The 2013 Bollywood movie “Madras Café” starring the dashing John Abraham deals with the sensitive issue of the Sri Lankan Civil War and the conspiracy behind the killing of former Indian Prime Minister Rajeev Gandhi. So the pertinent questions to be asked is how such a brutal civil war which lasted for over two decades begin and, what was exactly the nature of India’s involvement that ultimately led to the assassination of Rajeev Gandhi? The answer to these questions are not simplistic in nature and will require a very precise analysis to really understand the conditions that led to a brutal civil war situation in Sri Lanka.
The seeds for this brutal civil war was basically sown during the British colonial rule when there existed a conflict between two ethnic groups in Sri Lanka i.e. Sinhalese and Tamils.. Although the real issue between the Tamils and the Sinhalese began when Ponnambalam Arunachalam a Tamil was appointed as a representative of the Sinhalaese and Tamils in the national legislative council. At that time Sri Lanka was a British colony and it was British Governor William Manning that encouraged communal representation and was responsible for appointing a Tamil as representatives of both majority and minority in the national legislative council and, therby creating a Colombo seat between both Tamils and Sinhalese. However the Donoughmore Comission strongly opposed communal representation and favoured a more balanced representation.
This resulted in a serious backlash especially from amongst poltical leaders of the Tamils who realized that the implementation of the Commission would marginalize the Tamil community as minority in the parliament. In 1936 after the State Council elections there was a demand to replace English as the official language with Sinhala and Tamil by the Lanka Sama Samja Party members N. M. Perera and Philip Gunawardena. However in 1944 the leader of Sri Lanka’s nationalist movement J.R. Jayawardena demanded for only Sinhala and not Tamil to replace English as the official language. Thus the conflict between the two communities began to take birth which eventually led to the formation of the dreaded LTTE or Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and a brutal civil war that lasted for over two decades.
In the year 1956 the then Sri Lankan Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike passed the “Sinhala Only Act” which granted Sinhala as the official language and replacing English while completely ignoring Tamil. This Act was seen by the Tamils as an attempt to promote Sinhalese and isolate the Tamils within the country. It was following the passing of this Act that led to conflict between the two communities in the country and which triggered major riots in certain regions in the country such as Gal Oya for instance. It was during this period that Prime Minister Bandaranaike was also assainated by a Buddhist monk Talduwe Somarama apparently because he failed to intitiate nationalistic reforms. It was during the 1960’s that talks of having a separate Tamil state of “Tamil Ealam” began doing rounds especially within the political community of the Tamils. It was also during this time that Anton Balasingham an employee of the British High Comission began participating in separatist movement and who eventually later became a chief negotiator and strategist for LTTE. Another important factor that contributed to this brutal civil war happened during the 1970’s when the controversial “Policy of Standardization” for admission into Universites was first initiated. According to this policy the Tamil students had to obtain higher aggregate marks than the Sinhalese student to obtain admission in the field of science, medicine, and engineering in the University of Ceylon. It was this policy that led to the isolation of Tamils especially in the north and east of the island and in turn adding more spice to the ethinic conflict which eventually led to a brutally violent civil war.
It was soon after the “Policy of Standardization” was implemented that a Tamil student by the name of Satiyaseelan formed a group called “Tamil Manavar Peravai”(Tamils Students League) to fight against this biased policy. It was a group that consisted of mainly young Tamil men like Vellupillai Prabhakaran (who eventually became the founder of the LTTE). It was in 1972 that Prabhakaran along with Chetti Thanabalasingham first formed a group known as the Tamil New Tigers(TNT) which was to become LTTE in the future. It was when Thanabalasingham who was the leader TNT died that Prabhakaran took over and became its leader. It was eventually on the 5th May 1976 that TNT was renamed as Liberation of Tigers of Tamil Eelam or LTTE. It was during this time that there were several other organizations such the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization(TELO) that were fighting for an independent Tamil state of Eelam. However with the use of brutal force Prabhakaran and his organization LTTE were able to wipe all rival seperatist groups and become the only separatist group fighting the government. What helped LTTE even more was the devastating anti-Tamil riots of 1983 whicn ensured that the publc support for the organization grew exponentially. Also helping the cause was the direct support from political parties in Tamil Nadu, India. As a result of LTTE becoming a sole major separatist group and the use of brutal violence is what caused the civil war in Sri Lanka stretched for over two decades.
As for the involvement of India which began in the 1980’s is a complex and triangular issue which involves three parties i.e. Indian government, Sri Lanka, and state of Tamil Nadu. India’s actual involvement began with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who provided for training facilities, camps, and bases for the LTTE in parts of India. These provisons were undertaken through covert operations carried out by India’s top intelligence agency RAW( Research and Analysis Wing). It was on June 5, 1987 as the civil war intensified that the Indian airforce dropped 25 tonnes of food and medicines by parachutes to the LTTE in direct support of these rebels. Although the Sri Lankan government clearly stated that it had been close to defeating LTTE. It was after intense negotiations between the then Sri Lankan President J.R. Jaywardene and Indian Prime Minster Rajeev Gandhi that an Indo-Sri Lankan accord was signed on 29th July 1987. According to this accord the Sri Lankan government requested for military assistance from India. As a result of which India sent its Indian Peace Keeping Force(IPKF) into war torn Sri Lanka. This use of the IPKF by India upset the LTTE who up until then had support from India. This use of IPKF against the rebels is what also became the trigger for the conspiracy behind the assassination of the Indian Prime Minister Rajeev Gandhi who was eventually assassinated by an LTTE sucide bomber named Dhanu.
So with the Sri Lankan civil war finally coming to an end with the death of Prabhakaran on May 19th 2009 we can only hope that the end of LTTE finally ends the violence in this beautiful island. Above all as a human we can only hope that in the world of politics humanity and compassion shall eventually prevail over violence and hatred for the good of mankind in the near future.
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