Lessons from Lanka

By T R Jawahar

(April 18, Chennai, Sri Lanka Guardian) The countdown was akin to a perfect space satellite lift-off. At the precise stroke of the end of the 48th hour of ceasefire the guns started booming again, as if set to a default clock. The Sri Lankan regime could not have demonstrated its determination to exterminate the Tigers more emphatically.

And as the promised fight to finish reaches the terminal stage and the inevitable chest-thumpings, breast-beatings, rejoicings and requiems reach a crescendo, this multi-decade bloody imbroglio presents a slew of mixed messages to the world at large and India in particular.

TN is a room with a view to Sri Lanka just across the seas. And seen through the prism of ethnic bonds the picture is bound to be coloured by passions. But that cannot blind us to the larger lesson: A tiny nation’s successful war on terror. Here was a country that faced a survival crisis on all counts: sovereignty, security and solvency. Every conceivable misery from geographical dismemberment to ceaseless terrorism in the form of suicide bombings and assassinations to total economic ruin have visited without visa and stayed put for more than a generation in this tear-shaped island. And all these stood personified in the form of a rank terrorist outfit, a monolithic organisation presided over by a megalomaniacal leader: LTTE. Indeed eliminating it was the key. SL has only done what any sensible, sensitive nation aspiring to survive will do. It was now or never and it decided now!

India too is on a generational threshold: Pak terror is a historical baggage and a continuing saga. And worse, it has achieved a sinister sync with elements within the country. Indeed, any fight against such terror will perforce be a war, limited or otherwise, against some of its own citizens (voters, for sure) as also their foreign backers. And it has to be now for with every passing day the ‘infidels’ are being outnumbered by infiltrators from east and west alike and in any case, it is unfair to bequeath this lethal legacy to unsuspecting children of the future. Ditto with Maoist terror. Now, can our ‘mighty’ nation muster a sense of urgency and the resolve a la little Lanka? Or will we keep setting deadlines, in tune with our defensive and defeatist DNA, and remain in futile wait for the enemy himself to call it quits? Aah, if only we care to pull up the shades from our room windows!

And then there is Rajapakse. Eulogising him may sound misplaced, even morbid, in the Indian context. But missing his role would be a bigger mistake. His is a story as much of ruthless leadership in the face of a no less ruthless foe as it is of blind patriotism to the exclusion of every other emotion, personal or national. His single-point agenda was to deliver his Sinhala majority nation from the throes of terror and nothing else mattered. Even the sordid reality that he has to live with the perennial prospect of a violent end, given the wave of retribution his acts may set off. Now, can any Sri Lankan grudge him for salvaging his country and its citizens in one piece? How many world leaders have such guts which is now the exclusive patent of RPakse?

There is then the question of world opinion. A nation’s peace and prosperity are paramount to it and constitute enlightened self-interest. A general thumb rule is that ideas like, human rights, peace talks are expendable and fit only for export. While these can be prescribed for others’ ailments they are unfit for one’s own consumption in dire times. Democratic devolution cannot be an alibi for division nor can human rights concerns supercede the greater good of the larger populace. So Sri Lanka rightly cared two hoots about international wrath, much less about the ‘jokers’ here. It knew this was its war and no one else can fight it. In any case, world opinion was a mirage and subject to memory loss, short term or long term. And anyday, the world would be ready to do business with a peaceful Lanka rather than a bombed out though beautiful graveyard. Indeed, it is not only now or never, but often us or the rest. The choice is painful, but nations that choose right stand a better chance of survival.

But all this wisdom can in no way assuage those agitating for legitimate rights. The aspirations of the SL Tamils for a self-respecting deal of self-determination, within the sovereign set up of SL, is a birthright. But today the cause has drowned in their own blood but spilt as much by their sworn protectors as by the rampaging Sri Lankan army. The LTTE’s self-goal has been fatal. Having appropriated the mantle of sole rep of Tamils by eliminating every other contender, scuttling all efforts at peace and antagonising Indian establishment to the detriment of Tamils there, the LTTE in its defeat now has taken the cause down with it. It would be impossible for anyone else to pick the thread from here on; and with the international organisations pathetically impotent in preventing the huge human catostrophe, the magnitude of which will never come to light, the Tamils are truly at the mercy of the Sinhalese as never before. Indeed, the success of a movement depends heavily on the choice of the right champion. A bad advocate can kill the client’s case; a bloody advocate can kill the client himself! Who leads matters and post Lanka, troubled populace must be wary of pied pipers!

Some self-goals were also scored by the political paper tigers floating in TN’s hot air. While it would be childish to believe that the Sri Lankans were rattled by the rhetoric emanating from here, the possibility of policy upheavals given the polls and the prospect of a shaky political scenario here must have provoked them to hurry up. But tiger-riding has always been a favoured political sport in the State. All political parties, local and national, have indulged in it, in the name of sympathy for SL Tamils. Some like the DMK mount and dismount it at will. For, the likes of Thiruma, Vaiko and Ramadoss, it is a tradeable legal tender for present political bargains and possible personal gains. The Cong and Jaya, though overtly Tiger baiters, do not mind rearing some in their own backyards even if only for paltry electoral dividends. The BJP, Left and sundry other players too mouth platitudes on and off, just in case. But beyond pelting pebbles through the TN window and making pompous pronouncements about Tamil pride, they have achieved precious little for the cause of their bretheren across the Palk Straits. On the contrary, all these self-serving politicos have only given false hopes, led the SL Tamils down the garden path and left them in the lurch now. These rabble-rousers never had any power or propriety to begin with, given the limits on interference in another nation’s affairs, yet they blundered along with their bluff. And will continue to; trust these paper tigers to keep roaring even long after the last Liberation Tiger is hunted down. Really, sympathisers here should wake up and seek out more effective ways of helping their ethnic soulmates.

But a new countdown has indeed begun. The world will watch how SL fares after this war. It can rise from the ashes as a unified nation or slip into another abyss if the lessons are forgotten. But either way, the ghosts of the unfortunate masses massacred in the crossfire over decades will haunt our Tamil conscience for ever; Yes, we let them down and let them die! This is not lip-sympathy but a heart-felt guilt.

The writer can be reached at
-Sri Lanka Guardian

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