The second salvo

Published : Nov 05, 2004 00:00 IST

The launch of a new political party by `Col' Karuna, signs of fissures in the LTTE leadership and the delay in the resumption of peace negotiations between the Tigers and the Sri Lankan government signal crises for the island nation.

in Colombo

THE Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is going through a churning process, which will have implications for Sri Lankan Tamil nationalism. The rebellion of its former special commander for the eastern Batticaloa-Amparai district, Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan (`Col' Karuna), which is the most serious internal crisis in its history as a politico-military organisation, took another dimension on October 12 when the former military commander launched a new political party, the Tamileela Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP), or Tamil Eelam People's Liberation Tigers.

That all was not well in the LTTE has been increasingly evident since March. The resumption of internecine killings (according to unofficial information, over 130 cadre owing allegiance to the two warring sections have been killed), the LTTE's attempt to underplay the rebellion and the continued refusal to recommence negotiations with the Sri Lankan government signal crises for the island-nation unless the situation is handled with sincerity by all the major players concerned.

Adding to the LTTE's list of irritants are rumours of fissures in its top leadership. Sections of the Sri Lankan media reported "differences of opinion" between the leadership and the head of the Sea Tigers, Soosai. The LTTE denied it vehemently, as "pathetic psy-ops [psychological operations]" to divide the group further. The current situation within the LTTE, always known for its secrecy and tact, is marked by a seeming lack of clarity.

The wrestling between the Tigers and the government over the resumption of peace talks continues. Despite warnings of a downslide unless negotiations resume, there has been a marked hesitancy to return to the table, with each side hoping to weaken further the other before restarting the talks.

Meanwhile, a high-level LTTE team, headed by its political wing leader S.P. Tamilchelvan, left for Europe to hold "international consultations" on issues relating to the constitution and the resumption of peace talks. At various meetings across the continent, the Tigers reiterated their position that the government's proposal for an Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA) was open for negotiations. As the Foreign Minister of Switzerland Micheline Calmey-Ray said at the conclusion of a visit to Colombo on October 12, that the LTTE's position was that the ISGA proposals were "not non-negotiable".

IT was around the same time that Karuna announced the launch of the new political party. In a statement published on the web site of the TMVP, Karuna dwelt on his past in the LTTE, where he was the unquestioned longest-serving regional leader. He apologised to "the Tamil people" for past killings and asserted that he would "never leave the liberation struggle".

A major feature of his detailed statement was the personal attack on LTTE leader V. Prabakaran. Karuna - who used to refer to Prabakaran as an unparalleled leader (thanipperum thalaivar), elder brother (anna), and, at one stage immediately after the revolt, god (kadavul) - said he "never saw good leadership qualities in Prabakaran".

He said that Prabakaran was "solely responsible" for the Tamils' failure to attain the LTTE's goal of Tamil Eelam. "In fact, Tamil Eelam should have been achieved 15 years ago", but, Karuna said, as Prabakaran "was a terrorist, other countries placed roadblocks and denied our reasonable aspiration for liberation". He said he would "continue to fight for our people", to "liberate the people from the cruel dictator".

Karuna also criticised the policy of killing members of other Tamil groups and expressed regret over "blindly following orders" in the past. His intention was to "relieve the liberation struggle of the Tamils from the cruel clutches of Prabakaran". Condemning the past, he said: "what has happened all these years cannot be termed as the struggle for liberation".

His former leader "never had a firm political or military strategy to attain the Tamil Eelam goal" and "he concentrated on war and in assassinating those who opposed him". "We have lost many great political leaders, leaders of fraternal outfits, militants" and civilians. The people "had lost good leaders, who could have led the Tamils, because of the political killings carried out by Prabakaran with the selfish intention of prevailing over anyone coming forward to challenge his leadership".

On his past, Karuna said: "I have fulfilled even the senseless orders made by Prabakaran," in spite of advice from his "colleagues" that the policies were "short-sighted". However, "now I realise the truth in what my colleagues said earlier."

