“…The liberation struggle of the Tamils in Sri Lanka, as unfolded during the last fifty five years through various phases and fronts, has enriched the meaning of liberation as understood by a people as well as help identify the evil forces of oppression against which they have to struggle. It has also made clear the price a people have to pay for their liberation in terms of lives and property as well as identify the destructive resources of the oppressive states and governments. These truths have been learnt once and for all and embedded in the memory of the Tamil nation. Pirabaharan is not only the present national leader standing up for his people against oppressors and challengers, but also the unforgettable architect of a leadership that established the Tamils of Thamil Eelam as a nation with self-respect and self-dignity. We all salute him…”
[see also see also புதிய தமிழ் தேசத்தை நிர்மாணித்து வழிநடத்தும் தலைவரை தமிழினம் பெருமையுடன் வாழ்த்துகின்றது – பேராசிரியர் கலாநிதி பணி. எஸ். ஜே. இம்மானுவேல் and
and For Pirabhakaran, Future Begins at Fifty; a birthday greeting from Sachi Sri Kantha]]
1. Pirabaharan – A Hope For the Tamils and A Challenge for the rest
Tamils of Sri Lanka, living in Thamil Eelam and across the continents, are honouring a man at his 50th. Birthday on 26.11.2004, because he has become the challenging response to their agonies in the hands of the Sinhala oppressive powers as well as their true liberator. While rising up like a giant against all the forces of Sinhala political and military oppressions, he is not only a formidable challenge to the immediate oppressors but also a stumbling block to the self-interest and hidden agenda of the mighty who are aiding and abetting this oppression. The type of military power he has built in defence of his people and land, the type of infra-structures he has already initiated to sustain his people, the type of unity he has shaped between the armed and the political leaderships, the global solidarity of Tamils he has forged, – they all speak eloquently of the force of leadership personified in this man. Hence the liberation that he leads and the leadership that he wields are unique in many ways and write new chapters in the history of liberation and leadership in the world
2. Sinhala oppressions of the Pre-Pirabaharan times
He was born in a Tamil society already internal slaveries like caste system, regionalism and an undue craving for dowries, for academic qualifications and for immovable properties. Already on the eve of Independence, and many years before his birth, had the Tamil leaders smelt the hidden agenda of the Sinhala leaders to seize total power from the British and make Ceylon an exclusively Sinhala Buddhist State. But these Tamil leaders by their background, education and culture had neither the backbone nor the people’s power to cry foul and oppose independence. They fell victims to the mischievous plans and pleadings of the Singhalese and entrusted the future of the Tamils into the goodness of the Singhalese.
Quick on the heals of the British departure, the Ceylonese Government went into operating its hidden agenda of exclusive Sinhala domination – denying citizenship rights to Tamils of Indian origin, state-aided colonisation of traditional Tamil homelands and making Sinhala as the official language of the country discriminating the Tamils in all aspects of education and employment and development. The Tamil leaders, who visited their constituencies in the Northeast mostly at election times were taken aback by the speed of changes and their protests both within and without the parliament failed and fizzled. Sinhala Mob-terror and State-terror made the Tamils run for safety and survival, not one could stand up to that state-aided terror.
Educated and refined democratic leaders of the Tamils panicked. The world did neither condemn nor protest the actions of a “democratic” government and its forces. Pirabaharan was yet unborn and there was no militant opposition to the rowdyism of the Ceylonese State!
3. Born and bred amidst Sinhala brutalities
The post-independence Ceylon with its mob and state-terror, with its cruelties of burning Tamils, their properties and their treasured Public Library, with raping of Tamil women and destruction of Tamil cultural symbols, that was the context and cradle for the birth and growth of young Pirabaharan. His eyes and ears and heart were wide open to the agonizing cries of his people. He grew with a passion for freedom and a determined will to lead his people. Yet he waited for his day, calculated his move and charted out his plan – though painful and shocking to many, yet a beginning had to be made to call off the Sinhala Buddhist brutality to a halt. Tamils had sent the message: enough is enough. And the Sinhala South had woken up to this alarm signal!
