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Tamil Eelam & Neelan Thiruchelvam
The comment by Sri Lanka President, Chandrika Kumaratunga on the assassination of Neelan Thiruchelvam is understandable. But it may be helpful to look behind the self serving rhetoric and examine some of the underlying issues that the assassination helps to surface.
What was the nature of 'the arid and infertile terrain' of the mind of the young Tamil who blew himself up in the streets of Colombo on 29 July 1999, so that Neelan Thiruchelvam may die? Was that young Tamil a mindless fanatic, brainwashed with the 'dream' of Tamil Eelam? Was he a member of a 'suicide cult' which regarded life as worthless? Or was he a thiyagi who was intent on giving up that which he valued most, his life, so that the struggle of his people for freedom may succeed? Was the struggle for Tamil Eelam, his life, and did he give his life so that the struggle may live? Did he feel with Ilakuvanar that the battle for Tamil was the battle of his life:
(Ilakkuvanar, 1971 quoted in *Sumathi Ramaswamy Passions of the Tongue : Language Devotion in Tamil India, 1891-1970 (Studies on the History of Society and Culture , No 29, University of California Press, 1997)
But, first, it may be necessary to ask: who was Neelan Thiruchelvam? He was a Tamil. He was a loving father and husband, and a good friend with admirable personal qualities. He was a successful lawyer and his academic credentials included a doctorate from Harvard University.
He was also a politician. His father, M.Thiruchelvam Q.C. was a member of the Federal Party and served for a period as the Minister of Local Government in the Dudley Senanayake government which came into power in 1965. It was during his period in office that the White Paper on District Councils was presented. M.Thiruchelvam Q.C. later resigned from the Cabinet with the collapse of the Dudley Senanayake - Chelvanayagam Agreement.
Neelan Thiruchelvam was himself a longstanding member of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) and had the confidence of its leader, the late Appapillai Amirthalingam. At the 1977 General Election, the TULF, led by Amirthalingam, sought and won a mandate from the Tamil people for the establishment of the independent state of Tamil Eelam. The TULF Election Manifesto declared:
The Manifesto went on to declare:
And at election meetings in Jaffna in 1977, TULF candidates squeezed blood from cut fingers and ceremonially sealed their resolve for an independent Tamil Eelam by placing a 'Ratha Thilakam' on their foreheads to the applause of thousands of Tamils who later voted for them - and the young Tamil who blew himself up on 29 July 1999 may have been one them.
In 1982, Neelan Thiruchelvam was nominated to serve as a Member of Parliament by the TULF. Later, after Genocide'83, the TULF Members of Parliament (including Neelan Thiruchelvam) refused to take their oaths under the 6th Amendment to the Sri Lanka Constitution - an amendment which required them to give up their demand for an independent Tamil Eelam. All the TULF members accordingly forfeited their seats in Parliament.
And, in the years after 1983, the 'direct action or struggle' that the TULF election manifesto had envisaged, gathered momentum and manifested itself as the armed resistance of the Tamil people, led today by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
Nominated by the TULF to the Sri Lanka Parliament in 1994...
Meanwhile, Neelan Thiruchelvam was nominated (for the second time) by the Tamil United Liberation Front to the Sri Lanka Parliament in 1994. This time, he took the oath under the 6th Amendment - an oath which the TULF had refused to take in 1983 and an Amendment about which the International Commission of Jurists had declared:
Neelan Thiruchelvam, 'the constitutional lawyer and human rights advocate', had no reservations in taking an oath of office under a Constitutional Amendment which was 'a clear violation by Sri Lanka of its obligations in international law' under the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights.
In addition, Neelan Thiruchelvam together with the TULF supported President Chandrika Kumaratunga's Peoples Alliance (PA) government and helped her to secure a majority in the Sri Lanka Parliament. Neelan Thiruchelvam was one of the architects of President Kumaratunga's 'Devolution Package'.
Sri Lanka President Kumaratunga released her 'Devolution Package' on 3 August 1995. At the same time she re affirmed her intention to wage war against the Liberation Tigers. She promised the Buddhist High Priests in Kandy that the 'Devolution Package' will not be finalised until the 'war is won'.
Neelan Thiruchelvam on visits abroad, sought to persuade opinion makers in the Tamil expatriate community to accept the Kumaratunga proposals, even though the proposals were dismissed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam as a 'peace mask' to President Kumaratunga's war face and even though President Kumaratunga herself had declared to her Sinhala electorate that the package will not 'erode the powers of the centre' and that 'there would be no merger of the North and East'.
TULF continued to prop up the Chandrika Kumaratunga government during genocidal onslaught...
During the subsequent four years, Neelan Thiruchelvam, as a Vice President of the TULF, together with other TULF MPs continued to prop up the Chandrika Kumaratunga government - a government which was engaged in a genocidal onslaught on the Tamil people. It was a genocidal onslaught that was proved by -
Why did the TULF extend that support?
