர்வதேச விசாரனை நடந்தால், அதில் இனப்படுகொலை விசாரனையையும் சேர்க்கலாம் என்று சொன்னார். இப்போ, திரு இவான்ஸ் அவர்கள் அதைப்பத்தின பேச்சே இப்போ தேவையில்லை என்று சொல்கிறார்.
இதுபோன்ற சர்வதேச அரசுசாரா அமைப்புக்களின் (International NGOs) சதுரங்க விளையாட்டுகளை நாம் கவனிக்க வேண்டும். அதில் காய்களாக நாம் சிக்க கூடாது.
Originally published on Countercurrents
Some sections of the Indian media may be going gaga over the ‘realistic’, ‘non-dramatic’ film ‘Madras Cafe’ of Shoojit Sircar. Some have, rather shamelessly, compared it to Zero Dark Thirty – in reality, GI Joe: Retaliation is a more gripping watch. While the poor sense of aesthetics of these pseudo-critics is lamentable, their contempt for history as it happened leaves much to question.
Selective history, grand conspiracy theory, not-so-subtle Indian patriotism all go into the making of a movie that principally exonerates India from all culpability of the brutal war crimes committed against the Tamils by the IPKF. From the start till the end, the subtext of the movie is to project India, a nuclear power state with the fourth largest army in the world, as a victim of the LTTE. For the record, at the height of the IPKF-LTTE war, over 100000 Indian soldiers armed to the teeth confronted about 3000 LTTE cadres. Despite this, India lost.
“They were powerful. In this game, we lost our prime minister, and the Lankan Tamils, their future,” confesses RAW agent Vikram Singh (played by John Abraham) to a Christian priest. The entire movie is the confession of Vikram to the priest, from his activities as a RAW agent in IPKF occupied Jaffna, to the failure of the RAW to break the LTTE, to their failure to stop Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination.
The numerous atrocities suffered by the Eelam Tamils under the IPKF, the murders, tortures, rapes and disappearances, do not form part of his confession. Thus, no mention of the same in the film. On the other hand, the reel LTTE are shown as fanatics, who even murder the wife of Vikram in India in their attempts to get to him. I am yet to hear of a single case where the real LTTE has deliberately targeted the family of officers or soldiers of even the genocidal Sri Lankan military.
The LTTE, shown in the film as Liberation of Tamils Front (LTF), are shown as some intransigent armed rebel group that has support of the local population. Why did the armed struggle come about, what did the Sinhala state do to create such a situation, why did the Tigers oppose the Indian solution of 13th Amendment, why did the Tamil people stand with the ‘rebel group’, and what did the IPKF actually do in the course of its intervention – these are questions not even considered by the filmmaker. But the words “provincial council elections” are repeated to the point of being a slogan throughout the movie. Contrast this with the bare minimal usage of the word ‘Sinhalese’ in the movie – it is as if they had no role to play at all. The tagline for the movie was “Intercept the truth”.
The first half of the film is concerned with the RAW agent’s covert operations in Jaffna. These include scenes that allude to RAW’s role in supporting Tamil groups antithetical to the struggle for Tamil Eelam, the Mahattaya split and so. Of course, the intelligence failure in the famous ‘Jaffna University Helidrop’ is underplayed, though the filmmaker grudgingly acknowledges the superior intelligence of the Tigers at that time.
The second half of the movie, concerned with the Rajiv Gandhi assassination, is actually banal. Other movies like ‘Mission 90 Days’ have covered the subject with more intensity, and with far more venom. Madras Cafe tells us that its LTF was a foot-soldier of foreign forces in carrying out the plot.
“Corporations, big countries, big organizations,” in short, “economic hitmen” supported the LTF, we are told. The purpose is “economic control, business deals and large arms contracts,” it is asserted. An intelligence officer informs Vikram that the war is for Trincomalee, that the foreign forces wanted the LTF in power so that they can get the harbour, and that this would be a threat for India. Last time I heard however, it was the US that gave Sri Lanka effective advice in counterinsurgency strategy to remove the LTTE from the coveted harbour.
“At no stage did we ever consider India as an enemy force. Our people always consider India as our friend. They have great expectations that the Indian super power will take a positive stand on our national question,” LTTE leader Velupillai Pirapaharan said in his Heroes’ Day address on 27 November 2008. He has never referred to any other country in such terms.
However, Anna Bhaskaran, the movie’s celluloid version of Pirapaharan, tells in an interview to British journalist Jaya (a sad allusion to the Indian journalist Anita Pratap) that he will even consider taking help from the West to wage their struggle.
This is the other subtext of the movie. India is justified in assisting unitary Sri Lanka, irrespective of what the latter does, else foreign powers will intervene and that will be against India’s ‘national interests’.
To be fair to the movie, it has its share of laughs.
For instance, the scene where Jaya interviews Anna in English and the leader of the Tamil struggle responds to it – in Hindi.
The climax was dark comedy. Vikram ends his confession and walks out of the church muttering lines from Rabindranath Tagore’s famous poem from Gitanjali “Where the mind is without fear…” The poem is a utopian vision of an ideal democratic country. Unitary Sri Lanka, which India has been supporting till now, is the perfect antithesis of the spirit of the poem.
The line best suited for the context of Madras Cafe, however, is Alfred Tennyson’s “That a lie which is half a truth is ever the blackest of lies”.
Article jointly written by Krisna Saravanamuttu and myself. Originally published on JDS
Around Geneva, the Rajapaksa regime and its mercenaries raise some self-righteous noise against the ‘neo-colonialists’ in the West. Quarters in the US-led West, tired with Rajapaksa’s intransigence wrt the human rights situation in the island and his supposed inability to provide a stable liberal democratic regime, have been releasing this report and that resolution criticizing the current state of affairs in the island. This contradiction will grow. The US will get angry with Sri Lanka for being unable to provide stability. Its natural allies then will be the Tamils, who are inherently free-market capitalists. And voila, you will have Tamil Eelam on a platter.
Or so some Tamil pundits in the West fantasize. And thus, they believe that it is in the best interest of the Tamil nation to adopt the narrative of ‘reconciliation and accountability’ that is chanted as a prayer in the hallways of Geneva. You don’t want to disappoint your large hearted allies after all.
We wish we could share such colorful dreams, but realpolitik is sadly very sober and requires a ratiocination of the most rigorous kind. Trust ‘Taraki’ Sivaram, senior editor of TamilNet and military analyst, an exemplar of parrhesia, the courage to speak truth to power, and who was assassinated for the same virtue.
In the feature he was working on at the time of his death, ‘US’s strategic interests in Sri Lanka’, noting the defense cooperation between US-Sri Lanka, Sivaram argued that “Stabilizing the Sri Lanka state was considered critical for the US at this juncture to consolidate and cement its strategic interests here. The LTTE was a stubborn impediment to achieving this end – particularly the constant threat to Trincomalee and Palaly. Containing the Liberation Tigers and making them more malleable were also identified as priorities.”
A year later, the west managed peace process collapsed, LTTE was criminalized in Europe under US-UK pressure, and Sri Lanka got a free hand to continue its war on the Tamil nation to the best of its potential. And oh, the Sri Lanka signed the Acquisition and Cross Service Agreement with the USA in 2007, a deal to secure exchanges in logistical support, supplies and services. On another front, the Tamil diaspora was extensively studied by US based defense corporations like RAND in studies like the 2001 publication “Trends in Outside Support for Insurgent Movements” or the 2007 article by William Rosenau ‘Subversion and Insurgency’, where the author describes the LTTE as “Subversion on five continents”. The internationally coordinated COIN ops against the Tamil struggle that led to the climax of the genocidal war in 2009 have been discussed earlier.
But why criticize American concern for human rights now? Doesn’t Uncle Sam have a heart after all?
In his feature referred above, Sivaram had said “The ‘management’ of the ethnic conflict, among other things, is also important for the US to “sufficiently” expand and consolidate its military and intelligence relations with Sri Lanka as an important security partner in the region.”
One portion of this ‘management’ was the internationally coordinated war on the LTTE. And the US is pretty honest on this – Ambassador Michelle Sison in an event in Sri Lanka on March 2013 affirmed “The U.S. also helped the government and people of Sri Lanka in every way we could to try to end the LTTE’s reign of terror”. She also talked about reconciliation and accountability.
Moreover, to properly analyze the current American engagement with the Tamil liberation struggle, we must objectively establish the history of US engagement with the island’s politics. To this end, Jeffrey Lunstead, former US Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, provides an insider’s perspective in his report The United States’ Role in Sri Lanka’s Peace Process. Though the US publicly espoused its support to a politically negotiated solution, in actuality it provided a “commitment to strengthening the Sri Lankan Armed Forces”. The American strategy marginalized the LTTE in the international arena (i.e. maintaining the LTTE on the Foreign Terrorist Organization list, excluding the LTTE from the Washington Donor Conference) and intensified the US military-to-military relationship with the Sri Lankan government.