4. He stands up as a unique leader for his people
After three decades of his determined struggle, he has gradually won the love and respect of his people the high and the low, the poor and the educated. Even the cautious critics are converging in praise for his leadership. Though the local enemies shudder at his name and label him with the worst of names, he had won the attention of world leaders in a unique manner, as one who can change the destiny of a country and its people. He never bent backwards nor stoop to traditional ways nor connive with the powers that be. He relentlessly stood for the declared cause of his people against the power of the mighty.
Initiating new and alternative ways to restructure a liberating people he has become a challenge to the hypocritical and fallacious ways in much of our socio-political thinking.
Hence for a better understanding and appreciation of his unique personality and leadership, one has to at least scan through the political climate and context of his times, the multi-facetted struggle the Tamils went through, the Sinhala-failures which necessitated his unique leadership and the relevant structures he has built for his people.
5. Tamils pushed to seek an alternative Leadership
Many decades of frustrating experiences within the Sinhala majoritarian democracy that legalized anti-Tamil discriminations and used its Armed forces with impunity to suppress and terrorise all democratic opposition of Tamils paved the way for the emergence of new leadership that is both political and militant vis a vis an oppressive State.
For the Sinhala masses and its leadership, which were beset with paranoid fantasies of a Tamil domination potentially backed by Tamil Nadu, even the very basic demands of the Tamils to live as equal citizens with dignity on that island were interpreted as counter to their „national interests“ namely, their Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism. Any claim for Tamil birth-rights with regard to religion, language, culture and land was interpreted as anti-Buddhist, anti-Sinhala and anti-national and leading to separation or independence or division of the island. Consequently the Sinhala majority, motivated by Sinhala Buddhist national interests, used their full power and over-reacted with extreme measures of bulldozing the parliament with anti-Tamil laws and used the Sinhala Armed forces to put down all democratic protests with brutal force.
When non-violent and democratic protests of Tamils were met with more inhuman laws and escalating brutal force, it was natural that the patience of the Tamil people was pushed by humiliation to its limits and the anger of the Tamil youth grew into seeking a militant response to the state-terror. It was this situation of legalised discrimination and oppression of the Tamils in general, and of the Tamil youth in particular, without any hope of a future with respect to their education and employment, which pushed the youth to wrest the leadership from their own „moderate fathers“ and establish a politico-militant leadership.
6. Misunderstandings about the new leadership
Now many doubts and questions are being raised about this new leadership, which the Sinhala people and their leadership indirectly helped to emerge.
An ignorance about the genesis and the causes for this new Tamil leadership raises many questions and make it difficult for the majority Singhalese and its Government to relate to, talk and handle with this new leadership. There are many, Singhalese and even some Tamils, who think that this leadership has to be militarily defeated, if not destroyed, and the Tamils ‘liberated’ from this militant leadership. The Sinhala Governments have also tried hard, even using under-hand methods, to get an alternative to this Tamil leadership. The Government, side-stepping this leadership, offered attractive enticements to win over some Tamil Members of Parliament who will slavishly support them and with whom they can comfortably „do business“ as in the past. Such Members were often „labeled and exhibited“ by the government as the democratic and moderate forces from among the Tamils. Irrespective of the negligible or no support they had among the Tamils, they were provided with plenty of money, ministerial posts and other privileges and used „as mercenaries and show-cases of moderate Tamil opinion“ by the government. A non-Tamil-speaking man with only a Tamil name was hired to be Foreign Minister to lead a mischievous propaganda tarnishing the image of all Tamils and their militant leadership. But the majority of Tamils have rejected them as betrayers of the Tamil cause. History will judge them.
Hence the majority Singhalese and their government, if they want a realistic peaceful solution to the conflict and war, must make an effort to understand the Tamil leadership, as a new and alternative leadership, without attempting to destroy it. In the process of searching and reaching a true democratic solution, this Tamil leadership will abide more and more by the genuine categories of democracy and human rights. And in the same time and by the same process, the Sinhala leadership will hopefully be liberated from their corrupt democracy, mass and blatant violation of the human rights of a people and desist from rowdyism inside and outside parliament.
