Rebel LTTE leader puts demand for ?Tamil Homeland? on the backburner
Col.Karuna led by the Eastern Commander, has put the longstanding Tamil demand for a "Tamil Homeland" on the backburner, subordinating it to the more immediate demand for "administrative autonomy" for his fiefdom, the combined district of Batticalao-Amparai (BA).india Updated: Mar 24, 2004 12:03 IST
The breakaway group of the LTTE, led by the Eastern Commander Col.Karuna, has put the longstanding Tamil nationalist demand for a "Tamil Homeland" on the backburner, subordinating it to the more immediate demand for "administrative autonomy" for his fiefdom, the combined district of Batticalao-Amparai (BA).
The spokesman of the Batticaloa-Amparai District Liberation Tigers (BADLT), Varadan, said on Monday, that the BADLT was for a unified Tamil Homeland comprising the northern and eastern districts of Sri Lanka, but before this issue was taken up, the problem of regional "administrative" autonomy for the Batticalao-Amparai area would have to be settled to the satisfaction of the people of that area.
Regional administrative autonomy was the more immediate need, Varadan said. It was necessary to solve the day to day existential problems of the people of the district, he pointed out. Once such autonomy was granted, the issue of a unified “Tamil Homeland” could be taken up jointly by the BADLT and the leadership of the LTTE in the Wanni, he said.
Varadan said that there was a major problem between the people of BA district and the leadersip of the LTTE based in Kilinochchi in the northern region of Wanni.The people of BA district were feeling neglected and discriminated against both within the LTTE and outside it, he said .The Wanni-based leadership of the LTTE was neglecting the economic development of BA district, he added.
“We have been compelled to take this decision. It is now up to the Wanni-based leadership to change its ways,” Varadan said.
The Karuna group has said that even if the Sri Lankan government were to accept, in toto, the Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA) proposed by the LTTE, there is no guarantee that the people of the East, particularly those of BA district, will get their due share of the devolved power and economic benefits. Hence, before any such structures came up, the LTTE’s Wanni-based leadership, must agree to administrative autonomy for BA district, Varadan said.
Karuna has said time and again, that he is ready to work under the LTTE Supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran, if he will only instruct his Wanni-based departmental heads to keep their hands off BA district. Karuna had specifically asked that the Police Chief Nadesan, the Finance Chief Tamilenthi, and the Intelligence Chief Pottu Amman, be asked to leave BA district alone.
Prabhakaran, of course, paid no heed to this and sacked Karuna and dubbed him a traitor.On his part, Karuna closed down the LTTE’s police stations in areas under his control and reorganized to the intelligence unit by putting his own men there.Financially too, he is now independent of Wanni since the Wanni leadership has stopped the monthly grant of SLRs.One crore.
Asked if the people of BA district would go along with Karuna on the issue of the Tamil Homeland, when for more than two decades they had lived on a diet of “Tamil nationalism”, “Tamil Liberation”, “Tamil Homeland”, etc. Varadan said that the people were aware that they were being discriminated against by the North-based LTTE leadership and wanted an end to that system, as a priority. Karuna’s stand was being appreciated by the common man in BA district, the spokesman said.
Batticalao poet debunks regionalism
But even as Karuna touted BA regionalism, the famous Tamil poet and Batticalao man, Kasi Anandan, issued a statement saying that regionalism had raised its head from time to time in Battcalao politics, only to be rejected by the people of the area. His contention was that those who raised the issue had done so to curry favour with the Sinhala-dominated governments in Colombo and get ministerships.They did get ministerships but they could not make the people discard Tamil nationalism and adopt regionalism.
“ The people of Tamil Eelam did not sacrifice 17,000 lives in the name of Batticalao or Jaffna, but for Tamil Eelam. I will not agree to abandon the cause of Tamil Eelam for the sake of regionalistic exclusivism.Till their last breath, the people of Tamil Eelam will live only for Tamil Eelam,” Anandan said.
“It was V.Nalliah, who for the first time, raised the cry of Batticaloa-based regionalism.Because of this, the Sinhala rulers of the country rewarded him with a ministership.He was followed by A.W.Devanayagam. who too was rewarded with a ministership. Then came the staunch Tamil nationalist and a champion of the united Tamil Homeland cause, C.Rajadurai.But he too raised the cry of Batticalao regionalism and got a ministership in the bargain.