Mahinda Rajapaksa was sworn in on 19th November 2006. Two days later Under Secretary Burns said “We also believe that the Tamil Tigers, the LTTE, is a terrorist group responsible for massive bloodshed in the country and we hold the Tamil Tigers responsible for much of what has gone wrong in the country. We are not neutral in this respect. We support the government”.
The Americans provided the Sri Lankans with training, education, and weapons infrastructure. The US played a key role in cutting off the LTTE’s own financial networks yet it handed over millions in foreign military funding to the Sri Lankan government. And Paul Moorcraft, a British military analyst, in his recent book on the war in the island notes the level of assistance that the US gave to Sri Lanka, including the advice to use cluster bombs against the Tamil population. All this while the US insisted that it sought to deter war and not encourage it.
The other portion of this ‘management’ is best observed at, what one diaspora grassroots activist so poignantly termed, ‘the Geneva thiruvizha’. Introducing the US sponsored resolution on Sri Lanka, 2013. No talk on Tamil nationhood. No talk on Tamil genocide. No mention even of the word ‘Tamil’. But yes, “reconciliation and accountability.”
In order to pacify the Diaspora, the backers of US based resolution give the false impression that it is against Sri Lanka and its adoption would somehow benefit the Tamils. The resolution, whose only implicit reference to the Tamil struggle is ‘terrorism’, harps on reconciliation and the LLRC as a solution to the ongoing conflict. The undeniable fact, however, is that the LLRC was conceived as an escape route for Sri Lanka. When legitimate criticism does emerge about the LLRC based approach, the knee jerk reaction of its lobbyists is to simply argue that the UNHRC resolution is a ‘first step.’ A fine ‘first step’ indeed. Towards a political disaster, perhaps.
After the Mullivaaykaal genocide, Sivaram’s analysis of COIN remains critical to assessing American engagement with the Tamil Diaspora. A key COIN tactic Sivaram addressed was “the promotion and propagation of the conceptual/political dichotomy of the moderate and the militant/terrorist”. Today the Diaspora seems to be a target in US COIN strategy, wherein “the global proscription regime is an institutional, structural violence which criminalizes diaspora politics and affective connections to the idea of Tamil Eelam”. Unfortunately, some sections of the Tamil lobby Diaspora developed selective amnesia regarding US intervention to tilt the parity of status earned by the Tamils in favor of the Sri Lankan war machinery.
First, any serious observer of the Tamil Liberation struggle cannot deny the role played by the global Tamil Diaspora. After all, it was the same Diaspora that was criminalized through the US led proscription of the LTTE in the western world due to its moral, political and economic support of the liberation struggle. The U.S. Army & Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24 (2007) advises, “Victory is achieved when the populace consents to the government’s legitimacy and stops actively and passively supporting the insurgency”. Thus, to establish victory over the Tamil independence struggle on the international front, the Tamil Diaspora must be conceptually and politically demobilized from its primary objective.
The pro US lobbyists may argue that the Americans looked away in a ‘war without witnesses.’ The sad truth, as seen above, is that the Americans and their allies provided the weapons and the diplomatic cover for Sri Lanka to commit the 2009 genocide. The defeat of the LTTE and the 2009 genocide are an example of what Herman and Peterson called a “constructive genocide” that served the major US interests of stabilizing the island by getting rid of the stubborn LTTE impediment.
With the defeat of the military force of Tamil independence, the US fixed its aims on the Diaspora political force by seeking to reshape and moderate the terms of the debate. Classical COIN theorists like Galula have stressed the importance of the counterinsurgent to work on appropriating and diluting the cause of the insurgent so as to eradicate support while contemporary theorists like Kilcullen have stressed the importance of creating an alternate narrative that excludes the narrative of the insurgent.
To distort and dilute the cause of the Tamil liberation struggle, the LLRC based approach is attempting to change and moderate the debate from sovereignty, freedom, and self-determination to accommodation, integration and co-existence, thus moderating the perception of the oppressed about the conflict rather than helping end the system of oppression itself. The debate shifts from genocide and national liberation to individual human rights problems and political devolution, which can be rectified under a more liberal, democratic Sri Lankan regime. A recent TamilNet feature raised a question whether resolutions and HR reports that fail to recognize genocide or Tamil sovereign nationhood is the other side of a coin where military minds hail the ‘Sri Lanka model’ as a successful addition to COIN theory.
The lobbyists in favor of the US resolution are given the bait of political recognition while those who reject it on principled grounds are deemed as radicals and leftists. The ‘moderates’ are seen to be effective because they can invite their political masters in the west to their meetings and engage in photo ops with them. Yet, the ‘moderates’ can only beg for scraps of justice from their masters but remain powerless to halt, challenge or even address western complicity in the structural and protracted genocide that the Tamil homeland endures.
Why does this same lobby not reject the US approach and demand a more concrete political program of an international investigation and a referendum to establish a sovereign Tamil Eelam? Hair-splitting and claims of being pragmatic aside, the answer is that the pro-US lobby will lose its utility in the eyes of its political superiors at the US State Department. Some take up the ‘reconciliation for all citizens’ narrative as conscious agents, getting perks, grants, and funding. Others do it as unconscious agents, in the best of intentions that by bending over backwards, the world powers will pay heed to Tamil suffering and deliver justice. Either way, the effect is the same.
Of course, the liberal lobbyist brigades will argue that they are keenly aware of the broader strategy at play. These ‘moderates’ insist that they are politically savvy and clever enough to navigate through the western agenda and secure Tamil liberation. Sadly, it is one thing to think like an American and an entirely different thing to think the way the American wants you to think. Confused and impotent, they forget that the dog can wag the tail but the tail can never wag the dog.
Through the use of a resolution that is impotent as far as the Tamil nation is concerned and reports that do not address the crucial questions facing the Tamil nation, the US is pushing for a more user-friendly regime in Colombo. Emphasizing the paradigm of human rights and reconciliation over liberation and justice will in the end only help Sri Lanka rehabilitate itself in the world when a more liberal regime takes over from Rajapaksa.
Like the butchers Pinochet, Pol Pot or the recent Efrain Rios Montt, it can be argued that the US may someday discard Rajapaksa when his usefulness to them is over – or it may not. Rajapaksa’s personal fortunes or misfortunes are of no concrete concern to the Tamil nation. The point is whether Tamil Eelam is to be or not to be. And those who choose to obscure it are by definition against it. It is that simple.
But do puppets ever see the strings attached?
1. William Rosenau, “Subversion and Insurgency”, RAND Report prepared for the Office of Secretary of Defence, 2007, p12
2. Jeffrey Lunstead “The United States’ Role in Sri Lanka’s Peace Process: 2002-2006.” Colombo 7: The Asia Foundation (2007), p17
3. Ibid, p39
4. Paul Moorcraft, “Total Destruction of the Tamil Tigers: The Rare Victory of Sri Lanka’s Long War”, South Yorkshire: Pen and Sword, (2012), p110
5. Mark Whitaker, “Learning Politics From Sivaram: The Life and Death of a Revolutionary Tamil Journalist in Sri Lanka”, London: Pluto Press, (2007), p152
6. Vicki Sentas’ “One more successful war? Tamil diaspora and counter-terrorism after the LTTE” in “Counter-Terrorism and state political violence: The ‘war on terror’ as terror” edited by Scott Poynting and David Whyte, Routledge (2012), p111
Original article here
Happy Tamil Eelam Heroes’ Day to Tamil Nation
Revolutionary greetings for the heroic and steadfast nation of Tamil
Dedicating campaigners and activists of Tamil’s freedom path; our pains and sufferings, our hopes and aspirations are the same. Not we do only share them together, but with all the oppressed peoples in the world who are struggling to attain freedom. In the same manner; all the inhumane fascists and chauvinists in the world share their way of thinking, ideology and paradigm.
History of the world has been full of clashes between the occupiers and the occupied. As a result of struggles, resistances and sacrifices more of the occupied people have been liberated and the fascist and chauvinist occupiers are being destroyed successively.
In the last century more than 122 nations have been liberated and achieved their rights. Many more are leading liberation struggles and the bodies of their daughters and sons are becoming the fuelling logs of revolution blazes while their villages and cities are being destroyed; the Tamil and Kurdish nations are just samples of those peoples.
History and the philosophy of those liberated nations give us a lesson as the campaigners of liberation. The lesson is that campaign for freedom means; struggle, devastation, resoluteness and resurrection; struggle again, devastation, resoluteness and resurrection; once more struggle, devastation, resoluteness and resurrection; and ultimately triumphant and freedom will prevail.