7. Corrupt democracies demand alternative leadership
Many of the difficulties the so called democrats have in understanding the new Tamil leadership are also due to their limited understanding of democracy and leadership. By their education and upbringing they are enslaved in their own pro-western and colonial ways of thinking. They tend to make absolute their own forms of parliamentary-democracy as the one and only form of democracy. They have no considerations for the corruption and the injustices happening within those democracies. Democracy all agree is the best form of government we have at the present time. But the different ways in which this democracy is practiced leave much room for corruptions and injustices. Some of them have produced the worst of dictators. Those who were brought up in the western schools of thought often overlook the post-colonial developments and the new problems in the third world. They read everything through their traditional categories of thought and arrogantly pass judgments from their home ground about distant events and realities. Hence a genuine effort is needed by all those who wish to understand, accept and handle with leaderships emerging as a result of corruption within democracies and failed-states.
The Sinhala majoritarian democracy, left behind by the British, has been changing the constitution often to suit only the majority at the expense of the minorities. It has failed to solve the ethnic problem within its parliament for the last fifty years. It has tried to solve a political problem by resorting to state-terrorism and reckless war against its own people. Thus it qualifies itself for a failed-state. And it is in this climate of a lack of true democracy and sincere leadership that an alternative leadership of the Tamils emerged.
8. Humiliation and Rejection of Tamil MPs
The art of governing has not been an exclusive privilege of the elite and the college-educated. In fact such men have made some of the worst blunders in history. In our own history and in our long experience of the struggle, we Tamils have painfully learnt of some educated elites who have betrayed the Tamil cause for their own personal profits.
Besides even the good Tamil leaders have undergone humiliation and frustration within the Sinhala democracy. The post-colonial leadership fostered by the British period of education and parliamentary system brought out highly qualified and internationally recognized Tamils, mostly based in Colombo and representing the Tamils of the Northeast. The least qualified of those could only be a lawyer. With clarity and eloquence they expressed and argued for the rights of the Tamils, but they were either ignored or heckled down to their seats by Sinhala extremists. Thus there was no purpose served in sending enlightened Tamil Members to the Parliament in Colombo. Even today one can see the bad behaviour of elected Sinhala MPs within Parliament.
The present generation of Tamil youth who have taken up the leadership are promising because they have had bitter experiences of the earlier leadership. Let us not rush to make biased judgments about their style and competence at governance. We welcome the so called educated arm-chair critics from the South to look beyond their newspapers and see how well the LTTE, even in the absence of basic facilities, is running a de facto government in Wanni.
9. Leadership emerging against State Rejections
Those in the South who refer to the LTTE as a rebel-child of the Northeast, forget their own contribution to the emergence of such a leadership. Who fathered such a leadership? Much more than the politics of the Tamil Congress or the Federal Party, or the combined TULF, it was the adamant and arrogant attitudes of the successive Sinhala governments and the oppressive and violent actions of its Forces. These demanded a new leadership from the Tamils to face the Sinhala army of occupation as well as to articulate forcefully Tamil aspirations.
The Tamils were well known for their hard work, intelligence, obedience and non-violence. Even in the face of repeated Sinhala mob and state violence, they did not give up their non-violent satyagrahas as taught by Mahatma Gandhi. But such non-violent and parliamentary protests were treated by the Singhalese as weakness and more violence was heaped on the Tamils for many decades. When Sinhala discriminations degenerated into violence, death and destruction and even taking away their education and culture of which they were very proud of ( standardization and burning of the Public Library) the Tamil youth could not accept any more the Sinhala violence. They were driven against the wall without a future education, employment and culture to live by. They retaliated to protect the land, the people and their heritage from State-terror.
An oppressed people have the right to strike back at the oppressor with all their might and with whatever means in their disposal. The oppressor has no right to dictate or lay down rules as to how the fallen victim must react. Hence the actions of the emergent leadership in its beginnings resorting to all possible means – bank robberies and stealing of weapons – should be understood as helpless victims resorting to counter-terrorism against a state-terrorism.The people of the Northeast were never a chaotic mass without direction, purpose and determination. They are not devoid of a consensus in ideology and suffering. Their long suffering against injustices has bound them together as a people with strong determination and stamina to stand up and face the forces of oppression. The personification of this determination born out of long suffering to face the enemy is the new leadership of the Tamils in the Northeast.
