I have in the past written about Mr. B. Raman, who used to work for the Research and Analysis Wing (“RAW”), India’s external intelligence agency. B. Raman headed RAW’s counter-terrorism division for more than a decade till his retirement in 1994. Presently Mr. B. Raman is the Director of the Institute For Topical Studies in Chennai. B. Raman frequently writes articles for various publications, many of which are available online. B. Raman also has a blog which is a repository of all his recent writings.
Generally I agree with what B. Raman has to say, since his articles contain detailed and accurate analyses of political situations in India’s neighbourhood. However, one of B. Raman’s recent articles titled “After The LTTE, What?” had me very disturbed.
B. Raman starts off by describing the current situation in Sri Lanka and the death throes of the LTTE. He examines Prabhakaran’s personality, his amazing ability to motivate his cadres and fight armies much larger than the LTTE as well as his irrational side which made him kill so many Tamil leaders, not to mention Rajiv Gandhi and Laxman Kadirgamar. B. Raman goes on to say that “the irrational side of Prabhakaran’s personality erased his rational side. His shocking use of the Tamil civilians in order to delay the final end of the counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism campaign undertaken by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces is driven by this irrational streak in him, which now dominates his personality.” B. Raman concludes that the LTTE “has been defeated beyond recovery.” I have no quarrel with any of these statements. In fact I agree with them wholeheartedly. However, I have a huge problem with all that B. Raman states afterwards.
B. Raman says “After the final death of the LTTE, which is expected any day, what is the future of the Sri Lankan Tamil cause? Would a Requiem for the LTTE also mean a Requiem for the Sri Lankan Tamil cause? Hopefully not.”
What is this ‘Tamil cause’ that B. Raman talks about? According to B. Raman it is the “Tamil aspirations for greater political and economic rights in their traditional homeland and for greater human dignity.” This statement makes me slightly uncomfortable. Sri Lankan Tamils are entitled to be treated as equal partners to the Sinhalese. They are entitled to protect and safeguard their language and culture. However the words “greater political and economic rights” have an ominous ring to them. I don’t think Sri Lankan Tamils were ever denied economic rights. What B. Raman says after this confirms my suspicions.
“Let us not forget that ever since our independence in 1947, the Bengalis of the then East Pakistan, the Balochs and Sindhis of Pakistan and the Tamils of Sri Lanka have been India’s natural allies. It was this reality which persuaded Indira Gandhi to assist the Bengalis of the then East Pakistan to achieve their independence.”
Were the Bengalis of East Pakistan Indian allies ever since 1947? I doubt it. They had just broken off from India in 1947 on religious grounds. They did their best to be good Pakistani citizens, without losing their Bengali identity. When faced with genocide of the worst order, they sought Indian help and broke free from West Pakistan. However, at no stage did the Bengalis of East Pakistan say that they made a mistake in breaking off from India in 1947. India assisted East Pakistan because it suited India to have Pakistan broken up. After Bangladesh was formed, there was no mention of reunification with West Bengal. There are still lots of Bangladeshis who don’t want Bangladesh to be friends with India. I have explained my views on Indo-Bangla relations in greater detail in one of my previous articles.
B. Raman says that “It was sympathy for the Sri Lankan Tamil cause at New Delhi when Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister and in Tamil Nadu, which induced India to take up their cause in the 1980s.” Correct. There was a great deal of sympathy in India for the Sri Lankan Tamil struggle for greater rights. However, I’m not sure if sympathy alone was the reason why India supported the LTTE and other Tamil groups who were carrying out an armed struggle. B. Raman provides a clue as to the real reason why India got involved in Sri Lanka. B. Raman says “There is no reason why India should not pride itself and seek to be the paramount power of the region. To emerge and remain as the paramount power, we need natural allies in the region around us. We should not let the legitimate aspirations of our natural allies---whether they be the Sindhis and Balochs of Pakistan or the Sri Lankan Tamils--- be crushed by a brutal regime--- whether in Islamabad or in Colombo.”
I guess Indira Gandhi decided that India ought to be the paramount power in South Asia. She most probably had advisors like B. Raman who egged her on.
Does B. Raman want India to get involved in the Baloch struggle for freedom? B. Raman says, “Since 1947, the Balochs rose twice in revolt in favour of independence for their homeland. On both occasions, they were defeated by the Pakistani Armed Forces as decisively as the LTTE by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces. The Pakistani leadership brutally used the Air Force against the Balochs to crush their freedom struggle. Undaunted by this, the Baloch people, under a new leadership, rose in revolt for a third time two years ago and their third war of independence is still going on.”
I guess B. Raman wants to do another Bangladesh in Balochistan. I don’t claim to know much about Balochistan, but I do know that the creation of Bangladesh has not made India’s eastern flank secure. Lots of Indian insurgents have found sanctuary in Bangladesh and continue to do so. No, I am not saying that India should not have helped create Bangladesh. There was a genocide going on in East Pakistan and India’s intervention was very correct, whatever may have been India’s real motive. I just wonder, if Pakistan were to break up into small pieces, won’t the Taliban find it easier to control and take over those small states? I don’t know. I am no intelligence expert, unlike B. Raman.
B. Raman finds parallels between the Sri Lankan victory over the LTTE and the Pakistani victories over the Balochis. He says that “The remarkable victory of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces against the LTTE was partly due to their improved counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism capabilities made possible by Indian assistance in the form of training and sharing of intelligence and partly due to their emulating the Pakistani Armed forces in the brutal use of the Air Force against people whom they portray as their own. Just as the Balochs were defenceless against the brutal Pakistani air strikes, the Sri Lankan Tamils were defenceless against the Sri Lankan air strikes.”