Why then did the TULF extend its support to the President Kumaratunga government? It is not enough to respond that the TULF was trying to resolve a conflict which had caused much suffering and thousands of deaths. It is not enough to say as the London based Tamil Information Centre stated in a recent press release:
The attempt to reform 'the structural bases of the Sri Lankan state along a devolutionary direction' had, after all, gone on for more than forty years.
The appeal to Sinhala Buddhist fundamentalism always succeeded because its roots were deep seated. It was the continued failure to reform 'the structural bases of the Sri Lankan state along a devolutionary direction' that had led the TULF to declare in 1977:
The political reality which the 1977 TULF Election Manifesto recognised was that ethnic identity had in fact determined the way in which both the Sinhala people and the Tamil people exercised their political right of universal franchise. No Tamil has ever been elected to a predominantly Sinhala electorate and no Sinhalese has ever been elected to a predominantly Tamil electorate - apart, that is, from multi member constituencies. The political reality is that the Sinhala nation is a nation that dare not speak its name. To pursue its assimilative agenda, the Sinhala nation sometimes masquerades as a 'multi ethnic plural Sri Lankan society' (albeit with a privileged position for Buddhism and in practice, for the Sinhala language as well).
And Martin Woollacott's comments in the Guardian in 1993, on the Bosnian conflict serve to highlight the issues that face an armed struggle for freedom in the world of real politick:
The Tamils, too, were not born yesterday. They know that it is because the armed resistance of the Tamil people led by the Liberation Tigers has succeeded to the extent that they hold territory in the North-East, that Tamil rights is on the international agenda. They know that if that resistance fails, Sri Lanka will have no further use for 'mediators' - Tamil or otherwise. They know that if that resistance fails, the Tamil people will be left with the pleaders and petitioners of the TULF, whose efforts during the past forty years and more, did little to stop the onslaught on Tamil rights and Tamil lives.
Territory, international legitimacy, constitutional provisions and human rights are, ofcourse, inter connected. Without human rights, legitimacy may be more difficult to achieve. Without legitimacy, it may be more difficult to hold territory over a period of time. But without territory, a people will cease to exist - and in the end it is this which is fundamental.
It was this, which Neelan Thiruchelvam chose to ignore. The TULF and Neelan Thiruchelvam persisted in the error that Appapillai Amirthalingam had made. They sought to play the role of 'mediators' between the struggle and the Sinhala ruler - and in this way, their actions separated them from the struggle, and at the same time, undermined it. They refused to recognise that an armed struggle is essentially political, and that for this reason the political cannot be counterposed to the military; and that an armed struggle cannot be directed from outside but only from within, by a leadership which accepts 'its full share of the risks involved.'
Neelan Thiruchelvam could have lent his voice to the cause of freedom...
Neelan Thiruchelvam could have paved the way for a just peace if he had been willing to recognise that whatever role that the TULF had to play in the context of an armed struggle, should begin with the acceptance that the political leadership of an armed struggle can come only from within it.
Even though he may not have taken arms, Neelan Thiruchelvam could have lent his powerful voice to the cause of freedom - the cause of freedom that his party had so eloquently espoused in 1977, and for which his brothers and sisters, his udan pirapukal, were continuing to put their lives on line.
Again, as a 'human rights advocate', Neelan Thiruchelvam could have used his undoubted influence in the international arena to initiate an investigation into the war crimes committed by President Chandrika Kumaratunga and those under her command and into the systematic use of torture, rape, extra judicial killings, and food blockade as instruments of state terrorism.
He could have called upon the People's Alliance to which the TULF had extended support, to move towards a just peace, and to recognise that:
Neelan Thiruchelvam could have used the opportunity afforded by his personal relationship with President Chandrika Kumaratunga, to urge upon her that it was not enough to tell the Sinhala people that the war in the North-East was draining economic resources and hampering development; that it was necessary to tell them that the war against the Tamil people was unwinnable, because it was unjust; and that it was unwinnable because the spirit of a people resisting alien rule of their homeland cannot be suppressed.
Neelan's failure and the question of political morality...
But Neelan Thiruchelvam chose not to take any of these steps. And, his failure, coming as it did from the Vice President of a political party
may have led the 'arid and infertile mind' of that young Tamil who blew himself up on 29 July, to conclude that Neelan Thiruchelvam had betrayed the Tamil people, and more importantly, that his actions were increasingly putting at risk the lives of thousands of Tamils engaged in the struggle for Tamil Eelam.
To use President Kumaratunga's words, 'all who are able to ascertain good and evil' will be able to judge for themselves as to the righteousness or otherwise of Neelan Thiruchelvam's political actions - and that of the young Tamil who blew himself up on the streets of Colombo on 29 July. The words of Aurobindo may be helpful:
Amnesty's tribute exposes its political standpoint...
