When the Tamil Gandhians came marching in with guns -Part IV
Posted on January 3rd, 2016
H. L. D. Mahindapala
When on May 14, 1976 the Tamil leadership, headed by S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, the father of Tamil separatism, passed the Vadukoddai Resolution , declaring war on the nation, they never expected to end up in Nandikadal. They were expecting one of two things : 1. to win a separate state as stated in the Vadukoddai Resolution or 2. to put pressure on the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) through violence to get their demand of an autonomous / federal state – the nearest possible to Eelam. But as subsequent events proved it was a total miscalculation. Chelvanayakam-led leadership made two mistakes in going for a military solution : a) the unintended consequence was to let the leadership slip from their grip in stages until it fell into the hands of the untried, unknown, unreliable gangs of Tamil youth who went berserk, drunk with the power of the guns in their possession and (b) it was the biggest political gamble of Chelvanayakam, who was deceptively playing the dual role of Dr. Jekyll (the self-proclaimed Gandhian) and Mr. Hyde (the militant Vadukoddian), hoping that Mr. Hyde could triumph over Dr. Jekyll in the end.
When he presided over the Vadukoddai Convention of the TULF in 1976 he had abandoned his pose of being a Gandhian and committed himself fully to the military solution defined in the Vadukoddai Resolution. The Tamil leadership was playing a duplicitous game and misleading the Tamil people when they were pretending to be non-violent Gandhians whose pre-planned agenda was to go for the military solution laid down in the Vadukoddai Resolution. Led by Chelvanayakam the Tamil leadership wanted to have it both ways : on the one hand they proclaimed that their “movement will be all non-violent” (Chelvanayakam in Parliament 19 November, 1976) and, on the other, Chelvanayakam and the entire Tamil leadership called on “the Tamil nation in general and the Tamil youth in particular to come forward to throw themselves fully in the sacred fight for freedom and to flinch not till the goal of a sovereign socialist state of Tamil Eelam is reached.” (Vadukoddai Resolution, May 14, 1976).
The tacit arrangement was for the LTTE to operate underground parallel to the TULF’s main stream politics. “Amirthalingam (the successor to Chelvanayakam and also the real patron of the Tamil militants) appears to have considered the TULF and Prabhakaran’s LTTE as two sides of the same coin, one political and ideological and the other armed and military. AS later years proved, Amirthalingam was too naive to think thus.” (p.45, Inside an Elusive Mind, Prabhakaran, M. R. Narayan Swamy, Vijitha Yapa Publications, Colombo 2003.)
Chelvanayakam, the Gandhian, cannot be absolved from the responsibility of opting for this military solution because “the choice of words was approved by Chelvanayakam.” (p.128 , S. J. V. Chelvanayakam and the Crisis of Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism, 1947 – 1977, A Political Biography – A. J. Wilson, Lake House Bookshop. 1993). The Tamil leadership opted for the military solution in the Vadukoddai Resolution not knowing which way the dice would fall. There was no guarantee that those who go for military solutions could win wars. In the end, the Vadukoddai Resolution ran through a long and devious route to total defeat.
It was “a collective decision taken only by the Ceylon Tamil component of the TULF, that is the Federal Party and the All Ceylon Tamil Congress.”( p.128 – Ibid). S. Thondaman, leader of the Ceylon Workers Congress, refused to join this bandwagon of a separate state leaving only the Northern Tamils of Jaffna to “throw themselves fully in the sacred fight” without flinching, as defined in the Vadukoddai Resolution.
Once the Jaffna Tamil leadership decided to go down the violent path declared in the Vadukoddai Resolution they became prisoners of their own machinations. They were hoisted by their own petard. They thought they were laying the trap for the “Sinhala government” but the very first victims of the Resolution were those who voted for it. They were stunned, confused and eventually eliminated by the violence unleashed by them in their Vadukoddai Resolution. Some Tamil leaders were marginalised politically and some were eliminated physically. Either way the Old Guard lost.
This reveals the risk of abandoning the democratic stream, however tardy and conservative it may be for change. There is greater leverage for leaders to be in control of politics in the democratic stream than in the volatile and chaotic politics of violence. Seasoned politicians in command lose their grip on power when unmanageable youth, armed with guns, edge them out and take control of democratic politics in pursuance of radical goals. Thondaman retained his grip on the Tamils of his electorate in the central hills because he did not opt for violence. But the Vadukoddians lost the plot and their lives too.
