Rise and Fall of the LTTE - An Overview
By: Dr.Rajasingham Narendran
(February 07, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) Sri Lankan armed forces have almost ended the capacity of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) to engage in conventional war in the near future. They may also succeed in severely curtailing attempts by the LTTE to resort to sabotage, terrorism and socio-economic disruptions, subsequently. They have also recovered almost the entirety of the territory once held by the LTTE. These achievements, contrary to the expectations of many, have not only attracted the attention of the world, but also its implicit support. However, the plight of the 250,000 Tamil civilians, believed held by the LTTE in the jungles of Mullaitivu is weighing heavy on the world’s conscience. How the Sri Lankan government and armed forces will deal with the issue of these civilians, is being scrutinized closely by a concerned world and the Tamil-speaking people at large.
The LTTE which took pride in comparing the heroism of its cadres with those portrayed in the verses in Purananuru (Sangam Tamil Literature), has chosen to ignore that these wars of yore were fought in accordance with the prevailing rules of war, away from locations where women, children, the aged and livestock were not exposed to the accompanying brutality and fallout. The LTTE claim these civilians are staying in the vortex of war of their own accord and have sought its protection does not hold water.
Only those closely associated with the LTTE or have benefited from being aligned with it would have reasons to do so. The LTTE tactic to forestall the advance of the armed forces, cynically and unconscionably using the trapped civilians and the impending humanitarian disaster as tools, has backfired in the face of the determination of the government to proceed regardless of humanitarian consequences.
To have expected humanitarian considerations for Tamil civilians will thwart the government push for victory, was a serious miscalculation- probably the last, by the LTTE. Sri Lankan governments were not bothered by humanitarian considerations with regard to even Sinhala civilians and Buddhist monks in their mission to crush the JVP insurrections! I have been told by senior police officers of that period how brutal and inhuman the counter - insurgency operations were. The Sri Lankan government cannot be accused of discrimination against Tamils in this instance!
The days of the LTTE are over. It will be history soon, much to the lament of many Tamils who had hoped for deliverance through it. It is time to give the whole thought process that resulted in the birth of the LTTE and sustained it through the years a decent burial. All Tamils have to shed tears at the impending demise of the LTTE, because it had offered at one stage the best hope for the Tamils in Sri Lanka. At the same time, the Tamils have to also heave a sigh of relief that what had evolved into a 'Monster' with time is being exorcized from their lives.
The LTTE should also realize its days are numbered and it is of no use to the Tamils any longer. It should not prolong the agony of the Tamils any more. A historical moment has passed. The bus has been missed. Tamils have to seek a new path to recover their place and rights in Sri Lanka and bring forth a new leadership to take them on this path. The Tamil paramilitary groups and remnants of parties like the TULF (Tamil United Liberation Front) and TNA (Tamil National Alliance) should not be permitted to fill the space vacated by the LTTE. New blood, new ideas and a new style of politics should become the order of the day for Tamils.
Eloquence, rhetoric and violence, should be replaced by a clear vision, definable objectives, well thought out plans and programs to achieve these. We have to have the right to be both Tamils and Sri Lankans. The north and east should be the Tamil cultural heartlands, while yet being integrated with the rest of Sri Lanka. Tamils should welcome any one who wants to live amongst them in the north and east, while also demanding their right to live anywhere they want in Sri Lanka with security and dignity. This should be made unequivocally clear to the Sinhala polity.
The LTTE can redeem itself from a harsher judgment of history by letting the civilians it holds hostage go and declaring an end to hostilities. Junior cadres should be permitted to surrender. Prabaharan and the senior cadres have to make their choices, considering the Indian and Sri Lankan governments will demand their pound of flesh.
I personally hope magnanimity, graciousness and forgiveness – characteristics of our religio-cultural heritage-will prevail among those who consider themselves the ‘Victors’. The ‘Victors’, have also much to answer for. The LTTE is a creature they fathered and helped nurture at various times. To paraphrase Christ, “Let those who have not sinned throw the first stone”. Those who fought on behalf of the LTTE through conviction or coercion deserve our respect and compassion. They were victims of circumstances, beyond their control. Those who have sacrificed their lives fighting for the LTTE should also command our respect, as much as the personnel of the Sri Lankan armed forces who sacrificed the lives in the battle fields.
The LTTE cadres fought and died for a cause, as much as the men and women in the police and armed forces who have died for a cause they were called upon to fight. Tamils should be also made to feel the victors, as they have sacrificed the most in their quest for human dignity. The ability of the Sinhala polity to respond to this need, will decide the fate of Sri Lanka in the long term.
