Is there a "Dirty Secret" Behind India's Irrational Policy towards the Sri Lankan Crisis?

EDITOR'S NOTE: We planned to publish all three parts of the article in this issue. However because one of the authors, Thanjai Nalankilli, suffered a heart attack, the third part was not available on time for the June 2000 issue of TAMIL TRIBUNE. We wish Mr. Nalankilli a speedy recovery.

Part I: An Independent Tamil Eelam is in the National Interest of India

Yashoda Reddy (Andhra Pradesh)

Siva Reddy (Andhra Pradesh)

Thanjai Nalankilli (Tamil Nadu)

TAMIL TRIBUNE, June 2000 (ID.2000-06-03)

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Abbreviations:

LTTE - Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam

Outline

Preface

1. Banned Meetings, Removed Posters, Secret Decisions and a Dirty Secret

2. Background

3. India, Sri Lanka and the Tamil Minority in Sri Lanka

4. What is India's National Interest vis-a-vis the Sri Lankan Conflict

5. Possible Outcomes of the Sri Lankan Conflict

6. A Historical Perspective of India-Sri Lanka Relations

7. Assessment of each Possible Outcome of the Sri Lankan Conflict

Preface

We do not expect that the Indian government would change its policy towards an independent Tamil Eelam because of this article. Our rulers in New Delhi already know of every argument we make that an Independent Tamil Eelam is in the best interest of India's national security. The purpose of this article is rather to bring to the Indian public the facts and expose the "dirty secret" behind why the rulers of India are opposed to Tamil Eelam although it is in India's national interest.

We know very well that this article will get only very limited exposure, a very tiny fraction of some of the Indian mass media outlets that eschew their irrational arguments against an independent Tamil Eelam throughout India and outside. We hope that the few thousand that read this article will discuss the points made in this article with family, friends, colleagues and neighbors thus broadening the exposure. Only way we could hope to get a decent size audience is through word of mouth.

1. Banned Meetings, Removed Posters, Secret Decisions and a Dirty Secret

People have the right to speak up against government policies, even against foreign, military and defense policies. That is what demarcates a democracy from a dictatorship. In Nazi Germany, everyone had to support the Feuhrer's (Hitler's) foreign policy and military adventures. There was no room for dissenting voice or dissenting advice. A similar situation is in effect in India for now almost a decade vis-a-vis India's policy towards the Sri Lankan conflict. Anyone voicing dissent over Indian government's irrational phobia about an independent Tamil Eelam is called anti-Indian at best, harassed and arrested at worst. Even the most powerful politician in the state of Tamil Nadu fears to give unqualified support for Tamil Eelam; he has to double talk, issue clarifications, etc. etc., lest he be labeled anti-national and his elected state government dismissed by the Hindi region politicians who control the Indian Central Government.

Recently (in May 2000) a proposed public meeting in support of Tamil Eelam was banned in the small town of Chidhambaram, Tamil Nadu, and those who went to attend the meeting were arrested, claiming that the meeting would disturb the peace. How would a public meeting attended by a few thousand people in a small town disturb the peace? An anti-Tamil-Eelam politician demanded that a Cable Television Company be shut down for anti-national activities because it broadcast video clips of people gathering for the meeting.

While the few rabidly anti-Tamil-Eelam newspapers with mass circulation carry highly inflammatory editorials and articles against independence for Tamil Eelam, those who challenge these views are banned from organizing public meetings or post posters. Editors of smaller publications that print pro-Eelam articles are harassed by police.

