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In 2009 the Sri Lankan army crushed the Tamil insurgents, the LTTE. More than 360000 Tamil civilians were trapped in the fighting theatre. The Sri Lankan government established a “No Fire Zone” to protect the civilians. According to the UN Panel report, more than 40000 civilians died. Less conservative figures put the toll at 80000. This footage was taken from the No Fire Zone on 10th of May 2009.

The government of Sri Lanka claimed that it pursued a “Zero civilian casualties” policy; in an interview with NDTV, Sri Lanka’s President Rajapaksa stated that no more than 100 civilians died[1].

Any possible debate about Sri Lanka can start only after the vision of these images. They are crude, but they are testimony of what happened.

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.


Episodes of unrest in Greece.
Courtesy BBC

In States governed by the rule of law, governments have a monopoly of violence, but it is restricted to specific occasions and circumstances. It is a failure of the rule of law when a state commits a murder. Always. There are countries which consider themselves at war; this is the case of Israel. Recently a leader of Hamas has been killed1. What is the legitimacy of actions like that? In principle, very low. A governmental entity should always bring to justice any person that is labelled an enemy. A proper tribunal will verify the charges and eventually, sentence to death. This is legitimate.

You can advance an exception when there is an immediate danger for public security: killing one man to save many. To our knowledge, this wasn’t the case. But Israel claims it is in a permanent state of war. The consequence we can draw is that Israel is in a state of suspended legality.

Osama Bin Laden

A second situation in recent history is the killing of Osama Bin Laden. This is a high profile case. Two wars have been declared on the basis of his responsibilities; he wasn’t an immediate threat. The whole event is surrounded by mystery and suspicions. The impression is that the dimension of his personality was growing completely out of control. He was an icon and the US were quite disturbed by his popularity, which was extending beyond the Middle East. His statements about his own actions but also his involvement with the US secret service would have helped a lot in understanding the recent events of world history. The killing of Osama seems very much like cleaning up an uncomfortable and disturbing presence, more than the elimination of a security threat. Legitimacy absent, but not even in discussion: it’s the case of national interest and it’s a curtain on truth and legitimacy.

Killing of Top-LTTE member Parithy in France.
Courtesy of SL Defence Ministry.

And we have a third, recent case. The killing of Parithy, a Top LTTE member in Paris2. War in Sri Lanka is over; there is more than one issue, but they are grievances of the Tamil community, not of the Sri Lankan state. On the contrary, the misconduct of the government during the final stage of the conflict is dragging down also the UN, with an internal report due to be published in weeks, highlighting the failure of the United Nations in protecting the civilian population3. So no national interest was involved, on the contrary Sri Lanka should have better adopted a low profile. If you want justice and reconciliation is always better to bring to the judiciary authority any person, who is deemed responsible for crimes. And the Sri Lankan state should have also captured the leader of LTTE, Prabhakaran, instead of murdering him. Very much like Osama, the government was uncomfortable in dealing with a personality that could have cast more than shadow on the government’s doing. The LTTE was considered a terrorist organization; the trial of its leader could have been a opportunity to come to terms with its own history for Sri Lanka. Of course this is a painful process and it was much easier to eliminate the problem.

UK and France Foreign Ministers Miliband and Kouchner in Sri Lanka, during the attacks on civilians.

I want to conclude with a small observation with regards of killing of Parithy. Sri Lanka is not the US or Israel; it doesn’t have the negotiating power to impose a killing on French sovereign territory. Parithy has been jailed for a couple of years on the accuse of terrorism; he was freed. The Sri Lankan secret service killed him with the complete consent of Paris. This was an act outside the rule of law, so France is an accomplice of the killing. The clue is important to clarify the European position with regards of Sri Lanka. The West was quite moderate and mild in condemning the massacre of 2009. More than 40 000 have been killed, but it could be a staggering 140 000, according to the respectable source of the Bishop of Mannar. Miliband and Kouchner (UK and France foreign ministers at the time) staged a consequenceless drama during the most severe moments of the killing. Europe was culpably silent. This last favour to Sri Lanka shows that they were also associate with those actions.

