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A documentary about the last days of the Sri Lankan civil war, the eradication of the LTTE and the brutal massacre of thousands of Tamil civilians. Our investigations suggest that the military operations were driven by a hidden political agenda and substantial economic and corporate interests. Follow the story to know more.

agarwal ambani

Mr Agarwal, founder of Vedanta and Mr Ambani, chairman of Reliance Industries

With the purchase of Cairn India, Mr Agarwal, boss of the mining powerhouse Vedanta resources, officially challenged the dominance of Reliance Industry, the Ambani’s giant in petrochemicals and refining[1][2]. Vedanta and Reliance were undisputed kings in their respective sectors: complementary and parallel. Both can count on mighty political clout and this feud showed their potential: in defence of Ambani’s Reliance went in Mr Sharma, chairman of the state-owned ONGC and Petroleum Secretary Mr Sundareshan. On the camp of Agarwal’s Vedanta, nobody less than UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron[3].

Mr Cameron pubblicly lobbied in favour of Vedanta with Mr Singh.

Mr Cameron pubblicly lobbied in favour of Vedanta with Mr Singh.

The bone of contention is simple: oil. In Sri Lanka[4]. Offshore of the Mannar Basin lie reserves up to a billion barrels. Reliance Industry was drilling on the Indian side of the Strait, but when the government of Sri Lanka offered the exploration rights in 2007, they Ambani’s group declined. Why?

Well there are always a lot of risks associated with oil extraction, first of all, there is no guarantee of discovery, second it could be not commercially viable to extract it.

But the Mannar Basin case was even riskier: it was the theatre of a civil war. The area was under the control of the LTTE, one the fiercest guerrilla army in the world. Surely if you buy, you want some guarantees that your will be able to access your property.

The LTTE navy, the Sea Tigers, guaranteed the security of sea lane supply for more than 30 years.

The LTTE navy, the Sea Tigers, guaranteed the security of sea lane supply for more than 30 years.

Now the company that was awarded the concession was Cairn, a small venture based in Edinburgh (with the bulk of their interests in India). What was the level of political leverage that Cairn could exercise to demand for assurance? Null. The management of Cairn, we are supposed to believe, bought the exploration rights with no further collateral for their purchase, no political promise that their property will be their hand soon.

But in 2011 Vedanta saved the “Scottish” company with their offer[5]. The operation was hardly contested by the Indian government; as we have seen, the move was an aggressive entrance in the landscape of Reliance and Ambani’s clan didn’t particularly welcome the new comer[6].

Agarwal acknowledged the leading role of Ambani: “They (Reliance) will continue to be the largest player. But, at the same time, there is enough water in the sea for other players to also do business.” [7]

If you are familiar with the Indian capitalism, you know very well that the big players are running monopolies supported by political protection. Competition is sacrilegious. So why Agarwal decided to challenge so directly Ambani?

Adivasis fighters.

Adivasis fighters.

Rumours go that he was concerned for his venture in Orissa[8]. Vedanta was involved in a billion mining project; they received of course all the authorization from the central government, but a small detail was blocking the operations: 80 million of Adivasis, the Indian Aborigines. The inconvenience was due to be quickly removed with mass evictions; this led the Adivasis to join the Maoist guerrilla, but Vedanta wasn’t worried: in fact the central government declared this insurgency (sometimes the Adivasis attacked with bows and arrows) as the nation’s main security threat: more than the archenemy, atomic-armed Pakistan. Operation Green Hunt was launched to eradicate the Maoist[9] and incidentally, any obstacle to Vedanta manoeuvres. Unfortunately for Vedanta, public and international outcry sprung in favour of Adivasis and suddenly the big deal, despite all the political support, was in peril[10]. The Orissa crisis urged Vedanta to look for alternative business[11]. Quickly.


sri lanka military presence 3The Tamil and Sinhalese community are still two divided community. Heroes of one side, are executioners for the other, terrorists here, liberators there. Every propaganda presents heroes as people who sacrificed their life for a cause, fighting. Until you’ll find a hero with guns, bullets and grenades, Sri Lanka will never converge towards a common name. In fact grenades for the cause were thrown against the other faction. The ideals of one side had to crash against the skull of people from the other side. One shared hero based on bullets and guns in Sri Lanka is a contradiction.