Amnesty International's response to the assassination, serves to draw attention to the international significance of the role that Neelan Thiruchelvam had carved out for himself. Amnesty declared on 29 July 1999:
Amnesty's condemnation of the assassination may be understandable - as the act was an unlawful act within the framework of the Sri Lankan legal system. But Amnesty's tribute to Neelan Thiruchelvam 'as a politician who contributed greatly to his country' exposes Amnesty's own political standpoint. In what did the greatness of Neelan Thiruchelvam's political contribution lie? Amnesty's evaluation of that political contribution was at best, economical with truth. Amnesty failed to state
That Amnesty failed to address these matters, may be because these 'political' issues were outside its 'human rights' remit. But, if that be the case, it was equally true that Amnesty's tribute to Neelan Thiruchelvam 'as a politician who contributed greatly to his country' also went outside its 'human rights' remit, and conflicted with its oft stated position that it does not 'take sides' in the conflict in the island. The result is that Amnesty's 'political' assessment is partial - and therefore, misleading.
President Clinton's comments underlined Amnesty's political stance...
President Clinton's comments on the assassination of Neelan Thiruchelvam, perhaps, not surprisingly were at one with Amnesty's political stance:
Neelan Thiruchelvam was not a head of state. Nor was he a Minister serving in the Government of a state. The fact that the President of the sole remaining super power in the world should have found it necessary to express the views that he did (and take time off from the Balkan summit to do so) reflects, perhaps, on the importance that the US placed on the future role that Neelan Thiruchelvam may have been called upon to play in the island.
That the United States, at the present time, finds it difficult to accept the political desirability of establishing an independent Tamil state, may be understandable. But an independent Tamil state will one day come into existence. The growing togetherness of more than 70 million Tamil people, living in many lands, but rooted in an ancient heritage, in a rich language and literature, in a vibrant culture, consolidated by struggle and suffering and given purpose and direction by a determined aspiration to live in equality and freedom, will not forever be denied.
Again, to place the 'terrorist' tag on those with whom the US has political disagreements, may appear useful in the short term. But as a US Court pointed out recently, the categorisation is beyond meaningful judicial review and therefore beyond independent judicial approbation or disapprobation. Over time, more and more people will hopefully, see the need to address the geo political objectives which appear to have impelled the admittedly 'political' tag.
Reconciliation will not come by trodding the path that Neelan Thiruchelvam had chosen to trod...
Be that all as it may, President Clinton is right to hope that the tragedy (and it is a tragedy) of Neelan Thiruchelvam's assassination 'will spur efforts to find an end to the fighting and to build a lasting peace in Sri Lanka'.
But, reconciliation will not come by treading the path that Neelan Thiruchelvam had chosen to trod. Reconciliation will not come about through outbursts of belligerence directed to manipulate international reaction:
Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar's concern for the face of the international community, which has been calling for a political solution, may have been touching, if it had come from a Minister who had not insisted during the past four years and more, that the conflict in the island was an internal matter:
And his concern for the 'democratic process' will have a special appeal to those in the international community who are familiar with Democracy, Sri Lanka style:
Reconciliation is not a matter of rhetoric. The use of hyperbole does not advance understanding. Sri Lanka Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar will need to learn that not much is gained by 'monstrous' assertions of the kind that he made in his first speech at the United Nations on 26 September 1994:
For Sri Lanka Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, in September 1994, at the United Nations, the belligerent face of Sinhala Buddhist fundamentalism did not exist:
For Sri Lanka Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, Genocide'58 did not happen:
Neither did the 1977 pogrom:
Nor for that matter did Genocide'83.:
And today, for Sri Lanka Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, Genocide'95 does not exist:
And as a Tamil nominated to the Sri Lankan Parliament by the Sinhala dominated Peoples Alliance and who had not contested an election from a Tamil area, Sri Lanka Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, had no difficulty in claiming to be 'a representative of the minority Tamil community' and in this way give weight to his advocacy.
However, reconciliation will not come by prevaricating about the political reality which confronts the two peoples in the island of Sri Lanka. Reconciliation will not come from the efforts of those Tamils who accept majority Sinhala rule and seek to serve as power brokers between the ruler and the ruled.
Reconciliation will come only from a dialogue between equals...
Reconciliation will come only from a dialogue between equals - a dialogue between the Sinhala political leadership and the leaders of the struggle for Tamil Eelam, the LTTE. The struggle for Tamil Eelam is not about devolution. It is about freedom. To dismiss the struggle for an independent Tamil state as 'fanaticism' (as Sri Lanka Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar has), is to display 'the arid and infertile terrain' of a closed mind. It is also to fail to recognise the political reality of the emerging fourth world:
The demand for an independent Tamil state is not negotiable. But there may be a need to explore fresh pathways concerning the terms on which an independent Tamil Eelam may associate with an independent Sri Lanka. And here, there is everything to negotiate about. The Tamil people are not chauvinists.