Winning The Peace In Sri Lanka
By Ravi Nair
15 May, 2009
This weekend or early next week will see the Sri Lankan army hoping to deliver the knockout punch to the remnants of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). But President Obama’s timely intervention is a signal to Colombo that its brazen disregard of international humanitarian law – even as it still claims to be mopping up the tenacious LTTE cadres – can no longer be ignored in diplomatic corridors.
It is now evident that Lankan security forces pulled some of their punches early this month, but not to minimize civilian casualties as they piously claimed. They did so mindful of New Delhi’s trapeze act between the desire to help Sri Lanka eliminate the LTTE as a military threat and the compulsions of Indian realpolitik. Any new government in New Delhi later this month cannot do without the support of either the DMK or the AIADMK, both of whom have taken public positions on Eelam.
The LTTE has lost the war on the battlefield, thanks to the absence of a political strategy for the negotiating table. Now the Sri Lankan Tamils, Indian Tamils, Tamils elsewhere and democrats everywhere will need to craft a new pragmatic strategy if they are to ensure that the Sri Lankan Tamil does not become the Palestinian of the 21st century, living perpetually in the diaspora, as the poor cousin in India, in the twilight zone of statelessness, or in Bantusans soon to be created by the Sri Lankan government.
First, form a circle
Any new strategy must have as its lynchpin a carefully crafted constitutional proposal that goes beyond the 1987 framework suggested by the Indo-Sri Lanka pact as also the now defunct 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution and the inadequate proposals of the All Party Representative Committee (APRC). The 1987 pact, which seems to be the mantra of the New Delhi establishment, belongs in the past, as do the other proposals. The new enhanced position must demand genuine internal self-determination akin to Article 370 of the Indian Constitution prior to 1953. Sri Lankan Tamils must avoid the false god of an independent Tamil Eelam. Giving up gods that failed is heart wrenching, but a maximalist position should be avoided if solidarity is to be achieved across India, with democrats in Sri Lanka and globally. In the event of the Colombo dispensation failing to read the accommodativeness of the average moderate Tamil, it will not need a soothsayer to predict a second coming.
The new campaign will need to hinge on five concentric circles of support and solidarity.
The first circle must bring together the Tamil in India and in the diaspora, whether in Malaysia, Mauritius, South Africa, Europe, North America or elsewhere. A broad civil society solidarity committee cutting across the political spectrum will need to be created. Civil society here means political parties, trade unions, chambers of commerce, community organizations, people’s organizations, women’s organizations, media organizations, student unions, Bar Associations, the film and cultural fraternity, the Tamil literary community and voluntary organizations of every stripe.
Civil society does not mean glossy pamphlet-manufacturing donor-driven NGOs. Most have no eyesight, hindsight or foresight. Illustrations abound – for example, the head office of an Tamil Nadu NGO expresses concern for the Sri Lankan Tamils even as its sister branch in Andhra Pradesh permits the circulation of some of the most jingoistic and rabid Sinhala chauvinist propaganda against the Sri Lankan Tamils on its listserv.
The broad support and solidarity committee must have as its convener a Tamil who is above the fractious political fray in Tamil Nadu, someone who has unquestioned moral authority and gravitas. Once formed at the state level, it should be replicated at the district and block levels. The State Committee should have a small but dedicated paid secretariat in Chennai to handle the work of the committee on a daily basis. Many good causes in India are lost because in the heat of the moment everyone wants to claim ownership. In time, everybody’s baby becomes no one’s baby. The rights of Sri Lankan Tamil must be an article of faith not only for every Tamil or Indian but for every democrat globally.
As soon as the newly constituted Indian Parliament convenes, this representative body must get its act together and give a call for all parties to unanimously move and pass a resolution in the Tamil Nadu state assembly. This all-party resolution must be carefully crafted and must support the legitimate demand for self-rule by Tamils in Sri Lanka. The resolution should be formally communicated to the Central Government in New Delhi in time for the first session of the newly elected Parliament.
