By H. L. D. Mahindapala –
“Instead of emotional discussions as to our historic origins and glorious pasts, let us come into grips with what we during the last 68 years after Independence have lived and suffered. By reflecting on the past sufferings and our own mistakes, we all can learn a lot and prepare for the future.” – Fr. S. J. Emmanuel, (Comments, Colombo Telegraph, 24/1/2016)
S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, the ideological father (Thanthai) of Vadukoddian violence, escaped death at the hands of Velupillai Prabhakaran – the merciless killer of Tamils — only because he died of natural causes. Had he lived a little longer he would have been eliminated by the very forces of violent politics he fathered in his Vadukoddai Resolution. He would have been gunned down along with his loyal deputy, Appapillai Amirthalingam – the Tamil political leader who was the Godfather to the “boys”armed with the violence legitimised in the Vadukoddai Resolution. Chelvanayakam was lucky to have escaped the wrath of Prabhakaran and passed away with dignity without falling a victim to his own violence which he embedded in the Vadukoddai Resolution. The Vadukoddai Resolution was aimed at targeting the Sinhalese. But it boomeranged and decimated the Tamils. At Vadukoddai he uncorked the explosive racist bottle and let loose the violent Tamil genie lurking inside — and the rest, of course, is history that led the Tamils all the way to Nandikadal.
The collective responsibility of adopting a military solution in the Vadukoddai Resolution falls on the heads of the Vellahla leadership of Jaffna and not the Tamil people at the grass root level. Peninsular politics was always determined by the English-educated, Saivite, Jaffna Vellahlas (ESJVs). The lesser castes had neither the education nor the political and economic power to challenge the all-powerful ESJVs. Prof. A. J. Wilson states that the upper-caste Vellahlas dominated the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) and the Federal Party (FP). (p.138 – S. J. V. Chelvanayakam and the Crisis of Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism, 1947 – 1977, A Political Biography, A. J. Wilson, Lake House). The leadership that steered the Vadukoddai Resolution also came from the ESJVs. They were hoping to ride on the backs of the violent Vadukoddian “boys” – mostly low-caste — to the seats of power. But the “boys” born out of the Vadukoddai Resolution had plans of their own. They were planning to grab power for themselves, not to hand over the fruits of their sacrifices to a feudal ancien regime dominated by the Vellahla leadership.
When Chelvanayakam legitimised the use of guns and bombs, as per the Vadukoddai Resolution on May 14, 1976, it was his last and desperate bid to salvage his separatist politics. He went through every word of it before it went up for ratification at the first national Convention of the TULF held in Vadukoddai. ( p. 128 – Ibid) It was a critical document that was designed to achieve his ultimate ambition. And his ambition was to go down in Tamil history as either a Jinnah who created Pakistan or a Mujibir Rahman who created Bangladesh. But there were no signs, even in the distant horizon, of a separate state coming his way to justify his Apocalyptic politics.
Besides, his age had caught up with him. In a speech delivered in Batticoloa on May 11, 1975 he said : “I am seventy-seven years old now and even in this old age I am fighting for the liberation of the Tamils because I am aware of the dangers that are lurking for the Tamil community in the Eastern Province. There is no other alternative for the Tamils to live with self-respect other than fight to the end for a Tamil Nad (i.e., a Tamil state” ( p. 127 – Ibid, quoted from The Ceylon Daily News, May 12, 1975). The sum and substance embedded in the Vadukoddai Resolution was the “fight to the end for a Tamil Nad”. But he was 78 when he launched his ill-fated Vadukoddai Resolution. At this stage he was also feeble and his Parkinsons disease did not give him any hope of realising his separate state within the limited time available to him. He was in a desperate hurry to achieve his ambition. Vadukoddai Resolution was his “short, nasty and brutish” route to achieve his elusive Eelam. And he was fully aware that his desperate military solution would drag his people into a bloody war – a risky gamble with no guarantee of winning. It was a gamble that could go either way. Grimly warning that not even the most powerful government cannot control “ possible consequences” of separatism he said : “He is a brave man who can prophecy the the result.” ( p.67 – Ibid) Looking back, it is legitimate to ask whether he could have been “a father to the Tamils” when he had pushed all the Tamils children over the Vadukoddai cliff into the hell of Nandikadal.
