The global financial crisis has spawned a new term that is fast acquiring the status of a cliché — ‘bailout package.’ Now attempts are on, internationally and in Tamil Nadu, to craft a bailout package for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Just what kind of political animal is the LTTE? The answer is straightforward. It is a dreaded terrorist organisation — described by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as “amongst the most dangerous and deadly extremist outfits in the world” — that claims to be the sole representative of Sri Lankan Tamils and pursues the secessionist goal of ‘Tamil Eelam’ in an uncompromising way. What is its present situation? For all its success in building, over time, low-intensity fighting capabilities that are the envy of extremist and terrorist organisations the world over, the LTTE has taken a military battering as never before. Every credible independent assessment indicates that it faces a crisis of depleted infrastructure, combat strength, and morale, and has dug itself into a deep hole in its eroding strongholds in Mullaithivu and Killinochchi districts in the mainland North.
The terrorist crimes and atrocities of Velupillai Prabakaran’s organisation are too well known to detail here. Suffice it to note that its extremist character is expressed by the fact that it has rejected, out of court, every worthwhile proposal for devolution of power to the Tamil regions within a united Sri Lanka. Following the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi on Indian soil by an LTTE squad in May 1991, India became the first country to ban the LTTE as a terrorist organisation — whose supremo, Prabakaran, continues to be wanted as Accused No. 1 in the Rajiv assassination case. Since the Indian proscription, nearly 30 countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Malaysia, the European Union, Canada, and Australia, have banned or listed the LTTE as a terrorist organisation.
For several years now, some small political parties and fringe groups in Tamil Nadu have been involved in ineffective chauvinistic propaganda and activities to enable the LTTE to stage a political comeback in India. They got no political purchase for the simple reason that the overwhelming majority of the people of Tamil Nadu, something like 95 per cent, did not want a reprise of the secessionist campaigns and violent activities of the Tamil Tigers in one of India’s most peaceful States. Now several mainstream parties that have no love lost for the LTTE found themselves taking a strident stand on the Sri Lankan Tamil question. In six resolutions adopted at a recent all-party meeting chaired by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, they alleged ‘ethnic genocide’ and issued an ultimatum to the Central government to provide humanitarian assistance to the Tamils (through international agencies such as the Red Cross), cease all military assistance to the Sri Lankan government, and bring about a ceasefire within two weeks — or else all Tamil Nadu MPs would resign, presumably bringing the United Progressive Alliance regime down with them.
Official and political India must avoid a serious conceptual trap: equating the politico-military crisis of the LTTE with an existential crisis for Sri Lankan Tamils. For political parties in Tamil Nadu, expressing concern over, and putting their best foot forward to help resolve, the humanitarian crisis created by the military conflict in the Wanni would be the just and proportionate response. Giving moral support for a political solution along federal lines within a united Sri Lanka will also be consistent with the long-term thrust of Indian policy towards Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict. The humanitarian crisis in the Wanni is defined by the plight of an estimated 230,000 displaced people and a large number of civilians affected by the recent battles. Reaching food, medicines, fuel, and other essential goods to them in the zone of low-intensity conflict is a major challenge. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, responding to humanitarian concerns raised in Sri Lanka, internationally, and by India in an October 6 démarche, has promised to overcome the practical obstacles and reiterated (in a telephonic interview to The Hindu) his assurance that “all hardships faced temporarily by our brothers and sisters in the North will be brought to an end in a short time.” The military has charged the LTTE with using civilians as ‘human shields.’
On September 1, the Sri Lankan government proposed a ‘humanitarian corridor’ to enable civilians trapped in battle zones to flee from the Tiger-held territories. Conflict-generated problems have cropped up in coordinating the relief work with United Nations agencies and international NGOs. The U.N. recently announced that a major World Food Programme convoy carrying 750 tonnes of food, which attempted to go into the Wanni, was “forced to turn back due to fighting” and that it would seek “renewed security assurances from the two sides before attempting the route again” soon. This is the kind of humanitarian situation where India’s developed logistical capabilities, combined with substantial fraternal contributions of food, medicine, and fuel, can make a real difference, as was splendidly demonstrated in Sri Lanka in the wake of the 2004 tsunami. The Tamil Nadu government and political parties can make a handsome contribution to such a timely humanitarian project. It goes without saying that India’s assistance to the Tamils must be routed through the Sri Lankan government and coordinated with the U.N. and reliable international NGOs