Since January 2009, Sri Lankan armed forces have been locked in battle with cadres of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) to end a 30 year long conflict. The start of the conflict was to fight for the rights of the oppressed minority Tamilians in Sri Lanka and LTTE was one of the organizations that were part of the movement. Parallels have been drawn with attempts of converting India’s state, Punjab into Khalistan and its subsequent quashing by the government.
Both movements had their origins in fighting for the identity and rights of the concerned community which they felt were not being adequately represented by the State. The cause in itself is not problematic; it has been the basis of all sorts of revolutionary movements in the world over the past few centuries. Yet there are shifts in ideology and means that cripple such movements, destroy their credibility at the local and international level.
The LTTE proclaims to represent the view of the Tamilian people, as Bhindranwale had claimed to speak for the Sikhs. But this credibility has been lost over the years. At first, the Tigers sought to destroy the multiplicity of organizations in its bid to be the sole representative, warring amongst Tamils to achieve that status. Also over the years, its violence, often necessary just for survival has included alienating the members of the community in the process, killing and looting even among them and not just against the Sinhalese majority population of Sri Lanka.
Both organizations expanded the scope of their operations over the years, adding on military capability including even an independent air force. Purportedly to make a statement, the LTTE has carried out a number of assassinations, prominent among which is that of the Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi and a number of heads of state of Sri Lanka’s government. This has severely backfired on the organization with it receiving the mantle of an international terrorist organization from as many as 32 countries.
The nature of the fight for a state has often descended into oblivion because of the leanings of the structure of the organization fighting for it. In Punjab and in Sri Lanka, if the so called freedom movement were to succeed, it is highly unlikely that the consequent establishment would be either a democracy, or give people the rights for which the fight had taken place. The top brass buoyed by its success would no doubt seize power, and it would be under the whims of these leaders that the State would be run, feudal at best, dictatorial at worst.
Oppression of minorities and their fight for rights deserves airing and the Sri Lankan government, sometimes of its own accord, and partly because of international pressure, has put forward the willingness to engage in a political dialogue with the LTTE, but repeatedly has been put off either by exorbitant demands like a separate state or a return to violence, ceasing of which has always been a precondition for peace. An example of this is the peace brokered by Norway, playing mediator from 2000 to 2008. The conditions of the peace and the ceasefire were repeatedly violated by the LTTE, leaving the government with no choice but to rescind the agreement.
In the current fight, there have been a large number of civilian casualties suffered despite government promises of minimizing the same. Part of the reason for this has been the LTTE using innocent civilians as human shields, for self protection, further alienating them from the people. While the death of innocent civilians is a tragedy, one needs to look at the other possible outcome of letting the LTTE function as it was, spreading terror in peoples’ minds and over the years leading to more deaths than the present war.
The Sri Lankan government under Mahindra Rajapakse has done well to ignore the international outpourings and demands to stop the conflict. It has allowed all measures to be taken for the protection of civilians within the grasp of the LTTE and those who have escaped and have become refugees. But stalling the aggression on the organization when it has been weakened would only encourage possible resurgence. It is imperative that the top brass be wiped out, and the Lankan army will not and should not stop at anything short of that. It will do well to emulate Operation Blue Star, which at the cost of enraging the Sikh community worldwide, effectively dealt with a security threat not only to the nation, but the people of the State as well.
[Image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/indi/210004685/