An important foreign policy with respect to Sri Lanka is not allowed to be debated in public but decisions are being made by a few behind closed doors in secrecy and even some allied political leaders from Tamil Nadu are misled about the course of action being taken. Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee said that India would never recognize an independent Tamil Eelam and had set a course of secret military actions that would help the Sri Lankan military if it were to reach a point of collapse (hiding those actions from even some of the ruling-coalition allies from Tamil Nadu). The Prime Minister said that Tamil Eelam would be against the national interest of India. He did not elaborate but his surrogates asserted that an independent Tamil Eelam would destabilize Tamil Nadu, destabilize India, create separatists aspirations in Tamil Nadu and throughout India and break up India. They would not allow any debate as to why and how a tiny nation (Tamil Eelam) in the neighboring island, with a population about one-hundredth of it, could do all this to the "regional superpower", that is India. As we noted before, a meeting organized to bring the counter point of view was banned; posters expressing the counter point of view were removed and those who put up the posters were arrested thus freeing the playing field for the few rabidly anti-Tamil-Eelam newspapers to spread their points of view without challenge. In this respect, in the context of Indian government's policy towards the Sri Lankan conflict, India resembles more like Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union where only views supporting the dictator's policies are allowed to be voiced.

We will establish in this article the irrationality of Indian government's decision to do all it can to prevent the creation of an independent Tamil Eelam, even if it were to be achieved with the blood and sweat of the people, with no help from India or others. If the publicly stated reasons for Indian government's phobia  against Tamil Eelam are irrational, invalid and without basis, is there are unstated, dirty secret for Indian government's actions. Is it to hide this dirty secret that the Government of India makes every effort to muffle the voices that challenge the publicly stated reasons and expose the real reason to the public? We will expose the dirty secret after we first establish that the publicly stated reasons are irrational and without merit and the rulers in New Delhi know that all too well.

2. Background

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Those who are familiar with the Sri Lankan conflict may skip this section and go to Section 3.)

Sri Lanka is a small island nation south of India. The southern region of the island is occupied historically by Sinhalese, who claim that their ancestors came from Bihar, India. It would seem that there was no contact between the people who migrated to Sri Lanka and the people of Bihar after the migration. The languages (Bihari and Sinhalese) are different though there may be a hidden common link. Biharis are now mostly Hindus while Sinhalese are mostly Buddhists. Their cultures are different.

The northern and eastern regions of the island are historically occupied by Tamils who are ethnically identical to south Indians, specifically Tamils of Tamil Nadu. There was constant interaction between Sri Lankan Tamils and the people of Tamil Nadu because they were separated only by the narrow Palk Straights which could easily be crossed in small boats. Their languages remain the same. Tamils in the island are principally Hindus with a good percentage of Muslims and Christians, the same as in Tamil Nadu. Their cultures are also similar.

In addition to the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils, there are also a very small percentage of Moors and Burghers. Moors are the descendents of Arab traders (and Arabs who married locally). They are of Muslim faith. Moors should not be confused with the Tamils who converted to Muslim faith. Burghers are the descendents of European colonists (and Europeans who married locally). They are Christians. Burghers should not be confused with Sinhalese or Tamils who converted to Christianity.

After successive European colonial rules, Britain gave independence to Sri Lanka in 1948. Because of their numerical majority in the Sri Lankan parliament, the Sinhalese systematically amended and rewrote the constitution and enacted laws that were discriminatory and oppressive to the minority. Peaceful protests by the Tamil minority were met with police brutality. Thousands of Tamils were also massacred in half-a-dozen race riots, some incited by the government and the Buddhist clergy and all passively watched by the police giving a free hand to the Sinhalese thugs to loot, torture, rape and murder Tamils in the thousands (in some cases police even participated in the orgy of violence against the Tamils). This led to the demand for a separate nation for the Tamil minority in their traditional homeland in the north and east. As democratic means failed (politicians supporting independence won almost all seats from the Tamil region) and government oppression continued, Tamils took to arms and thus the birth of armed freedom fighters. This gained momentum after the 1983 race riots, the worst ever. The LTTE emerged as the dominant fighting force challenging the Sri Lankan army. We will skip the various battles, successes and losses. India armed the LTTE first (1983-1987), tried unsuccessfully to disarm it after getting from the Sri Lankan government some concessions beneficial to India's security and interests (1987-1990), the armed conflict continues to this day.