Unless you resort to people who were fighting with the sole courage of their words and ideas. These people can really become the light of rebirth for Sri Lanka. One of these heroes of justice and truth was Lasantha Wickrematunge.

Lasantha Wickrematunge (5 April 1958 – 8 January 2009)

Lasantha Wickrematunge (5 April 1958 – 8 January 2009)

He was a thorny journalist, from the Sinhalese side but undeterred to speak against his president and friends. He was fighting for a better society, for a Sri Lanka more inclusive and just. He attacked a ruthless and brutal regime also because he was part of the same community. Rajapaksa was a family friend and he started to criticize him as an old mate. He could say more than anybody else, because he knew the people very intimately. He reached the line and he was told so. When he crossed the line, he was eliminated. But with his death he was reborn a hero of Sri Lanka.

In fact he didn’t challenge the authority because of arrogance or imprudence. He didn’t die because of a miscalculation of risk.

On the contrary, he was perfectly aware of the offence committed against power. He confronted a violent despot with perfect conscience that he wouldn’t survive this trial. He decided to sacrifice his life, in a state of pure clarity of mind.

In one of the most touching article in the history of journalism, the day after his death, he wrote a posthumous editorial. He accused his killers and left his legacy. It is a testament for all the people with heart and mind, with the will to change society for the better. He gave his life intentionally, choosing truth and justice for a happy life with his son and daughters, his wife

Wickrematunge family

Wickrematunge family

.

When you renounce to your existence for a cause, you deserve respect; but sometimes your sacrifice takes also the life of others and when they are innocents, your gesture is compromised. But if you give your life in a pure manifestation of generosity, of love for truth and justice, then you really become a light and an inspiration.

Lasantha Wickrematunge is an example for all Sri Lanka, the ultimate hero for a united sense of justice. If you think that justice must prevail in the country, if you think that violence must be left behind, if you think that the war is over, (but not oppression), if you think that guns should leave the way to words and ideas, if you think that heroes are those who lead the way, then please remember Lasantha and his sacrifice.

When enough Sri Lankans will consider true heroes people like him, when they will take him as their hero, the country will automatically become a better place.

Procession at Wickrematunge's funeral

Procession at Wickrematunge’s funeral

An article of journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge will always protect my conviction in the power of words.1 In his last column, Wickrematunge denounced his killers and linked it to the president Rajapaksa. He was aware of the danger of his editorial freedom and his last gesture stands as a temple of courage, intelligence and justice. His magazine’s mission, the Sunday Leader was the critical conscience of civil society in Sri Lanka. After his death, Frederica Jansz, took over and you can say she maintained the spirit of the founder.

In a famous article, she questioned the almighty defense’s minister, state brother Gotabaya on a petty incident. The reaction of the Rajapaksa was arrogant, brutal and violent. Few months after, the struggling Sunday Leader accepted a new owner. And in weeks, the new publisher sacked Frederica.

On the 18th of November it published an apology for the episode2.

It is clearly a heartache for me to read on the same column of Wickrematunge such cowardliness is painful.

But paradoxically this apology screams even louder the arrogance of power, the oppression over freedom of expression and the danger of criticizing the regime than a polemic editorial.

 

Sri Lanka is heading rapidly towards an authoritarian regime and this apology represents a desperate call for freedom.

I just hope that any member of the civil society in Sri Lanka realizes the danger of supporting the Rajapaksa regime, regardless of the short term benefit that could obtain. Any dissent is increasingly seen as anti-patriotic.

This article one time more is denouncing the climate of rising fascism in Sri Lanka. In a convoluted and sad way, the Sunday Leader is still accusing the government, but what a shame that we need to hear it with such oxymoron.

1http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jan/13/wickrematunga-final-editorial-final-editorial

Sri Lanka is firmly on the way to become a totalitarian state. It is uncanny the resemblance with the European experience of Nazism and Fascism. You have an intolerant nationalistic ideology, thugs violence at the service of a political party and an increasing suppression of press freedom. But the most creeping is the Divineguma Bill.

The other phenomena are to some extent easier to understand and to classify, especially for the masses. The Sinhalese supremacy is a characteristic of all the Sri Lankan parties, that wanted to drag people attention against an enemy. Rajapaksa administration is just the last comer.