But more than that, the Tamil leadership lost their moral authority because they had to justify the violence they generated by legitimising the violence of Tamil youth. Initially they took the moral high ground by accusing the Sri Lankan government of violating human rights. But after their “boys” took to violence they found themselves in a moral dilemma not knowing how to condemn the GOSL without condemning the brutalities of “the boys”. When Vadukoddai violence turned brutal with each passing day they were forced to go along with the violence they legitimised, engineered, financed and directed. Tamil violence took a turn for the worse when it targeted indiscriminately not only the Sinhalese but also their own people.
The Tamil “boys” were expected to train their guns on the external enemy. Instead they turned their guns inward targeting their own kith and kin. However, the initial successes of the LTTE made the “boys” look like the answer to the cause of Tamil separatism. Their stature as “liberators” rose with each death and destruction. With each killing Tamil propaganda cranked up the image of the “boys” as “liberators”. Killings also strengthened the political and financial bases of the LTTE. Killing those who opposed Vadukoddian politics was endorsed as the politically correct act necessary for success. Trigger-happy Prabhakaran was hailed as the “liberator” because he topped the list of killers. He became the Clint Eastwood of Jaffna fixing the dissident the Tamils. After his first shot which killed Alfred Duraiyappah eliminating the other Tamil rivals was a piece of cake. The arrogance that he acquired with his ability to kill at will went to his head. He had no space in his head for any moral considerations.
The Tamil Diaspora was over the moon. They interpreted and marketed each death as the increasing power of the Tamils to win Eelam. It was seen an invincible force. Escalating deaths and destruction motivated the Tamils in the Diaspora to fill the war chest of Prabhakaran without raising any questions. The ghoulish NGO ideologues went to town trading corpses to the highest bidders in the foreign-funded human rights market. A new breed of moral hypocrites mushroomed in the NGO circuit like the Negombo women hired to cry at Tamil funerals. Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu was crowing regularly about the soldiers deserting the Army implying that they were not committed like the LTTE cadres to win the war. NGO strategy was to demoralise the Security Forces and to boost the LTTE cadres as the force destined to win.
Jehan (Pacha) Perera was lecturing to the soldiers, with the blessings of President Chandrika Kumaratunga, the Commander-in-Chief, that they must negotiate because the invincible Tamil force cannot be defeated. He even went to the extent of conferring a doctorate on the LTTE ideologue, Anton Balasingham, knowing that the latter had not earned it from any university. When I questioned him in Geneva he sheepishly admitted he was lying and promised to be truthful in future. But he came back to Colombo and continued to lie just to curry favour with Balasingham. Radhika Coomaraswamy’s ICES (Incestuous Cabal for Eelamist Sycophants) was churning out publications and holding seminars to denigrate the Sinhala-Buddhists with the sole aim of projecting the Tamils as victims of the “Sinhala governments”. She, of course, wrote a piece in the Daily News moaning about the Tamil Boko Harams forcibly dragging the Tamil children into a futile war. That only helped her to become a top bureaucrat at the UN in charge of children in war and not the Tamil parents crying their eyes out waiting for their children who never returned home.
But privately some Tamils who were lying low were concerned about the loss of the collapse of morality in the Tamil society. There was no rationale for Tamils to kill Tamils. The raison d’etre for seeking a separate state was to guarantee the security of the Tamils. But the Tamil youth, armed by the elders who fathered the Vadukoddai Resolution, were cock-a-hoop, tasting power that came out of the gun. They had no inhibitions about killing because their elders had endorsed it as the ethical / justifiable course to achieve political goals. Even Tamil churchmen were threatening to construct new Tamil theologies, in the name of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, for the Tamils to carry on killing, without flinching until they achieve Eelam. First they targeted the Tamil leadership, then the Tamil people, and finally the Tamil children. Tamils’ reliance on Vadukoddai politics and violence blinded them to the alternative possibilities. It was their unrealistic commitment to Eelam-or-nothing politics that dragged them to Nandikadal.
The Vadukoddai Resolution and the violence that flowed from it painted the Tamil leadership into a corner from which they could not get out. Tamils killing Tamils – and they killed more than all the Indian and the Sri Lankan forces put together — exposed the lie of being victims of “genocidal Sinhala governments”. Vadukoddian violence targeting Tamil civilians and children knocked the bottom out of the argument that they were forced to take up the gun because of the failure of the “Sinhala Government” to give them security. Ironically, in the end, it was the vilified “Sinhala government” that gave security to the Tamil MPs and other Tamils hunted by the LTTE assassins.