10. A Leadership consistent in their Aspirations
Whether one likes it or not the de facto situation is that the LTTE has emerged to leadership, admittedly not through the parliamentary elections the South is familiar with, but through an armed struggle against betrayers among its own people and oppressive forces of the state. It has established itself,
(i) As the only group which has consistently articulated and still articulates
the genuine aspirations of the Tamils in the Northeast,
(ii) As the only organization protecting the People against the artillery shelling and the aerial bombings carried out by the State.
(iii) As the only group that has sacrificed so many thousands of its cadres
for the noble Cause of Tamil freedom
(iv) As the only group that has set up the infra-structures (police, courts,
education, transport etc.) of governance for human life to continue
against all odds
(v) As the only group that has been acknowledged even by the elected Tamil Parliamentarians as „the sole representatives of the Tamil people“
After a long history of Tamil attempts, marked by suffering and deaths at the hands of Sinhala thugs and soldiers, and after so many agreements and pacts were unilaterally torn up by the Sinhala Governments, after a series of deceptions and broken promises, the Tamils have at last helped emerge a form of leadership that the Sinhala Majority and its Government are finding difficult to deal with, if not buy or win over. Until recently the Sinhala Governments either bought over the Tamil leadership with some ministerial privileges, or pacts and promises unfulfilled or kept them watering in their mouth and clinging to their feet with a promise of sharing power in the future. But that is no more possible with the present leadership.
Neither heavy loss of lives, nor military defeats, nor mounting criticism about its moral conduct, nor international threats from major powers, nor the temptations of power from the Sinhala government could wean away this Tamil leadership from its aspirations and commitments. Sinhala Governments have changed and their leaders have adopted varying tactics and offers, but the LTTE leadership has stood firm on its ground for its ideals and commitments.
The convictions, consistency and firmness in aspiring for those goals do not
mean that they are closed for negotiation, dialogue and arriving at a just and reasonable peaceful solution to the conflict. No. Not at all.
11. A principled Tamil Leadership
It is the long and frustrating experience of the Tamils that many things promised, agreed upon and even gazetted by the Government were not implemented by the army or the bureaucrats in Colombo. The Sinhala leadership when subjected to the slightest opposition from extremists, has abrogated pacts or gone back on agreements. A Sinhala leadership whose promises are again subject to the protest marches and shouts of a few extremist elements, is not a leadership that can handle agreements on behalf of people. And on the Tamil side too we have had leaders who lightly gave into the temptations of power and privileges and finally got nowhere. Hence this new Tamil leadership, conscious of the failures of the Sinhala and Tamil leaderships, is determined to have a principled way of action and do business with the Sinhala regime, not only for their own people but also for the good of the whole country.
The Singhalese governments tend to accuse the LTTE of having betrayed their trust and gone back to its warpath. They say that the LTTE must be exterminated or weakened before any meaningful action is taken for the good of the Tamil people. This argument of the Sinhala leadership only shows that they are forgetting their long history of failures by going back on their word. Such arguments only exhibits their helplessness to do business with a principled and determined Tamil leadership.
12. A politico-military Leadership with a parliamentary wing
The Governments, during the first three decades of the ethnic conflict used their Armed forces to put down democratic Tamil opposition in the Northeast. Later the same Army was empowered by the notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act to act against Tamil militancy with impunity, thus increasing the role of the Army in the ethnic conflict. At present no real political solution can be found without the government heavily depending on the Armed forces. Tamils know by their own experience how the Army personnel have their own agenda and disagree with their own government. They react even against gazetted government decisions e.g. lifting the economic embargoes against the Tamils in 1995. This power conflict between the government and its armed forces will remain a hindrance in arriving at any true and stable solution. Against this situation, the politics and the military force of the Tamils are harmonized as one politico-military leadership of the LTTE, with a parliamentary wing in the Tamil National alliance (TNA).
