In the name of clemency

Published : Jan 08, 2000 00:00 IST

It is necessary that democratic forces in Tamil Nadu mobilise public opinion in favour of a just solution to the conflict in Sri Lanka, but they should ensure that the LTTE does not find a safe haven in the State.


RECENT events in Sri Lanka have once again highlighted the activities of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) with their consequent fall-out in India. The assassination attempt on President Chandrika Kumaratunga in Colombo is a grim reminder of th e ruthless methods adopted by the LTTE to eliminate anyone who stands in its way. The LTTE's suicide squads have not only targeted top Sinhala politicians but also systematically killed a whole generation of Tamil leaders who do not share their views. Th e list of assassinated leaders is endless: A. Amirthalingam and V. Yogeswaran of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), K. Padmanabha of the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), Savithri Yogeswaran, Mayor of Jaffna, and her successor , to name a few. The latest victim of these heinous politics was the widely respected TULF leader and scholar Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam, who was killed by a suicide-bomber in July 1999.

That the LTTE would strike during the presidential election campaign was, in one sense, pre-ordained. Chandrika Kumaratunga had become the LTTE's prime target since the intensification of the armed conflict between the Sri Lankan forces and the LTTE in t he last few years. Although the bomb explosions in Colombo were directed at the meetings of both the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP)-led People's Alliance and the United National Party (UNP), it is clear that Chandrika Kumaratunga was their main target.

It has been the tragedy of Sri Lanka's Tamil people that the LTTE has, by its terror tactics, been able to marginalise voices of moderation that could otherwise have facilitated a political solution to the problem of the Tamil minorities.

A democratic solution to the ethnic problem in Sri Lanka can be found only within the framework of a united Sri Lanka in which the Tamil regions get full autonomy. The devolution plan which was mooted by President Kumaratunga at the outset of her tenure was meant to be a step towards this. But it got bogged down by political wranglings and the intensification of military operations.

The Sri Lankan armed forces were looking for some military success to boost President Kumaratunga's election campaign. Instead, in November, the LTTE launched a successful operation which routed the Sri Lankan army in key positions. Chandrika Kumaratunga must realise that there can be no military solution to the problem. With the new mandate, she will have to take a fresh initiative for a political solution.

WHILE the resumption of political steps towards a settlement of the ethnic problem will have to await the plans of the new dispensation, for India and especially for Tamil Nadu, what should be of immediate concern are the implications of the heightened L TTE activities.

After the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi and the evidence of the LTTE's culpability in his brutal killing, the organisation was proscribed in India - a ban which continues to date. The gruesome killing of Rajiv Gandhi shocked the people of Tamil Nadu and alienated the LTTE from wide sections of the people who had been sympathetic to the suffering Tamil people of Sri Lanka. Now, with the upsurge in LTTE activities in Sri Lanka and the successes of its military offensive against the armed forces, the pro-L TTE forces have once again become active in the State. The issue on which they have activised themselves is the demand for clemency to the four persons sentenced to death after being found guilty in the assassination case - Murugan, Santhan, Perarivalan and Nalini. On November 30, a rally led by P. Nedumaran, a pro-LTTE leader and president of the Tamil Nationalist Party, and various other organisations, was held in Chennai to demand the commutation of the death sentences. Some of the slogans raised in the procession were: "Tamil lives should be spared" and "Give respect to the heroes".

The Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), which are members of the Bharatiya Janata Party-Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam alliance in Tamil Nadu and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), have demanded clemency for the killers of Rajiv Gandhi. A systematic effort is being made to generate sympathy for those facing the death penalty on the grounds that they are champions of the Tamil cause, even though it is of Eelam in Sri Lanka.

The efforts to neutralise the revulsion towards the LTTE caused by Rajiv Gandhi's assassination and to revive sympathy for it by portraying the assassins as heroes, are a cause for serious concern. Behind this is the LTTE's game plan for re-establishing itself among the people in Tamil Nadu.

The LTTE would like to portray itself as a movement for national liberation. But the reality is different. It is an organisation based on a reactionary variety of ethnic nationalism which uses fascistic methods of terror. The oppression and discriminatio n suffered by the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka is a fact and their cause for justice and equal share in Sri Lankan society must be fully supported. For two decades, the military conflict has caused great hardships and dislocation for the ordinary people. Aerial bombardment and army excesses have intensified this misery. However, the LTTE's politics and methods will only worsen the plight of the Tamil people and will keep Sri Lanka enmeshed in an endless cycle of violence and destruction.

Imperialism is using this violent divide to entrench itself in the beautiful island. At present, the United States considers the LTTE a "terrorist" organisation. However, the Clinton administration has put out a new doctrine supporting the right of minor ity ethnic groups to self-determination even if it circumscribes national sovereignty. This means there is the perennial danger of the U.S. changing its stance whenever it suits its strategic interests. Given this stance, any Sri Lankan government would be constantly under pressure to cooperate with the U.S.

IT is in this context that the political implications of the attempts to revive the LTTE's cause in Tamil Nadu must be seen. The PMK in its election manifesto for the 1999 Lok Sabha elections stated that Tamil Eelam can alone be the ultimate solution for the Tamil people and declared that it would urge the Indian government to recognise the struggle for Eelam as a "nationalist struggle". Dr. S. Ramadoss, the leader of the PMK, openly favours the LTTE.

The MDMK, another partner in the NDA, reiterated its support for Tamil Eelam in its election manifesto. After the general council meeting of the MDMK recently, its leader Vaiko demanded the commutation of all the death sentences in the Rajiv Gandhi assas sination case. With two important partners of the NDA alliance in Tamil Nadu supporting the overt pro-LTTE activities, the DMK Government in Tamil Nadu and the BJP-led government at the Centre are in an unenviable position. Efforts are on to convince the BJP that it should be supportive of the Eelam cause as most of the Tamils are Hindus. Anton Balasingham, the political aide of LTTE leader V. Prabakaran, has in a recent speech in London claimed that the new BJP-led government is favourably disposed tow ards the LTTE (Frontline, December 24, 1999). He specifically mentioned that parties and leaders supportive of the Tamil cause in Sri Lanka are part of the BJP-led Government. Any softness shown to the pro-LTTE activities in Tamil Nadu will have h armful consequences for the country. The Vajpayee Government must clear its position in this regard.

AS far as the demand of clemency for the four in the assassination case is concerned, the verdict was handed down after a full-fledged judicial trial and confirmed after going through appeals up to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court had annulled the de ath sentences on 22 of the accused and confirmed the verdict in the case of four. One of the accused, Nalini, is married to one of the co-accused, Murugan, and they have a daughter. Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi has asked the President to grant Nali ni clemency on the grounds that the child needs her mother. After the exhaustion of the judicial process, the only step pending is the petition for clemency before the Governor and finally the President.

The question of clemency to Nalini should be viewed by them on the basis of humanitarian considerations and international norms to which India subscribes. But to ask for the wholesale annulment of the death sentences, which were based on incontrovertible evidence gathered by the Special Investigation Team, is to play into the hands of the LTTE and its destructive tactics.

It is important that the democratic forces in Tamil Nadu which have displayed solidarity with the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka mobilise public opinion for a just solution of the Tamil issue in Sri Lanka, while ensuring that the LTTE does not find a safe h aven once again in Tamil Nadu.

Prakash Karat is a Polit Bureau member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

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