On May 14, India banned the LTTE. Two weeks later, on May 28,
Sri Lanka launched offensive operations against the Tamil people in Jaffna and Mullativu.
But it would be simple minded to conclude that New Delhi and President Premadasa have
begun to see eye to eye and are engaged in a joint concerted effort to annihilate the
LTTE. On the contrary, the Indian ban on the LTTE was directed as much at President
Premadasa as at the LTTE.
The initial question is: what did India gain by the ban? Or to put it in another way:
what was it that India could do after the ban, which it could not do before the ban?
During the past several months the Indian intelligence services and the CBI, not to
mention the SIT, and a host of other agencies, have been more than energetic in their hunt
for LTTE bases and safe houses in Tamil Nadu even without any order making the LTTE an
unlawful association. New Delhi knows that such an order will do little to add to the
capabilities of these agencies to carry out their task.
Again, New Delhi also knows that 'banning' militancy may serve to send it further
underground. In 1978, Sri Lanka banned the Liberation Tigers under the then Emergency
Regulations. Five years later, in 1983, the Tigers were banned again under Sri Lanka's
notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act. 14 years after the first ban and nine years after
the second, Tamil militancy has not weakened but has grown stronger. A movement which
consisted of tens has grown to an army of thousands. The consequences of India's ban on
Tamil militancy in Tamil Nadu may not take 14 years to mature.
Why then the ban? Two reasons are apparent. The ban will make it a crime for any one in
Tamil Nadu to openly, repeat, openly, support the LTTE. Though such support may now go
underground, New Delhi appears to take the view that a ban will nevertheless help to stem
open mass mobilisation of separatist sentiment in Tamil Nadu.
But that is not all. There is a further reason. New Delhi seeks to use the ban to
deny recognition in the international arena to the Liberation Tigers - recognition, that
is, without India having a say in the matter. New Delhi seeks to exercise a veto on any
attempt to settle the Tamil - Sri Lanka conflict, which sidelines India and its interests
- interests which are quite plainly spelt out in the annexures to the Indo Sri Lanka 1987
High Commissioner Jha was almost viceregal in an interview reported in Sri Lanka Sunday
Times of May 17. He said: ''The ban is a symbolic gesture with international
ramifications. India's ban on the LTTE has confronted Sri Lanka with hard political
realities which it will have to take into consideration before embarking on a political
In an earlier interview with the Sri Lanka Sunday Island, also reported on May 17, Jha
was nothing, if not frank:
"Q: What would India's stand be if Colombo proceeds towards a negotiated
settlement with the LTTE?
A: It is naturally for the Sri Lanka Government to do whatever it thinks appropriate,
but at the same time one would expect the realities of the situation to be kept in mind,
whenever such a step is contemplated.
Q: You mentioned that we should not behave as if India does not exist. Can you explain
that and where we have treated India in that manner?
A: It is not an accusation, it is just advice. I would not amplify that. That would not
be fair. It is not something serious. It is quite understandable. Sometimes one gets that
feeling. May be my feeling is exaggerated and not an accurate one, but it is there. It is
not a permanent feeling or a lasting feeling."
The glint of steel beneath the diplomatic velvet was clearly visible.The Indian ban was
a signal for the Sinhala opposition including the SLFP and the Gamini-Dissanayake/Lalith
Athulathmudali DUNF to campaign for Sri Lanka to follow suit. The quisling EPRLF also
joined in the chorus. President Premadasa would not have been unmindful that those who
were now demanding a Sri Lanka ban on the LTTE were also those who had been involved in
the abortive effort to impeach him last October.
New Delhi's cuddly relationship with the SLFP goes back to the non alignment days of
the early 1970s when Srimavo Bandaranaike sponsored the Indian Ocean Peace Zone proposal.
New Delhi's relations were never quite the same with a westward looking UNP and certainly
not with President Premadasa who did not even turn up for the ceremonial signing of the
1987 Indo Sri Lanka Agreement - a failure, which also may have had something to with his
arch rival Gamini Dissanayake being one of the architects of the Agreement.
New Delhi's foreign policy has stayed constant during these past several years. Non
alignment, was after all, a way of increasing India's influence in a bipolar world. Today,
New Delhi stays steadfast to its objective of increasing Indian influence and aspires to
become one of the big powers of the emerging multipolar world. High Commissioner Jha gave
some indication of this when he said:
''There are many items that have come straightaway into focus almost
simultaneously... Question of India-US relationship, non proliferation treaty, now this
rocket deal, the breaking of the Soviet Union, India's entry into West Asia peace talks,
the India-Pakistan relations and the Afghanistan situation.''