The decision to go for a military solution was a mission dreamed up by Chelvanayakam and his Vellahla desperadoes who believed, mistakenly, that they could replicate what Jinnah did to India or Mujibir Rahman did to Pakistan. Blinded by his racist fanaticism Chelvanayakam failed to grasp that he was making the biggest blunder of his life. Not only was his decision to go for a military solution doomed he was also handing over the power in the peninsula, which was in the hands of the Vellahla elite even under colonial rulers, to the “boys” of his Vadukoddai Resolution. Tragically for the Tamils, the immature, power-crazy “boys” went berserk eliminating first the fathers of the Vadukoddai Resolution. The irony is that children of the Vadukoddai Resolution devoured the arrogant fathers who met in Vadukoddai. Jaffna would never be same again. The Vadukoddai decision to go for a military solution stands as a monument to Chelvanayakam’s folly.
The Tamil leadership paid with their lives for committing the crime against peace. “A crime against peace, in international law, refers to “planning, preparation, initiation, or waging of wars of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances, or participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the foregoing”. This definition of crimes against peace was first incorporated into the Nuremberg Principles and later included in the United Nations Charter.” (Wikipedia). The Vadukoddai Resolution comes within the definition of a crime against peace outlined in the quote above. It is comparable to Hitler rejecting peaceful alternatives and declaring war against peaceful nations. Excuses were manufacture to exculpate Hitler’s belligerency. But the Nuremberg trials dismissed those excuses as invalid. The initial act of committing the crime against peace and the subsequent war crimes and crimes against humanity that followed from the crime against peace reigned supreme at the Nuremberg watershed.
Without any compunction or concern for the consequences that would flow from their decision the Tamil Vellahla elite, led by Chelvanayakam, declared war when it urged “the Tamil youth to take up arms and never cease to fight until they achieve Eelam.” No other leadership in any other community has officially declared war as a political tool to achieve racist objectives. In pursuance of the Vadukoddai Resolution the Tamil leadership financed, directed, propagandized, aided, abetted, and lobbied in Western capitals. The plotting, planning, preparing, initiating action that led to the declaration of war question the capacity of the Tamil leadership to make viable, rational and peaceful decisions on behalf of the Tamil people. After committing the crime against peace it was rather comic to see them posing as non-violent Gandhians.
It is the Tamil leadership that should be held responsible for launching, prolonging and, finally, rejecting all peace offers guaranteed by the international community, which eventually perpetuated the longest running war in Asia. It was a futile war which killed the most number of Tamils by the violent forces legitimised in the Vadukoddai Resolution. The Tamils argue that it was the Sinhalese who hit them first. They say that it was the Sinhalese who created Prabhakaran. If so why didn’t the other two Tamil-speaking communities also produce their Prabhakarans? Why didn’t the other two Tamil-speaking communities pass resolutions similar to that of the violent Vadukoddai Resolution, or join the Thamil Makkal Payasoom – a pan-Tamil movement launched by Chelvanayakam to confront the Sinhalese collectively? Why was violence chosen as a political tool by the Jaffna Tamils only when non-violent democratic alternatives were available to resolve ethnic differences, as seen in the peaceful political strategies of the other two Tamil-speaking communities : the Muslims and the Indian Tamils?
From on overall perspective there was no valid rationale to commit a crime against peace. The cost of this arrogant decision to dictate terms to an elected government through violence was paid by the grass root Tamil people while the ESJV elite, flew out of the hell they created, to greener pastures in Western countries. Besides, the direct consequence of the ill-fated decision to wage was to create a cruel fascist regime headed by a racist megalomaniac. Power slipped almost imperceptibly from the ESJVs to a school drop out, Velupialli Prabhakaran. This “Tamil Pol Pot” (The New York Times) turned his neck of the woods into the most barbaric enclave of ruthless racism, complete with ethnic cleansing. It was the worst ever fascist regime to rule any part of the nation throughout its history. The only other instance was when Sankili marched down to Mannar and massacred 600 Tamil Catholics on the Christmas eve of 1544. The hate politics embedded in the Vadukoddai Resolution perverted national politics at all levels. It enthroned racist politics, legitimised Tamil violence, engendered Tamil fascism, enforced ethnic cleansing, and caused the most amount of Tamil deaths which left the Tamils as the helpless victims of their leaders’ folly. It is a political document that raised the hopes of the Tamils without producing any tangible or lasting results. Their crime against peace, like all crimes agaienst peace, did not pay any dividends to the Tamils or to the rest of the nation.