The last responsibility is for the civil society and for the Tamil diaspora for not being able to convey this simple message to the public opinion in the West, which sleeps in a state of oblivion with regards of justice, accountability and legitimacy.

 

Tamil civilian victims in Mullivaikal, 2009 Sri Lanka.

Forget the LTTE, forget even the Tamils. If you slaughter tens of thousands of people, if you treat the survivors like animals, if you do respect human dignity, then sooner or later you’ll pay that price. And I’m not talking of resurgence of terrorism. Sri Lankans already have the worst punishment: president Rajapaksa, a despot who rules the country like a private property. Sri Lankans decided to enslave themselves to the ultimate dinasty on the island.

The issue is not about the Tamils. It is about impunity and lack of accountability. Clearly the Rajapaksa administration received a green light by the international community. The UN, the West, India let the Rajapaksas walk away after the slaughter of a city like Vavunya (according to UN)(according to the Bishop of Mannar, in his testimony for the LLRC, it is more likely a city like Kandy). What do you expect after that? Any other murder, any other disappearance is petty crime in comparison. The Sri Lankan citizens, all of them, have forget precisely this simple fact: how can you call for justice, after that?

Any misconduct, from threatening journalists, to assaulting judges, is trivial. Moreover, do you think the right of law can be exercised if you have skipped so quickly any investigation about the end of the war?

The Sri Lankan citizens have been lured by their government, but also by a majoritarian ideology and a guilty sense of ownership over the island, that any dissent can be buried by any means. The LTTE started an armed struggle out of desperation. The leadership of Prabharakan soon spiralled in a vortex of violence for the sake of it; it was a response to the oppression and devastation of the Tamil culture and identity. Most important, the deranged trajectory of the LTTE didn’t represent and include all the Tamils. The elimination of 40 000 human beings is a crime of genocide. Forget Tamil Eelam: if you are a proud Sri Lankan, so proud that you’ll never consider the division of the country, then you must act immediately to seek the truth. To bring justice to human beings and to Sri Lanka, to the good name of Sri Lanka.

Poor Sri Lanka, if you think that killing innocents is a good way to honour your country, if you think that the blood of children, elderly and armless unfortunate, is a good way to worship this Buddhist soil.

Are you really convince that a Buddha will be pleased by this bloody sacrifice, that to hold a flag in his name, you had to rape, torture and massacre thousands? In what kind of hell have you fallen, my poor Sri Lanka.

The Hanged Democracy: Lesson Learnt from the Eastern Province Elections aka LLEAP

Many had debated about the Eastern Provinces Elections: was it a narrow victory or relative defeat for the UPFA? It depends, whether it will be able to form a government. But what if they will be in opposition? It doesn’t really matter, Rajapaksa’s party can celebrate a lavish triumph. They win everything, totally. You don’t think so? Let me explain. First of all, were they fair, the elections? What about the accusations of violence and intimidation? Well, you have to take what you can and under these circumstances, this the best you could get. No completely fair, but neither unacceptably rigged. So you have to swallow it that they were more or less OK.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan, former Chief Minister for the Eastern Province, May 16, 2008.
courtesy Gemunu Amarasinghe-AP Photo via Yahoo! News

What is the result then? That we are discussing in a political framework. This is the masterpiece of Rajapaksa: it doesn’t really matter who holds the purely nominal title of Chief Minister, the orders will always come from Colombo. So you can really oppose the government’s will, with regards of important matters. Because if you do it, you can be accused of rebellion and consequently of reviving terrorism. In other words your freedom of movement is tightly enclosed in the framework that the government is giving to you. This is normality, the new normality. It is the democratic life of a country that the debate is within a shared framework.

The only issue is that accountability and justice, will never come out from it; the roots of discontent, the aspirations, the grievances, will remain untouched. No political entity can address any demand and claim of that community. You can participate only in a idle game. No surprise that many from the Tamil community didn’t bother to vote at all.

The second aspect is that you have a community that was chased out and hunted like an animal. Starvation, disease, killings were the means of interaction between the Tamil civilians and their alleged “government”. Only 3 years have passed, with many still in temporary shelters, victims of abuses of every kind from the army, which is a foreign occupation entity in the day to day life. Sexual violence, arbitrary violence, expropriation, land grabbing, the list is well known. And you ask this people, this community to participate “in the vibrant democratic life of the country”, to exercise “their duty of being active members of the election process”, to contribute “to the civic process of their State”. To me it sounds like a bad taste farce.

