Lanka envoy’s double-speak: Are all Tamils LTTE cadres?

Chennai: The shocking damning of Tami Nadu MPs by the Sri Lankan high commissioner to India, Prasad Kariawasam, and his subsequent apology is symptomatic of the hardline Bush doctrine that the ruling establishment of the island nation has adopted to smother dissent.

Whether it is about allegations of killing innocent civilian Tamils, executions of opponents and large-scale disappearances, the government has maintained the stand that “if you are not with us, you are against us.”

Perhaps Kariawasam was also emboldened by India’s ambivalent stand on the UNHRC resolution against his country when he said that Tamil MPs were sympathetic to LTTE. According to the The Indian Express, the high commissioner said that the “friendship” of some of the DMK, AIADMK MPs and MDMK’s Vaiko with the LTTE may have led them to carry on a campaign against Sri Lanka. “If they are sympathetic to those unrealistic ideas of separatism, then they might have been (part of the campaign).

 Lanka envoy’s double-speak: Are all Tamils LTTE cadres?

Sri Lankan high commissioner to India Prasad Kariawasam. AFP

Whether it is a calculated ploy or a collective inability to see reason, the Sri Lankan establishment has always used the LTTE as a convenient tool to cover up its alleged excesses and intolerance to Tamil cause. Although some small political outfits in Tamil Nadu are open sympathisers of the LTTE, prominent political parties have always maintained a distinction between the Tamil issue and the terrorist organisation. They have made it amply clear that the Tamil issue, wherein people have been denied their rights, is genuine, while LTTE was a terrorist oraganisation.

For instance, chief minister J Jayalalithaa had been steadfast in her stand that LTTE was a terrorist organisation that needed to be firmly dealt with; however, she never failed to support the demand for the rights and respect of the culturally distinctive Tamils in a Sinhala dominated Sri Lanka. This has also been the stand of the Congress, the BJP and to some extent the DMK, in the state. Two political leaders, Vaiko and actor Seeman, had been even jailed — one during the AIADMK regime and the other during the DMK regime — for their speeches that allegedly supported the LTTE.

However, the establishment and its proxies in Sri Lanka found it easy to conflate the two in their propaganda war as a convenient smokescreen to deflect attention on the real issue. During the peak of the battle against the LTTE, when alleged excesses on the battlefront were coming from overseas media, there was hardly any public dissent in Sri Lanka, which prides itself as a democracy. In a Chechnya like situation, people were scared of eve-droppers, plainclothesmen and white vans and hence they kept quiet while the majoritarian chauvinism soared.

Finally the war triumphalism swept away any muted dissent that stayed in the minds of people. Many human rights activists and journalists chose to leave the country. One top-ranking editor was gunned down. Diplomats, heads of agencies and international NGOs and even the UN were scoffed at.

It’s been a cunning and brutal ploy that worked, and the establishment is still persisting with it as more and more evidence on alleged war crimes are coming out. Anybody who supports the cause of the Tamil population is an LTTE sympathiser or paid off by the LTTE. If you are too big to be paid off by the LTTE, say for example Norway, the UK or the US, then you are trying to meddle with the country’s internal affairs.

Nobody is immune, whether it is the former British state secretary for foreign affairs David Miliband, Channel 4, BBC, the UN and international NGOs. During the peak of the war, the UN was an easy target, which the proxies alleged were infested with LTTE sympathisers. At one stage they even laid siege to the UN building in Colombo and the UN spokesperson was denied extension of visa.

For the Sri Lankan establishment and its proxies, even a genuine Tamil voice is an LTTE voice. It will help them continue with racial profiling, detention and any form of violation.

Therein lies the main problem when one talks of reconciliation and rehabilitation. Can a top-down, majoritarian approach devoid of meaningful dialogue work in reconciliation? Does reconciliation mean militarisation of the former Tamil areas; does it mean changing the topography of Tamil areas so that one is left with minimal cultural references? Does it mean silencing dissent?

Perhaps it does work in Sri Lanka.

Perhaps, it can be another best practice example from the island nation for the world to learn from after its successful war against terrorism.

Updated Date: Mar 16, 2012 14:52:06 IST