Each damage and devastation would push us a step forward once we stand up, this is the dialectic of struggle for freedom and liberation. We have also experienced damages and devastations, but we never gave in and stood up again. Any nation who is scared of damage and devastation will never triumph. We should learn how to stand up from the way we get damaged and are devastated, any nation who learns how to stand up, will triumph.
In the hope of revitalization of the heroic nation of Tamil Eelam, in the hope of triumphant and freedom for the resolute and revolutionary nation of Tamil Eelam; never rest unless triumphing!
The Secretary General of Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK)
Rehman Haci Ehmedi 29-11-2012
Originally published on Sanhati
Speaking at a conference at Trinity College, Dublin on 24th May 2012 titled ‘The Local and the Global: The Geopolitics of Peace and Conflict’ exiled Sinhala journalist Bashana Abeywardane, opined that genocide was used as a Counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy by the Sri Lankan state to crush the armed struggle for a sovereign state of Tamil Eelam led by the LTTE. Citing British military strategist Frank Kitson, who had played an important role in suppressing the Mau Mau uprising and the insurgency of the Malayan Communist Party, Mr. Abeywardane said that when you want to neutralize an insurgency movement, you must destroy its “genuine subversive element” – arguing that in the case of Sri Lanka, the genuine subversive element in the island was the Tamil population as such. He further cited geo-political factors that influenced the decision of the world powers to support the Sri Lankan state’s military offensive leading up to May 2009, arguing that the island held geo-strategic importance only if it was a unitary political entity.
COIN, as the term suggests, is a war manoeuvre used against insurgents by states. While the principal feature of COIN is to ensure that a state facing an insurgency does not lose its constitutional-legal monopoly over violence in the territory it controls/seeks to control over to the insurgents, there are specific cases where COIN gains additional features as well. According to David Kilcullen, a leading COIN expert based in the US, counterinsurgency “is an umbrella term that describes the complete range of measures that governments take to defeat insurgencies. These measures may be political, administrative, military, economic, psychological, or informational, and are almost always used in combination.” He further adds that to understand strategies deployed in particular conflicts it is necessary to take into consideration “the nature of the insurgency being countered, the nature of the government being supported, and the environment—especially the human environment—in which the conflict takes place.”
As a phenomenon, countering insurgencies is as old as states and empires. As a concept, study in COIN gained momentum in the colonial period so as to deal with frequently occurring rebellions in colonies as well as to counter the “communist menace”. As a science, it grew with late modernity and the rise of what ‘Taraki’ Sivaram (iconic Eelam Tamil journalist, military analyst and senior editor of TamilNet who was assassinated by Colombo in 2005) called “counter-insurgency nation-states”. We must understand that COIN has developed as a science, deployed by specific actors in specific conditions as a science. And by virtue of its being a science, each deployment – whether successful, partially successful, or failed – is closely followed, studied and applied by various states engaged in COIN operations according to the particular conditions they encounter.
Some refined political analysts, understanding the geo-strategic importance of Sri Lanka, have argued that the Sri Lankan war machine was ideologically and materially equipped in its COIN operations against the Tigers by a confluence of world powers. Reflecting on this, Mark Whitaker writes in his biography of ‘Taraki’ Sivaram that “by the middle 1990s Sivaram had come to view Sri Lanka’s conflict as a kind of military-political laboratory in which the various repressive forces of late modernity (local and international) were testing their clever, often cruel, counter-insurgency tactics”. Just that the lab rats favoured by the world powers in the island had genocidal intentions.
From here, we need to chalk out those points that need to be outlined so as to further study the ‘Sri Lanka model’ of COIN – both objective conditions and subjective forces that existed in the island.
1) Location of the island of Sri Lanka makes it geo-strategically important. The position of the island between the routes of the Straits of Malacca and Hormuz make it an excellent base for a power seeking to exert influence in the Indian-Pacific waters;
2) Demographic distribution in the island, with the Eelam Tamils identifying the North and East region as their traditional homeland (i.e. Tamil Eelam).
3) A virulent strain of Sinhala/Sri Lankan nationalism that seeks to forcibly assimilate Eelam Tamils through Sinhalization, which possesses a neanderthal paranoia about external Tamil conspiracies to take over/divide its Sri Lanka, seeing the entire island as primarily Sinhala property, and exercises control over both repressive and ideological state apparatus;
4) An Eelam Tamil nationalism that had manifested itself as an armed struggle, that aspired for a political solution based on the right of nations to self-determination;
5) World powers with vested interests in preserving the unitary state structure of Sri Lanka.
The author needn’t spend time in elaborating on point (3). The inherent appeal for genocide that such a strain of nationalism would possess should be evident to readers. Suffice to point out that the ideological patriarch of Sinhala nationalism, Anagarika Dharmapala, a xenophobic monk who expounded theories of Sinhala race superiority and the need for their lebensraum, was greatly impressed by Japanese militarist nationalism. No wonder that what his sons did at Mullivaikaal is compared by Tamils to the Rape of Nanking.
Point (4) needs some observation. The armed struggle for Tamil Eelam led by the LTTE was categorized under “Identity-Focused Strategy” by the US Field Manual 3-24.2 on ‘Tactics in Counterinsurgency’ (April 2009). According to the manual, “The identity-focused strategy mobilizes support based on the common identity of religious affiliation, clan, tribe, or ethnic group. In this strategy, legitimacy and popular support are tied to their identity and, often, no effort is made to garner popular support outside their identity. Rather, communities often join the insurgent movement as a whole, bringing with them their existing social or military hierarchy. External support is garnered from international elements of the same identity.” Further, it is argued that this strategy “Protects what it considers the interest of the identity”, and “Mass base easily aligns with insurgency objectives.” In other words, the goals of this type of an insurgency includes preserving and protecting political, historical and cultural symbols that are of core value to the community, and the strength of this type of an insurgency is the support it enjoys amongst masses adhering to an identity.
To use Sivaram’s analysis , the LTTE, after it developed into a conventional army effectively challenging the monopoly of violence that the Sinhala state possessed, required the following conditions:
(A) A politically motivated population from which to raise battalions;
(B) An economy to raise resources to clothe, arm, feed and deploy its forces;
(C) A secure territory to train and barrack the forces;
(D) An efficient logistics system;
(E) Facilities to treat a battalion of wounded fighters.
To this, I would like to add another crucial condition (F), namely, a rear base to withdraw should a situation emerge when the best fighting forces risk complete annihilation. The Tigers had this in Tamil Nadu till the point when the Indian government turned hostile towards the Eelam Tamils’ struggle. The neutralization of the rear base by India cut-off the only possible, strategically favourable sanctuary the insurgents had in the region.
Other than this, the LTTE’s de facto state that emerged after hugely successful military operations against the Sri Lankan military secured all other conditions. Popular support among the Eelam Tamil people, a civilian infrastructure that functioned like a ‘normal’ government with its system of taxation, funds from a million strong diaspora, medical facilities to treat the wounded, a political and military stronghold in the Vanni region, and logistics system secured mainly through control of the sea with the Sea Tigers.
It was this force that the Sri Lankan state faced. From the conditions that the LTTE secured in their de facto state, we can map out those measures taken to destroy them.
Measures adopted by Sri Lankan government to destroy the LTTE:
(I) The measures taken by the co-chairs (the group of US, EU, Norway and Japan who were ‘managing’ the peace process initiated between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government since 2002 till its collapse in 2006) in the ceasefire period to restrict taxation by the LTTE in the territory in governed – but considering the taxation of the Sri Lankan government as legitimate ;
(II) The measures taken in the ceasefire period to restrict the movement of the Sea Tigers, thereby affecting flow of logistics;
(III) Foreign intelligence supplied to the Sri Lankan military to target and attack the Sea Tigers’ bases, boats and supply channels;
(IV) Proscription of the LTTE in Western countries where the Tamil diaspora is present, arrests of diaspora activists and criminalization of fund raising for political or relief purposes ;
(V) Sri Lanka’s undeclared embargo on food, medical and other basic supplies to LTTE controlled regions;
(VI) Sri Lanka ‘compelling’ the pull-out of relief organizations and NGOs after the collapse of the peace process in 2006;
(VII) Sri Lankan military’s systematic targeting of hospitals, educational institutions and food supplies so as to leave the Tiger’s civilian infrastructure in complete disarray;
(VIII) Making the secure territory of the insurgents insecure for the population;
(IX) Collective trauma inflicted to hurt not the insurgent alone, but the population as such, so as to destroy their political motivation. A study of the patterns of claymore attacks, Kfir bombings, and artillery shelling by the Sri Lankan military would show that these were intended to target the Tamil population primarily. Add to this cordon and search operations in Sri Lanka overrun Tamil territory, creation of High Security Zones and military enclaves, military checkpoints that make the Sinhala repressive state appear omnipresent, destruction of Tamil cultural and political symbols, routine tortures, rapes, interrogations, disappearances etc. The point is, reduce the population to subhuman conditions that let alone being political, even to be treated as something close to a human would appear as an act of benevolence by the Sinhalese.;
(X) Finally, with all external factors in its favour, with the political space for the Tigers completely blocked, and the internal factor of Sinhala nationalism being at an all time high, using the moment to inflict as much casualties as possible on the Eelam Tamil people as a warning of what would happen to those resisting Sinhala hegemony.