This committee must host an international conference of Tamils within six months of its formation to craft the outlines of a substantive political, diplomatic and media campaign on behalf of their Sri Lankan Tamil brethren, in Tamil Nadu, the rest of India and worldwide. The preparation of a comprehensive background note and a draft programme of action should precede this. A cross section of democratic opinion cutting across the ethnic divide in Sri Lanka should be invited.
The newly elected members of the Indian Parliament from Tamil Nadu must, irrespective of their party affiliation, seek to do a number of things in a time bound manner. Firstly, they should move a joint resolution in both houses of the Indian Parliament asking for a diplomatic initiative that seeks to ensure self-rule for the Tamils in Sri Lanka within a specific timeframe. The timeframe must be reasonable but not elastic. They should move another resolution demanding perpetual landing and fishing rights for Indian fishermen on the island of Kachchathivu within a year. Thirdly and most importantly, all Tamil Parliamentarians must demand an official white paper from the Indian Government on India’s engagement in Sri Lanka since the withdrawal of the IPKF. This will ensure that the initiative on policy making on Sri Lanka is returned to the legislative arena. Currently, it appears to be the preserve of a cabal of official security specialists who have only served to undermine India’s interests where its neighbours are concerned. Fourthly, they must impress upon the Indian Government that the Rs. 1 billion humanitarian aid announced by New Delhi and supplemented with Rs. 250 million from the Tamil Nadu government must be routed through the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other credible humanitarian organizations on the ground in the North, such as local church groups. Nothing that strengthens the civil arm of the Lankan war machine must be permitted.
The Tamil members in the Indian Parliament must also lobby to ensure that Parliament directs the Indian Foreign Ministry and Finance Ministry to instruct India’s executive members in the IMF, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and all other multilateral financial institutions such as the Sri Lanka Aid Consortium to oppose any loans and credit lines to Sri Lanka unless there are iron clad conditionalities of time bound action on internal self determination for the Tamils in Sri Lanka. Colombo must also guarantee non-derogable constitutional amendments safeguarding the political, language, economic and cultural rights of the Sri Lankan Tamils. The Indian government must be asked to make demarches to other countries like the United States of America, the United Kingdom, France, Norway and Japan to exert their influence in this regard. The Indian government must be told to formally invite and consult the leadership of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) on issues of common concern at an early date. These consultations must be held at the highest political level, not at the level of Smiley’s people and diplomats, as was the case earlier.
The Tamil Nadu solidarity committee must study the possibility of calling for a worldwide boycott of all Sri Lankan products and tourism if there is further intransigence on the part of Colombo. A small research team must look at all Indian and international companies that have invested in Sri Lanka and lobby for the divestment of their shareholding in these companies. The committee must seek the withdrawal of all Indian and other investment in Sri Lanka. Similar exercises must be conducted in Europe, North America and Australasia. And while we all love Sanath Jayasuriya’s cricket, there should be a boycott of all cricket and sporting contacts with Sri Lanka, as was done during the anti apartheid campaign.
The committee must study in particular all arms transfers that were made openly and surreptitiously by the shady merchants of death who camped in fancy accommodations on Lotus Road in Colombo, and must devise a campaign for outing these carpetbaggers. At the international level, it must track all countries that sold arms to Sri Lanka and find out the names of the companies involved. It must use the shareholder information of these companies in Europe and North America and publicly expose them in their next annual general meetings. It must urge union pension funds and sympathetic local governments to withdraw their investments in these companies.
The Tamil solidarity campaign must also start an international campaign against all Chinese products and companies based in India, since China has emerged as the largest supplier of arms and financial credit to Sri Lanka. Buy Godrej, Westinghouse, LG, Samsung, Electrolux and Siemens. Haier and Huawei must be given the 21st century version of the Boston Tea Party.
