Integrated development, politics and social empowerment in India and beyond

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Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

The LTTE is a proscribed terrorist organization in India and its leader Prabhakaran is a wanted man for his crimes. In allowing itself to be stampeded into pressuring Colombo, the Centre is in fact ceding the conduct of foreign policy to a state government.

Electoral Gamesmanship on Lanka

It is shortsighted for Tamil Nadu to force the Centre into pressuring Colombo on behalf of the LTTE, a proscribed organization.

By B G Verghese

New Indian Express, 27 April, 2009

Tamil Nadu parties are treading treacherous ground in an electoral competition to shore up the LTTE in the name of humanitarian principles. The minor parties set the pace in a desperate bid to whip up Dravida chauvinism to garner votes. The ruling DMK next clambered on the band wagon to prevent the AIDMK from stealing a march over it, saying one thing one day and reinterpreting it the next morning to mean the opposite. The Centre allowed itself to be dragged into the charade for reasons of small electoral gain for which the country may once again have to pay a heavy price.

The LTTE is a proscribed terrorist organization in India and its leader Prabhakaran is a wanted man for his crimes. In allowing itself to be stampeded into pressuring Colombo, the Centre is in fact ceding the conduct of foreign policy to a state government. This cardinal error was first committed in 1983 and cost the country dear. The LTTE took control of certain coastal districts, landing arms there and training its cadres to cross the Palk Straits and wage war to win Eelam. The gun culture was introduced into South India and the country lost a prime minister to an LTTE suicide bomber.

The argument now made is that Colombo must accept a (long enough) cease fire to enable Tamil civilians trapped within the last sliver of coast held by the LTTE near Mullaitivu to be repatriated to safety. The UN, US and EU have been warning of an impending or ongoing humanitarian crisis with an estimated 150,000 Tamil refugees holed up in the No-Fire Zone. They were clearly hostages being used as human shields, an old LTTE tactic. Some of them trying to flee Prbhakaran’s last, shrinking redoubt, were fired upon by their so-called patrons to prevent the loss of this human fence. But as soon as they could, over 100,000 desperate Tamils streamed across to the adjacent safe zone and freedom. Television images depicted an unending flow of terrified and emaciated hostages literally running for their lives. A further “humanitarian ceasefire” might have entailed many more thousands dying in LTTE captivity.

When the West refers to a “humanitarian crisis” in Sri Lanka, does anybody know or care that two generations of Chagos Islanders have cruelly suffered exile in distant lands in order that a US nuclear and strategic bomber base may be established and continue to function in Diego Garcia, despite a recent British High Court ruling. And what about the huge collateral damage in Afghanistan and the tribal belt of Pakistan from US-NATO bombing ? Nor does not hear calls for a cease fire because of the humanitarian crisis caused by Talibanisation of these areas. The message is that the war must go on and that it was wrong for Pakistan to negotiate a ceasefire with the Taliban in Swat. These monumental contradictions represent flagrant double standards that seem to have become a conditioned reflex. My wars are all right – howsoever far from my homeland and people – but your wars to defend your own homeland and people are wrong.

Bracketing the Sri Lanka Government with the LTTE is a travesty. Colombo was guilty of various serious omissions and commissions earlier. But it has learnt through hard experience and is now on a path that will hopefully lead to a just and honourable solution. It is glib to repeat in all circumstances that there is no military solution to complex and age-old political problems. Social and cultural divides cannot be bridged or healed by war. But the LTTE soon became an adventurous terrorist organization, press-ganging women and children to obliterate all moderate Tamil opinion and impose its will on all. It willfully scuttled the earlier peace process. Now it is too late for it to call for a ceasefire when the end game is in sight. Wars do sometimes solve problems and this is one occasion when it might well do so. To go back to square one at this juncture could be a most inhumanitarian alternative.

Global and Indian diplomacy should now more properly turn to encouraging and assisting Sri Lanka to win the peace rather than once help resuscitate the LTTE to regroup and wage yet another war. Massive humanitarian relief is required and should be organized and the internally displaced rehabilitated in their homes and restored their livelihoods as soon as de-mining operations are completed. Meanwhile Colombo must surely be held to its professed goal of a just and honourable resolution for all sections of the population, Tamil, Muslims and Sinhala, through federalisation, development, guaranteed social and cultural rights, equal citizenship and participation at all levels of governance.

The framework of a settlement was available as far back as 1987 and with the 13th amendment that endorsed federalism and subsequent agreements that made it possible for provinces to unite in larger regions through popular expressions of will. These arrangements can be varied and improved upon through discussion and in agreed stages. India has a wealth of experience regarding different forms and degrees of devolution in the Northeast and J&K and through Articles 371 A to I. Sri Lankan leaders could benefit from looking at these provisions and how they have worked.

Those in Tamil Nadu who have blithely called on Delhi to “impose” a ceasefire on Colombo have acted most irresponsibly. They do not seem to realize that that they are justifying Pakistan’s support for cross-border terrorism and proxy war in J&K and elsewhere in India that we rightly denounce. That so called “leaders” should indulge in this kind of errant behaviour cannot be too strongly deplored. Coalition politics cannot be reduced to political blackmail.

There must also be an end to other forms of electoral gamesmanship. The BJP should desist from bludgeoning the Government at every turn on its handling of terror. Likewise, the Congress cannot go on traducing the BJP for the very difficult and delicate choice it had to make over the Kandahar hijacking, trading three leading hard core terrorist for the lives of 166 innocent passengers and crew, one of whom had already been killed. Would the UPA have acted differently in similar circumstances then or now? Surely certain national issues should be kept above petty partisan politics.

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