Sri Lanka's wounded Tigers growl at
Delhi By Sudha Ramachandran
BANGALORE - India's hosting of Sri Lankan
Army chief Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka in
Delhi this month has evoked an angry growl from
the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Castigating India for giving the Lankan army chief
a "state welcome", the LTTE has warned India
against committing "the historic blunder" of
propping up "the Sinhala war machine".
India would be responsible for "the ethnic
genocide of the Tamils [in Sri Lanka]" that a
Lankan army, "re-invigorated" by Indian support,
would carry out, an LTTE statement said. "While
pronouncing that a solution to the Tamil problem
must be found through peaceful means, it [India]
is giving encouragement to the military approach"
of the Sri Lankan government, the LTTE said. "By
this historic blunder it will continue to subject
the Eelam Tamils to misery."
Close on the
heels of that strident statement came another,
critical of India's treatment of its Tamils.
"Tamils are slaves in India," Thamilendhi, the
head of the LTTE's financial unit, is reported to
have said at a public function in Kilinochchi in
Sri Lanka's Northern Province.
strident statements against India over the past
fortnight are reminiscent of the statements it
issued in the late 1980s and early 1990s when
relations between India and the LTTE deteriorated
India which had in 1984-85
provided arms, training and sanctuary to the Sri
Lankan Tamil militant groups found itself fighting
the LTTE from October 1987 to March 1990.
In July 1987, India and Sri Lanka signed
an agreement aimed at politically resolving the
ethnic conflict in the island. But with the LTTE
rejecting the agreement and returning to armed
struggle, India was obliged under the agreement to
deploy an Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in the
northeast of Sri Lanka. This brought India and the
LTTE into direct military confrontation with each
The India-LTTE relationship
deteriorated further following the assassination
of Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi by an LTTE
suicide bomber in May 1991. India declared the
LTTE a terrorist outfit and cracked down on its
network in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. This
was a big blow to the LTTE as it was now denied a
rear base in Tamil Nadu.
Right through the
IPKF engagement in Sri Lanka and for several years
thereafter, LTTE propaganda was shrill in its
criticism of India.
ties with the Lankan government had soured
considerably when in 1990 the latter called on
Delhi to withdraw the IPKF from the island. The
unhappy peacekeeping experience prompted India to
adopt a "hands-off" policy towards the Sri Lankan
conflict. But a "hands-off" policy did not mean
disinterest. India remained engaged in the quest
for a solution, pushing for a negotiated,
political solution to the conflict.
the ban on the LTTE remained and India was opposed
to the LTTE's goal of an independent Tamil Eelam,
it was critical of Colombo's pursuit of a military
solution. Consequently, while there was military
and intelligence cooperation with Colombo, India
stopped short of providing it with weaponry.
This pushed the LTTE to tone down its
criticism of India and to refrain from carrying
out attacks on Indian soil or targeting Indian
interests on the island. It did not want to
provoke Delhi into extending full military support
to the Lankan government.
In fact, in
recent years it was seeking to mend ties with
India. In 2006, LTTE ideologue Anton Balasingham
even described the assassination of Rajiv as a
"great tragedy, a monumental historical tragedy".
Expressing deep regret, he called on the Indian
government and the Indian people "to be
magnanimous to put the past behind and to approach
the ethnic question in a different perspective".
The sudden stridence in the LTTE's
statements following Fonseka's visit to India
therefore represents a shift.
triggered the angry LTTE statement? As army chief,
Fonseka probably figures high on the LTTE's
hate/hit-list. In fact, he survived an
assassination attempt by an LTTE suicide bomber in
April 2006. But others more hated than Fonseka
have been hosted by the Indian government in the
past. Sri Lanka's Defense Secretary Gotabhaya
Rajapakse, for instance, who is also President
Mahinda Rajapakse's brother, has visited India
several times. He is perhaps more hated than
Fonseka (he too has survived an assassination
attempt). Yet his interaction over the past few
years with Indian officials did not raise the
LTTE's hackles the way Fonseka's visit did.
