India's epic legacy

ONE OF the two epics of the Hindu theology concerns the Surya vamsa (sun dynasty) heir-apparent Sri Rama's conquest of Sri Lanka to punish the asura King, Ravana, who had abducted his wife. It culminated in the coronation of Vibhishana, brother of the asura king and the subcontinent's first-known political defector. By an ironic and almost incredible twist of history, today those who rode to power (the BJP) by vowing to cherish Sri Rama are in the company of those (viz., DMK, MDMK and PMK) who have been weaned and reared on revering Ravana. These modern day Sri Rama pracharaks (propagandists), and Ravana bhaktas (devotees) are together engaged in the most convoluted exercises on what to and what not to do in Sri Lanka. Sacrificed as a consequence of this pathetic dithering are democracy and human rights of the hapless Tamil people, first by a Sinhala mindset which has held that democracy meant that fundamental rights are not part of Constitutional law but gratis and noblesse oblige of the majority (Sinhalas are 74 per cent of the population) and then by a new mindset of the LTTE of terrorism and contrived ethnicity appeal.

But Indian national interest cannot afford for the Prime Minister to waffle on the issue. The central question is whether India, in particular India alone, should intervene in Sri Lanka (on Colombo's invitation) and if so, how, when, and at what price? In 1987 India had intervened, on the Sri Lankan Tamil minority's insistence as a condition for a peace agreement; this insistence had been conveyed to the then Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, following the failure of the 1986 Thimpu (Bhutan) peace conference of Sri Lankan Tamil leaders and the Government of the island. The LTTE was a party to that insistence then, but, as terrorist organisations are prone to do, it welshed on its commitment soon after IPKF intervention. The LTTE had soon after struck a profitable but a most perfidious and clandestine deal with Premadasa (the then Sri Lankan President). The deal, now revealed by a Commission of Inquiry in Colombo, was for the Sri Lankan Government to supply weapons and provide logistics support to the LTTE. In turn, the LTTE would fight the IPKF. It was the most dastardly betrayal of India, a country once described by the LTTE supremo Prabakaran as the ``mother country'', proving the old adage: ``words are cheap''.

The successor V. P. Singh Government put a seal of approval on this betrayal by hastily withdrawing the IPKF in March 1990. The LTTE's supporters in India baying for the IPKF's blood were members of Mr. V. P. Singh's United Front. Those very people are also in the BJP-led NDA today. The then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Mr. Karunanidhi, disgraced himself and flouted his constitutional responsibility by refusing to participate in a function in Chennai to welcome back from Jaffna an already let down IPKF. He is Chief Minister again. The LTTE consummated this perfidy by assassinating Rajiv Gandhi and followed it up by killing Premadasa too.

The message from the decade of the 1980s for India is thus crystal clear: We are damned if we do, and damned if we don't. More importantly, the Sri Lankan problem won't go away even if we look the other way. Thus if we do not intervene, then sooner or later we will suffer the consequence of the conflict which will be worse than if we had. The bottom line of the current situation in Sri Lanka is that we have to intervene. The question is how that intervention has to be structured so as to not repeat the follies of 1987-89. For this structuring, India has to clearly set its parameters as follows:

First, India shall never allow the LTTE to head or be a part of any future regional or national government in Sri Lanka as long as Prabakaran and Pottu Amman, his second in command, are not handed over to India for concluding the incomplete trial in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. Let us not forget that the LTTE advocate had told the Supreme Court of India, while arguing the appeal of the 26 LTTE persons sentenced to death by the trial court, that Prabhakaran had ordered Rajiv Gandhi's assassination because he ``had wanted to teach Rajiv Gandhi a lesson for IPKF atrocities'' and that he had also ``wanted to prevent him from coming back as Prime Minister''. We cannot expect the BJP leaders of RSS vintage to feel this surge of patriotism because of their track record in 1942, 1948 and 1975-77. The current deliberate waffling by the Prime Minister is a continuation of that psychological outlook where vital national interests are involved.

Second, no Indian intervention should exclude Colombo from its orbit. That was the fatal error that Rajiv Gandhi made the last time when the IPKF was sent. If India is to intervene, then it must post a division of the Indian Army in Colombo, and make available two or three Cabinet-level persons from the Indian mainland to aid and advise the Sri Lankan President. And if Sinhala Government is reluctant to agree to these pre-conditions we should unhesitatingly use other methods of persuasion as the ``eldest brother'' of the South Asian region, to make Sri Lanka agree. India cannot afford to allow Sri Lanka to internationalise our backyard.

Third, there are only three viable solutions to the ethnic problem in the island. The first solution is to adopt an Indian- type federal Constitution for a united soverign Sri Lanka. This is the minimal demand of Tamils. The second is the partition of the island to create an independent sovereign state of Eelam. This, however, at present, would mean an LTTE-led Government; on the face of it, unacceptable to us. The third is the merger of the island with India. This is the maximal demand of any Indian. Of the three solutions, the first is the least painful for Sri Lanka, but time is rapidly running out for its acceptance by Tamils. In 1991, the Tamils would have enthusiastically agreed but as time now passes this alternative is less and less acceptable. There is also a danger that this solution is a stepping stone to the second alternative solution, i.e., the creation of an independent Eelam, headed by the LTTE, unless the LTTE is liquidated in the interim.

Besides, given the the current ``Dravidian'' movement parties dependence for money on the LTTE (which the LTTE has plenty of from the ISI-sponsored narcotics trade), Eelam in the island can lead to a Kashmir-type situation in Tamil Nadu later. Hence, India's most preferred solution is a federal Constitution. And, if not, the third solution of integrating Sri Lanka with India, either first by confederating like in Europe or by outright merger, as was the case with Sikkim.

What thus is clear today is that a unitary state of Sri Lanka is a dead letter. The Buddhists monks wrote its epitaph when they acknowledged that they had wrongly opposed the IPKF, and now want it back. My friend, the late Rajiv Gandhi, has been vindicated at last. Hence, we have to move forward now. But only those who have well-established credentials of being anti-terrorists in general and opposed to the LTTE in particular qualify to usher in a solution, since only they would be acceptable to the Sinhalese people as well. Therein lies the dilemma for the Prime Minister, since his Government's majority depends on pro-LTTE parties including the Samata Party.

The BJP-led Government has thus betrayed the Tamils of Sri Lanka today by promising ``humanitarian aid'' to the Sinhalese-led Government without getting a time-bound, public and prior commitment for the Tamils' minimal demand for a Indian-type federal Constitution. There is no such thing as ``humanitarian aid'' in times of war. It is, in fact, indirect support to waging of war by a Government which had in the first place created the breeding ground for terrorists (LTTE) amongst Tamils by obstinately sticking to a unitary Constitution, and which had undermined, thereby, moderate democratic minded Tamil leaders, whom the LTTE later assassinated.

Mr. Karunanidhi, therefore, should make amends for this let down of Tamils again. No Tamil Nadu Chief Minister has been so consistently weak in challenging the past anti-Tamil policies of the Central Government as Mr. Karunanidhi has been. People still remember his sell-out on Kachchathivu in 1974. The time has come for Mr. Karunanidhi either to stand up for the Tamils or quit. Let the next Assembly elections be fought on this issue.