The adoption of these measures led to Mullivaikaal, with 40000 plus dead and many more disappeared. An observation of these measures shows that while the genocidal intention of internal actors in the state influenced the manner in which they handled conditions (A) and (C), the counter-strike to conditions (B) (D) (E) and (F) was dealt wholly or largely by external forces. Or, the external forces, which had vested interests in the island, created favourable conditions for the Sri Lankan state to unify the island through whatever means possible.
It all these known factors taken into account that made the ‘Sri Lanka model’ tick.
What followed after shows Sri Lanka’s operations did not stop with the military defeat of the Tigers. They are listed out as points to give readers a general overview – ideally, each of the points merits separate analysis – of what is happening in the so-called ‘post-war’ era. Some of these factors have been listed by Sivaram much earlier as being part of a COIN strategy.
— Increased military presence in the North and East and creation of military bases in Tamil areas. A report published in the July 14, 2012 issue of the Economic and Political Weekly titled “Notes on the Military Presence in Sri Lanka’s Northern Province” states that military to civilian ratio in the North is as high as 1:5 – higher than Kashmir. The Sinhala military monitors, dominates and penetrates all aspects of social, cultural and political life of the Eelam Tamils be it civil society protests, religious festivals or birthday celebrations. Paul Virilio contends that “Whoever controls the territory possesses it. Possession of territory is not primarily about laws and contracts, but first and foremost a matter of movement and circulation.” Sinhala military control of Tamil territory equals Sinhala possession over it, to facilitate smooth access of the Sinhala state apparatus to all corners of the island.
— Settlement of Sinhalese from the South in places where Tamils have been displaced. Tamil activists argue that this is a system of colonization intended to destroy the territorial integrity of the Tamil homeland by bringing about demographic changes that would make them a minority in their own areas.
— Building of Buddhist statues and monuments celebrating Sinhalese triumph in Tamil areas often carried side-by-side with destruction and desecration of places of political or cultural importance to the Tamils.
— Parcelling out Tamil lands to foreign investors through a military-corporate nexus. A combine of free-market capitalism that respects no borders and a militarist state that is bent on breaking the sovereignty that the Tamils aspire to, works towards facilitating exploitation of human and material resources available in the Tamil homeland.
– Induced proliferation of drugs, alcohol and pornography among the Tamil people. Likewise, a high prevalence of sexual abuse of Eelam Tamil women by the Sri Lankan military and police forces has also been recorded. An ICG report on “Sri Lanka: Women’s Insecurity in the North and East” credits this to the overwhelming military presence in the Tamil areas. However, the analysis and conclusions of this report has been criticized by Tamil feminists and scholars for failing to recognize the genocidal nature of the sexual violence perpetrated on the Eelam Tamils. Analysts further say that all of these processes have been intended to systematically tear the socio-cultural fabric that binds the Tamil people
— ‘Disappearances’ and routine psychological harassments of ex-LTTE cadres not just to make them broken persons, but also to warn those around of the consequences of rebellion. Particularly affected are women combatants. A TamilNet analytical feature details how women cadres have been subject to abuse and in many cases, forced pregnancies, in the course of ‘rehabilitation’. The fate of about 2000-3000 women cadres is still unknown, the feature notes.
What is to be noted here is that none of the world powers that aided the Sri Lankan state with ammunition and ideas, some of who have now started to ask the Sri Lankan government to speedily implement the “positive recommendations” of the ‘reconciliation’ commission setup by it, have addressed even one of these issues with the seriousness it deserves. Likewise, while the Sinhala nationalists justify/deny the above in the name of security, other observers call these processes a protracted genocide, results of structural violence. These are the effects of the ‘Sri Lanka model’ on the Eelam Tamil nation.
The science of COIN will add the ‘Sri Lanka model’ in its ambit. Already, numerous states across the world facing insurgencies have threatened to do a Sri Lanka on the rebelling people. Turkey of late has been making most references in public to this model to the Kurds. But as mentioned above, the success of the ‘Sri Lanka model’ depended on a combination of internal and external factors, objective conditions and subjective forces, none of which will be found at a different time and a different place – the laboratory and the lab rats would not be the same elsewhere. We must also realize that international legitimacy, ideas and weapons from all directions given to the internal actors who had genocidal intention played the major role in effecting the defeat of the insurgents and the concomitant genocide than the internal actors themselves. Other states needn’t have all the advantages that Sri Lanka had.
Then again, no COIN expert worth his salt would suggest a blind imitation of this model. It needs to be restated here that there is no pure model of COIN – each one influences the other and in turn is influenced by others. What will happen is that those aspects of the ‘Sri Lanka model’ that can find applicability in other conflicts will be studied deeper and applied accordingly.
One can see at least 3 general lessons emerging from the ‘Sri Lanka model’ that other states might find appealing to deal with insurgencies.
– Military solution first. Display ruthlessness in securing your hegemony and the population will be willing to accept any political solution you throw at them later.
– Winning ‘hearts and minds’ is outdated. Break the spine of the population; throw fear in their hearts and numb their minds. They will be grateful to you for letting them to just live.
– The press does nothing to influence public opinion that you don’t want it to. If they are against you, they are with the ‘terrorists’ and are to be dealt accordingly.
What this would mean for people involved in struggles against various oppressive governments is left to the reader’s imagination.
 See Mark Whitaker, “Learning Politics From Sivaram: The Life and Death of a Revolutionary Tamil Journalist in Sri Lanka”, London: Pluto Press, (2007) p. 146.
 For further information on how the LTTE’s Peace Secretariat viewed the tilting of the parity of status by the co-chairs through various means during the peace talks, click this link.
 For a more elaborate account of how the criminalization of Tamil diaspora politics is still taking place in the West so as to arm-twist them to drop the demand for Tamil Eelam, refer to Vicki Sentas’ chapter “One more successful war? Tamil diaspora and counter-terrorism after the LTTE” in “Counter-Terrorism and state political violence: The ‘war on terror’ as terror” edited by Scott Poynting and David Whyte, Routledge (2012).
Originally published at Sanhati
“our friend, valiant heart,
exemplary child, golden warrior:
we swear in your name to continue this struggle
that your spilt blood may thus flower.”
A few weeks back, in an interview to the right-wing Indian news channel Times Now, Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa stated that they still feared the rise of LTTE in Sri Lanka. Likewise, the paranoia of the Lankan army was so high on the Heroes Day week (November 21st to 27th) that it even forbade the ringing of temple or church bells, lighting of candles or public gatherings in this period. Despite this, the Heroes Day torch was lit in the University of Jaffna and people in Batticaloa gathered in public, in open defiance of the occupying Lankan military, to commemorate the occasion. Likewise, the Tamil Sovereignty Cognition declaration that was released on Heroes Day also stated that the symbols and expressions of the national struggle of the Eelam Tamils must be upheld.
The Other observed the occasion too. Sinhala officers in the Anuradhapura prison gave the Tamil detainees a present by stripping them and trashing them on the Day. It was rather obvious that even after their claims to have defeated the Tigers, the Sri Lankan government is unable to get over the spectres from the past that haunt their present. But just why this persistent obsession with an organization that has been, by all accounts, considerably militarily weakened? Is it the simple paranoia of the dictator of a banana republic or is it something more? While it might appear that what Rajapaksa and co. fears is a military regrouping of the Tigers, the essence of their apprehension lies in the persistence of the LTTE tradition.
The difference between LTTE as tradition and LTTE as organization needs to be emphasized here. As an organization, a movement can be crushed by assassination of its leaders and brutal suppression of its followers. But once the organization creates a tradition that stands above it, as ideas that reflect on society and provides a framework of and inspiration for action, a mere military defeat is never enough. The oppressor needs to do a lot more.
Every progressive national liberation struggle, especially when it is an armed struggle, creates, fashions and refashions traditions in the concerned society. A movement like the LTTE, an organization with a leadership and cadre that emerged almost entirely from the popular classes, the peasantry, women and other historically backward sections, works with traditions in a dialectical fashion.