Violence connected to political party is a sad feature of Sri Lankan politics and it has been used generously by all the electoral contenders. The will to silence press freedom is a poisoning attempt to eliminate political conscience from the intellectual landscape of the island and it is mostly directed to starve the most educated of feed for thoughts.

But the Divineguma represents a profound and deep modification of the state, with a subtle tendency towards a totalitarian form of governance.

In the first place the superficial appearance and name wave a populist target. In the name of lifting from poverty the poorest and weakest, it operate an implicit division in the social classes. The most vulnerable persons are led to believed that those who contest the president are opposing any progress in economic equality.

Any educated reader will easily understand the difference between the nominal campaign and the real target of the Divineguma Bill. But if you are struggling to put the bread on the table, the simple opposition to some pennies for your meagre meal will equal to the greedy reluctance of the super riches. Anybody against the Bill will appear as a champion of the interest of the fat cats.

The second totalitarian element is secrecy. Even in matter of security, any restriction of information to the public is a limitation of citizenship. In some cases of national interest it can be applied and it should always with extreme care. In a department of economic development this clause sound deviant. This is precisely a derangement of civil servants to become members and partners. When a body of the state become a private party, which benefit from the state protection and resources but it serves a private master, it is clear the path towards a totalitarian regime.

The question now is simple: can you really oppose within the system a political movement that is by far out of control of institutional check and balances of power? The majority of Italians and Germans didn’t radically oppose the extremist movement because they thought they could win them out in accordance with the rules of the system. But when a ruthless dictator grows too big to be controlled, then the rules are teethless. Would you consider an act of terrorism an open rebellion against Hitler or Mussolini? Many will say that Rajapaksa is not such a serious threat to Sri Lankan democracy. But when you are entitled to act? When are you permitted to defend legitimately your rights?

The notion of the String of Pearls is an American hypothesis about China’s containment of India. All the facts indicate that China is building a network of harbour facilities from the Corn of Africa, the Persian Gulf up to the shores of Indo-China. These line of ports crosses the entire Indian Ocean so it wouldn’t be wise to deny the reality of these system of of harbours. And we can keep on calling it with the name of “String of Pearls”. But it is important to investigate the purpose of these facilities. In the American definition, it is an expansive military strategy to encircle India. It suggests that any move to consolidate the String or to add another Pearl, is an offensive step against India.

East-West Shipping Lane

It is well known that the primary goal of the String is to secure the energy supply of China. More than 80% of China’s imported fuel passes along that route. So it is an obvious strategy to establish a network of military facilities to safeguard such vital energy line. Especially if you consider the bottleneck of the Malacca Straits, where an American fleet is patrolling a very short sea passage. Very easily relatively few American naval forces could choke completely the import of energy. It is important to note also that in the future the percentage of energy import will grow significantly. The String system therefore is a defensive strategy against the USA.

Chinese harbour facilities in the Indian Ocean: the String of Pearls

The question now becomes: how India is affected by China’s naval presence in the Indian Ocean? This of course is an important obstacle in the Indian aspirations of becoming a regional super-power, in the Indian Ocean in particular. The fact is that though India is surrounded by water, all its strategic interests are concentrated on the mainland. The crucial one is per definition the border with Pakistan. A secondary, but important issue is with China itself on the #Andra Pradesh. Minor reasons to exercise geopolitical power lie with Nepal, Burma and Bangladesh. All on land. The only strategically relevant issue on the sea is with Sri Lanka, but the proximity is so close, that you could consider it with the land group. A lot of attention has been grabbed by the Pearl in Hambatota, Sri Lanka. Although there is no doubt that this facility will serve the Chinese maritime presence when it will be needed, it is also foolish to think that China will count on that stronghold to obstacle India in case of a confrontation. Sri Lanka is a domestic issue for India and any military escalation will see New Delhi overwhelms Colombo and any other country on its side.

The fact is that the Indian presence in the Indian Ocean is so firm that it will never really be excluded. Of course the Chinese presence can shadow all the imperialistic aspirations of New Delhi in the region, and yet, besides prestige, it is difficult if not impossible to worry the Indian presence in its own waters.

The real reason is that the USA suffer even more distance that China from the Indian Ocean and the String of Pearls is seriously menacing the American presence. Washington is heavily worried by being cut off from the region. So we can consider the String of Pearls almost entirely an anti-American defensive strategy.