“But such regionalism was burnt to ashes by the fire of Tamil Nationalism.It is not possible to give life to this dead concept any more,” Anandan said.
To an extent this is true. As Ramesh, the newly appointed Special Commander for Battcalao-Amparai told the media earlier this month, the people of Batticalao-Amparai were not at all thinking in regional terms. “ The LTTE has had no difficulty in recruiting cadres in that area,” he pointed out.And Ramesh is very much a Batticalao man.In fact, practically the entire second line military and political leadership in Batticaloa,who hailed from Batticalao, had ditched Karuna and opted to go with the “northern” Wanni leadership.
According to a senior Batticalao journalist, even now, Tamil nationalism is strong in Batticaloa because people generally think politically. “In 1977 Kasi Ananthan was defeated because people saw him as a poet rather than as a politician. Likewise, people see Karuna as a war hero rather than a political leader on par with Prabhakaran,” the journalist said.
However, the veteran Tamil commentator, DBS Jeyaraj, in a piece in “Sunday Leader” says that regionalism is historically entrenched in Batticalao.There has always been an undercurrent of resentment about “domination” by the northern Jaffna Tamils.
“Batticalao politicians were independent of the north in most matters in the State Council (pre independence) days.Be it E.R.Thambimuthu, V.Nalliah, Dharmaratnam or S.O.Canagaratna, the eastern politicians were not controlled or guided by the north,” Jeyaraj says.
A pleased Sinhala leadership in Colombo enabled Thambimuthu to build important bridges in Batticaloa.After independence in 1948, district leaders like Nalliah and SU Edirmanasinghe took a pronouncedly anti-Jaffna line,the latter even starting an organization called “Batticalao Tamil Speaking Front” in 1956.
Tamil nationalism swept Batticalao in the 1960s and 1970s, but even in 1977, there were leaders like C.Rajadurai and M.Canagaratnam, who quit Tamil nationalism and became spokesmen of regional interests, especially regional development, just as Devanayagam and Rajan Selvanayagam had done earlier. Both Rajadurai and Canagaratnam became ministers in the United National Party (UNP) government led by the Sinhala leader, JR.Jayewardene.
There were strong regional/developmental undertones in the 1989, 1994 and 2000 elections too, Jeyaraj points out.In 2000 Ganeshamoorthy of the Peoples’ Alliance led by President Chandrika Kumaratunga, won a seat in Batticalao fighting on regional issues and stressing cooperation with the government in Colombo.
Social and ethnic differences
One of the reasons for the growth of the regionalistic sentiment in Battcalao-Amparai is that the Tamils of this area have a different historical origin and have a social system different from that prevailing in Jaffna, says Prof.MLA Cader, former Vice Chancellor of the South Eastern University.
“In contrast to Jaffna, the dominant caste in this area is the Mukkuvar, or pearl divers.They came from Kerala. Ethnically and linguistically, they are distinct from the Jaffna Tamils.Their settlement patterns are also different. Mukkuvar laws are different from the Thesavalamai system prevailing in Jaffna,” Prof.Cader said.
“The Vellalars of the North looked down upon the Mukkuvars as low caste and generally neglected them. The Mukkuvars have been poor and backward as compared to the Vellalas of the North, which is evident in their build,” Prof.Cader said.
According to him, the Tamils of Battcalao and Amparai, like the Muslims of the area, joined the LTTE mainly in the hope that liberation from Sinhala domination would enable them to lead a better and more prosperous life. There was an underlying economic motivation.Even the subsequent Tamil animosity towards the Muslims had an economic basis as the LTTE told the Tamils that they would secure for them lands now occupied by the Muslims.
But Tamil nationalism did not deliver the goods. There was no development in the East, Prof.Cader said. Discrimination continued, even within a strongly Tamil nationalistic group like the LTTE, as Karuna showed.
Asked if he felt that Tamil nationalism was on the wane and regionalism was coming to the fore, Prof.Cader said that Tamil Nationalism could not be written off. “I would like Tamil Nationalism to survive. But it has to become democratic and sensitive to the aspirations of the various sections of society in the North East.The fix into which Karuna has put the LTTE leadership,and the historical basis of his grievances, may well force the LTTE and Tamil nationalism to become democratic and accommodative,” Prof.Cader said.
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First Published: Mar 24, 2004 12:03 IST