The Vadukoddai military solution proved to be worse than the disease they complained about. The Tamils were dragged into Vadukoddai violence promising that their security will be guaranteed by the “liberators”. But under the jackboots of Prabhakaran they lost whatever security they had under the GOSL. They had to wait till the Security Forces breached the human shield and set them free to re-enter civilized society and regain their humanity by starting a new life. Tamil arguments advanced to pursue a military solution collapsed because of two reasons: 1. Vadukoddai Resolution made them victims of their own violence and 2. Tamil violence took them nowhere. In passing the Vadukoddai Resolution the Tamil leadership uncorked the evil Tamil genie locked inside the peninsular bottle.
Inherent Tamil arrogance and hate of the “other” blinded them to the realities unfolding before their own eyes. The first lesson was driven home starkly to the leadership when Velupillai Prabhakaran fired his first shot in his war by killing Alfred Duraiyappah. The Chelvanayakam-Amirthalingam leadership read it as a triumphant sign of the Tamil youth throwing themselves fully into the fight for Eelam without flinching. It was hailed as the first step in the shape of politics to come. But the more realistic political analysts saw it differently. I. R. Ariyaratnam, Secretary of the Communist Party, Jaffna, in conversation with the leader of the TULF, Appapillai Amirthalingam, his back-door neighbour in Jaffna, expressed his strong disapproval of the murder of Alfred Duraiyappah, Mayor of Jaffna, by the militant youth. Amirthalingam responded: “What else can you do with him?” Taken aback the Communist responded: “Today it is Duraiyappah. One day they will come for you.” (p. 44 – The Arrogance of Power, Myths, Decadence and Murder, University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna), July 2001, Rajan Hoole, )
Ariyaratnam was not only realistic but also prophetic. And when the LTTE assassins came Amirthalingam was a sitting duck. He went round the world, campaigning in pockets of the Tamil Diaspora, hailing the gun-toting Tamil youths as “our boys”. He was banking on the “boys” to deliver what they could not get through other means, including the international community. He was fully aware of this reality facing him. He had traipsed down the corridors of power of the Western foreign ministries to canvass for a separate state. On his return he told M. Sivasithamparam, his successor, that the world is not ready, willing or able to give them their Eelam. But he did not act on that reality.
Deluded by his own racist arrogance and fanaticism he misled the Tamil people into believing that Eelam was attainable. Like the other Vadukoddians he was hoping to ride on the backs of the Tamil youth to power. But the Tamil youth had a political agenda of their own. With the gun in their hands they had become a power in their own right. They were no longer dependent on the old Tamil leadership for anything. In fact, the Old Guard was rejected by the youth as failures. The first born children of the Vadukoddai Resolution were determined to go their own way. While the fortunes of “the boys” rose to new heights the powers of old Tamil leadership declined commensurately. It was the TULF that was hoping to ride on the backs of “the boys”. But it was “the boys” who took over the reins from the TULF and directed peninsular politics to an intransigent and implacable extremity. A new leadership took over from the ageing TULF.
The importance of leadership in determining the course of history cannot be underestimated. The leadership roles of D. S. Senanayake and S. Thondaman laid the solid foundations for the constructive and pragmatic paths taken by their two communities in facing the challenges that confronted them. Both opted to co-exist peacefully in the democratic main stream without veering into unmanageable violence, endangering life, liberty and the pursuit of desirable and realisable goals. If, for instance, Thondaman decided to gamble and went along with the violence prescribed in the Vadukoddai Resolution he would not only have lost his leadership and probably his life too but also caused irreparable damage to his community by placing them at the mercy of ruthless killers. He would have put the clock back by at least fifty years for his community. His main aim was to stabilise his community by winning citizenship rights and uplifting their living conditions. He achieved both without the Vadukoddai violence. The tragedy of peninsular politics is in their arrogance which made them believe that they had the power to dictate their terms to the rest of the nation through the gun. It is the Tamil people who had to pay for the misguided arrogance of their leaders – from G. G. Ponnambalam-Chelvanayakam to Prabhakaran.
The dirt road that runs from Vadukoddai to Nandikadal is not too long though the rag-tag army of the Tamils took 33 years to get there. And when the Tamils reached their end they discovered that they had been misled all the way by their leaders. And when the disillusioned people voted with their feet showing their disapproval their leader shot the fleeing Tamils. The Tamils were destined to fail not because of any fault of their own but because they were not blessed with leaders like D. S. Senanayake and Thondaman who could guide them to co-exist in peace with their fellow-man.
To be continued