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ITAK’s New Leader is an Unabashed LTTE Apologist

07 Feb 2024 - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}      

Tamil nationalism would take the same perilous journey, dragging the country down with it



When pro-Palestinian groups planned protests on Armistice Day last year, policymakers in Europe were livid, calling, rightly so, the conduct ‘disgraceful’. No matter the context – in this case, the Israeli military campaign on Gaza in response to the Hamas terrorist attack on October 7th – such protests held on a special day of the collective memory are an affront to the majority, insensitive and provocative. 

On Sunday, February 4th, when Sri Lanka marked its 76th anniversary of independence, the newly elected leader of the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK), S. Sritharan, a known LTTE apologist, led a mass protest of black-clad protestors in Kilinochchi and clashed with the Police. Several protestors, mainly students of Jaffna University were arrested – but not Mr Sritharan. They were later released. Developments in the North and the East receive only a cursory glance in the Southern media. It had been so in the past until the bombs went off in Jaffna, killing 13 soldiers in 1983, leading to Black July. It was the same in the East, well, until a group of home-grown Islamists attacked churches and tourist hotels, killing 250 persons and setting off a fresh bout of Islamophobia. Early warning signs that were overlooked in the past have come to haunt the country at some point later. When that happens, news media themselves go overkill, trying to catch up with the missed coverage, often inflaming tension. The conduct of the security agencies is no different. A nuanced understanding can spot the early signs of the breeding of extremism and the political will to nip them in the bud, even before they proceed to take violent form, which inevitably sometime later would have saved the country from so much carnage and three decades of a nihilistic terrorist war.

One might ask why single out the Kilinochchi protests when there were several dozen others across the country. There is a difference. Firstly it is the motive: Everyday protestors in the South, and some even in the North, are protesting against the government, which is their fundamental right. Whereas Mr Sritharan and his Tamil nationalist cohorts are protesting against the state, targeting its deconstruction. So did Velupillai Prabakaran. Theirs is not a matter of fundamental right, though, like every other extremist campaign, they would cloak it as such. It is a matter of security concern. Security planners and commonsense political leaders who have seen the evolution of terrorism in this country should be able to dissect the difference between the two by now.

Secondly, it is the capabilities: Those few dozen protestors who gathered in a busy city junction holding placards are what one would call Facebook protestors, social media warriors without a following, who seek their validation not from the people of this country but from their benefactors elsewhere. Others are JVP cadres and ‘Peratugamies’, who have done the cap of civil society activists. They are ineffectual publicity hunters whose existence is integral to a noisy democracy as ours.



One might ask why single out the Kilinochchi protests when there were several dozen others across the country. Protestors in the South, and some even in the North, are protesting against the government, which is their fundamental right. Mr Sritharan and his Tamil nationalist cohorts are protesting against the state. So did Velupillai Prabakaran



In contrast, S. Sritharan is mobilizing a group of people who hold a strong rancour against the state, who bred suicide terrorists at an industrial scale in the past and who would do the same if a security lacuna would enable that.

THIS IS NOT A GENERALIZED REFERENCE TO THE TAMIL PEOPLE BUT TO A SPECIFIC SUB-GROUP WHO STILL HOLD A STRONG SENSE OF BITTERNESS FOR THE ANNIHILATION OF THEIR PRIDED TERRORISTS. It is for the exact typical reason that the Western nations are reluctant to bring their nationals back from the Al-Hawl camp of foreign IS fighters in Syria. In this context, Sri Lanka should pay special attention to the radicalizing elements within the remnants of the LTTE within the country.

Just like Rohana Wijeweera poached willing recruits in the universities and disgruntled youth to wage a socialist revolution in 1971 against the most socialist government ever to come to power in the country, S. Sritharan is exploiting a security lacuna to mobilize the disgruntled ex-LTTE members and their family members to rekindle the next phase of a Tamil nationalist struggle. This is a dangerous gamble which would have serious consequences.
The ITAK’s new leader is an unabashed LTTE apologist whose first activity after getting elected was to pay homage to the ‘Tamil National Leader’ who was a megalomaniac terrorist. He is married to the sister of LTTE Colonel Theepan. Some have suggested that reference to family matters is low-brow. It isn’t. A cursory glance at the leadership structure of terrorist groups, such as Al Qaeda and Islamic State, would reveal that they thrived in closely knitted familial networks.

Sritharan has rejected the 13thAmendment to the Constitution as inadequate and wants a federal state. Any solution beyond the full implementation of the 13thAmendment would risk the Balkanization of Sri Lanka. The federalism that Tamil nationalism advocates is ethnic federalism. Anyone who wishes to take account of the full scope of the disastrous consequences of ethnic federalism can take a look at what is unfolding in Ethiopia, which is lumbering from one war to another, in part because of a constitution, which rather than integrating different ethnic groups, amplified their differences through ethnic federalism.

Sritharan would rekindle the worst excesses of Tamil nationalism. Time and space are in his favour. If the previous track record of the JVP’s second insurgency is any guide, 15 years after the disastrous ending in Mullivaikkal is long enough for most people to forget the cost of the previous misadventure and bet on a new one. The government at the time is amenable to the Tamil concerns and is occupied with fixing the economy. Political leadership that co-opted Saharan for just 2000 votes would give a pass to Mr Sritharan’s excesses.
However, there is no gainsaying that Tamil nationalism would enter a dangerous phase if Sritharan manages to capitalize on a permissive political and security environment.

He says he renounces violence. 
So said S.J.V. Chelvanayakam. So did Amerthalingam, while covertly nurturing nascent Tamil militancy, hoping to use them as cat’s paw to intimidate the government in Colombo.
 History, if not repeats, rhymes.   

Anyone who has followed this column might recall I have warned since way back in 2014 that the ongoing Wahabization of some quarters of the country would degenerate into terrorism (though the massive scale of the attack was beyond the belief most of us had about the capabilities of local Islamists). Anyone who has followed the trajectory of Islamist terrorism in the world would give the same warning. 

One does not need to look beyond the shores to make an educated guess on where the next phase of Tamil nationalism would lead. If undeterred, I would give five to seven years before bombs go off. That would be a horrid thing to say, but politics, at its core, is self-interested, nasty, brutish and manipulative. The kind of nationalism that S. Sritharan is peddling around would take its own life, breeding out extremists, terrorists and suicide bombers. It happened in the past and will in the future unless it is deprived of the permissive environment.
That is one lesson one can draw from Sri Lanka’s 76 years of independence. 

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