3. India, Sri Lanka and the Tamil Minority

India has a special interest in Sri Lanka. Not only is the small island nation located just miles from its southeastern coast, the minority Tamils are ethnically identical to the Tamils of its southern state Tamil Nadu. We will not consider the close ethnic bond that exists between the Tamils of India and the Tamils of Sri Lanka in the following analysis because the Hindi belt politicians who essentially control the foreign and military policies of India do not much care about the sentiments India's Tamil population. So we will look at India's policy towards the Sri Lankan conflict from the point of view of what is good for India as a whole without any regard to the special long-time ethnic bond that exist between southern India, especially Tamil Nadu, and the minority Tamils of Sri Lanka.

4.What is India's National Interest vis-a-vis the Sri Lankan Conflict

India has hostile, or at best, "non-friendly" relationship with every one of its northern neighbors. In case of a major war with any of its enemies, present or future, from far or near, it would not be surprising if all of them support India's enemy. They are prone to give landing facilities, docking facilities and other logistical support. It is in India's national interest not to have its only southern neighbor hostile to it either. India wanted to have Sri Lanka as a "client state" that depends on India and accepts India's dictate in foreign and military affairs. "After all, it is a tiny island nation next to the giant India", so thought Indian policy makers. But Sri Lankan leaders had their own mindset and thumped their nose at India from the very beginning as the British colonial rule ended in 1948. While officially nonaligned, India "leaned" towards the Soviet Union during cold war years. Like most small nations next to a giant and powerful neighbor, Sri Lanka distrusted and feared India. It needed some powerful friends, even if from far off, and thus leaned towards the United States of America. It also tilted towards India's archenemy in the north, Pakistan. During the 1991 India-Pakistan war over the then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), Sri Lanka allowed Pakistan to refuel its Air Force planes on way from West Pakistan to East Pakistan at Trincomalee; a clearly anti-Indian stance. India could not do anything about it.

The rise of armed Tamil fighters in Sri Lanka presented a golden opportunity to India. India armed and trained the fighters (1983-1987), not to help them achieve their goal of an independent Tamil Eelam but to put indirect pressure on Sri Lanka to give up its "unfriendly" stance towards India. It paid off. In 1987, in exchange for India calling off the Tamil fighters as if they were India's hired guns, Sri Lanka secretly granted extraordinary concessions to India, including Sri Lankan agreement not to give docking facilities at Trincomalee harbor to nations that India considered hostile. (What has it to do with the internal conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil minority is yet to be explained by the Indian government.) (The secret agreement was exposed by a newspaper.) When LTTE refused to lay down arms, India sent its army to forcefully disarm it (1987-1990). Unable to do it, Indian troops left Sri Lanka in 1990 and Sri Lanka unilaterally decided that its secret promises to India null and now foreign ships are welcome in Trincomalee harbor whether India approves of it or not. Sri Lanka also reneged on the other concessions it made to India in the secret 1987 agreement. India could not do much about it. It cannot annex Sri Lanka to India by military force. It would become an untouchable in the world community. Sri Lanka still maintains a fake friendly relationship with India because the Tamil freedom fighters (LTTE) are still strong and are capable of taking on the Sri Lankan army; Sri Lanka does not want India to help them in anyway or recognize an independent Tamil Eelam in the same way as it recognized Bangladesh in 1971. Keeping this background briefing in mind, what is in India's national interest vis-a-vis the Sri Lankan conflict?

5. Possible Outcomes of the Sri Lankan Conflict

What are the possible outcomes of the Sri Lankan conflict once it finally ends, whether in 6 months, 6 years or 16 years? Which of those outcomes are in the best interest of Indian security needs? Is India striving towards such an outcome that would be in India's national interest? If not, why? These questions will be explored in the rest of this artcle.

We see 4 possible outcomes.

OUTCOME 1: The Sri Lankan Army and the LTTE reach a protracted military stalemate, so LTTE and Sri Lankan government reach a fair agreement, and everyone lives happily ever after in the island.

