Targeting The TNA, Testing The Nation?

by N. Sathiya Moorthy

  • Sumanthiran has also emerged as the moderate voice of post-war Tamil polity and society
  • Rehabilitated cadres may have been trained and are skilled in trades, but did not have a job or any other source of income
  • Definitely LTTE re-grouping of the terrorist-kind was/is a real possibility
  • The TNA walked the extra-distance to make the new Constitution happen, first by backing the candidacy of Maithripala Sirisena

M. A. Sumanthiran, Mangala Samaraweera, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and Sarath Fonseka

Going beyond or, ahead of what the religious-right Jathika Hela Uramaya (JHU) may have to say on the subject, the reported arrest of four ex-LTTErs for allegedly conspiring to target Tamil National Alliance (TNA) parliamentarian, M. A. Sumanthiran, needs to be squarely condemned. If it’s any indicative of any return to the old, forgotten ways, it needs to be pursued with the same vigour that made the military defeat of the dreaded terrorist organisation possible.

A late entrant into moderate Tamil politics, hence the TNA, Sumanthiran has also emerged as the moderate voice of post-war Tamil polity and society, over the past years. At the other end of the spectrum, Northern Province Chief Minister, C. V. Wigneswaran, a legal guru of Sumanthiran, is acknowledged as the ‘hard-line voice’, but again only of the Tamil moderates.

The hard-liner element from the past remains, and it’s that which had used to the culture of guns, terror and violence. It’s this that is being sought to be brought back onto Tamil politics on the one hand, and to the Sri Lankan nation, even more. Sure enough, the investigators interrogating the four arrested persons would know more, and might disclose equally more at the appropriate time, for the nation to know and learn from it.

In its conventional over-enthusiasm to protect the Sinhala-Buddhist identity, presenting itself all the time as the larger ‘Sri Lankan identity’, the JHU has now the ‘kill conspiracy’ against Sumanthiran to argue against further reduction in the strength of the armed forces, as has already happened post-war. Citing earlier episodes like recovery of vests and arrest of other ex-LTTE cadres, JHU spokesperson Nishantha Sri Warnasinghe sees the plot to target Sumanthiran as yet another sign of LTTE re-grouping.

Better or worse, JHU leader and Minister, Champika Ranawaka, has blamed it on the previous Rajapaksa regime, back-dated. According to him, it all owed to the Rajapaksa Government freeing 12,600 ex-LTTE cadres after ‘rehabilitation’. It’s another matter that Champika Ranawaka was a senior minister in the Rajapaksa dispensation and claimed to be an outspoken one at that.


Rehab, what?

However, Tamil political leaders and society leaders have begun blaming it on the inadequacy of Government’s rehabilitation measures, for the post-war Tamil community in the North and the East. Intended LTTE victim, Sumanthiran, too, has said that the rehabilitated cadres may have been trained and are skilled in trades, but did not have a job or any other source of income, or mainstreaming methods.

But is rehab-proper the real and only answer to the intensity and interest to try and revive/re-group LTTE and return to a life of terrorism, in the name of an unachieved cause? Instead, it’s about an ideology, and a return to the modus that proved effective, though ineffectual till the end.

The temptation would be to argue that the ex-JVP cadres of the Seventies and Eighties vintage were rehabilitated properly, with the result they did not need to return to militancy, and that’s not the case with the ex-LTTE cadres. To an extent, it may be an argument, but a contestable argument at that.

More than rehab-proper, the fact was that the defeated JVP could not expect any sympathy any more from inside the country, and not possibly from the outside, ever. On the domestic front, the simultaneous revival of LTTE terrorism alongside and against IPKF induction coincided with the JVP getting mauled. Externally, the JVP did not have the kind of UNHRC and/or Darusman-like reports providing fire and fuel to the cause.

The JVP did not have the kind of Diaspora and the latter’s network with and within governments overseas, especially in the western hemisphere. They may have had the best of ideologues and maybe even good military strategists apart from the worst of cruelty killers.  But they did not have connectivity of the LTTE kind to the outside world.

Looking back, the question also arises if the militant version of the JVP would have survived longer, if not to date, if only it had the kind of global political patronage that the LTTE had, if only over time. Rather, in the ‘Cold War’ era, the JVP was incapable of thinking and planning it.

In contrast, in the post-Cold War part of their existence and growth especially, the LTTE has had the right political climate across the West in particular. With no real enemy to fight or fight against, the West created imaginary adversaries, picking and choosing their inherent weak-points.

Human rights suited them the most while handling Iraq and Afghanistan, Yemen and Libya. They failed with the larger Russia, did not try it out on China, after the Tiananmen Square episode. Sri Lanka was a fit case by then. The Tamil Diaspora was already there, to take the genuine and not-so-genuine parts of the larger Tamil cause forward – overseas.

unnamed (1)Reviving LTTE

Independent of his other ‘sins’ and ‘mistakes’, war-time Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, and victorious army commander, Lt-Gen Sarath Fonseka (now the nation’s only ‘Field Marshal’), repeatedly kept talking about the post-war patronage of the West could only help the LTTE revive itself, post-Prabhakaran. They also clearly indicated that this was how the LTTE could revive itself nearer home in the country, based on the time and environment.

