By Rajan Hoole –
The Indo-Lanka Accord and Sri Lanka’s Fault Lines: July 1987 – Part – 2
India had in late 1983 become the patron of several militant groups, which were kept in a position where they competed for India’s favour. When the LTTE had decimated the TELO in May 1986, it resulted in a break in the arrangement maintained by India. By a series of attacks on Sinhalese civilians immediately afterwards, and in turn making the Tamils more insecure, the LTTE naively hoped to be accepted as India’s sole protege. For, it was soon to make itself the only force on the ground after similar strikes against the PLOTE and EPRLF as well. India’s hands seemed to be tied unless she was willing to countenance a total collapse of the Tamil militancy, resulting in a situation where she had no role in Sri Lanka.
Thanks to their advisers among the Tamil elite who fancied themselves to be ingenious strategists in international relations, the LTTE came to believe firmly in their monopoly of India’s goodwill. They openly boasted from platforms that they as the future rulers of Tamil Eelam, would be agents for India’s control over the South of Sri Lanka. They failed to take note of India’s repeatedly expressed commitment to Sri Lanka’s unity and integrity (see Rajani Thiranagama in The Broken Palmyrah, p.352). A section of India’s intelligence agencies sincerely or otherwise kept the LTTE in hope. But overall, India’s policy was to keep the LTTE at arm’s length, while pressing both the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE to agree to a settlement.
When the Sri Lankan Army was poised to take Jaffna, the LTTE orchestrated demonstrations in Jaffna calling upon India to provide military hardware, including SAMs, to the LTTE. Without acceding to it, India used it to apply pressure on the Sri Lankan Government, which feared the consequences of such aid, to agree to an Accord. Both the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Government had reached a point of bankruptcy where they were forced to accede to the Accord. But implementing it would have required far greater resourcefulness on India’s part since both the LTTE and an influential section of the Sri Lankan cabinet were waiting for a pretext to sabotage the Accord. As for the LTTE leader having accepted the Indo- Lanka Accord, there can be no doubt (Narayan Swamy pp.243-4 and his note on p.246). We also understand that in Prabhakaran’s meeting with Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, as part of the settlement, the LTTE was awarded a monthly sum of Ind. Rs. 5 million (USD 300,000) of which Rs. 10 million for the first 2 months was subsequently paid.
An interesting incident that illustrates the relationship between the urge for total power and political purity (as originally conceived by the TULF) took place in Madras in November 1986. It also illustrates the dilemma faced by the LTTE in the coming years when it came to choosing between real power within a united Sri Lanka and a distant hope of Tamil Eelam.
At the Thimpu conference in July 1985, all the major Tamil parties adopted the Thimpu Principles – recognition of Tamils in Sri Lanka as a nation, the nation’s territory, right to self- determination and citizenship for all Tamils in the country. These were stated as the basic conditions for negotiations with the Sri Lankan Government (see Appendix V). Although the talks broke up, the Indian Government kept pressing the Tamil parties and the Sri Lankan Government to come to a negotiated settlement. A part of this effort was Minister Chidambaram’s visit in April/May 1986.
In October 1986, the Sri Lankan Government submitted a set of proposals for provincial councils (two or more for the North-East) but without a merged North-East. The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran was asked by New Delhi to obtain a response from the Tamil militant groups in Madras. The LTTE had not been participating in ENLF (an alliance of TELO, EROS, EPRLF and LTTE formed in April 1985) meetings after its violent attack on TELO in May. However, the LTTE leader Prabhakaran was asked by the EPRLF leader Padmanabha about taking a common stand on rejecting the proposals which fell short of the Thimpu Principles. The LTTE leader was agreeable, but in subsequent talks between members of the groups without the leaders, the LTTE’s Yogi accused the EPRLF of helping TELO fugitives escaping from the LTTE in the North-East. He threatened action against the EPRLF. The meeting broke up without the main issue of a common stand being discussed.
On 3rd November 1986 at M.G. Ramachandran’s residence, a common statement was handed over by some ENLF groups rejecting the proposals and also pointing out that the citizenship issue of Plantation Tamils had not been addressed. LTTE spokesman Anton Balasingham was seen in Ramachandran’s lobby with a set of files, immediately suggesting that he was not there to reject the proposals. He met Ramachandran after them. It was later revealed that the LTTE had agreed to commence negotiations with the Sri Lankan Government provided it accepted the North-East as the Tamil homeland (testimony from Amirthalingam and also Narayan Swamy, p.215).
The Indian media immediately praised the LTTE’s willingness to negotiate and were harsh with the other groups. This mood was also aided by a shooting incident in Madras involving some individuals in Douglas Devananda’s faction of the EPRLF, in which an Indian was killed. Suddenly the LTTE was being promoted in India as the means to a negotiated peace in Sri Lanka.