First, it filters those traditions from the nation’s past and deploys them concretely, not as abstract cultural lamentations, in field as praxis. Second, via revolutionary praxis and the subjective pressures of the popular classes it serves, it purges tradition of its rot and heralds in a new one. Thirdly, and most importantly, the new tradition constitutes a radical rupture with the schemata of the oppressor regime in that it creates the political polarization that makes collaboration ethically difficult. Such a tradition exposes the Manichean reality of oppression and compels one to take a side.
The struggle is formed out of identity and the struggle itself takes identity to a new level . For a people that were inferioritized by systemic state violence for decades, the counter-hegemonic violence of the LTTE was therapeutic – for a people who were made to accept an inauthentic existence through the look of the Other, it gave an option of becoming authentic subjects. Fanon writes in The Wretched of the Earth that“At the individual level, violence is a cleansing force. It rids the colonized of their inferiority complex, of their passive and despairing attitude. It emboldens them, and restores their self-confidence.”
More so for the Eelam Tamil woman, the worst ‘casualty’ of the occupation, for whom the violence of her participation in the Tiger resistance killed three birds in a stone – not only did she annihilate a colonizer and clean herself of inferiority, she also asserted her feminity by her symbolic castration of the Sinhala patriarch’s penetrative presence. Her weapon and her uniform was not just her humanity, it was her Tamil feminity. The authentic Tamil who backs the Tiger tradition fully comprehends the violent reality not just of war, but of Lankan socio-politics as such and realizes his identity, his politics through a movement that allows him to transcend his individual frailties and by engaging in a liberation of his group, through it achieving his own realization and liberation.
Once this phenomena is grasped, it is easy to understand patterns of Sri Lanka’s colonization of Tamil Eelam, its repressive apparatus demolishing all symbols of resistance and imposing physical threats on those who seek to adhere to them while its ideological apparatus, with aid from the collaborator-intellectuals in the Lankan institutions, funded NGO’s, spiritual organizations etc steadily perpetuate a discourse that the Tiger resistance was harmful to Tamil interests. The strategy of the Sri Lankan state and the powers that support it to prevent the mass discontent that prevails among the Eelam Tamils from breaking out into revolt – which would inevitably involve an appropriation of the LTTE tradition, would be to prop up dummy figures from among the various Tamil political groups as a voice of the people. Such figures would be used to deradicalize sentiments, deny the past resistance and its goals, and eventually made to settle for a solution that works against the interest of the majority of the Tamils.
A similar tactic can also be observed among the powers that seek to manipulate the Eelam Tamil diaspora. While a vast majority retain their sense of identity around the tradition of the LTTE, preserving its political and cultural symbols, there is also a privileged ‘Tamil aristocracy’ that is promoted by the host countries as a counter-weight to the voices that emerge from the grassroots. Splits are engineered, voices are divided, dubious NGO’s and organizations like the oxymoronic ‘Sri Lanka Without Borders’ are assisted in order to sow confusion among the people, and attempts are made through grand terms and tall promises to pacify a community that has a sharp sense of injustice. Vacillating elements that have lesser understanding of ground realities owing to both objective class positions and subjective decisions tend to move towards a piece-meal solution as it is put across as ‘reasonable’ while those who reject to compromise on the struggle’s goals are painted as ‘irrational’ or ‘extremists’.
The fundamental problem that such ‘reasonable’ people overlook is that unless the representatives of the oppressed community place their demands, in their terms and in view of the larger interests of their people, the powers have more than enough resources to scuttle the essence of the struggle and churn out a solution that would stop short of addressing the fundamental national question. As Sartre said, “If you accept to play the games by the rules set up by those who own or control the board, you will always lose.”
Progressives must, then, denounce such ‘reasonable’ solutions that would give the Eelam Tamils neither justice nor a lasting peace, but would only mask the mutilation of their polity. The LTTE had issued a statement in the early 90’s that defined a traitor as “whoever accepts or supports the Sri Lankan unitary constitution, the Sinhala national anthem, the Sinhala national flag.” In a scenario that is being hailed as ‘post-LTTE’ one should take this a step further and unhesitantly mark as renegades those who deny and/or denigrate the LTTE’s tradition of uncompromising emancipatory struggle against oppression.
The political resolution adopted by the 5th conference of the Co-ordination Committee of Maoist Parties and Organizations of South Asia (CCOMPOSA) on March 2011 said that “the defeat of LTTE is an immense loss to the struggling people of the world.” LTTE was not defeated because the Sri Lankan government was strong, LTTE was defeated because the LTTE was strong and it presented a model of development and resistance that was not in tune with the paradigms of the world imperialist forces. The credit for the military defeat of the LTTE then should not be given to the ‘genius’ of the Lankan government but rather to the calculated designs of the geo-strategic compulsions of world powers that had much to lose had a Tamil Eelam been formed in the wake of the Tigers. The weakening, distortion and the destruction of their tradition are a must not just for Sri Lanka but for these powers as well. Marx said that life may die but death must not live. Eelam Tamils were left to die. If the now ‘united Sri Lanka’ is allowed to live, as a system it is not only hostis Tamil generis, its very idea is hostis humani generis, an idea that the resistance of a people can be crushed by brute military force, pillage and unrestrained colonization. Its sinister implications for other people’s movements in the region and in the world should be obvious. The idea and the system need to be intellectually and politically defeated even as the tradition of the Tamil resistance is defended.
But this again should not lead to an over-confident assumption that the tradition of the LTTE cannot be defeated. Highlighting the role of principled subjective commitment even if there was no guarantee of success Lenin polemically asked “shall socialists behave like socialists or really breathe their last in the embrace of the imperialist bourgeoisie?” So the question we can ask is whether Eelam Tamils will behave like the inheritors of the Tigers’ tradition or will they walk like sheep into the welcoming arms of those who facilitated their genocide? For just as the LTTE tradition is the only potent force that can give the Tamils a practical rigor, an idea of an egalitarian society, a sense of dignity, a collective hope – all of which are necessary for future struggles to defeat the oppressor regime – the only force potent enough to defeat the LTTE tradition are the Tamils themselves if they waver in their understanding or commitment. And this is something that the oppressors know very well. And if there could be a worse crime in the history of the Tamils than Mullivaikaal, it would be if the latter is allowed to happen.
1. See ‘Eelam Tamil’ – The Politics Behind the Term for further on LTTE’s role in Eelam Tamil identity formation and consolidation
THIS IS A PAPER I PRESENTED AT THE DEPARTMENT OF SOCIOLOGY, JAMIA MILLIA ISLAMIA, ON 27th JANUARY 2011, FOR A CONFERENCE ON ‘CONCEPTUALISING RESISTANCE’ (I should add that my views have significantly changed since then)
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
-John 1:1, The Bible
“Not so long ago the Earth numbered 2 billion inhabitants, i.e., 500 million men and 1.5 billion “natives.” The first possessed the Word, the others borrowed it.”
-Jean-Paul Sartre, Preface to The Wretched of the Earth
We in the academia are familiar with the Foucauldian discourse on power-knowledge relations. Knowledge engenders power and power requires knowledge to sustain itself. Knowledge, is not just a body of facts, facts that have been selected by a group of people as worthy of knowing, it is also a system of words, and a system of ascribing meaning to words. Combined with power, it is a system of discriminating interpretations of words and texts – it determines which interpretation is right and which is wrong. What about the word of our focus, ‘resistance’? Does it have any inherent universal meaning or value? Sartre argued that “The word is a certain particular moment of action and has no meaning outside it.” (Sartre 2009, p12) Let us take a case – the white slave-owners in erstwhile Southern America opposing the abolition of slavery and the black slaves opposing slavery both deployed the term ‘resistance’ to their respective demands. A word or a collection of words i.e., a text, has no meaning, no value in itself but that which is given to it by humans in particular scenarios and in particular power relations. A logocentric approach to a text is almost always connected to systems of power and domination.
Of course, there is great subversive potential in a text, which can also be considered a sign. “Texts can say more than one supposes, they can always say something new, precisely because signs are the starting point of a process of interpretation which leads to an infinite series of progressive consequences. Signs are open devices, not stiff armors prescribing a bi-conditional identity.” (Eco 1981, p11) But there arises a situation when that very text becomes a monopoly of a powerful elite and they, with their knowledge and with their interpretation(s) of the text, hijack the potential for liberation in it and turn it into an instrument of repression. An old example of this is Christianity under the church. A more recent one is Marxism of the Leninist variant. My paper, besides attempting to critique the Leninist view of Marxism(1) seeks to emphasize on the need to look beyond a rigidly defined set of texts and interpretations for a successful praxis of liberation-centered resistance.