It would look as if they are now being proved right – earlier or later than what either or both of them might have predicted. Whether it meant a possible re-grouping of the military kind is beside the point just now. But definitely, LTTE re-grouping of the terrorist-kind was/is a real possibility. ‘Lone-wolf’ attacks are a temptation, especially in the light of what’s happening elsewhere across the world on ‘religious terror’ front.

The question is thus for the Sri Lankan investigators to get to the bottom of it, and convince themselves if there is a deep-seated conspiracy, hatched wherever, and executed nearer home, for anyone at all to push the panic-button. If so, the question then arises who all are the accomplices, and in which country/countries they are settled in, or operating from.


Existence & recognition

Even as Minister Champika has talked about ‘LTTE revival’, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera has spoken about getting ‘Tamil Eelam’ as a ‘nation’ struck off the lists of some countries, which had sort of acknowledged its ‘existence’ without affording it the required ‘diplomatic recognition’. The Government has also pooh-poohed the existence of a separatist ‘trans-national government of Tamil Eelam’ (TNGTE) but at least the latter is a reality that the incumbent administration wants to wish away, but to little effect.

It’s more than clear that any future course on ‘LTTE revival’ or the local Tamils’ return to ‘separatism’, with or without resort to violence and terrorism of the earlier avtar, will depend on what the Government may have to offer by way of a new Constitution and power-devolution. The TNA walked the extra-distance to make the new Constitution happen, first by backing the candidacy of President Maithripala Sirisena happen.

Later on, the TNA also favoured a new Constitution, both inside and outside Parliament. Today, the party is not as sure as it was since 2015 about its decision(s). Yet, it also helps the TNA and the larger Tamil polity and community, to return to the international community that they had trusted the latter more than their own Government – but see what it has been!

It’s back to the game of ‘Heads, I win, Tails, you lose!’ But it’s not only for the TNA. It’s more in the case of the Government (whichever party or parties they belonged to). Even more is the option(s) available to political hard-liners, and their shadowy militant backers and/or sympathisers.

The militants would not have been satisfied with whatever was on offer, barring a separate ‘Tamil homeland’. If the TNA failed in its vision and mission, as the moderates had often said, and had been spoken about in the past, it would only go on to strengthen their own hands, and cause, nearer home and among the Diaspora, which was not so sure about the future course, post-war.


Charted course?

It still lacks sense that the LTTE should be targeting a TNA leader, especially Sumanthiran, who had also fought many a human rights cases for the Tamils during the war years and decades. Any attempt on him would put off the larger community, both because he is a no-nonsense person, and two it could well herald the return of war-time violence to the North (where he was to have been targeted on both occasions).

Sumanthiran is not a serious threat to any Tamil political leader, now or possibly well into the future. Nor could they consider him competition, to any. He does not pair on the lines or even a minion of Prabhakaran or any lesser Tamil militant leader from the past. Hence the question arises as to the motive(s), behind targeting him, and the end-game that the plotters might have charted out, for the short, medium and long-terms.

During the war, the LTTE alone was known to have targeted moderate Tamil political leaders and Tamil ideologues and academics who did not subscribe to their views or be their surrogates. Taking off from there, any targeting of Sumanthiran now might have been aimed at subduing others, jointly and severally.

If true, this has consequences far greater than the hard-line moderate Tamil politics nearer home, post-war. It could flow from such a construct that someone somewhere out there has grandiose plans, which would not stop with an individual here, or a non-person elsewhere.

If so, it thus has to be a first step to an escalating situation aimed at provoking the Sri Lankan State into coming down on perceived plotters and their henchmen nearer home, be it in the North, East or in the heart of the national Capital, Colombo. In the pre-militancy, pre-terror, pre-war past, this was a seemingly natural course that provided a compelling motivation for the Tamil youth to prefer the Vanni jungles to their campuses and classrooms.

These twin motives of silencing the Tamil moderate voices before taking on, and provoking the Sri Lankan State, simultaneously, into committing the kind of errors that had caused the creation of the forgotten Boosa detention camp and Colombo’s ‘fourth floor interrogation centres’, may not – and cannot stop there, either. Wily-nily it can lead to the targeting of Sinhala political leaders and army commanders, especially those that the Tamils supposedly love to hate – from the immediate past or the distant one(s).

Even as the forgettable (from the LTTE’s defeatist position) ‘Maavilaru episode’ was winding down, there were enough Diaspora voices that had started flagging open concerns about Prabhakaran’s wisdom – or, lack of it – in targeting civilians, post-9/11 and still hoping for the world to stand by the Tamils. ‘Catastrophic terrorism’ may not pay, especially in the days of US under President Trump, but taking pot-shots and mug-shots at individuals might not create the kind of revulsion the other one could.

The ‘white tigers’ in the Tamil Diaspora of the time had also talked about a time, post-LTTE, when a new militant outfit would live to target the Sri Lankan State, and none else, but possibly after creating a territory under their control, but not governance as Prabhakaran had done – and spread out the LTTE’s wares. If the plot against Sumanthiran is for real, and not a dry-run for something bigger and worse, then the Government may have to take serious note of it – and not make a mockery of itself by withdrawing security for those perpetually on the LTTE hit-list, rather than reviewing and enhancing the same. Even then, it could well only be a beginning!


(The writer is Director, Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation, the multi-disciplinary Indian public-policy think-tank, headquartered in New Delhi. email:

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