There is always the option of civil disobedience, as these women and men haven’t suffered enough, weren’t challenged enough. If they think of minding only their own business, attending the work in the paddy field, going to fish and care only of what happened in the perimeter of their houses (without roof, with stolen tiles, with signs of shelling, maybe mines in the garden), can you really blame them?

 The plan of Rajapaksa was to break the morale of a community and after that to blackmail it in a ineffective political game. Quite successfully, I would say.

In 2008 the government of Sri Lanka launched the Wanni operation, a final offensive to eliminate the LTTE in their last stronghold in the Northern provinces. President Rajapaksa has been able to convince India of the necessity to get the rid of the LTTE. Of course it wasn’t too difficult to remind the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi to the Congress Party led by his wife, Sonia Gandhi. But the intricacies of Indian politics were shielding the Tigers cause. In fact India was equally distant by a secession as well as by a complete elimination of Tamil nationalism. But Rajapaksa found convincing arguments (they are secrets, but we discover some facts that can shed light,at least on a couple of them. More about this in the incoming posts) and India sided with Colombo, providing military intelligence and political back up: in fact New Delhi protected Sri Lanka in front of the international community.

A displaced Tamil woman holds her baby at Manic farm in the northern Sri Lankan district of Vavuniya on May 7, 2009.
courtesy AFP PHOTO/PEDRO UGARTE/Getty Images

India didn’t confronted what happened in the Mullivaikal and in the rest of the No Fire Zone and the West basically left the case as a matter under the sphere of influence of New Delhi: it was a subcontinent affair. So the decision of eliminating the LTTE was taken and not much could have been done to change it. But of course the means to achieve that goal were many. Rajapaksa decided to go the hard way, with the intent of teaching the Tamils a lesson, to keep them in their place for the future. Of course this course of action could have been highly debatable. Especially if you consider Tamil Nadu. In the first place, what it is considered right in the far North and Hindi speaking New Delhi, not necessarily coincides with the sentiment of the South Dravidian Madras. 60 millions of Tamils on this side of the Strait have a very different opinion and feel much closer to their brethren on the island. Further on the ruling party in Tamil Nadu,DMK, was also a pivotal ally of the Congress in the national government. And the leader of DMK, Mr Karunanidhi was an open supporter of the LTTE and of the creation of an independent and sovereign Tamil Eelam. In the 1985 he established TESO (Tamil Eelam Supporters Organization) and recently he has been active in advocating again for the cause1.

Former Tamil Nadu Mr Matuvel Karunanidhi with Congress’ Party Leader Sonia Gandhi and India’s Prime Minister Mr Manmohan Singh
courtesy srilankanguardian.org

In the last stage of the IV Eelam War You would expect a vigorous campaign in defence of the Tamils and of their most elemental rights. He spent a political career fighting for the cause, even too much for his critics; his friendship with Prabhakaran was a source of controversies. He championed so much for his people and finally he had the opportunity to protect them. But nothing happened. India gave green light to the final assault and DMK remained quiet. Why?

 Well Karunanidhi is a controversial personality for two reason: one for his strenuous backing of the separatist group. The other is for nepotism. And in 2008 on the biggest scandals in the scandal infested Indian politics broke out: the 2G Spectrum scam. Essentially politicians sold at bargain prices frequencies to telecom operators in exchange of personal favours. The national audit commission (CAG), in charge of investigating about the case, calculated the damage for the country in the order of $ 30 billions2. The scandal was big and involved many politicians, civil servants and business. But two politicians in particular were at the center of the scandal: Mr A.Raja3 and Mrs M.K.Kanimozhi4.

M.K.Kanimozhi and her father, M:Karunanidhi

It is worthwile to say that both belong to the DMK and that Mrs M.K.Kanimozhi is also daughter of the Tamils’ rights guarantor, Mr Karunanidhi. It is speculated that the scandal weakened so much the DMK and its leader, that when in 2009 the worst of the IV Eelam War was happening, he didn’t have any chip to bargain for5.