PROBLEMS OF THE TEXT
The fundamental problem of a resistance movement that relies greatly on a text for its worldview and political action is that after a point, the emancipatory essence of the movement is lost and the text, and those who control it, take over. Yet, it is hard to envision a liberatory movement without a body of writing that has a deep understanding of existing conditions in the society that it seeks to transform. As many Leninists would argue, it is necessary for a revolution to have a revolutionary theory. But the priority has to be set here – it is liberation that is central to a revolutionary, not the text. This, then calls for a democratic, free for all criticism and critical inquiry of the concerned text by those involved in the revolutionary struggle and especially with participants from the target group. This is what Paulo Freire termed as ‘problem-posing’ pedagogy where “people develop their power to perceive critically the way they exist in the world with which and in which they find themselves; they come to see the world not as a static reality, but as a reality in process, in transformation.” (Freire 1996, p64)
But how far is Leninism, and its conception of a rigid party apparatus, reconcilable with free and fair criticism? From a text which is considered to contain Leninism’s central tenets, ““freedom of criticism” means freedom for an opportunist trend in Social-Democracy, freedom to convert Social-Democracy into a democratic party of reform, freedom to introduce bourgeois ideas and bourgeois elements into socialism.” (Lenin 1979, p111) Blind, uncritical faith in a text without taking into account of the subtleties of the context is criticized as dogmatism by most Marxist-Leninists, including that one leader who is blamed for most ills of socialist praxis and who is accused of himself following a ‘mechanical Marxism’, Josef Stalin. I would however argue that the foundations for a dogmatic reading of Marxism was laid by Lenin himself. Stalin just walked into the fortress that Lenin built. For it was Lenin, who interpreted Marx’s concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat as “the organization of the vanguard of the oppressed as the ruling class” (Lenin 1977, p324) and relentlessly opposed, even persecuted, those who held different views on the same.(2)In practice, only the Leninist interpretation of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ was recognized as the legitimate one. This gave absolute power to the party, power to read, interpret, and give meaning to Marxian concepts and frameworks. The Leninist party-state, a panopticon par excellence, was the perfect resort where power and knowledge enjoyed an enduring tryst.
What happened eventually in the Soviet Union is, of course, a sad (hi)story. One is indeed compelled to draw a parallel with religious dogma. I would like to make reference to Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose. The critically acclaimed novel, besides a fantastic exercise in semiotics, is also a critique of a closed-ended reading of texts, of restriction of thought to a particular reading of text and the abuse of power that flows with it. At one level, it appears to target the dogmatism of the medieval church. At another level, the critical reader can read into the novel a general critique of totalitarian regimes that base a text, an interpretation of that text as their foundation. The villain of the novel, Burgos, murders people who access a rare text (in the monastery’s library, an exclusive sphere of knowledge) as he finds the knowledge of the text dangerous – it eulogizes laughter, which Burgos believes, will make people fearless of God. God is Word, God as the Text, but to laugh at texts will make The Word as a word. Once power over Word ceases, power over people ceases. This fear sparks off a killing spree, the totalitarian extinguishing of other voices. Burgos, incidentally, is a visually impaired character in the novel. Is this Eco’s portrayal of the blindness of dogmatism? One can ponder. The message of the novel’s protagonist, William of Baskerville(3) is relevant to the paper’s contention that no text, or no ‘truth’ of/in the text is to be held sacred; “Perhaps the mission of those who love mankind is to make people laugh at the truth, to make truth laugh, because the only truth lies in learning to free ourselves from the insane passion for truth.” To laugh is to trivialize, to deconstruct, to make common, to make low. When it is directed at a power source, like the text, it no longer is something sacrosanct as it is laughed at. The Word ceases to be with God, it ceases to be God as it explodes as laughter on the lips of the commoner.
MARXISM IN INDIA – A SLAVE TO TEXT?
Let us briefly consider the two major parties that claim to represent the communist movement in India – the CPI(M) and the CPI(Maoist). The CPI(M) has been in rule in West Bengal for over 30 years. And all its (mis)deeds in the state, right from the massacre of Dalits in Marichjhapi in 1979, as soon as they came into power, to their recent brutal suppression of the tribal agitation in Lal Garh have been justified by taking recourse to this or that text of Marx and/or Lenin. It is not a mere coincidence that the majority of the Central Committee members of the CPI(M) happen to be upper castes. What in effect happened in CPI(M) ruled West Bengal was that the upper-caste who had access to the sacred texts of Hinduism and who used them to the detriment of the masses of lower castes was replaced by the upper caste who, by virtue of his literacy, had access to the ‘sacred texts’ of Marxism, who interpreted them to produce the same effect.
The Maoists on the other hand also criticize the CPI(M) and its failures again by reference to the texts of the deities of Marxism-Leninism viz. Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao. While one is hopeful of the Maoists for the simple reason that the base that they have made inroads into, the tribals and the Dalits, are some of the most poorest sections of the subcontinent who have rich narratives of suffering and of resistance to oppression, one is skeptical whether the Maoists are not actually indoctrinating the cadres taken from these sections with selected texts of Marxist-Leninist thought and the party’s interpretations of it rather than paying more focus to the stories of hope, joy, sadness, subversion and rebellion that comprise the oral tradition of these sections. Why shouldn’t these stories of resistance be the focal point of the party rather than some text written in some context for some purpose that the concerned subjects have little or no knowledge of? While, indeed, the writings of Lenin or Mao do provide valuable inputs for the purpose of organizing resistance, they should be, ideally, dealt only as mere strategies for the larger purpose of creating liberated individuals. When a strategy degenerates to dogma, it replicates the powers that it sought to displace in the first place, for it becomes a body of knowledge that constitutes new power relations(4) How true was Nietzsche when he said that a man who fights monsters should take care least he become one himself!
Maybe the Maoist leadership should also do what Cherukuri Rajkumar alias Com. Azad, who was recently shot dead in a police encounter, asked the reading Indian public to do, “when we do not understand the feelings of the affected people, it is better to imagine ourselves in their place. This may help us in getting nearer to the truth.” (Azad 2010, p108) I would like to highlight the word ‘feelings’ for that is something completely absent in the Leninist reading of Marxism. The thinking, feeling, sensuous being-subject that the young Marx wrote of was replaced by the object to be manipulated of/by the Leninists. Personal feelings are abundant in the stories of the tribals and the backward castes. An imported text is devoid of it. It will always remain alien to the concerned subject and remain a property of those that bought it in and be open to manipulation by a group of elite. Liberation is a philosophy of strength, not weakness. And faith in the invincibility of a text, in dogmatism, implies not strength, but its opposite. “How much one needs a faith in order to flourish, how much that is ‘firm’ and that one does not wish to be shaken because one clings to it, that is a measure of the degree of one’s strength (or, to put the point more clearly, of one’s weakness).” (Nietzsche 1974, p374) Such a faith also stems from, if I might say so, a will to power, a desire to perpetuate authority, and a fear of the free-thinking, critical individual. And any political philosophy that bases its praxis on such a premise is doomed to totalitarianism.
PARTICULAR DANGERS, PARTICULAR POSSIBILITIES
One must emphasize on the necessity to consciously de-emphasize the role of the text for a successful liberatory praxis, especially in India. It is by the virtue of access to and interpretation of ‘sacred texts’ that a minority community of elites, the brahmins, were able to grade their fellow human beings on the basis of a ritual hierarchy, of course, in collaboration with the upward and the upwardly mobile sections of those castes immediately below them. And it is always easy for a elite that controls a text to negotiate terms with another elite, even if the latter is against the interests of the vast majority of the populace over which the native elites presides. Colonialism in India and the collaboration of the brahmins in the initial periods is a perfect case. “Brahmanic texts, both vedic origin stories and the much later dharma texts of Hinduism’s puranic period, provided transregional and metahistorical modes of understanding Indian society that clearly appealed to British colonial interests and attitudes.” (Dirks 1992, p6) What was completely submerged in this process were the narratives of the rest, the Dalits, the tribals, and the various non-brahmin castes that were on the outskirts of brahminical discourses. Once one narrative was put across as the narrative, it was easy to push the others to the fringes, to look down on them as ‘primordial’ or ‘premodern’. What then was written on these sections, then, becomes what the master narrative and the masters of that narrative chose to write. Indeed, as Chinua Achebe points out “There is such a thing as absolute power over narrative. Those who secure this privilege for themselves can arrange stories about others pretty much where, and as, they like.” (Achebe 2000, p24)
Eric Selbin observes that “Traditionally, history has been constructed from above, composed by the victorious, orchestrated by the powerful, played and performed for the population.” (Selbin 2010, p9) The mythical characters of the Indian past that are referred to by the ‘mainstream’ Indian leftists in their writings happen to be those that figure in the brahminical texts. S.A. Dange had no issues in calling the Gita a materialist text whereas Subhas Chakravorty of the CPI(M) proudly claimed that he was a Hindu, a brahmin and a communist. Koteshwar Rao alias ‘Kishenji’, the number 2 of the CPI(Maoist) who is also most known for the role he played in the Lal Garh movement, referred to the Maoists as the Pandavas while Kobad Ghandy(5) the recently arrested Central Committee member quoted from the Rig Veda in a recent article. I have mentioned before how the two opposing parties refer to the same Marxist-Leninist sources to oppose the other’s policies and to defend their own. The similarity in framing oppositional discourses also extends to their selection of aspects from the past. Yet, “There is another history, rooted in people’s perception of how the world around them continues to unfold and of their place in the process. This is a history informed by people’s ideologies, the views they have, and it reflects the context, material as well as ideological, of people’s everyday lives; a history revealed and articulated by the various instruments of popular political culture.” (Selbin 2010, p9) Observe the striking contrast in the Naxalite balladeer Gaddar’s (a dalit by caste) performances. Almost a cult figure among lower castes, students and activists in Andhra Pradesh, his invocation of memory and the past involves the tales, the folklore, the gods and goddesses, the popular culture of the marginalized, a far cry from the carefully disciplined, high moralizing texts of an organized religion/dogma.