Earlier in Jaffna, the LTTE had justified the carnage of TELO members, charging that they were contemptible traitors ready to compromise on a separate state. As we very reliably understand, the LTTE’s Jaffna political wing leader Thileepan became alarmed at the leadership’s apparent willingness to negotiate. He got in touch with Madras by radio and asked Balasingham if they had given up the demand for Eelam, the separate state. Balasingham replied that it was not so, and that if the Sri Lankan Government accepted the North-East as the homeland of the Tamils, they would place further demands such as the Tamils’ right to self- determination and ensure a breakdown of negotiations.
Contrarily however, the events that followed showed a hardening of attitudes between the Indian Government and the LTTE. By the time of the SAARC Summit in Bangalore at the end of November 1986, the LTTE leader was again insisting on Eelam. It is of no use giving these events a definite interpretation. One could always argue from other bits of information for a different interpretation. But they illustrate one important point.
A movement that had got its cadre to kill a large number of fellow Tamils as alleged traitors to the cause of Tamil Eelam, could not negotiate for anything less, and indeed could not negotiate at all. Thileepan’s act of killing ‘traitors’ would have made him an intransigent ‘believer’ in Tamil Eelam, and if his leaders negotiated for less, he would have been at a loss in explaining it to the public and to the LTTE cadre on the ground. The same logic would have applied to the LTTE leader himself at a higher level. The glorification of suicide is a particular reflection of this inflexibility.
Thileepan’s questioning Balasingham, and indirectly the leader, over the airwaves was an act of insubordination in such a tightly controlled organisation. We may note that Prabhakaran returned to Jaffna in December and took direct control. Jaffna leader Kittu lost a leg in an internally orchestrated attack in March 1987. Thileepan went on a death fast in accordance with the wishes of those at the the top, after the Indo-Lanka Accord, and died on 26th September 1987. He died not for the cause of Tamil Eelam. His enforced sacrifice became rather an omen of what would follow if the LTTE were not given a majority of places on the proposed 12 member Interim Council for the North-East. The Council was to be set up under the terms of the Accord – evidence again of a perverse kind that the LTTE agreed to the Accord. Having succeeded in its demand, the LTTE went on to nullify Thileepan’s sacrifice by declaring war on India!
The Indo-Lanka Accord was itself largely the work of the Indian Government in consultation with certain Sri Lankan ministers and the TULF. The Thimpu Principles were difficult to translate into practical proposals and were too rigid by themselves for this reason. Thus the Tamil groups never made proposals of their own, and whenever the Sri Lankan Government made proposals, the Tamil groups found them too little. This has now gone on for 15 years.
It has been said by persons close to the events that in formulating the Accord, the Indian Government acted on the basis of what it
understood was acceptable to the Tamil groups, modified by the sensibilities of the Sri Lankan Government. Thus for example in merging the Northern and Eastern provinces, Tamil Habitation took the place of Tamil Homeland in the wording of the Accord. Having accepted the Accord and the Interim Council, the LTTE turned to communal violence and war. A number of theories have been given, and a particular one has considerable plausibility.
Following the Indo-Lankan Accord, the EPRLF, which had survived in the East despite the LTTE’s ban, became politically active again in the East and its meetings attracted large crowds. By comparison, after the LTTE leader’s first public meeting at Suthumalai on 4th August 1987, where he reluctantly announced his acceptance of the Accord, to the tremendous relief of the people, LTTE meetings generally attracted poor crowds. On several occasions angry LTTE speakers had called the people ‘ungrateful’ (see Narayan Swamy, p.263 and The Broken Palmyrah p.144 ff.).
When Jayewardene announced the formation of the Interim Council, he also announced elections to the Provincial Council that would replace the Interim Council. By this time, the LTTE had no doubt decided that it did not want elections. Also significant is the LTTE’s killing in the East of scores of militants from other groups on 13th September, an omen immediately before the Thileepan fast.
Following the LTTE’s taking control of the North-East in 1990 with President Premadasa’s complicity, members of the North-East Provincial Council fled to India. The LTTE wanted the Council dissolved. This required further legislation, as the President did not then have the powers to do so. Legislation enabling the President to do so and the dissolution took place in June 1990 after the LTTE had gone to war with the Sri Lankan Government. The LTTE’s strategy for separation is not through strengthening devolution as many Southern intellectuals hysterically assert, but is rather by discrediting what hard-won devolution that already exists.
These events explain the LTTE’s continuing approach to negotiations and its obsession with untrammelled power as distinct from autonomy. Its intransigence, which was imposed by its legacy of mass murder, brought inevitable disaster to the people. The key to its success rested on the weaknesses of its own adversaries, by pushing them to adopt its disastrous methods in fighting it. This was the fate of the EPRLF, whose alliance with the Indian Army in the late 1980s to fight the LTTE was tragic for itself as well as the people (The Broken Palmyrah p.408 ff and the UTHR(J) Reports 1-4).
To be continued..