By Izeth Hussain –
This article is really in continuation of my two previous articles (Colombo Telegraph of March 21 and March 28) in which I covered the implications of what transpired during Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Sri Lanka. A third article covering the same ground might seem redundant, or at least excessive considering that no one else is now writing on that subject. Actually I am writing this article because I have come to a novel conclusion that had not occurred to me earlier. It is that there has been a paradigm shift in our ethnic problem in relation to India, a shift that can lead to the most fateful consequences. The shift is this: hitherto India has had a legitimate concern with securing a political solution for the Tamil ethnic problem through devolution in the North and East; now it is concerned about the welfare of the hill-country Tamils as well. I believe that the explanation for this shift is to be found in the politics implicit in the ideology of Hindutva.
According to a detailed comment on my last article by my former erudite colleague Bandu de Silva, Prime Minister Modi had declared that the issues of the hill-country Tamils had not been properly addressed and he had invited their representatives to visit him in Delhi. That apparently was more or less the gist of what he had reportedly said. If that is correct, It signifies a new departure in India’s thinking about Sri Lanka, which in my view has sinister implications and therefore requires scrupulous analysis. In this situation, we must first of all be absolutely clear in our minds about how far India can legitimately go in intervening over the Sri Lankan Tamils. On this matter we must be prepared to jettison widespread Sri Lankan preconceptions and prejudices and accept the standards of the international community.
*Modi at Naguleswaram Temple Jaffna – 2015
We have to abide – whether we like it or not, and in terms of international norms – by commitments made under the Peace Accords of 1987. That certainly means that we are committed to working out a political solution on the basis of 13A. Equally certainly it means that we are not committed to going beyond that to something vaguely known as 13A+. If India insists on that, it would be tantamount to inadmissible interference in our internal affairs. According to the feedbacks I have been getting it appears that some Tamils, perhaps most, hold that we are indeed committed to 13A+ because President Rajapaksa kept on speaking about it and even made a pledge to the UN Secretary General about it. But he did not have the backing of the Parliament and Government for doing that, and besides he was tantalizingly obscure about what he meant by 13+. A convenient amnesia has overtaken the Tamils I have cited about the fact that when President MR eventually did explain what he had in mind to Tamil leaders it turned out to be devolution into small units, which the Tamil leaders quite rightly regarded as risibly nonsensical. The plain truth is that Prime Minister Modi had no warrant at all for recommending that we go beyond 13A.
Before dealing with Modi’s reference to the hill country Tamils I must make my position clear about India’s intervention over our ethnic problem. I hold that India meant to help us, not to dominate us, though it committed some gigantic blunders just as the rest of the international community did. The guiding principle behind Indian intervention was this: what is done to the Tamils here inevitably causes a fall-out in Tamil Nadu, which can even lead to a separatist drive there. JR began his State terrorism against the Tamils in 1977 and allowed it to go to a genocidal extreme in 1983. But even before 1983 India gave training to Tamil rebels, but that was of a token order and was clearly meant to appease Tamil Nadu in terms of the principle I have just set out. The real civil war began around April 1984, which was the consequence not of anything done by India but of JR’s genocidal State terrorism. Later India did everything possible to help end the war. The IPKF troops were not imposed on us but sent here at the request of JR, and they were withdrawn without demur when Premadasa requested it. By then India had lost over a thousand of the IPKF troops. We must bear in mind that India denied the use of South India as a hinterland for the LTTE, which was a crucial factor behind the LTTE’s defeat. I strongly suspect that at the final stage of the war India cleverly contrived the wiping out of the entire LTTE leadership – just punishment for having dared to assassinate an Indian Prime Minister.
I am aware that much more can be said against Indian intervention but that does not cancel out the fact that we owe recompense to India for what it did for us. If we don’t acknowledge that fact we will be regarded by the international community as ingrates of a low order. By way of recompense all that is required is a final political solution through the implementation of 13A so that India could be rid of an irritant that could prove to be dangerous sometime in the future. Sri Lanka has misgivings about land and police powers, but it should be quite feasible to work out a compromise on that. Now Prime Minister Modi has compounded the problem by recommending going beyond 13A and even federalism, though he must be quite well aware that it is an F word both in Sri Lanka and in India. And now comes the report about his concern over the hill-country Tamils. It certainly amounts to interference in the internal affairs of Sri Lanka.
The important point is that the hill country Tamils, also referred to as Indian Tamils of recent origin and estate Tamils, have never been a component in Sri Lanka’s Tamil ethnic problem. The reason is that because of caste taboos they have been treated as a people apart who have had little or no interaction with the fully indigenous Sri Lankan Tamils. They have never asked for Eelam or even devolution as a solution for their problems. The elder Thondaman, among the ablest of Sri Lankan politicians, followed pragmatic policies that paid rich dividends for his people. Doubtless ills remain and may be they have not been properly addressed, but that surely was a matter for private discussion, not public declaration.
Was it no more than a faux pas? Significantly it was believed that RAW had persuaded the hill country Tamils to vote against Rajapaksa despite the contrary preference of their political leaders. It seems reasonable to suppose that a paradigm shift is taking place because of the present Indian Government’s Hindutva ideology. I leave it to the interested reader to turn to the internet for plenty of information about that ideology. It is Fascist, racist, retrogressive, atavistic, maniacally anti-Muslim and anti-Christian, and in relation to modernity it is certainly a bizarre ideology. In several places in India there are projects to build temples in honor of Godse, the assassin of Gandhi. How bizarre the ideology is is shown by its policy on conversions: it is forbidden for Hindus to convert to other religions but it is alright for Muslims and others to convert to Hinduism because that is seen as reconversion to their original religion and the recovery of their birthright. Low-caste Hindus who converted to Islam because as Hindus they were spat on every day of their lives are asked to believe that in reconverting to Hinduism they will be regaining their birthright. That’s hard to beat for its sheer idiocy. I won’t be surprised if Modi’s sudden concern for the hill-country Tamils has arisen out of a fear that they might convert to Islam.
Anyway the important point for Sri Lanka is this: what happens to our Tamils has up to now been a matter of concern to Tamil Nadu, but if they are seen as Hindus it becomes a matter of concern for the whole of India. It is a paradigm shift that makes me feel uneasy. Did our Tamils inspire that shift? It is quite possible that when Modi came to power with the reputation of being an extraordinarily tough character our Tamils sensed an opportunity to persuade the Indian Government to adopt a tough policy towards Sri Lanka. I won’t blame the Tamils for that considering that our Governments have had a horrible record of reneging on commitments on the ethnic problem. I am now wondering whether a political solution will ever be possible through an agreement between the Government and the Tamil parties. On the other hand a grass roots strategy might succeed. If we fully implement 13A minus, that is minus land and police powers, and combine it with the plus factor of a fully functioning democracy, we might see the end of the ethnic problem. In fact, quite frankly, I feel sure of it.