29 May, 2023


Seriously Out Of Touch

By K. Venkataramanan –

The revival of TESO makes a mockery of the political predicament of Tamils in Sri Lanka

Veteran Tamil Nadu politician M. Karunanidhi has announced the revival of the Tamil Eelam Supporters’ Organisation, a forum he had floated in the mid-1980s to drum up support for the creation of a separate Tamil nation in Sri Lanka. In 1986, it was a broad-based political platform that attracted leaders from different parts of India and there was widespread support for the cause. A quarter century on, the most striking feature of the attempt to revive it is its incongruity in the current political context.

ARTFUL AMBIGUITY: A May 2009 picture of M. Karunanidhi on a fast at Chennai’s Marina Beach to protest against the Sri Lankan government’s military operations against the Tamil Tigers. File photo The Hindu

The Tamil Eelam project was never really on, as neither India nor the world at large was ever interested in dividing Sri Lanka. Further, neither the domestic situation in Sri Lanka nor the global or regional context contains any objective condition for the establishment of a separate state. Having eliminated rivals to emerge the sole proponent of the cause, and having let the power of arms overshadow its political content, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) effectively destroyed the movement for separation through its ultimate defeat. Velupillai Prabhakaran has left behind only a legacy of ruin and devastation for his Tamil community, and it is left to the few surviving Tamil moderate politicians to pick up the shards of a nearly abandoned devolution discourse and work towards limited self-rule in the Tamil majority areas.

For parties in Tamil Nadu, “Tamil Eelam” has been a useful tool for rabble-rousing while in the opposition, and an instrument of competitive identity politics that can goad the ruling party to take an even more strident stand. In office, the parties have administrative compulsions to crack down on “separatist” tendencies, book those indulging in “anti-national” rhetoric and frame or invoke draconian laws to keep fringe elements under check.


Mr. Karunanidhi has, over the years, oscillated from advocating Sri Lanka’s division to advising Tamil groups and parties to go in for a negotiated settlement. A truthful summary of his stand over the last 30 years will be an unbroken record of flip-flops. His latest U-turn is the ease with which he dropped the core principle of TESO — the concept of “Tamil Eelam” — from the agenda for the first conference of the revived forum to be held on August 12. All it needed was a visit from the Union Home Minister for the DMK patriarch to jump from strident advocacy to confounding ambivalence — a domain he is quite comfortable in. “Tamil Eelam remains my dream, but this is not the time to stress on it much or organise agitations,” he rationalised.

Here, one must pause. There is little wisdom in accusing just one leader of contradictions. His arch-rival Jayalalithaa, too, has pitched for “Eelam,” a recent highlight being her election promise ahead of the 2009 general election that the government she supported would send troops to Sri Lanka to carve out “Tamil Eelam.” Indian foreign policy appeared to go in favour of the Tamil minority initially, then gave a semblance of neutrality at the time of the Indo-Sri Lankan accord of 1987 by striking a path-breaking blow for both the country’s unity and the Tamil aspirations for provincial self-rule; in more recent times, preserving Sri Lanka’s territorial integrity became an obsessive objective, and India was drawn into — largely in a moral sense, and to a lesser extent, materially, too — into the government’s military project to destroy the LTTE.

Every political party has spoken about Tamil aspirations and in more recent times about restorative and rehabilitative justice for the victims of war. All parties called for an end to the war in its last stages, but it is doubtful if the appeal was honest. For instance, it is conceivable that there was great tolerance from the international community and from the Indian political and bureaucratic class towards the use of savage military power by Sri Lankan forces in 2008-09. There was, conceivably, an unstated consensus that finishing off the LTTE was a prerequisite to lasting peace. Even the parties inseparably identified with Prabhakaran’s brand of political nihilism were not against the war, but merely against the idea of the LTTE being defeated.

Situation in Sri Lanka

And today, the Union government is caught between a legitimate demand for a credible inquiry into war crimes allegations against Sri Lanka and the need to retain its alliance with its southern neighbour. An offshoot of this dilemma is that it repeatedly gets caught in moments of liaison with the Sri Lankan military, drawing justified protests from the people and leaders of Tamil Nadu, for whose sentiments the Centre seems to have nothing but disregard and contempt. It is doubtful whether any other state has ever been treated with such self-evident disdain by the government of India.

What makes TESO a mockery of the predicament of the Tamils in Sri Lanka is the fact that they are more worried about their security and survival than resurrecting the separatist demand. In fact long before the LTTE was vanquished, there was all-round realisation that Tamil Eelam was not a viable project. Any separatist rhetoric abroad now is bound to have adverse repercussions on Tamils living in Sri Lanka. Sinhala nationalism is at a historic peak and the great international hope that if Prabhakaran was removed from the picture, the scene would be conducive for ethnic reconciliation has been tragically betrayed. Sri Lanka is far from doing the right thing for its minorities. With the Indian position against the division of the island becoming an entrenched global policy, political posturing is going to make little difference to the Tamils who are denied access to their lands and who cower in front of an overbearing army.