Nissim Mannathukkaren is then right when he criticizes orthodox Marxism for ignoring the role of memory as a tool in the reconstitution of the present. (Mannathukkaren 2006, p17) I’m inclined here to quote at large MSS Pandian’s reading of a Dalit intellectual’s framing of a counter-narrative to the logic of ‘civilization’ created by texts of the brahminical castes, who
“rejects the civilisational claims and the teleology of modernity, and instead recuperates the past of lowly hill cultivators, hunters, fisherpeople, pastoralists, and the like as the high point of human achievement. He characterizes their social life as communal, with people pooling together and sharing food with a sense of equality, without much internal differentiation. Flow of history ceases to be civilising and Raj Gowthaman incites the dalits to step outside it… The need to reclaim what has been stigmatised is essential because that alone would end the self-hate that Indian modern has produced in the lower castes.” (Pandian 2002, p6)
These pasts have no texts. Only memories. And stories. Which leads us to exploring possible alternatives to the organized body of knowledge as text which might actually be tools in creating a more democratic discourse of resistance.
THE STORY AS AN ALTERNATIVE
The most common element in conventional politics is the creation of binaries. Modernism’s great contribution was the drawing of binary between truth and fiction, the former represented in that which is not fiction. And considering the value attached to that considered ‘truth’, all that deemed as fiction is condemned to the margins of the political. Rather than being an attempt to analyze and realize reality in all its complexity “opposite values are an intellectual framework created by the mind to simplify reality, and as a result, the framework does not do justice to reality The rich details and vast subtleties of the world cannot fit into two starkly separate categories” (Glenn 2004, p5). The body of knowledge that draws binaries is considered as infallible whereas the ‘unlettered’ narratives of varied experiences is looked down as unfit for serious politicking. A liberating praxis of resistance, I would argue, will need to go beyond simple binaries and attempt to absorb experiences, each experience, as a resource base for radical politics. Experiences are richer than texts as they are not just there, as being, but are in the process of becoming. This is where the story and the poem should enter politics, or those in politics should engage with stories. For what presides over stories, like poems, “is not the most lucid intelligence, the sharpest sensibility or the subtlest feelings, but experience as a whole.” (Cesaire 2010, p18)
Achebe notes that “Man is a story-making animal. He rarely passes up an opportunity to accompany his works and his experiences with matching stories.” (Achebe 2000, p59) I would like to use this opportunity to draw attention to the story of a resistance movement that was recently brutally crushed – the Tamil Eelam liberation struggle. Tamil popular culture has a tradition of venerating the dead in battle. The practice of installation of veerakal – symbolic stones to honour the fallen heroes of a community – was a celebrated practice among most subaltern classes. These stones are not just rallying points for the public, but they also become topics for emerging stories and oral narratives which became folk tales over the time. These tales got a new dimension with the onset of the Eelam liberation struggle. Frantz Fanon, writing on the articulation of national culture under colonial repression, points out that “oral literature, tales, epics, and popular songs, previously classified and frozen in time, begin to change. The storytellers who recited inert episodes revive them and introduce increasingly fundamental changes. There are attempts to update battles and modernize the types of struggle, the heroes’ names, and the weapons used. The method of allusion is increasingly used.” (Fanon 2004, p174)
In the course of the Eelam struggle led by the LTTE, the martyrs of the movement were honored annually on November 27th, the day that the first Tamil Tiger was killed in action – a tradition created from the 80’s. The LTTE leader, V. Prabhakaran, called it “a day of national resurgence, a day we pledge and commit ourselves to the emancipation of our nation.” (Prabhakaran 1993) When the Tigers were active, the day used to be marked with festivities in their strongholds. The Pongu Tamil cultural group used to stage street theatres and performances which expressed a collective memory of past resistance. Not always historically accurate, but again “to articulate the past historically does not mean to recognize it ‘the way it really was’… It means to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger.” (Benjamin 1955, p257) The tombs of the slain Tiger cadres were revered as shrines, as veerakals, and analogies to past heroes were often drawn. The present modified the tales of the past, and the tales of the past aided the present struggle for a better future. Once the Sri Lankan government militarily defeated the Tigers, the army went on a systematic destruction and defacement of the Tamil martyrs’ graveyards and explicitly prohibited, with open threats of violence, the celebration of Heroes’ Day. The point was simple – they wanted no stories to be told. Fanon also points out how storytellers were targeted and arrested in colonial Algeria. (Fanon 2004, p174) The Eelam Tamil diaspora settled in many western countries still continues to celebrate Heroes’ Day not just as a show of solidarity, but also to recount the experiences, the stories of the struggle.
According to Edward Said, stories “are the method colonized people use to assert their own identity and the existence of their own history.” (Said 1994, pxiii) The story has an intimate relation to history. All histories are stories told by a person; all stories are histories accessible to many. The story is more democratic than the text as it is undisciplined. It is not connected to an exclusive body of knowledge but emerges out of particularities of experience, but which have a far more universal relevance than is imagined. It has a far greater appeal in the day-to-day lives of the masses than the well-disciplined but cut off from ground ‘realities’ that a text puts forth, as a story is something that can be easily absorbed, modified, retold and passed on. The space for maneuver and adaptation makes it a potent device in resistance movements. Since it is as comfortable in the oral as in the written, it is accessible to those outside the frameworks of literacy. And there is above all the possibility of human hope, “the conviction that stories are told so that they may be listened to elsewhere…” (Berger 2008, p101)
I would like to rest my case by saying that while I do not completely reject the role of a well researched text in a resistance movement, it cannot be the focal point of a liberatory movement, that defines it and justifies it. “We need to find a way to focus on the thoughts and feelings of people engaged in revolutionary processes, a perspective which binds the stories they convey of past injustices and struggles as they fight for the future.” (Selbin 2010, p9) The role of non-textual forms, particularly the story need to be reconsidered as they allow access to the greatest number and connect with the most valuable of all human desires, the desire for happiness of one through the happiness of all. After all, “in the final reckoning the people who will advance the universal conversation will be not copycats but those able to bring hitherto untold stories, along with new ways of telling.” (Achebe 2000, p83)
(1) Zizek questions the root of the term Leninism in his essay A Plea for Leninist Intolerance. “Is it not that it was invented under Stalin? And does the same not go for Marxism (as a teaching) which was basically a Leninist invention, so that Marxism is a Leninist notion and Leninism a Stalinist one?” (Zizek 2002, p23) Loyal to Lenin, Zizek draws a difference between Lenin’s ‘good’ Marxism and Stalin’s perversion of it. However, Zizek also points out that “To repeat Lenin is to repeat not what Lenin did, but what he failed to do, his missed opportunities.” (ibid, p26)
(2) Interestingly, Marx’s vision of the proletariat winning power was “to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organized as the ruling class.” (Marx and Engels 1981, p75) Marx was always ambiguous about the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat.’ An interpretation would be to look at it as the proletariat as a class for itself that seizes power – not as the proletariat represented by a party which takes power and rules in the name of the proletariat, which is the Leninist interpretation.
(3) The protagonist of the novel also explores how Biblical stories and tales of Christian heretics can be interpreted in a manner that breaks from the rigid orthodoxy of the church towards a more democratic formulation.
(4) Foucault argues that “there is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time power relations.” (Foucault 1977, p27)
(5) Kobad Ghandy and Anuradha Ghandy have written quite extensively on caste. In fact, I would credit them as the major Maoist party members who have intellectually engaged with caste with the seriousness it deserves. The rich on-ground experience of the Maoists compels them to take caste and ‘tribal identity’ as issues worth serious consideration. Yet, I would argue, that their chief limitation is that they still look at caste through Marxist paradigms rather than looking at it through the subject position of the groups that they seek to address. Attempting to solve the caste question requires greater imagination than that the texts of Marxism offer.