OUTCOME 2: The Sri Lankan Army and LTTE reach a protracted military stalemate, so LTTE and Sri Lankan government reach a fair agreement, the Sri Lankan government reneges on the agreements gradually after LTTE disarms, and the majority Sinhalese continue to discriminate and oppress the minority Tamils.

OUTCOME 3: Sri Lankan Army routs the LTTE and the majority Sinhalese continue to discriminate and oppress the minority Tamils.

OUTCOME 4: LTTE routs the Sri Lankan Army, gains control of the entire traditional Tamil homeland in the north and the east, and declares an independent Tamil Eelam.

We need to look at the effects of these 4 outcomes in the context of Sri Lankan behavior in the past.

6. A Historical Perspective of India-Sri Lanka Relationship

As we described in Section 4, Sri Lanka viewed the much larger and powerful neighbor India with suspicion and fear ever since independence, and its attitude was hostile or at best "unfriendly." There was a change in Sri Lanka's attitude towards India around the mid-1980s. This was the time that Tamil freedom fighters gained enough strength capable of challenging the Sri Lankan Army. Suddenly Sri Lanka changed its stance towards India from "unfriendly" to "friendly" because it wanted India to stop helping the Tamil freedom fighters and start helping the Sri Lankan military. India's help to the Sri Lankan military continues to this day (overtly between 1987-1990 by sending troops to Sri Lanka, then covertly until recently by intercepting LTTE arms supply in international waters and by supplying arms, training and intelligence to Sri Lankan military, and again more overtly since April 2000 by promising to evacuate Sri Lankan soldiers if they were surrounded by LTTE in the battle for Jaffna). Sri Lanka pretends to be India's "friend" while keeping its line open with India's regional rival China as well as India's sworn enemy Pakistan.

The question Indian policy makers have to ask is, "Will Sri Lanka continue to be "pro-India" once the LTTE threat ends?" A friend who works in Indian Foreign Ministry in Delhi told one of the authors, "Once LTTE is out of the picture, Sri Lanka will turn totally hostile to India. They blame India for everything that is going on there. They hate India for it. Once LTTE is out, it would be payback time, big time payback." We think that top policy makers in the Indian government know this. In May 2000, former Indian Central Government minister Subramaniam Swamy said, "India should help Sri Lanka only if it agrees to allow India to station an Indian Army Division in Colombo (Sri Lankan capital) permanently so that it would not betray India again". (This is what the former Soviet Union did in Eastern European countries. Station Soviet troops there so that they obey Soviet dictates.) Subramaniam Swamy is not part of the Indian government now but it is believed that he has close ties with the foreign ministry and intelligence agencies at the highest levels. Is he sounding out the views of these agencies?

Will Sri Lanka accept the stationing of an Indian Army Division in its capital? If it is the only way they could continue to oppress the minority Tamils, they would agree but once LTTE is eliminated they would demand that the Indian Army leave (in the same way they demanded that the Indian army leave the Tamil areas in 1988 although they invited it in 1987). It will surely receive support from around the world because it is nothing different from the gunboat diplomacy of the days of colonial rule.

7. Assessment of Each Possible Outcome of the Sri Lankan Conflict

OUTCOME 1: The Sri Lankan Army and LTTE reach a protracted military stalemate, so LTTE and the Sri Lankan government reach a fair agreement, and everyone lives happily ever after in the island.

Though it is the best possible outcome for the people of Sri Lanka (Sinhalese and Tamils), it is a low-probability event because of the hardened feelings of hatred and distrust between the two communities. If this outcome does materialize, Sri Lanka no longer has an internal security threat. Only possible threat to Sri Lanka's sovereignty is its only neighbor India. Fearing India may somehow create a military intervention by creating surrogate rebels within the Tamil community or even among the disgruntled Sinhalese, it would be natural for Sri Lanka to enter into open or tacit security arrangements with India's enemies and offer them military facilities when they need it. Former Indian Central Government ministers like Subramaniam Swamy suggesting that the Sri Lankan parliament vote to annex Sri Lanka to India and that a division of the Indian army be permanently stationed in the Sri Lankan capital lest Sri Lanka betray India are watched closely by Sri Lanka. Kashmir merger with India when it was under threat from "fighters" from Pakistan and India engineering the annexation of Sikkim are not lost on Sri Lankan leaders either.