The only evidences we have are these: that Karunanidhi’s family was involved in the scandal and that he was Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu during the last phase of the war. And that he remained quiet.

Recently he has been quite vocal in accusing the Sri Lankan government of war crimes. We couldn’t agree more with him, except that now he is talking as an activist, appealing to people in power. When himself was in power, he didn’t say a word. I couldn’t feel more distant from this.

M.K.Kanimozhi sought to revive the Tamil Eelam Supporters Organisation (TESO) in August 2012.
Courtesy: R.Ragu / The Hindu

Tamil refugee woman from Sri Lanka waits for news of her son.
Photo: Kate Geraghty

The Tamil community was left in a state of shock and despondency after the massacres of the IV Eelam War. Grief for the brutal murders but also for the defeat of their fight were and are the dominant thoughts of many amongst the diaspora. The big question is about the other side of the strait: everybody considers India the motherland, protector and guarantor of the rights of the Tamils. How could New Delhi abandon his sons? Surely there are divisions and frictions between the North and the South, but the idea that Indian eyes could watch such a carnage and remains impassive is almost unbearable.

The mistake from the Tamil side resides in considering themselves closer to India, just because Tamil Nadu is a part in the whole of the country. The central power in India has an imperialistic attitude towards its peripheral parts. From the far perspective of New Delhi, Sri Lanka is satellite of its dominion and Sinhalese are equally distant from the centre as the Tamils are. In the eyes of the rulers, a Sinhalese and a Tamil are subjects in the same measure.

In 2002 thousands of Muslims have been attacked in Gujarat. Death toll ranges in the hundreds.
PHOTO: AFP/FILE

Alongside the same mistake, the Tamils on the island invoke the protection for the minority. But India itself has more than one concern about the importance that you can give to the minority. The most direct correspondence is with the Muslims. They are integral part of the day to day life and yet their feeling and condition is ideologically separated by the main stream of the Hindus. The presence of the arch-enemy Pakistan as a guarantor of the rights of the Muslims, plays, under some respects, a similar role of Tamil Nadu for Sri Lanka: a sanctuary, a stronghold but also an avenger and an accomplices.

Pakistan’s politicians don’t officially back violence and destabilization in India, but only a naïve could think that behind many episodes of terrorism, you won’t find the long arm of IRS. Though many politicians in Tamil Nadu openly supported the underground operations of the Tigers.

Gujarat Riots against the Muslims 2002

How could New Delhi endorse publicly such intrusive behaviour in Sri Lanka, when is victim of the same tactics?

Moreover the Indian sentiment towards the Muslims is probably closer to the Sinhalese rather than the Tamils: a barely tolerated presence, proxies of destabilization and intimately stranger to the mainstream of the state. It is indicative the case of Narendra Modi, the charismatic Chief Minister of Gujarat and one of the leader of the right-wing, nationalistic BJP. His popularity is growing, he is a modernizer, he could be the man to lead finally India along a glorious path. The only issue is that this glorious path is clearly Hindu.

Sri Lanka riots against the Tamils, 1983

The rational follows this line: divisions in the country are slowing down the progress of the nation; to achieve a full, modern development, India must regroup. Implicitly, excluding the Muslims. In 2002 communal riots against the Islamic community, provoked hundrends of deaths1.

The issue is still controversial, propaganda both pro and against made all the picture just more complicated. The role of BJP members is not clear in details, let alone the one of Narendra Modi2. But the moral responsibilities of the carnage should be taken in to account regardless of criminal liabilities. Mr Modi speaks of modernization and development, but communal riots and massacres of members of the minority, hardly fit with a progressive society, based on education and merit.

I’m reluctant to be more drastic, because the future balance of power looks quite opaque to me. I’m not sure that dirigistic, authoritarian regime could not be the normal governance of future development. Maybe human rights, tolerance and inclusion are relics of the collapsing Western societies. On thing is sure: if you are a minority, don’t look at India for protection.

Chhattisgarh Police with Lathi. Adivasis community lament abuses from police and officers in Chhattisgarh.
courtesy Reuters