The Hindu

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Latest comments

  • 0

    I heard for 2 hours hunger strike it cost over 20 Million Indian Rupees including the Powerful A/C. What a joker !

  • 0

    Karunanidhi had always being considered a wily fox. Throughout his career as a politician, he trampled other leaders of his group and used situations to personally advance himself and his kith and kin than the principles of his party or ideals of the Dravidian movement. He was well assisted in this process by his unparalleled ability to attract the youth with his flowery language skills both spoken and written.
    Now he is nearing the end of his journey. Having brought his family from poverty to unimaginable prosperity almost in to the top ten in the country, he is now looking for a glowing legacy to leave in the annals of the history of Tamils.
    Sadly his flip flop attitude to politics and his dishonesty with his own people have left him a laughing stock and the Tamils spread round the world do not take him seriously anymore and are watching the circus that had come to town!

  • 0

    While there certainly was growing injustice to Lankan Tamils post-1956, to many analysts, the Vaddukottai Resolution was more a bargaining tool to move the racially power drunk anti-Tamil regimes of SWRD and his wife (1956-1965) to seriously address the National Question where Tamils will not be pushed into a 2nd class mindset.
    It was, aerguably, never seriously the thought of SJV and friends to divide the country but merely to shock a power-drunk Pan-Sinhala State oout of its stupor after gaining political power after nearly 450 years. The Sinhala Only legislation of 1956 was self-deafeatist where it destroyed a once vibrant and strong English-educated society, education, legal system and governance – all of which remain in ruins today. The Sinhala language was kept strong even during the rule of the 3 invading colonists and did not need a devaluation of the English reality to offer any new impetus to the ancient language. More harm was done in 1956 to Sinhala society than to Tamils is, arguably, the reality. President Rajapakse is unlikely to restore even shades of the high quality of English among the Sinhalese in the next decade or two – however resourceful, enterprising and committed the effort is.

    On the other hand Prabhakaran’s Eelam or Bust project did equal harm to Tamils all over the island. The Hindu’s conclusion “VP has left behind only a legacy of ruin and devastation for his Tamil community. It is left to the few surviving Tamil moderate poliicians to pick up the shards of a nearly abandoned devolution course and work towards limited self-rule in the Tamil majority areas” is conventional wisdom.
    The Sinhalese are still unwilling to accept the fact most Tamils did not share VP’s extreme dream – although the existing fascism then prevened their speaking out. The fact men like LTTE stalwart KP abandoned the Eelam course stands as evidence to this whereas the other once LTTE strongman Karuna’s cross-over may also have been for different reasons.

    Post-May 2009 the ball has been in Rajapakses court to usher in unity and reconciliation. He has to gather up the requisite nerve, wisdom and resolve to ensure the 2nd and more important aspect of his rule
    to unite the entire country. One key step is to expedite PC elections in the North forgetting, in the interest of the nation’s good, he might have to concede defeat to the TNA – that appears to have earned the confidence of most people in the Tamil majority areas. Such a courae of action early can also cushion much of the negative image he has created in the minds of the UNHRC, the UN and the world at large
    all of which the regime fears is skewed against it.


  • 0

    Irish fought for three hundred years. When France killed three prominent armed group leaders, they thought it is the end of the algerian struggle till three years later they have to give independence. Arm chair journalist like Venktaramanan who are ‘bought’ by the rulers of either side of the palk strait will not know the power of teh people. One day Indian govt and the international community will have to discuss the divison like they discussed about east timor.
    India is already encircled by China due to the idiocity of corrupt Rajiv Ghnadhi Family. Indians do not understdn how LTTE helped thme by killing Rajiv Gandhi. He would have had many Bofors and finished Indian economy long ago. Atleast the corruption was delayed so India survived upto now. But Sonia had enough scams through Raja (60% Sonia sawamy said and sonia accepted by silence) through the son-in-law (the CWG Buidling scams) and allowed india to be surrounded by chineese they are only twelve miles away from the south. Inidians have to be upset that prapharan did not kill the whole Rajiov Family. They would have had better governemnt now.

    Indira Gandhi started it and son and teh daughter-in-law betrayed Her, inidans an dteh Tqamils. Fortunately Indira Gnadgi was creamted otherwise her body woudl turn in the grave/ She wanted protect Inida from encirclemnt by China and her money greedy italian daughter in law from traitorsous family messed it up
    Karunanidhi’s TESO is a joke, everyone knows. But Tamil Separate is not. Venjataraman will know one day.

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