Tamils were an unwanted people in Sri Lanka and a people under siege, despite having been in the Island for thousands of years, when the LTTE was born. The freedom and rights, independence from colonial rule should have guaranteed were denied to the Tamils. Benign British colonial rule was replaced by a pernicious Sinhala colonial rule. Tamils were forced to pay the price for what the Sinhala polity perceived as colonial discrimination against them as a people. The Tamils were hapless victims of colonial rule, as much as the Sinhalese were. Tamils were forced to feel alien in their own land by their fellow citizens, in the name of ameliorating Sinhala sectarian grievances.
Tamils were a people insulted, brutalized and marginalized at every turn. Their survival was at the mercy of the Sinhala majority. There were organized riots staged at regular intervals against them, in which the Sinhala politicians, mobs, police, armed forces and the government played significant roles. Tamils, who were resident outside the north and east, many for long years, were the victims of these riots. They were killed, maimed, injured and insulted; property burnt and looted; forced to live in refugee camps on hand outs; and shipped like cattle back to the north and east by sea and road. They were forced to understand they had no place not only in the Sinhala heartland but also in the Island as a whole. They were insulted at every turn during the so-called periods of normalcy. The mispronunciation of the Sinhala word for bucket- Bhaldiya, led to serious injury and death to many (Tamils have difficulty pronouncing the ‘Bha’ sound). Trains bound for the north and east were attacked regularly and Tamil passengers assaulted and maimed. The state had deliberately abdicated its responsibility to ensure security to a section of its citizens!
Employment in the government services previously available to Tamils dried up overnight. Tamils, who were already in the government services, were denied promotions and when in senior positions rendered ineffective by the insubordination of their Sinhala juniors.
The rigorous implementation of the Sinhala –only policy, rendered Tamils functionally illiterate. Higher educational opportunities were also denied to the qualified overnight, because they were Tamils. The lands, Tamils and Tamil-speaking Muslims had lived on for centuries were being colonized with Sinhalese by the government. This was perceived as an attempt to change demographics in the context of what was happening to Tamils elsewhere in the country.
Tamil citizens of Indian origin were stripped of their franchise and rendered stateless. Constitutions were changed without the consent of the minorities and provisions in the Soulbury Constitution, protecting minorities, were unilaterally removed. Tamil demands for self-governance and power sharing were ignored and ridiculed. There were no investments in infrastructure and industry in the north and east.
Temples where they worshipped were being vandalized or destroyed. Even Lord Ganesh was sent for a sea bath in Trincomalee (‘Gana deviyo naanda giya’)! The Jaffna library was burnt by the police under the direction of cabinet ministers. The brutality the armed forces and police unleashed on the north and east to suppress the nascent rebellion added spice to a simmering brew. The state in these instances was denying a section of its citizens the rights to equal citizenship and opportunities. The LTTE, among many other Tamil militant groups emerged from this ‘Witches brew’ and wreaked their own brand of violence on the national as a whole, including the Tamils.
The Federal Party (FP) and it successor, the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF ) played a major role in touting separation and an independent Tamil Ealam, as a solution to the problems Tamil faced in Sri Lanka. The eloquence and fiery rhetoric of the Tamil politicians of the day, given the prevailing circumstances in the country, whipped up nationalism among the Tamils to a high pitch and set Tamil youth on the path of militancy.
The Tamil politicians of the day had neither a burning desire for an independent Tamil Ealam nor the will to fight for it. They had no plans on how to achieve it. They thought it was a demand that would jolt the Sinhala polity to lend an ear to their grievances. They also did not have an alternative path for the Tamils. They were bankrupt of ideas and had become effete. The Sinhala polity was set on an irreversible course and was in no mood to pay attention to Tamil grievances or act with foresight. The Sinhala leadership had formulated a vision for a monolithic Sinhala-Buddhist state and the mission to achieve this had been passionately embraced by all Sinhala parties, including those with Marxist leanings.
Tamil politicians, who had instigated the youth to embark on a path of militancy, soon lost control of the Genie they had thoughtlessly let loose. They had set alight a fire, they could not douse. They were subsequently taken on a rocky ride by the ‘Tigers’ (LTTE) and finally devoured.
The Sinhala polity having underestimated the strength of passions among Tamil youth had to ultimately grapple with the Tigers at great cost to the nation. The three decade long Tiger ride has hurt the Tamils more than the Sinhala polity and left Tamils in a worse situation than they were when it all began. Tamils have been brought to their knees by the militancy they had hoped would help restore their due rights in Sri Lanka. Tamils have become a people to be pitied by the combined efforts of the Sri Lankan state and the LTTE.
The LTTE should be remembered for many things. Its organizational abilities, innovativeness, resource mobilization skills, battle tactics, bravery and propaganda prowess will be part of legends and history for thousands of years. The LTTE was able to garner the enthusiastic and overwhelming support of most Tamils within a short time of its emergence. It had come to embody their aspirations for respect as a people and resistance to Sinhala misrule.
