Recently, there was a rather ridiculous debate after Minister Rajitha Senaratne, who as the Cabinet Spokesman has a knack for putting his foot in the mouth, equated the JVP to the LTTE. JVP MP Vijitha Herath and Minister Champika Ranawaka objected to the comparison. By any definition, both are nihilistic terroristic groups that unleashed unspeakable carnage upon this country. However, the argument goes that the JVP’s gruesome record of 1988-89 is much less egregious than the LTTE. Those who viewed it that way ignore one pivotal fact: The JVP was stopped in the midway of its campaign of terror by an equally bloody campaign of counter terror, without which the contemporary history of Sri Lanka would have been much different. Of all terrorist and insurgent groups in recent times, few came closer to recreate a Khmer Rouge styled killing field as the JVP did in 1989. That mass calamity was avoided, of course at a considerable cost, by a ruthless but effective state response.
And the JVP is now the old story. Even its cadres do not glorify their blood drenched lunacy in the past (Mr. Wijeweera’s wife calls her husband a ‘mass murderer.’)
In contrast to its efficient execution of a counter insurgency campaign against the JVP, successive governments pussyfooted before the LTTE. That was in part because, the LTTE for a long time, did not pose to the power centres of Colombo a threat equivalent to that was posed by the JVP. Bombs went off periodically, there were regular assassinations and about four hundred security personnel were killed in the first phase of the Eelam war from 1983 to the signing of the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord in 1987. However, there was never a threat of State capture. The political vacillation and Indian intervention in 1987 enabled the LTTE to escalate its armed campaign; each new phase of the Eelam war witnessed an extra venom and accelerated rate of death and destruction.
Had the earlier governments made a concerted effort to defeat the LTTE, the destruction of a three decade of the civil war, and the civilian casualties of its final phase could have been avoided. Instead, successive leaders subordinated the terrorist problem in the North to their own electoral and political considerations in the South. The greatest such miscalculation was President Premadasa’s decision to send back Indian peacekeepers who were by then had driven the LTTE to the jungles and were preparing for the final assault. We could have got the Indians who, themselves created the problem, to do our dirty work, and save the country from two more decades of destruction.
The LTTE inflicted significant cost on the country, economy and the Southern centric political establishment. But, all that pales in comparison to the destruction it wrought upon the Tamil people. Compare the status of Tamil community in this country in 1980, when one in three every charted accountant, lawyer, civil servant was a Tamil, and Jaffna was the second richest city in the country to their existence today. That is what the JVP could have done for us in the South had it been given a chance.
In contrast to its efficient execution of a counter insurgency campaign against the JVP, successive governments pussyfooted before the LTTE.
That was in part because, the LTTE for a long time, did not pose to the power centres of Colombo
The post -1989 response in the South to the State’s counter-terrorism campaign was not much different from what is now seen in the North. There was a mothers’ front that was actively campaigning for justice, and supported the election of President Chandrika Kumaratunga, who after her election set up a large-scale inquiry into the dead and missing, which received around 29,000 complaints. Nothing much happened in the follow up, but the South moved on. That chapter in the history was closed, and few really wants to reopen it, doing so would do much damage than any solace it would bring in.
The North could well follow the same pattern, except for one reason. There is a lot of vested interest in some quarters of Tamil politics, diaspora and NGO in keeping the book open. They are not doing a service to Tamils.
On the other hand, Sri Lanka cannot ban the mourning of the dead, and claims it is striving for reconciliation. In fact, such misguided State intervention in the past complicated things and added to the disenchantment of the Tamil community. Mourning could help healing in its small ways. In the meantime, the government should address the grievances of civilians who lost loved ones and adequate reparations should be paid.
However, one should also not miss the reality that Tamil nationalist forces who were organising these events in Mullivaikkal were patently anti-Sri Lankan. The government should prevent those grievances from being exploited for another phase of radicalisation of Tamils. These groups and individuals need to be watched. Such vigilance would be in the interest of the country as a whole and Tamil people in the North in particular. That would prevent them being herded to another Mullivaikkal.