The post-Vadukoddai period, in particular, contained all the ingredients of Hitler’s fascist movement. It was loaded with hate politics, racism, fascist tyranny, lawlessness, loss of dignity and liberty to the Tamils, mob violence of armed youth, absence of rule of law, kangaroo courts, personality cult, deification of the Supreme Leader, forcible recruitment of young children, demonizing of perceived enemies, and above all, committing the crime against peace, crimes against humanity and war crimes. In other words, the Tamil leadership turned into a gang of war criminals. In some key respects the Tamil leadership began and ended like the Nazis of Germany. And the rag-tag remnants of the Vadukoddai Resolution left over are behaving very much like the neo-Nazis, wrapping themselves in the most obscene flag symbolizing only brutality and violence.
The unravelling of the violence endorsed in the Vadukoddai Resolution snaked its way to Nandikadal, deflating Tamil arrogance and reducing them to humiliating victims of their own folly. In the end, the Tamil collective leadership that drafted and legitimised violence in the Vadukoddai Resolution were fated to face the truth of the Biblical maxim which states that those who live by the sword shall die by the sword. The Tamil leadership dropped all pretence of being non-violent Gandhians and officially endorsed a violent military solution only to reap what they sowed. Chelvanayakam is responsible for closing down all possibilities of peaceful co-existence by deliberately opting for the military solution. He steered the Vadukoddai declaration of war to its climactic point of legitimising violence and committing the crime against peace. He opened the floodgates of violence. There were pressures on him no doubt. But he brought those pressures upon himself by garlanding the Tamil assassins and accepting the blood-red pottu placed on his forehead by a Tamil militant who drew the blood from his veins. (Wilson – p. 119). His alleged commitments to non-violence vanished at Vadukoddai when he went through the wording of the Vadukoddai Resolution with a fine comb and approved the text. (Ibid. – p. 128).
Leadership, in one sense, is all about knowing when to fire and when to withdraw and confine the troops to barracks. His political career indicates that he was a general who let loose his undisciplined forces to scatter bullets in all directions, particularly the Tamils. The firing of his forces missed the target and ricocheted to slaughter his own people.
In passing the Vadukoddai Resolution the traditional leadership of Jaffna lost its grip on peninsular politics. The Tamil youth who were asked to take up arms did just that and overthrew the fathers of the Vadukoddai Resolution as dodos of a pre-historic era. They were seen not only as doddering creatures from the Jurassic Park but also as inimical forces retarding the progress of the Vadukoddai Resolution. In their calculation the old guard had to be eliminated and the sons of the Vadukoddai Resolution had no compunction in decimating the fathers. Vadukoddai Resolution turned out to be a symbolic act. It represented the removal of the old feudal guard and radicalising Jaffna by breaking down the rigid caste structures. Jaffna has been hiding behind the cadjan curtain – the ubiquitous shield of casteism — for too long. It had to go. It was refusing doggedly to join the forces of modernity creeping into every nook corner of the 20th century. Not even S. W. R. D. Bandaranaiake’s radical legislation contained in the Prevention of Social Disabilities Act of 1957 was successful in breaking down the caste barriers. The ESJVs were well entrenched in strategic positions to undermine any threat to their casteist power and privileges.
It needed an internal explosive force to challenge and eradicate, if possible, the entrenched forces of Vellahalaism that had taken root in the casteist soil of Jaffna. The greatest positive role of Prabhakaran was in dismantling the casteist structure and radicalising Jaffna. Anecdotal evidence told tales of the low-caste LTTErs marching into Vellahla house, sitting in places where they were forbidden to sit earlier, and demanding that they be served with porichchi koli by the Vellahlas. But that seems to be short-lived. The recrudescence of the old Vellahla casteism is seen once again after the elimination of Prabhakaran. Confirming this new trend Daya Master, the English translator to the Vanni regime, told the Indian journalist Padma Rao Sundarji: “There is another thing. It is sad but interesting. If you remember, the LTTE liked to boast that it had done away with the caste system. In some ways, it had. But the former cadres of the LTTE, upon returning to the mainstream of Tamil society, are facing many problems, especially the women. They are being treated and shunned like outcastes. So, in a way, there is a rebirth of the caste system in Tamil society in the formerly LTTE-held areas. I hear that many of them are finding it very hard to handle.” – (Chapt 7, SRI LANKA, A NEW COUNTRY, Jaffna : A former Tiger is a TV producer.)