We can conclude with a last reflection: if it is a China-American issue, what is the involvement of India? In the first place, the USA are uncomfortable in admitting their worries about their own containment; second they want to co-opt India on their side and convice New Delhi that they share values, goals and most of all, enemies. What is more surprising is that Beijing didn’t do much to change this perception. I suggest that China prefers to pretend of having a fictional confrontation with India, than to admit the real friction with the USA. The battle with supremacy with the USA is global and it has the potential to be nasty and dangerous, especially for the economic well-being of the Chinese people, given the mutual business relations. A confrontation with India can always be reconsider under the historical issues. And even a open, circumstanced war-fare will have very limited consequences. So for the Chinese interests is better to talk fictionally of the India’s containment, rather that facing the real rivalry with the USA.

It is possible that in the future the positions will change, that India’s strategic relevance will grow up to become a real competitors for Chinese supremacy. I suspect that even in this case it will be more a land-based confrontation rather than a naval one.

As a final remark I have to admit the appealing of the theory of the String of Pearls: a concept concisely expressed in an image, whose representation power seems to be self-explaining. It is a fortunate, well-thought artefact of geopolitical propaganda. My impression that is even too good to be real. But sometimes art not only precedes life, it can also lead it.

The Sri Lankan Government has a military mindset: it won a war, now it garrisons the peace. Simple as that.

The Sinhalese supremacist narrative told the story of a righteous war: the evil terrorists attacked the righteous Sri Lanka and the brave and peaceful (at the end of the day, aren’t they Buddhist?) Sinhalese were forced to react. 30 years of nightmare were a reaction to the insane plan of a mad leader and his followers. Indeed Prabhakaran was a bloody warrior, he had an obsessive idea and he committed atrocities. But this is only the reverse of what actually happened. The LTTE was a consequence, not the cause.

The ethnic Tamil,working in the plantations, were disenfranchised of the citizenship after independence.

After independence, the Tamils were systematically undermined in the legitimacy of their citizenship: cultural identity, historical heritage were a dangerous claim against the majority. The ideology of a Sinhalese state besieged and threatened in its existence by corrosive forces was the reason of the mandate for president Bandaranaike. The Sinhala Only Act, the decision to downgrade the Tamil culture, was taken on the basis that the simple fact of speaking Tamil is a menace for the entire Sinhalese culture. The Sinhala speaking, Buddhist majority at the time was around 66% of the popultion. The disfranchisement of Plantation Tamil (Tamil of more recent immigration from India: “only” 150 years), put the proportion at 75%. Three quarters of the island is culturally Sinhalese. Nonetheless any presence of difference, is considered a challenge to the majority. The Tamil has been indeed a very influential community. But you can see nowadays the animosity against the Muslim as a product,stemming from the same intolerance.

When in the ’70s the pressure to minimize the Tamil identity started to become unbearable, moderate elements of the Tamil society decided that it was a better idea to second the Sinhalese ideology: if you want a state that is completely Sinhalese, then you can have it. We well retreat to our land of origin, the Northern and Eastern Provinces and secede. Of course the Sinhalese extremists consider this an act of rebellion and used an iron fist to put the Tamils in their place. After that, came the LTTE, a violent, brutal and blind force of reaction against a racist repression.

Note that the decision of living separately and seconding the Sinhalese myth has been considered an act of rebellion. You are a good Tamil citizen if you give up language and culture and embrace the Sinhalisation.

Then it was war, a fight for survival driven crazy by decades of oppression and humiliation. It is ideological to call this conflict a war on terror, a legitimate act of policing against terrorism. It was a civil war, the eruption of ethnic tension provoked by the intransigence of Sinhalese supremacy. The end of the war brought the victory on the Sinhalese side and it is up the victors to write history. Now they can state that any dissent is aligned with the terrorist insurgency. The militarization in the Northern provinces is only the prosecution of the same Sinhalese supremacy: to repress diversity with violence.

The LTTE was a natural consequence of such oppression and the actual exercise of power is the same majoritarian force that caused the reaction. The roots of violence haven’t been eliminated with the annihilation of the LTTE. On the contrary they prosper with under the warmongering regime of Rajapaksa. Nobody but Sinhalese people. This is the brutal, effective message, after the Eelam War. No country for Tamils, no country for Muslims. That implies also: no country for free man (see Lasantha Wickrematunge).