| by Upul Joseph Fernando
( November 13, 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Prabhakaran delivered his final birthday speech on 27 November 2008, just one day after his birthday that year. In that speech, he exhorted the people of Tamil Nadu and the politicians, to extend their fullest co-operation for his struggle to win Eelam for the Tamils in the North. His appeal is recorded as follows.
"Notwithstanding the dividing sea, Tamil Nadu, with its perfect understanding of our plight, has taken heart to rise on behalf of our people at this hour of need. This timely intervention has gratified the people of Tamil Eelam and our freedom movement, and given us a sense of relief. I wish to express my love and gratitude at this juncture to the people and leaders of Tamil Nadu and the leaders of India, for the voice of support and love they have extended. I would cordially request them to raise their voice firmly in favour of our struggle for a Tamil Eelam State, and to take appropriate and positive measures to remove the ban which remains an impediment to an amicable relationship between India and our movement."
Tamil Nadu succeeds
In 2009, Prabhakran was not alive to make his 'Mahavir' day speech. From then till 2013, there have been five 'Mahavir' days. The years 2009, 2010 and 2011 'Mahavir' days passed without any celebration or incident, except the Tiger sympathizers of the Tamil Diaspora in Europe observing it in some of those countries. In 2012, a group of Jaffna University students had clandestinely distributed handbills calling for the student community to observe 'Mahavir' day. But 2013 saw an entirely different situation being created. Tamil Nadu has succeeded in responding to Prabhakaran's 27 November 2008 appeal by successfully preventing the Indian Prime Minister's attendance at CHOGM in Sri Lanka. Tamil Nadu could not, even when Prabhakaran was alive, directly influence Indian policy on Sri Lanka. Tamil Nadu's success story in this regard started with the adoption of resolutions against Sri Lanka at Geneva UNHRC sessions, in 2012 and 2013. Tamil Nadu's hidden hand was obviously at work in persuading India to support the motion. With the prevention of Manmohan Sing's attendance at CHOGM, Tamil Nadu's intervention in Indo-Lanka bilateral relations has reached its peak.
Indian intervention in Sri Lankan affairs had its beginning when Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister of the then Congress Government. The underlying reason for this is twofold. One was JR's criticism of Indira and her son in intemperate and derogatory language. The second reason was JR's provocative speech at the Second Commonwealth Heads of Government Regional Meeting held in New Delhi on 4 September 1984. This speech was extracted from the book Politics of Terrorism, as follows:
"The third and most recent misunderstanding was the outcome of a speech made at a banquet in New Delhi by President Jayewardene on September 1980, at the Second Commonwealth Heads of Government Regional Meeting. President Jayewardene had been invited to propose the toast, as the most senior Commonwealth leader present at the summit with Mrs. Gandhi herself being present.
During the course of his speech, the President traced his relationship to Mahatma Gandhi, to Nehru, and so forth, and quoting the famous Indian poet, Rabindranath Tagore's words, he urged India to rise to her moral grandeur of the past. We, of the smaller nations around the Indian Ocean look up to India for the moral leadership that these noble leaders gave to her and the world to free us from imperialism. The leaders of India and its men and women alone can lead the Non-Aligned Movement and the developing world to stand up for what is right in international affairs. There can be no compromise with righteous principles. It was the great poet, Rabindranth Tagore, who said to those who strove unceasingly to achieve great ideals, "If in this thy great heart fails, bring me they failure." Rise India to the grandeur of the moral leadership that is yours. We await your leadership to follow you to lead us to a better and more righteous world. 'Ave India! Te Salutant! We wait to salute thee.'
Mrs. Gandhi felt insulted. She felt an innuendo in President Jayewardene's speech that she had yet to rise to the heights to which her predecessors like Mahatma Gandhi, Tagore, her own father Jawaharlal Nehru, amongst others, had brought India.
JR incurs wrath
The Sri Lankan President's assertion that smaller nations (like Sri Lanka look up to India for the moral leadership that 'these noble leaders' (Gandhi, Tagore, Nehru, Patel, and so forth) gave to her, was a reminder that it is India's leaders who can lead the Non-Aligned Movement and the developing world to stand up for what is right in international affairs. It is true that the common notion in the Indian sub-continent was that 'India is Indira.' Though the Indian Opposition dismissed it as myth, Indira Gandhi had also thought so herself. Often referred to as the Empress of India, when President Jayewardene, quoting Tagore asked that India rise to the grandeur of the moral leadership that is hers, Mrs. Gandhi thought he had hinted that Indira should rise to the grandeur of her moral leadership. The Sri Lankan President concluded his speech on that occasion with a hope for the future.
'We await your leadership...,' he said. 'We wait to salute thee,' suggesting that Sri Lanka cannot salute her quite yet.
The comments, leave alone spoiling her dinner, left Mrs. Gandhi so angry that soon after the party, she saw to it that all Indian newspapers were telephoned that night and requested not to publish the Sri Lankan President's speech in the next day's issue. The patriotic Indian news papers obliged. Many months later, when the Sri Lankan Minister, S. Thondaman, the representative of the Tamils of recent Indian origin in Sri Lanka, met Mrs. Gandhi in New Delhi, he began by explaining, how his President was a friend of India.
Mrs. Gandhi reacted at once by recalling this speech and how she had been slighted by the remarks that Jayewardene had made, which, she felt, devalued her in comparison to those who rode the saddle before her. Thondaman, on his return, gave a detailed report of this account to President Jayewardene.
The Sri Lankan President was to say later that what in fact he was hinting at was the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union a few months earlier and the non-condemnation of that occupation by India. Afghanistan was a burning issue in world politics at the time. While Sri Lanka strongly condemned the occupation, India (which has a Friendship Treaty with the Soviet Union) adopted a lukewarm stance. Mrs. Gandhi in her welcome speech at that same Commonwealth Regional Summit, referring to Afghanistan, said that, while India was against any kind of interference in the affairs of others, 'to condemn intervention in one place, while tolerating it in another, does not carry conviction.' No doubt, the occupation of Afghanistan served India well, because it would split Pakistan's border concentration from India, to include Afghanistan. It is only now that India feels that the Soviet Union must withdraw from Afghanistan.
A situation India had not bargained for
But that is to digress from the point that Mrs. Gandhi felt slighted at the Sri Lankan President's banquet speech made in her presence and in the presence of other Commonwealth leaders, and also in her own capital. These three reasons; the election rhetoric, the references to Sanjaya and the banquet speech, were the main grounds for Indira Gandhi's cold shouldering of the Jayewardene Government in Sri Lanka. As far as Jayewardene was concerned, it was India's double-talk that irritated him.
Twenty-nine years after that meeting, another CHOGM has come around, this time to be hosted by Sri Lanka engulfing India and Sri Lanka in a new diplomatic crisis. India extended its unrestricted assistance to the island nation to destroy the LTTE once and for all during the war to ensure that no third force will have any influence in the affairs of the country in future. Ironically, India had not bargained for a situation where Tamil Nadu would become a force which could control Indo-Lanka relations at its will.
It was exactly a onetime dream of Prabhakaran. Today, Tamil Nadu has delivered to dead Prabhakaran's ghost, the gift of one of his cherished dreams while he was alive; that of Tamil Nadu to have enough power to influence Indian policy towards Sri Lanka.