What transpired between Fonseka and India
has not been made public. What is known is that
the army chief met with India's Defense Minister A
K Antony, National Security Advisor M K Narayanan,
Defense Secretary Vijay Singh, Indian Navy chief
Admiral Sureesh Mehta and Indian Air Force chief
Marshal Fali Home Major.
India has been
unhappy with the Rajapaksa government's pursuit of
the military option, its aerial bombing of Tamil
areas and its robust military cooperation with
Pakistan. Although India has refrained from
providing Lanka lethal weaponry - the equipment it
is providing is largely defensive in nature,
including radars to detect the LTTE's aircraft -
it is supporting its operations with naval
surveillance and critical intelligence input.
While India has quietly supported the
Lankan government this support stopped short of
facilitating the Sri Lankan army's ground
operations against the LTTE in the Northern
Province. That appears to have now changed.
According to Indian analyst B Raman "there
is probably a greater readiness - even eagerness -
on the part of the Indian army to cooperate with
the Sri Lankan Army in matters which might
facilitate its ground operations against the LTTE
in the Northern Province". And this in all
likelihood has raised the Tigers’ hackles. The
LTTE has been suffering serious reverses. It has
lost the Eastern Province and aerial bombings have
damaged its capability substantially. It cannot
afford to have India tilting in Colombo's
direction at this point. And to prevent this it is
resorting to a time-tested strategy - driving a
wedge between the federal government in Delhi and
the Tamils in Tamil Nadu with a view to rallying
the latter's support on its side.
parties like the Dravida Munetra Kazhagam (DMK)
are key constituents of India’s ruling United
Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition. The DMK has
in the past been a strong supporter of the LTTE,
allowing its cadres to operate freely on Indian
soil. Although it has toned down its support to
the LTTE in the years since, it will be under
pressure from its rivals in the state to do more
for the Tamil cause. Its chief rival, the
All-India Anna DMK (AIADMK) - once close to the
LTTE - is now opposed to it. But there is the
Marumalarchi DMK (MDMK), which is the LTTE’s most
vocal supporter in India. Now in opposition, it
can be expected to increase pressure on the DMK
government in Tamil Nadu to take a more
sympathetic position towards the LTTE.
MDMK has begun working on this strategy. In a
letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, MDMK
chief Vaiko called on the government to stop all
forms of military assistance to the Sri Lankan
"racist" regime. "The present approach and
attitude of the Indian government amounted to
assisting the genocidal Sri Lanka regime and was
sowing the seeds of sorrow and despair, loss of
confidence in the minds of Tamils," the letter
said. It can be expected to organize public
demonstrations in Tamil Nadu in the coming weeks
to pressure the DMK government in Tamil Nadu.
But will the MDMK be able to mobilize the
kind of mass support needed to put real pressure
on the government? Support for the LTTE has
largely evaporated in Tamil Nadu and, but for a
few fringe elements of those who do business with
the LTTE, there is little popular support for the
organization itself in the state. There is,
however, sympathy for the Sri Lankan Tamil people.
The LTTE's backers in Tamil Nadu are likely to
find it far more difficult to mobilize mass
support today than they did over a decade ago.
The LTTE's shrill anti-India statements in
the 1987-91 period preceded its assassination of
Rajiv. Are its current strident statements a
precursor to violent attacks on Indian soil or
targeting Indian interests in Lanka?
have dismissed the LTTE's statements as a "cry of
desperation" from an organization that is
suffering severe reverses; others have warned that
it would be unwise to take the LTTE's statement
The LTTE's rejection of the
accord in 1987 and its assassination of Rajiv
revealed that it was not averse to taking on
Indian military might. But these two critical
decisions made by the LTTE chief Velupillai
Prabakaran proved to be historic blunders.
If the LTTE has learnt any lessons from
the past, it will restrict expressing its anger
with India to statements and not provoke it with
violence. It simply cannot afford to at this
Ramachandran is an independent
journalist/researcher based in Bangalore.