13. A Leadership undeterred by false propaganda of the Government
The Government of Chandrika was bending backwards to justify its „war for peace“ against the Tamils. International propaganda was intensified by her Foreign Minister to get the Tamil expatriate organizations banned as „front organizations of the LTTE“. Slogans like „Let’s have a war as a way to Peace“, „Let’s liberate the Tamils of Jaffna from the terrorist activities of the LTTE“, „We wanted Peace, but the LTTE asked for war”, „Our War is against the LTTE and not against the Tamils” – such false statements were used lavishly even by the Sri Lankan embassies to demonize and tarnish the good name of the Tamils and their struggle. But such malicious propaganda never weakened the Tamil Leadership nor lessened their commitment to the struggle. On the contrary, the Tamil leadership survived all these false propaganda and the Tamils of Tamil Eelam have grown in their togetherness, sympathy and solidarity. And LTTE have reached the status of being accepted, even by other elected representatives of the people, „as the sole representatives of the Tamil people“
14. A Leadership not gloating in mere military victory
An adamant and prolonged refusal on the part of the Sinhala majority and its successive Governments to accept the true situation about the Tamils in the Northeast and their contemptuous disregard for the LTTE leadership have resulted in Government’s desperate option for escalating war. Though leaders like President Premadasa have told the Singhalese people repeatedly that there is no victor in this war, yet the people without counting the loss of life and property, cry out for a war-victory that will quench their thirst for power. The majority are so excited, angered and affected by certain setbacks in the war that they think only of war-victories to wipe out the LTTE and keep up their pride.
The shameful defeat of the government forces, as it happened in LTTE’s Operation codenamed „Leap of the Tiger” wakes up the Government only temporarily to its senses. Even the dead bodies of Sinhala soldiers, from very poor families, returning home in plastic bags did not make an impact for good on the power hungry leaders in the Capital. The LTTE in spite of its resounding military victories offered unilateral cease fires to the Government. But the latter arrogantly refused to reciprocate them. Dead bodies of Sinhala soldiers unaccepted by the Government on flimsy grounds of deterioration were burnt with military honours by the LTTE. This shows clearly the deep commitment of the Tamil leadership to fallen soldiers as against the Sinhala military which bulldozed to the ground the Cemetery of the fallen heroes in Kopay. Shame!
15. Tamils aim at a cleaner Parliamentary Democracy
In recent times the Tamils have seen a new brand of democracy and democratic elections emerging in the „democratic south“ as well as in Army-controlled areas of the Northeast. The Sinhala political parties have in recent times, after the Wyamba elections, appeared to have woken up a little to the shameful corruptions inhibiting their elections and governments, but hardly anything has been done to remedy it
Tamils value and respect democracy as practiced in some countries of the western world. But from the cruel experiences they have had with the Sri Lankan brand of democracy, they are not enamoured of it. The present Tamil leadership is a de facto leadership of the Tamil struggle and is not in a hurry to embrace a pseudo democracy imposed by the Sinhala South. Looking at the level of corruption infecting the Sri Lankan majoritarian democracy in its elections, its bureaucracy, even Judiciary, the Armed Forces and the Police, the Tamils who suffered for many decades under these corruptions, are not in a hurry to fall prey to such forms of governance. Sri Lanka must not try to impose their forms of governance on the Tamils as if their (Sinhala) forms are idealistically suited for the Tamils. Let the South free itself from the weaknesses it has fallen into. And we Tamils, conscious that we were temporarily forced to go into an alternative style of leadership for our liberation, will endeavour to come up with a cleaner and better and effective form of governance, may be, to the envy of others.
16. Creating the right conditions for Democracy and Human Rights
Once conditions are normalized for Tamil life and Tamils can live in their own land with dignity, a higher quality of democracy and human rights will definitely set in. Without rectifying the violation of the basic rights of a people for life, security, food, clothing and shelter the Government wants to discuss highly complicated permanent solutions. The Tamils are not prepared for endless political discussion with the threat of war hanging over them, with insufficient food, clothing and shelter. Hence they demand normalization of life as the first need.
Till then this de facto leadership has to be understood, acknowledged and encouraged to incorporate gradually the ingredients of true parliamentary democracy, namely human rights, justice and freedom. But until civilian life returns to normalcy, the government has to deal with the LTTE without getting behind flimsy excuses. The government cannot with an air of superiority talk-down to the LTTE or preach to them democracy and human rights without practicing them.
