By Rasika Jayakody –
It was the Tamil Coordinating Committee (TCC), a Tamil organization operating in London in the late 1970s that brokered a deal between the Tamil militants in Sri Lanka and the late Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. As a result of that cloak-and-dagger agreement, Tamil militants were trained not only in South India, but also in North India, with the consent of the Indira Gandhi government.
This, in other words, means that the Tamil diaspora was not just the tail of the LTTE. It was an integral and very essential part of the LTTE, since inception. Although India and the Tamil Nadu government financed the LTTE at the incipient stage, the organization’s primary line of funding, for more than three decades, was the Tamil Diaspora mainly based in Europe and North America.
However, it is important to understand that as much as the Tamil Diaspora contributed to the rise of the LTTE in various ways, it also contributed to the downfall of the organization, by failing to identify the monumental blunders the LTTE made in its bloody past. Had the diaspora identified its position and role in the Eelamist struggle, they could very well have made a difference as far as the final outcome of the struggle is concerned.
The general perception was that Prabhakaran was uncontrollable. It’s true that he was not willing to listen to India as he was not depending on India after the late 1980s, in terms of money or arms procurement. He was not willing to listen to ITAK or the TULF, as they were always under the LTTE’s jackboot. ‘International community’ or other super powers were immaterial to him as he knew his ability to manipulate and influence them, in the blink of an eye. But, he was never in a position to avoid the voice of the Tamil Diaspora as he relied on them, in terms of money, arms and managing perception among the international community.
In the aftermath of the July 1983 riots there were two paths before the LTTE and Prabhakaran. The first path was to wage a Guerilla war while adhering to “guerilla ethics” and refraining from civilian targets, akin to the liberation struggles carried out by Fidel Castro or Sandinista guerillas led by Daniel Ortega. Such a struggle would have positioned LTTE in a better position, in the international domain, especially with the outcome of the July 1983 riots.
But Prabhakaran, being the quintessential terrorist he was, chose the second path, which was bestrewn with blood, sheer terror, violence and pernicious crimes against civilians. This was quite evident when he chose to massacre hundreds of Buddhist civilians and monks in the sacred city of Anuradhapura, in May, 1985, approximately two years after the infamous “Black July.”
The Tamil Diaspora, failed to see the far reaching consequences of Prabhakaran’s decision. They failed to realize that the Tamil militancy should have taken the moral high ground, instead of resorting to sheer terrorism and approaching civilian targets. What really happened was the Diaspora happily chose to become the unconditional partner in crime of the LTTE, turning a blind eye to Prabhakaran’s monumental blunders.
The killing of Rajiv Gandhi, as many believe, is another glaring mistake made by the LTTE. However, it took 11 years for the LTTE to admit that Rajiv Gandhi’s killing was a blunder. During the LTTE leader’s press conference in 2002, its Chief Ideologue Anton Balansingham, in Prabhakaran’s presence, indicated that it was a “mistake” on the LTTE’s part. Until then the Tamil Diaspora did its best to justify the LTTE’s disastrous decision, at any cost. As a result of this, India banned the LTTE and was never willing to trust Prabhakaran or any other top level leader of the organization.
After Karuna broke away from the LTTE in 2004, with a considerable number of battle hardened cadres, the LTTE made another blunder by intensifying conscription in the Eastern Province, particularly in Batticaloa. After 2004, there was a spiraling increase in the number of child soldiers recruited by the LTTE. This earned the ire of the people of the North and East, and the LTTE, who claimed to be the sole representatives of Tamils, lost the people’s support to a large extent. When the LTTE intensified the recruitment of child soldiers, plunging innocent Tamils from frying pan into the fire, the diaspora hardly spoke a word against it. They saw children in the North and East as cannon fodder for the LTTE. This rupture between people and the LTTE made a serious debilitating effect during the period between 2004 and 2009. Not only did it earn the ire of ordinary Tamils, it also filled the LTTE battalions with less-trained and ill-spirited soldiers.
Another deadly blunder the LTTE made out of desperation was holding 150000 civilians in captive during the final phase of war. That transformed the military onslaught against the LTTE into a humanitarian operation and a rescue mission to protect civilians from the LTTE. At the same time, the move did not produce any positive result for the LTTE. At the last stage of the war, they provided very brief weapon trainings to civilians and fielded them to fight the SL Army who had restricted the “world’s deadliest terrorist organization” to a tiny strip of land in the Mullaitivu district. The LTTE thought the move would help them win the ‘PR War’ vis-a-vis the Sri Lankan government but it actually turned the tables on the LTTE, playing into the hands of the government!
The Tamil diaspora failed to understand the ground reality. They were never hesitant to call the fleeing civilians traitors and vowed to refrain from extending any help to them. When they had to make a choice between Tamils and the LTTE, they chose the LTTE over ordinary Tamils in the North.
Even today, the diaspora is spending a colossal amount of money on a yearly basis to stage protests and demonstrations against the Sri Lankan government. It would be interesting to see the amount of money they have actually spent to upgrade then living standard of the Tamils in the North vis-a-vis the amount of money they have collected for demonstrations, protests and lobbying. They haven’t shown any willingness to bridge the huge gap prevailing over many matters and cooperate with the Sri Lankan government when it comes to welfare issues of Tamils in the North. The reason for this is quite understandable.
The Tamil diaspora has missed many buses in the past. And it keeps on missing. They turned a blind eye to atrocities against civilians. They never had the courage to speak on behalf of the innocent Tamils, when necessary. They never saw a world beyond the LTTE. And that led to the disastrous end of the very LTTE and its leader. And now, in the same way, they turn a blind eye to the ground reality in the North. And that will further alienate them from the Tamils and make the ‘Diaspora’ look like a set of clowns in eyes of the people in the North.
*The writer is a Sri Lankan journalist who may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org