In summary, "OUTCOME 1" is not in India's security interests in the long term, but it is in the best interest of the people of Sri Lanka. If India truly wants to see a just and peaceful resolution to the Sri Lankan conflict, it should let Norway which has no selfish interest in Sri Lanka mediate the talks between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE. India's current attempt to muddle in the peace talks by offering to mediate while taking harshly anti-LTTE stance will only scuttle any meaningful talks and a long-term solution. Possibly that is what the Hindi rulers of the Indian Central Government want; a peace settlement in which the Tamil minority gets very little and India gets some benefits like the infamous 1987 secret agreement between Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan President J.R.Jayawardene (Who knows what is going on secretly between Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee and Sri Lankan President Kumaratunga today?) In fact the Hindi rulers of India are not for a peaceful settlement that would grant the Tamils substantial autonomy like in Canada or Switzerland. The problem with this approach is that once LTTE lays down arms, Sri Lanka will thump its nose at India as it did in 1990. That is why former Indian minister Subramaniam Swamy sounded out options like Sri Lanka allowing an Indian Army Division stationed permanently in the Sri Lankan capital and Sri Lankan parliament voting to annex Sri Lanka to India in exchange for help in destroying the LTTE. As we discussed in Section 6, this is not going to happen.

OUTCOME 2: The Sri Lankan Army and LTTE reach a protracted military stalemate, so LTTE and Sri Lankan government reach a fair agreement, the Sri Lankan government reneges on the agreement gradually after LTTE disarms, and the majority Sinhalese continue to discriminate and oppress the minority Tamils.

This is a possibility too. In such a case, Sri Lanka would be suspicious that India would again want to create trouble for it by arming Tamils and extracting concessions from it, a la 1987. To preempt such attempts by India, it would crush ruthlessly any rise of Tamil militancy in its infancy and arm itself to the teeth from foreign forces not all of them friendly to India. Many Sinhalese believe, with good reason, that Sri Lanka's mistake was not taking Tamil militancy seriously in the mid-1970s and failing to arm the Sri Lankan military accordingly. Had they done so early, India would not have the opportunity to arm the militants and put pressure on it. The second time around, Sri Lanka will not make that mistake. India will not get any concessions but only hostility.

Thus "OUTCOME 2" is not in the national interest of India. But unfortunately India seems to try to steer events in this direction. Why? Is there a "dirty secret" behind it?

OUTCOME 3: Sri Lankan Army routs the LTTE and the majority Sinhalese continue to discriminate and oppress the minority Tamils.

It may not be an easy task to destroy LTTE because it has the support of the Tamil people living in the north and east as well as the many thousands who have fled as refugees to foreign lands, and undoubtedly its fighters are one of the most dedicated cadres anywhere in the world. But it could happen. If it does, this outcome has the same effect as "OUTCOME 2" from the perspective of India's national interest. Thus "OUTCOME 3" is not in the national interest of India. But India's actions seem to help the Sri Lankan Army defeat the LTTE. Why? Is there a "dirty secret" behind it?

OUTCOME 4: LTTE routs the Sri Lankan Army, gains control of the entire traditional Tamil homeland in the north and the east, and declares an independent Tamil Eelam.

 Let us examine how this outcome fares vis-a-vis India's national interest. To understand the impact fully, one should look at the historical Tamil area (the proposed Tamil Eelam). Its coastline consists of the entire northern coast of the island, a little of the west coast in the north and a long stretch of the east coast deep into the south.