17. Tamils reject Pseudo Leaderships
In their inability to deal with the leadership put out by the Tamils of the Northeast, many Singhalese still entertain the wish for meaningful negotiation with some pseudo Tamil representatives, by side-tracking the LTTE. Many Singhalese, even at this late stage, hope for a weakening or division of the LTTE, if not its complete disappearance so that they can promote the emergence of some pseudo Tamil leaders with whom they can do business.
There are those Tamil groups who initially were militant, but in recent years have become armed-politicians supportive of the Government, even to the extent of betraying the struggle. They have managed to enter the Parliament through the backdoor by buying a handful of votes with money given by the government- and that too with the help of the army. Though they cannot speak for the Tamils, the government exposes them as „Tamil democrats“.
The Sinhala majority and their political parties have tended to devalue the Tamil Struggle as mere terrorism and tried to contain the militant reaction of the Tamils with international help. Time has come when the new Tamil leadership after showing its military capabilities is showing its political acumen and readiness for a political solution. The racism and feudalism inherent in the party leaderships of the Singhalese are tested before the world whether they will rise up to statesmanship in finding a democratic and just solution for the ethnic problem.
18. A Leadership founded on convictions of the people
It was left to the LTTE to fight state-terrorism with their guns as well as strengthening the political aspiration for liberation among the people. Even at the height of military victories, the LTTE proclaimed the big difference between the state-forces which fight for their salary and the Tamil youth who fight for their convictions. The leader of the LTTE has repeatedly claimed that their strength lies not in the weapons they possess and the military victories they gain, but in the deep conviction that their cause is just and right. This conviction kept growing as the people went through their long suffering under the iron heels of the state forces.
It has taken so many decades for the Sri Lankan Government to realize that they cannot by their numerical majority or military strength subjugate a people. This temptation is still present among many Singhalese either to encourage an internecine war of self-destruction within the ranks of the LTTE, as occasioned by the break-away of Karuna recently from the Eastern command, or to invite some foreign powers like India or the USA to rush the LTTE. But convictions cannot be erased off by military strength.
19. A politico-militant leadership with a voice in parliament
The LTTE is not convinced of the democratic nature of the Parliament of Sri Lanka, because it is a majoritarian democracy capable of bulldozing over the rights of the non-Singhalese. Nor does it believe in the constitution passed by such Sinhala majoritarian democracies without the consent of the Tamils. Nevertheless it wants to send a clear message to Sri Lanka and to the world in a language spoken and understood by the so called democratic world. For this purpose it fielded proxy-Candidates for the Parliamentary elections of 2004, gave a manifesto and campaigned for the election. The resounding victory of the Tamil National Alliance and the routing of the others have proved to the world clearly the strength of the LTTE leadership among the people.
It is the Tamil people who have freely and overwhelmingly voted for the Tamil National Alliance and their manifesto acknowledging LTTE as the sole representatives of the Tamils fighting for the inalienable right of self-determination of the Tamil people and for their traditional homeland.
Hence the LTTE leadership, is one that has emerged from below, from among the people, soaked in the conviction of their ideals and strengthened to fight with their lives for those ideals. Thus the parting of ways in 1976 to follow a parliamentary path and a politico-military path has again closed ranks to stand up for one ideal under one leadership. And this leadership has a voice in the Sri Lankan Parliament too.
20. We salute the Architect of the new Tamil Nation
The liberation struggle of the Tamils in Sri Lanka, as unfolded during the last fifty five years through various phases and fronts, has enriched the meaning of liberation as understood by a people as well as help identify the evil forces of oppression against which they have to struggle. It has also made clear the price a people have to pay for their liberation in terms of lives and property as well as identify the destructive resources of the oppressive states and governments. These truths have been learnt once and for all and embedded in the memory of the Tamil nation.
Pirabaharan is not only the present national leader standing up for his people against oppressors and challengers, but also the unforgettable architect of a leadership that established the Tamils of Thamil Eelam as a nation with self-respect and self-dignity. We all salute him.
Prof. Dr. S. J. Emmanuel
26 November 2004