Irrespective of this set back, the Vadukoddai Resolution should be read as the starting point of the modern era in Jaffna. The unintended consequence of the violence endorsed in the Vadukoddai Resolution was to blow up the concretised layers of feudal casteism. Clearly, the Vadukoddai Resolution was meant to retain and consolidate the power of the ESJVs. But it didn’t work quite that way. With the Vadukoddai Resolution the Vellahla leadership not only dug the graves of the ESJVs and the fascist casteist system that oppressed and enslaved the dalits of Jaffna. In this respect Prabhakaran became more important than Chelvanayakam.
That trend continues to this day, though there are reports of the Vellahlas raising their heads again, now that Prabhakaran is no longer there to keep them in check. In the quirky world of Tamil politics, Chelvanayakam seems to be less relevant to contemporary Tamil politics than Prabhakaran – the first born child of the Vadukoddai declaration of war. The first son of the Vadukoddai Resolution has overtaken Thanthai (the father). The Tamils have moved away from Chelvanayakam as their iconic leader. He no longer inspires the post-Nandikadal generation of Tamil activists. Nor is he the ideal invoked for political action.
For one thing the Tamil movement abroad has been taken over by those who were close to Prabhakaran. Consequently, Chelvanayakam has come down several pegs in the living memory of Tamil activists. The walls of the sitting room pictures of Tamils in the Diaspora are covered with either portraits of Prabhakaran in heroic poses, or with one of the householders posing next to him to indicate their affinity and commitment to their avowed leader. In some houses they light the traditional oil lamps as pooja to images of Prabhakaran – lamps which are lit only for their gods. Public rallies fly the monstrous flag designed by a cheap Chennai street painter to the specifications of Prabhakaran. The face that flies in some flags is that of the biggest killer of Tamils and not that of Chelvanayakam, the Thanthai. Of course, they pay lip service to Chelvanyakam as a museum piece. But when it comes to realpolitik they have no qualms in opting for Prabhakaran.
There is a slight shift towards Chelvanayakam where the old guard is still in command in Jaffna. That is mainly because they are under pressure not to invoke the counter-productive image of Prabhakaran. Embracing Prabhakaran is not profitable for marketing Tamils internationally, particularly with India. A shift towards him is bound to provoke a backlash which will undermine the authority of the Old Guard, both nationally and internationally, in this age of anti-terrorism. So nominally they are obliged to recite the “Chelvanayakam mantra” but, in their heart of hearts, they too have a sneaking commitment to their ruthless killer, Prabhakaran. It was his power to kill that inflated his image into mythic proportions. Chelvanayakam only defined the ideology for Tamil violence. It was Prabhakaran who transformed the ideology into a ruthless force, though only for a brief while. So he shines over Chelvanayakam as the doer and not the theoretician.
The desperate attempt to regroup is also centred on Prabhakaran who is elevated to the level of a demi-god. In the absence of a worthy hero they hail Prabhakaran – the biggest killer of Tamils – as their greatest hero. Chelvanayakam is overshadowed by killer Prabhakaran. No other Tamil leader has received the kind of adulation that has been given to Prabhakaran. Clearly, the Tamils will not commemorate his birthday (November 27) , wrapped in his beastly Tiger flag, with such fervour, if they thought that their “dear leader” was also not their “greatest leader”. This leads to two critical questions : 1. Is Prabhakaran – the biggest killer of Tamils – the ultimate repository of Tamil greatness? And (2) if so, what does it say of the Tamil culture? He demanded so much from the Tamils and gave nothing back to them except pain, suffering, death and destruction. How can such a failed figure be hero-worshipped by the community which was whipped into total submission?
Fascist tyrants who had driven their people to death, destruction, defeat and humiliation have been rejected by civilised societies after the political victims had recovered from their traumatic experiences. Hitler, Mussolini, Pol Pot and their ilk have gone down with their fascism into the dustbins history as the scum of civilised societies. But Prabhakaran, the Tamil fascist killer, seems to be the exception. This questions the bruited values of the Jaffna culture more than Prabhakaran who came out of the womb of Jaffna.
The question that haunts the living who came out of his fascist nightmare is : why do the Jaffnaites, particularly those in the Tamil Diaspora, hero- worship Prabhakaran to whom they gave everything and got nothing in return? Are the Tamils a bunch of dehumanised, sado-masochists with a pathetic penchant for wallowing in their own misery?
To be continued
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