For instance, when "our brotherly outfits were in toto branded as traitors, called agents of India", and accused of standing in the way of Tamil Eelam, "I too blindly accepted [the charges]. Today I regret very much for it. By these vengeful acts, the struggle for Eelam got diverted and ruined".

Seeking to mend fences with India has been an important component of Karuna's strategy since his revolt. Elaborating on observations made immediately after the rebellion, Karuna, who was seated next to Prabakaran on April 10, 2002, when the LTTE leader described the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi as a "tragic event" (thunbiyalaana sambavam), said in his statement that Indian support was lost owing to the "atrocious act". He claimed that the assassination was carried out "without consulting the important leaders of the outfit".

KARUNA is the president of the new party and G.R. Gnanaraja, closely linked to the Eelam National Democratic Liberation Front (ENDLF), the general secretary. Sources close to Karuna said the TMVP submitted an application for recognition to the island-nation's election authority on October 12. The election authorities could not be reached for comment. As Sri Lankan laws prohibit the recognition of new political parties when elections are pending, the TMVP is likely to face an uphill task in getting legal acceptance against the backdrop of the postponed local body polls in the north-east.

Earlier this year, the ruling United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) circumvented the same problem by changing the office-bearers and the name of a party that was already recognised. According to sources, the new formation could adopt similar tactics through the ENDLF.

But, Tamil sources said such a move could affect the TMVP's growth. The ENDLF, which was formed as a result of fissures within the People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) and the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), continues to evoke bitter memories among sections of the island's Tamils. The people remember the ENDLF particularly for the role it played during the Indian involvement in the country's crisis in the 1980s. "The emotional trauma suffered by families cannot be forgotten, so that will be an inhibiting factor," an informed source told Frontline.

The future of the new formation remains a matter of conjecture. "It all depends how they are going to behave in the future. This formation is, for the moment, symbolic. Only time can tell us whether they can survive or not," a political analyst said. On the TMVP's immediate impact, the view is that the "new party is unlikely to change the ground situation immediately. Depending on his [Karuna's] survival and holding capacities, there will be a change in the long run, especially in the eastern province".

SURVIVAL and adaptation to the country's politics would largely determine the future of the TMVP and, by implication, the course that would be taken by Sri Lankan Tamil nationalism. For, the Sri Lankan Tamil community's basic contradiction with the structure of the unitary state and the demand for greater sharing of political powers remain unchanged at the core around which the personal, political and ideological dynamics unfold.

An observer pointed out that Karuna's party retained the Tamil name of the LTTE and added the word "people" (makkal) to it in order to give it a popular touch. Moreover, the logo of the new formation shows the head of a tiger but, unlike the tiger in the LTTE flag, without weapons and ferocity. In his statement Karuna did not lay much stress on his tilt to the east and spoke of the "good relations" between Jaffna and eastern Tamils as well as Muslims. This is interpreted as a reflection of his plan to form a pan-north-east political outfit. His apologies, a former militant pointed out, extended "only to the Tamils, and he has also made clear that he would not give up the liberation struggle".

On the personal nature of the attacks by Karuna on Prabakaran, the political analyst said that it was "retaliatory character assassination". Pointing out that "character assassination" was part of the LTTE's strategy to counter Karuna's rebellion, he said that "Karuna was targeting the heroic image of Prabakaran".

One concern among former militants is that the fissures "will affect the bargaining power of the Tamils". Emphasising that there is no love lost between a large number of former militants and the LTTE, a former militant said: "The fact is that now the national struggle is with the Tigers. My apprehension is that the government or the Sinhalese hardliners would see these as signs of cracks in the national struggle and not give us anything as the LTTE and its armed cadre from the main bargaining power now." Another former militant contended that the LTTE "has not used its bargaining power properly". He said that "despite contradictions, there is a possibility that there is a coming together of all Tamil forces".

The LTTE, for its part, is likely to make the most of the situation, particularly by harping on the ENDLF's past.

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