ACHEBE, CHINUA (2000) Home and Exile, New York: Anchor
‘AZAD’, CHERUKURI RAJKUMAR (2010), Interview to the Hindu, April 14th, 2010, IN Maoists in India: Writings & Interviews, Hyderabad: Friends of Azad
BENJAMIN, WALTER (1955) Illuminations translated by Harry Zohn, New York: Harcourt
BERGER, JOHN (2008) Hold Everything Dear: Dispatches on Survival and Resistance, New York: Vintage
CESAIRE, AIME (2010) Discourse on Colonialism, Delhi: Aakar
DIRKS, NICHOLAS B. (1992) Castes of Mind, Representations, No. 37, Special Issue: Imperial Fantasies and Postcolonial Histories, pp. 56-78
ECO, UMBERTO (1981) The Theory of Signs and the Role of the Reader, The Bulletin of the Midwest Modern Language Association, Vol. 14, No. 1, pp. 35-45
FANON, FRANTZ (2004) The Wretched of the Earth translated from the French by Richard Philcox, New York: Grove
FOUCAULT, MICHEL (1977) Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison translated by Alan Sheridan, New York: Pantheon
FREIRE, PAULO (1996) Pedagogy of the Oppressed, London: Penguin
GLENN, PAUL E. (2004) The Politics of Truth: Power in Nietzsche’s Epistemology, Political Research Quarterly, Vol. 57, No. 4 (Dec., 2004), pp. 575-583
LENIN, V.I. (!979) What is to be Done? in Marx-Engels-Marxism, Moscow: Progress, pp. 108-131
LENIN, V.I. (1977) The State and Revolution in Lenin: Selected Works, Moscow: Progress, pp. 263-348
MANNATHUKKAREN, NISSIM (2006) The Rupture with Memory: Derrida and the Specters that Haunt Marxism, Chennai: Navayana
MARX, KARL & FREDERICK ENGELS (1981) Manifesto of the Communist Party in The Socialist Revolution, Moscow: Progress, pp. 55-76
NIETZSCHE, FRIEDRICH (1974) The Gay Science, translated by Walter Kaufmann. New York: Vintage Books
PANDIAN, MSS (2002) One Step outside Modernity: Caste, Identity Politics and Public Sphere, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 37, No. 18, pp. 1735-1741
PRABHAKARAN, V. (1993) Heroes Day Address, IN TE National Leader Mr.V.Prabaharan’s Speech – 1993, Available from: http://www.tamilcanadian.com/article/1374 [Accessed 07 January, 2011]
SAID, EDWARD W. (1994) Culture and Imperialism, London: Vintage
SARTRE, JEAN-PAUL (2009) What is Literature?, London: Routledge
SELBIN, ERIC (2010) Revolution, Rebellion, Resistance: The Power of Story, London and New York: Zed Books, Republished (2011) by Books for Change, Bangalore
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I would like to offer my deep condolences to the people of Tamil Eelam for their immense losses in recent months.
As a Kurd, I have followed the liberation struggle of Tamils in Sri Lanka-along with my own people’s fight for an independent state-since mid-1980s, when I first saw the pictures of uniformed female cadres of the LTTE in Jaffna and fell in love with them. The LTTE, in my view, is the gold-standard for all national liberation struggles despite its defeat. And what a glorious defeat it was! My people suffered many defeats too; in 1925, 1938, 1946, 1975, 1988, 1991 and 1999. None could match the glory of LTTE’s fight to the death. This was a struggle against overwhelming odds that ended in martyrdom for your leaders, but their memories and their struggle will live in songs and stories of all Tamil people for a thousand years to come.
That the LTTE managed to keep its leader and senior cadres alive right down to the last day and the last fire-fight before they too succumbed to the vastly superior man and fire power of the SLA is a testament to the intelligence, strength, discipline and dedication of the organisation. V. Prabhakaran and his senior commanders could have ordered the rank and file LTTE personnel to lay down their arms, before fleeing the island for a third country. The fact that they -as well as their families-did not flee the conflict zone nor surrendered, but chose to fight to the death like tens of thousands of other LTTE cadres that preceded them is a lesson to all leaders who ask others to sacrifice their lives for a cause. I doubt many insurgent leaders, Kurds included, would show as much courage and offer as much personal sacrifice in similar circumstances.
Compared to armed Kurdish movements, the LTTE had many strengths and weaknesses. Its strengths were too numerous to count. Its weaknesses and mistakes were few but deadly in the long run. In my view, there are two generalised, structural weaknesses of the LTTE, followed by a few specific mistakes they made.
Firstly, the LTTE was extremely inflexible in its political expectations. In the absence of international support for an independent homeland, an autonomy agreement for a federal Tamil state in Sri Lanka was the most realistic outcome for the LTTE. It was the responsibility of a new generation of Tamils to take the struggle to its next stage, if Sri Lankan state continued to be ill-disposed towards Tamil people. By then, of course, the federal Tamil state would have gained some international recognition for the status quo and thus would have been far less isolated as a ‘terrorist’ outfit. That V. Prabakharan instructed his bodyguards to shoot him if he deviated from the demand for independence is a clear sign of the inflexibility of the LTTE leadership.
Secondly, the LTTE put unnecessary emphasis on revenge and retaliation. As Clausewitz famously said, “war is politics by other means”. In politics,-as in war-revenge and retaliation is always secondary to the main objective. Every political act must be judged by its consequences; that is, whether it helps bring the main objective closer to reality, not whether it satisfies primitive urges for some injustice done in the past. The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi and many attacks on Sinhala leadership, some of whom were useful and could have been of further use to Tamil struggle in time, are cases in point.
In more specific mistakes, the LTTE should have pushed on to re-capture Jaffna at all costs after liberating the Elephant Pass in 1999, even if this meant losing ground elsewhere. The cost could have been very high with tens of thousands of SLA soldiers still occupying the peninsula but the SL political and military forces were in complete disarray. Unfortunately, the window of opportunity was lost and the LTTE eventually found itself fighting on more than one front.
The ceasefire agreement of 2002, following the 9/11 events, was correct; perhaps inevitable. However, the Indian Ocean Tsunami of late 2004 and its devastating effect on Tamil territory should have humbled Prabakharan and the LTTE into seeking a genuine half-way compromise with the SL government. It should be noted that the Tsunami and its effects ended the Aceh independence movement and it should have played a role in LTTE’s political calculation as well.
Another grave error was the boycotting of elections in 2005 that brought hardliners to government in Sri Lanka. As a general rule, people should never ever be asked to refrain from voting in an election under any circumstances. The benefits of election boycotts, such as refreshing community spirit and as gestures of dissatisfaction, are small and ephemeral. They are far outweighed by the dangers as well as the real and lasting costs of handing the power to a less amenable adversary.
Karuna’s rebellion should also have been foreseen and dealt with quite early and sincerely. As a faraway, non-Tamil observer, nothing disappointed me in LTTE as much as the Tiger vs Tiger violence. I can imagine its demoralising effect on all Tamils. As a Kurd, I am not unfamiliar with infighting among our people and between many of our political parties, but never has a single, Kurdish military outfit turned its guns on to itself. Perhaps, Karuna was also motivated by Prabhakaran’s inflexibility, the effects of the Tsunami and the result of election boycott of 2005.
If, as was charged, Prabhakaran committed the grave error of ‘narrow regionalism’ in LTTE, then Karuna could have only compounded the error with his rebellion. (’Narrow regionalism’, that is, giving preferential treatment to people of certain regions, is considered a great sin among Kurdish movements. Still, it’s inevitable and widespread) But more likely, being the supremo of the Eastern Tamils must have gotten to Karuna’s head, and he must have considered himself a better leader for the entire LTTE than Prabhakaran.
History will never forgive Karuna for betraying his commitment and turning his guns on his leader and comrades no matter what the real reasons for his defection might be. The best and most honourable action for Karuna, as well as for his movement and for his people, was to either resign altogether from all his functions and duties within the LTTE -after voicing his grievances in private, even if it meant death for him-or seek a less active role in the movement.
He did neither, preferring to be an active turncoat. Beloved, respected and trusted neither by Tamils nor Sinhalese, Karuna will surely meet a violent end, with each side crediting the other for it, and with very few people shedding tears for his demise.
People of Tamil Eelam are smart, talented and resourceful. You shall rise again from your ashes. By ballots or bullets, Tamil Eelam shall become a reality so long as you keep up your hopes and dreams alive.
– Shexmus Amed