Bring in more players
The second concentric circle will need to involve a wider audience in all the states of southern India where there are affinities of language, ethnicity and kinship. One of the failures of the movement for solidarity for the Sri Lankan Tamil in Tamil Nadu was the Indian Tamil’s failure to build a wider constituency of support and solidarity for the beleaguered Sri Lankan Tamil. The New Delhi-based television and print media, with some honourable exceptions, also failed to catch on. At every stage of this conflict, Indian television news channels have unquestioningly swallowed all that was dished out to their embedded tank-mounted correspondents by the Sri Lankan military authorities. And they have fanned their delusions and misinformed the Indian viewer by bringing on air a supposed Tamil oracle, whose publication is named after an eccentric medieval ruler of Delhi and which has a minuscule readership. The professedly Marxist editor of venerable Chennai-based English daily played second violin in this orchestrated dissimulation on the Sri Lankan Tamil plight and the popular mood in Tamil Nadu. Both these worthies could hardly be called representatives of mainstream Tamil opinion.
The third concentric circle will have to enlist the average Indian in other parts of India. Indians must be reminded that Indian governmental policy since the unceremonious withdrawal of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) and the dastardly murder of Rajiv Gandhi has oscillated between masterly inactivity and the helplessness of an aged puppet master whose puppets have acquired a life of their own. The Rajapakse brothers, the Chinese, the Pakistanis and a few other interlopers have brilliantly exploited this. The official Indian establishment now croons to Cliff Richard’s “Outsider, that’s me”.
The first official policy initiative by the new government at the Centre must be to underline the rights of Indian fisherfolk. Those in Temple Trees will know that New Delhi still wields clout when they are compelled to recognize the perpetual landing and fishing rights of Indian fishermen on the island of Kachchathivu on which negotiations between the Sri Lankan and the Indian Government last took place in September 2008 and have made little progress. Remember that an establishment that screams blue murder at any suggestion of giving up any “ atoot anng” (‘inseparable part’ in the Queen’s English) of India, had generously gifted away this island in 1974 to Sri Lanka, much against the wishes of every shade of political opinion in Tamil Nadu. All extant historical records conclusively prove Indian ownership of the island.
Raising the game
The fourth concentric circle will need to involve Tamil diaspora groups which must lobby in their respective countries and network in international fora. The diaspora, left rudderless in its impotent rage, has been blocking roads in London and Toronto, losing the sympathy of the average Londoner or Canadian and causing little sweat to the Brothers Grim (pun intended) in Colombo who have been enacting so many horror stories in the North. A more nuanced lobbying policy will need to be devised to harness the understandable and legitimate sense of helplessness and anger of diaspora groups. This is a tragedy that affects their kith and kin. But they find themselves in a global clime where even uttering Article 1 of the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights has come to mean high treason.
The fifth concentric circle will need to encompass all democratic Sri Lankans, Jaffna Tamils, Colombo Tamils and also the poor hill Tamils. It must actively seek to encompass the democratic Sinhalese, Muslim and Burgher. An exclusivist Jaffna Tamil position will be music to the hegemons of Colombo 7. Further, there must be open contrition and a public apology expressed to the Muslim community by the Sri Lankan Tamil. Tamil Muslims were hounded out of eastern Sri Lanka by the Quisling Karuna at the behest of a myopic LTTE leadership and used cunningly by the Sinhala ultra nationalist Buddhist fundamentalists, who in other circumstances would have had little time for them.
Fair and square
This plan is not exhaustive. It is only illustrative. There is a need to be resolute and determined, yet there must be none of the rhetoric that has been the bane of Tamil and Sinhala politics. The Tamil Robespierre is part of history. Many a good Tamil Danton, well meaning Sinhala and Muslim have died needlessly in that reign of terror. The Rajapakse brothers have unleashed a new ethno-religious authoritarian order and appear keen to usher in a militarized state. Lasantha Wickramatunga is dead, and a Vichy-like enclave is being led by a Tamil Pétain in the Eastern province. Alarmist, one may think, but read the portents and stand up now and speak out loudly in protest or forever remain silent in shame.