The Indian Ambassador to the US remarked recently in the context of a Gorbachev speech
suggesting a place for India on the Security Council that ''...considering India's role in
global peace and demilitarisation, it was necessary that 800 million people should get a
share in decision making ''
Again, at the level of the Indian region, if in the 1980s, India used the Tamil
militant movement to destabilise Colombo so that Colombo may move closer to the Indian
orbit, the ban on the LTTE suggests that New Delhi believes that it has now found
alternative channels within the Sinhala polity through which it may secure a Colombo
government which is more responsive to India's foreign policy objectives.
All this would not have been lost on President Premadasa. He was quick to reject the
demands by the SLFP and the other opposition groups for a ban on the LTTE. President
Premadasa was not about to commit hara kiri. And, ofcourse, he had his own agenda.
Ven. Madampagama Assaji Thera, the Secretary of the Buddhist Monks delegation to
Jaffna, said on May 24 : "It is too early to say whether the (Indian) ban would help
Sri Lanka or not. But one thing we have to understand is that it was not done to help Sri
Lanka. Banning the LTTE at this stage will definitely hamper peace efforts."
The Sri Lankan state controlled Sunday Observer was even more specific in its editorial
on May 24: ''It is best that the Select Committee be allowed to complete its
deliberations. Perhaps a decision to ban or not can be taken after the Select Committee
has exhausted all its avenues.''
The Premadasa tactic was clear. Do not ban, but use the situation created by the Indian
ban, to pressure the LTTE and achieve a 'consensus' solution to the conflict in the
Northeast through the Parliamentary Select Committee mechanism.
The 'Select Committee Line' was the one which President Premadasa and his Advisers
have been peddling for sometime now in international fora. This search for 'consultation,
compromise and consensus' through the Select Committee mechanism was Sri Lanka's
justification for rejecting any suggestion for international mediation.
But, the SLFP, which lays claims to be the true leader of the Sinhala (Buddhist)
people, was clearly unwilling to go along with the Premadasa 'Select Committee' agenda, if
that meant perpetuating President Premadasa in power. The issues concerning the Udugampola
affidavits and the Election Commissioners findings had been fermenting for sometime now.
The SLFP pulled the rug from under President Premadasa's feet by calling for an immediate
Parliamentary debate on the Udugampola affidavits and when this was not granted,
withdrawing from the Parliamentary Select Committee on the ground of the Government's
contempt for Parliament.
With the Parliamentary Select Committee option under attack, and with the opposition
crying out vociferously for an LTTE ban and an investigation into the Udugampola
allegations, President Premadasa turned to a military adventure in the Tamil homeland as
the way out of the impasse. It was the time honoured way for a Sinhala government in
distress to survive.
And, here, the words of the LTTE statement on the front page of this issue of the
''The Tamil national question has become once again, a football in the struggle for
power between Sinhala political parties. However, the Premadasa Government is wrong if it
believes that it can suppress a struggle for freedom by tanks and guns. The soil that has
drunk the blood of martyrs and innocent civilians will give no peace to the would be
conqueror - it will be a quagmire for the Sri Lankan army. "
Again, whilst it is true that due heed should be paid to Mr.Jha's 'advice' that no one
should behave as if India does not exist it is also equally true, as a diplomat in
Washington once remarked, ''India is not a super power - and it should not try to behave
as one.'' Perhaps, even more fundamentally, and importantly, New Delhi should learn to
recognise the aspirations of the separate nations of the Indian subcontinent and not
behave as if these national formations do not exist - or for that matter can be destroyed.
The struggle of the Tamil people for freedom is taking place under conditions of
severe hardship within the matrix of the power balances in the world, and in particular
the Indian region. It was Mao Tse Tung who once said that a liberation struggle was no tea
party. To those engaged in the university of the Tamil national struggle on the ground,
that which is sometimes said in the comfortable lounges of certain Tamil expatriate
circles may well appear as coming from the kindergarten.
That Velupillai Pirabaharan and the Liberation Tigers have taken the struggle of the
people of Tamil Eelam forward to the extent that they have is a tribute (to use the words
of two Indian Generals who fought against the LTTE) to their ''incredible motivation and
magnificent fighting prowess'' and their ''discipline, dedication, determination,
motivation and technical expertise". Recent events serve to vindicate the stand of
the Liberation Tigers that, in the context of the emerging new world order, it is
international mediation that will provide the path to peace, stability, and freedom in the