How will Sri Lanka react to the creation of Tamil Eelam? Whether Tamil Eelam is achieved with or without India's help and whether India recognizes it or not, Sri Lanka will blame India. What Sri Lanka would do vis-a-vis India would be no different from what it would do under Outcomes 1, 2 or 3 discussed earlier. It would establish military alliances with India's enemies. It would do so more blatantly now rather than more surreptitiously under outcomes 1, 2 or 3; but the result would be the same; suspicion and hostility to India.

While how Sri Lanka would behave is the same under all possible outcomes (outcomes 1, 2, 3 and 4), the creation of an independent Tamil Eelam changes the map of the region. A new nation is born and the national boundaries in South Asia are changed. Any military analyst would find that this change in the map is in the best interest of India, given Sri Lanka's fear and suspicion of India and its "unfriendly" stance towards India until the rise of Tamil militants (remember its tilt towards Pakistan and the United States while Pakistan was India's sworn enemy and India was leaning towards the Soviet Union during cold war years, and Sri Lanka's blatant hostile of allowing Pakistan Air Force planes to refuel in Sri Lanka during the 1971 India-Pakistan war). Creation of Tamil Eelam provides India with the one and only opportunity to have a permanently friendly neighbor to its immediate south and to checkmate Sri Lanka's unfriendly moves. Let us again reassert what we said earlier, "Sri Lanka had never been friendly towards India until the mid 1980s when Tamil freedom fighters became a threat to the Sri Lankan government. The ensuing "fake friendship" (pretend-friendship) that is continuing to this day will end and things will revert back to the pre-Tamil-freedom-fighters days of the 1960s and 1970s once the LTTE is destroyed and it no longer need to fear India helping the freedom fighters and thus indirectly threatening Sri Lanka. There is nothing India can do to the sovereign nation of Sri Lanka. Permanent stationing of an Indian Army Division in the Sri Lankan capital to ensure that Sri Lanka tows its line, as sounded out by the former Indian Minister Subramaniam Swamy recently, is not going to happen.

Creation of an independent Tamil Eelam right inside the island provides the only opportunity for India to checkmate Sri Lanka's unfriendly moves in the future. India cannot station permanently an army division in Sri Lanka, as sounded out by the former Indian minister Subramaniam Swamy, but India can have a friendly Tamil Eelam right inside the island permanently. All that would take is friendly relations and cooperation with Tamil Eelam. With the hostile Sri Lanka to the south, Tamil Eelam would want a powerful friend, an ally. The giant India on its north would be a natural ally. If you ask why would not Tamil Eelam be unfriendly to India as Sri Lanka is, the answer is that the present day Sri Lanka (or pre-Tamil-Eelam Sri Lanka) has only one neighbor, the giant India. Any threat or hegemony to it can come only from India and so it is naturally suspicious and fearful of India. Any nation under such situation would want to balance the power equation by seeking friendship with the giant neighbor' adversaries. That is what Sri Lanka did until the threat from Tamil freedom fighters came and it needed India's cooperation to contain and destroy them. The situation of a free Tamil Eelam is different. It would have two neighbors, the angry and historical foe Sri Lanka to the south and India with long friendly relations (until recently) in the north. It would naturally tend towards India unless India rebuffs it. Thus Tamil Eelam would be a natural friend and asset to India.

In summary, an independent Tamil Eelam is in the national interest of India. So Indian government's recent statements that it would never recognize Tamil Eelam even if the Tamils get it on their own without any help from India goes contrary to India's national interest. This same view was held by previous governments under the United Front and the Congress Party also. Why is the Indian government dead-set against Tamil Eelam although it is in India's national interest? Is there a dirt secret behind this hostility towards independence for Tamil Eelam?

NOTE: This ends Part I. In Part II, the authors debunk the arguments by anti-Tamil-Eelam lobby that an independent Tamil-Eelam would destabilize and breakup India. Having thus established that an independent Tamil Eelam is in the best interest of India, finally in Part III, we will discuss why the Hindi rulers of India are opposed to an independent Tamil Eelam although it is in India's national interest. We will expose the "dirty secret" behind Indian Government's irrational policy towards the Sri Lankan conflict.

----    2000-a1d

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