Tamils gave the LTTE their unreserved trust. However, its brutality, resort to meaningless violence and terrorism, lack of moral scruples, inflexibility, deviousness, disrespect for the people it claimed to lead and inability to adapt to changing circumstances will also be equally remembered.
The LTTE squandered the trust placed in it by the Tamils shamelessly and stupidly. It had also become the haven for the scum in Tamil society, both locally and internationally, much to the chagrin of many Tamils. It failed to represent the Tamil ethos and tried to force the people to fit an ethos that was quite alien to them. While its considerable and unexpected skills and abilities contributed to its remarkable growth and success in the battle fields, the flaws have been debilitating and contributed to its downfall.
The LTTE stands defeated today not only because of the efforts of the Rajapakse government and its armed forces, but also because it miserably failed the Tamils. Its failure to work in the best interest of the Tamils and determination to pursue its self-interest at the expense of the Tamils, have alienated a large section of the Tamils and the world at large. Sri Lanka has to learn much from not only the rise and fall of the LTTE, but also from the various skills and tactics-both brilliant and stupid, it brought to play during its existence.
Prabakaran was definitely a man of much promise, with abilities rarely seen. His background and the ingrained values of the society around him were intrinsically incapable of producing such a man. The adverse circumstances however triggered something lying dormant in Tamil genes and gave birth to a man like him and the thousands who followed him.
It is unfortunate he lost his way, to end up where he, the organization he leads and the Tamils are now. The gifts rarely bestowed on a single human, have been overwhelmed by the serious flaws that accompanied them.
There will be many an analysis on Prabaharan in years to come and we may partially understand what made this rare personality tick and then self-destruct. I attribute his failures to a lack of education, guiding moral philosophy, political acumen and wisdom. While steadfastness was a virtue in Prabaharan, stubbornness was a fatal flaw. Over-reliance on militarism by Prabaharan exposed the LTTE to its eventual downfall at the hands of a government determined overwhelm it with superior military force, regardless of the cost in terms material and lives. Prabaharan and the LTTE were also set unfortunately and unnecessarily on a course to make more enemies and turn even friends into enemies.
There was a sense of mission and stoic determination all too visible in the LTTE, but a clear vision as to what was to be the ultimate goal was never formulated nor enunciated. Tamil Ealam was an ill-defined concept, except in terms of a nation free of Sinhala hegemony. It thus became much misunderstood, abused and misused. There was no definition of what it would stand for.
The unsavoury behaviour of the LTTE and many associated with it, however pointed to Tamil Eelam becoming a fascist state under the jackboot of the LTTE. Large swathes of Tamils exposed to the ways of the LTTE were stripped of their illusions and forced to face the stark reality of the 'Monster' the LTTE had become. The Tamil proverb ‘Sirru Pillai Verlanmai, Veedu Vanthu Seraathu (efforts of small children at agriculture, will not bring a harvest home)’ has been proven true. Although the ‘Boys’ who spearheaded the initial Tamil militancy, became ‘Ageing men’ with time, they failed to bring the expected harvest home!
The greatest failures of the LTTE were in not grasping the several opportunities that came its way, such as the Indian intervention in 1987 and the Norwegian involvement in 2002, backed by influential international players. It failed to realize the time had come to change tact and build on battlefield gains and the apparent readiness of the Sri Lankan state to negotiate. This failure to mobilize the 'External factors' that had come into play to further the Tamil cause was accompanied by the equally fatal failure to carry a majority of the Tamils and the sympathetic elements in the Sinhala polity (the internal factors) with it, by its brutal, cruel, deceptive and arrogant behaviour.
The disenchantment of the international community with the LTTE was reinforced by influential sections within the Tamils voicing their concerns about the 'Monster' the LTTE had become. The cruel and unnecessary murder of Rajiv Gandhi in India and similar meaningless murders carried out within Sri Lanka relegated the LTTE to the club of terrorists and debased the Tamil struggle for liberation. The other major failure of the LTTE was that with time it had become deaf to the desperate cry for peace among Tamils living in the north and east. The Sri Lankan government has successfully exploited these chinks in the LTTE armour to carry out very successful military missions against it.
The LTTE had come, done what it did and now almost gone. However, the problems that gave birth to the LTTE, sustained its growth over the years and yet may provide the space for its re-emergence, remain unresolved. Whether the Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and the Sri Lankan government have learned their lessons from this rather long episode in our short history as a modern nation, remains to be seen. May God forgive all our sins and bless us with the intelligence, wisdom and foresight to deal with a future portending many opportunities and pitfalls! -Sri Lanka Guardian