The LTTE might be vanquished, but the grievances of the Tamil community remain.
The death of Vellupillai Prabhakaran signals the end of the civil war between the Sri Lankan government and the militant Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). For nearly three decades since its formation, the LTTE had relentlessly pursued its aim of achieving a separate state (Eelam) to be carved out of the northern and eastern areas of Sri Lanka. In the course of its single minded drive to achieve "Eelam", the organisation ruthlessly decimated other militant organisations and voices among the Tamils – many of whom were willing to accept autonomy or federal rights for the Tamils. But by accepting no compromises and by continuing to use tactics such as assassination of perceived "enemies of the cause" and violent retribution, the LTTE brought about its own doom.
Despite a systematic shelling and bombing campaign that killed or incapacitated thousands of civilians, the Sri Lankan army did not receive anything more than token disapproval or humanitarian appeals from the international community. The Sri Lankan government's ruthless drive to vanquish the "terrorist" LTTE were never halted in the final phase of war by an international community tired of "terror" – a stigma that the LTTE carried for its past actions. The LTTE's own cynical moves to use Tamil civilians as a shield, a fact that was brushed aside by the organisation's propagandists, only alienated them even further in the eyes of the international arbiters such as the United Nations or India. The events leading up to the end of the battle – with the Sri Lankan army's capture of the last remaining areas of the Vanni region under LTTE control, and the killing of the outfit’s senior representatives and leaders – are murky. Questions remain about the way the LTTE leader and founder, Prabhakaran, his family members and the organisation’s political representatives were killed and war crimes by the Sri Lankan army cannot be ruled out. But the general lack of sympathy for the vanquished among the international community is itself a consequence of the LTTE's intransigence in its ways and means.
Thousands of Tamil civilians now live in "appalling conditions"– as the visiting UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon called them – in internment camps after displacement because of the war. Despite claims by the Lankan government about commitment to "early resettlement", its actions in restricting access to these camps by humanitarian agencies and its callous treatment of the displaced people in the camps in the name of security do not inspire confidence. These actions in tandem with the triumphalism displayed by the Sri Lankan polity would only make one more sceptical about the Lankan government's claims of bringing about a democratic solution to the problems of the Tamil minority after the defeat of the "terrorist" LTTE. A lasting peace after the defeat of the LTTE would remain a chimera if the Sri Lankan polity refuses to acknowledge the plight of the displaced Vanni residents or indeed of the genuine grievances of the Tamil community.
The LTTE's inflexibility and rejection of any compromise, say a federal solution to the conflict, its dwindling legitimacy internationally and the internal split, with the defection of erstwhile eastern commander, Vinayagamurthy Muralidharan, were ultimately responsible for its defeat. Several moments capture the cynical single-mindedness of the LTTE. It rejected an offer from the ex-president Chandrika Kumaratunga, which provided powers of devolution even greater than what the Thirteenth Amendment in 1987 (that provided for provincial councils) envisaged. After a ceasefire agreement in 2002, the LTTE signalled a willingness to discuss a federal solution, but backed out of peace talks for no valid reason. It also engaged in violent acts in violation of the agreement (something which the Lankan government was also guilty of). It even called for a boycott of elections by the Tamils, an action that helped hardliner Mahinda Rajapaksa become the president of the country with the support of other Sinhala chauvinist parties and thus resulted later in the recently concluded violent phase of the civil war.
The intractable positions taken by the LTTE were partly due to the enthusiastic material and arms support that the organisation received through funding and donations from the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora over the years. After the 11 September 2001 attacks in New York, the LTTE, which had been proscribed in 32 nations, found its material support drying up because of tough actions against its sympathisers in many countries where tolerance for support to "terror" outfits became negligible.
Among the Tamil community in Sri Lanka and in the vast diaspora of Sri Lankan Tamils, there is a deep sense of despondency following the defeat of the LTTE. Many of the latter’s sympathisers are still in denial about the death of the LTTE leader. These sympathisers should introspect about the reasons for the bloody end to the war between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE. Far from realising the aspirations of the minority Tamils who aimed for self-rule, the LTTE's actions have only resulted in a traumatised Tamil population disaffected both by the "Eelam cause" and with the government ruling from Colombo.
There remains no excuse now for the Sri Lankan government to avoid addressing the grievances of the Tamils now that the LTTE is vanquished. Anything short of a federal setup that promises political rights for the oppressed Tamil population would only lead to a further festering of the deep wounds from years of marginalisation and alienation of the Tamils. In the provision of relief to the displaced Tamils and in their re-settlement, the international community, through its various humanitarian agencies, must play an important role. Also, the international community must be vigilant and should pressurise the Sri Lankan government to fulfil its promises to arrive at a political solution to the conflict that takes account of its root causes. In the absence of this, the seeds would be sown for another radical organisation – one that would have learnt from the past mistakes of the LTTE – espousing complete separation.
Draft of an Editorial written for the Economic and Political Weekly