I am slightly confused here. Is B. Raman saying that the Sri Lankan Air Force should not have bombed LTTE targets? Is he saying that the Sri Lankan Air Force intentionally bombed civilian targets? I do believe that the Sri Lankan Air Force bombed LTTE’s assets without worrying too much about collateral damage to civilians. However, the Sri Lankans had lost control over northern and north eastern Sri Lanka. Did B. Raman expect them to not use the Sri Lankan Air Force against the LTTE, especially when the LTTE itself used its limited air power against the Lankans?
B. Raman goes on to make a totally incorrect statement, something very unlike B. Raman. He says that “The US has used air strikes in Iraq and Afghanistan----but in foreign territory and against foreign nationals. Only three countries in the world have used air strikes in their own territory against their own people---- the Pakistanis against the Balochs, the Russians against the Chechens and the Sri Lankans against the Tamils.” Surely B. Raman remembers what happened in Mizoram on the 4th and 5th of March 1966? Those were the two days when the Indian Air Force bombed Mizoram’s capital city Aizawl. For those unaware of Mizoram’s history, in 1959, Mizoram was in the grip of a famine caused by the flowering of bamboo shoots, something which happens only once every fifty years or so. The famine gave rise to the Mizo National Famine Front, which later became the Mizo National Front under the Pu Laldenga’s leadership. The Mizo National Front started an insurgency for total freedom, after the famine was badly handled by New Delhi and resulted in lots of deaths. Well, to cut a long story short, when India lost all control over Aizawl, the Indian Air Force was sent into to bomb the town. Which it did on the afternoon of 4 March 1966 and more extensively on 5 March 1966. I assume B. Raman is very much aware of this, considering his intelligence background. So, why would he make that very incorrect statement above? I just don’t know.
B. Raman makes it very clear that he doesn’t trust the Sri Lankan authorities to give the Tamils a fair deal. He says (sic) “President Mahinda Rajapakse has repeatedly promised that once the LTTE is defeated, he would be generous in meeting the political aspirations of the Tamils. He gives the impression of being a sincere man, but will the Sinhalese Army with its head bloated by its success against the LTTE allow him to do so? The indicators till now are not encouraging. Many Sri Lankan officers might have been trained in India, but their mindset and their attitude towards the minorities have more in common with those of their Pakistani counterparts than with those of their Indian counterparts. Therein lies the danger that after winning the war against the LTTE, the Government, strongly influenced by a victorious army, might trey to impose a dictated peace on the Tamils.
If the angry Tamils once again look up to India, there is no reason why we should not reciprocate provided a new leadership emerges in the Tamil community and it has drawn the right lessons from the brutalities of the LTTE.
The LTTE is deservedly dying, but long live the Tamil cause.”
All of this raises the following questions. Let’s assume that the Sri Lankan Tamils are not given equal rights. Should India get involved in Sri Lanka once more? B. Raman himself has used the word ‘traditional homeland of Tamils.’ In other words, Tamils have lived in Northern and North-Eastern Sri Lanka since time immemorial. They are not Indian nationals or even persons of Indian origin. If that is the case, why should India get too bothered about Sri Lankan Tamil rights? The Sri Lankan Tamils have ties to India on account of shared language and culture, but then, so do the Sinhalese. The Sinhalese are immigrants from places like Kalinga and Magadha in India and they speak a language derived from Sanskrit. Their main religion is one espoused by one of the greatest Indians ever – Shri Gautama Buddha. In any event, why should India care more about Sri Lankan Tamil rights than what India cares about the rights of say, Nepali minorities in Bhutan? Aren’t Nepalis friendly towards India?
Let’s assume that India successfully arm-twists the Lankans into giving more rights to the Tamils, without breaking up Sri Lanka. What happens after that? Will the majority Sinhalese admire India for having done that? Will India be treated as a friend thereafter? What if the Sinhalese decide to get really close with the Chinese? What if the Tamils start another violent movement for independence? Will India continue to support the Tamil cause?
I think India should follow a strict policy of non-intervention in the affairs of its neighbouring countries. This should also mean not raising causes such as the Tamil cause or the Chakma cause or the Balochi cause in international fora, unless the issues involved are something on the lines of what took place in East Bengal (genocide, resulting in the deaths of over 2 million Bengalis).
India may be the Big Brother in the South Asian neighbourhood. However, being Big Brotherhood carries more responsibilities than rights. No country, however small likes to be controlled by another. No country would even like to give the impression that it is controlled by another. India must tread softly in its neighbourhood. A Big Brother who is admired and respected by his younger siblings, rather than feared, will be able to command (and not demand) their loyalty. If Sri Lanka were to feel that India will not meddle in Sri Lankan affairs, it is unlikely to go out of its way to court China.
Thankfully, India’s current official approach to the Sri Lankan issue is much more sensible than it used to be. India is officially staying out of the dispute and unofficially helping the Sri Lankan government with military assistance and training (as penance for the help India mistakenly gave the LTTE?). I should also point out that there are many Indian commentators with an official or Indian army background who take a much more sensible view than the one expressed by B. Raman in this article. Please take a look at this article by Major General Ashok Mehta once the General Officer Commanding (South) of the Indian Peace Keeping Force or this one or this one by Col Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence officer of the Indian Army.
Rather than say “long live the Tamil cause,” Indians ought to say “India should never again get involved in the Sri Lankan Tamil cause.”