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On My Watch

Lucien Rajakarunanayake

When Fleeing Tigers fly again

It would be folly to ignore the LTTE’s most recent aerial attack on the military camp at Thallady in Mannar and the Kelanitissa Power Station in Colombo.

This is the reality of an ongoing battle against a calculating, devious and desperate terrorist organisation, which would do everything within its means to weaken the Sri Lankan State, and also draw the attention of the world to what it would like to show is its continuing ability to fight for its separatist aims against the legitimate Government of Sri Lanka, and to retain its armed grip on the helpless Tamil people of the North.

Far from making anyone put on blinkers about this attack, its meaning, impact and outcome, the defence authorities would no doubt be drawing the necessary lessons from it; especially the need for greater preparedness against this ruthless enemy, as well as looking at any weaknesses there may be in the strategies and materiel that are in place to come to terms with his threat.

The reality is that even the limited success of these sporadic air strikes by the LTTE has not shaken the mood of the people in their support of the Government’s ongoing operations against the LTTE in the North, and more importantly has in no way weakened the morale and determination of the armed forces to defeat and disarm LTTE terrorists, and make Sri Lanka together with at least the parts of South Asia that are closest to us, areas where democracy and freedom can flourish in the not too distant future.

 Victorious Security Forces in the North Picture by Rukmal Gamage

Despite the airborne antics of the “Flying Tigers” the reality of the battle where it matters in the North, especially in the Wanni, is one of “Fleeing Tigers”, taking fight with their feet from the advancing forces of the Sri Lankan military and they push ahead to secure more terrain that was once held by the LTTE,, and consolidate their position for the further thrust to take the grip of the LTTE off the Tamil people of the North, who they falsely claim to represent.

This was proved with the news of the Sri Lanka Army regaining Jeyapuram and Nachchikuda earlier this week. The LTTE is reported to have abandoned the strategically located Jeyapuram, 6 km north-east of Nachchikuda after Security Forces targeted LTTE fortifications in an area of about 4 sq. km.

The Armed Forces have fought their way towards the main Sea Tiger base of Nachchikuda on the north-western coast, having overrun its defences. It will be recalled that the LTTE lost its other strategic Vidataltivu Sea Tiger base in July this year.

The Basil Mission

All the hype about the imminent threat from India that was being built up by sections of the Opposition and some sections of the media, both print and electronic, and the activity that was taking place in Tamil Nadu with the politics of desperation seeking to manipulate New Delhi to veer away from its opposition to the LTTE, to serve the interests of Prabhakaran’s proxies and self-seekers in Tamil Nadu politics, did not have the required result.

Indeed there was a somewhat strong statement made by the Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, who had his own share of worries from a troublesome coalition ally in Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi & Co, and there was an interesting, diplomatic and reasoned phone call from President Mahinda Rajapaksa to the Indian Premier, which were the highlights of last week’s politics. But the tub-thumping in Tamil Nadu, and the hopes of Indian intervention entertained by the LTTE as well as those in the South who would like to see this Government fall, came to naught as the week ended.

The agent of this change was Basil Rajapaksa, MP and Senior Advisor to the President, who is showing himself to be a person of commensurate skill in political strategy, as well as, international diplomacy.

The quiet politician who is spearheading the development of the East, building bridges to the Tamil and Muslim people there, answered the call, of the President to go as his Special Envoy to India, to soothe what seemed to be ruffles feathers from some strong gusts of opportunist racist winds blowing from Tamil Nadu, and help keep Sri Lanka- India relations on an even keel.

Within a single day’s diplomacy, Basil Rajapaksa had succeeded in convincing India of Sri Lanka’s best intentions towards the Tamils in the North of this country, the commitment to the disarming of the terrorists of the LTTE, and the continuing of best relations between India and Sri Lanka.

All this came with India and Sri Lanka jointly reiterating their determination to defeat the terrorism of the LTTE, cooperate in humanitarian relief to the Tamil people temporarily affected by the ongoing military operations against the LTTE, and coming to what no one can seriously fault as a bad agreement or understanding on the issue of Indian fishermen who come into Sri Lankan waters.

No bailing out

At the height of the protests that were being orchestrated by Karunanidhi and the DMK in Tamil Nadu the previous week, one of the few voices of sanity on the Sri Lankan situation came from Malini Parathasarthy, Executive Editor of The Hindu, whose Op-Ed piece was a masterly analysis of developments both in Sri Lanka and India, with the reminder to the Indian Government that it cannot change its well considered policy against the terrorism of the LTTE, because of rabble-rousing politicians in TN.

The strong and principled position taken by The Hindu in this dispute which was being blown out of proportion to embarrass New Delhi more than Colombo, saw its offices being attacked by pro-DMK +LTTE mobs. It was not surprising that the Hindu of last Wednesday (29) had an editorial that commented on the agreements reached between the two countries following the Basil Round of diplomacy, with the reminder that Tamil Nadu should not bail out the LTTE it its current hour of crisis. “The efforts in Tamil Nadu should be directed towards easing the humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka and not bailing out the LTTE”, The Hindu emphasised.

Here is the text of that timely editorial, titled “Ending the humanitarian crisis”.

In seeking to address the humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka without in any way easing the situation on the ground for the beleaguered terrorist organisation, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi and External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee found a practical way out of the political crisis arising from the decision of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam MPs to resign their membership of Parliament.

With the two countries reaching an agreement on ensuring the protection of Indian fishermen entering Sri Lankan waters, and Sri Lanka promising to guard against civilian casualties in the war against the LTTE, Karunanidhi quite rightly shifted the focus from the issue of forcing a ceasefire in the war between the Sri Lankan armed forces and the LTTE to extending humanitarian aid to the Tamil civilian population affected by the conflict.

That humanitarian aid was the right and proper response was quite clear to all except the most chauvinistic of the LTTE’s supporters in Tamil Nadu. Indeed, the politics of some of the Tamil chauvinist fringe groups was directed towards collapsing the Tamil question in Sri Lanka into a pro-LTTE campaign, diverting the widespread sympathy in the State for the Sri Lankan Tamil population caught in the ethnic conflict to the cause of the terrorist organisation, which in itself has only minimal support.

Some of the political parties such as the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Pattali Makkal Katchi, and the Communist Party of India have allowed the mainstreaming of the fringe agenda of equating the difficulties posed by the current Sri Lankan military offensive for the LTTE with the sufferings of the civilians.

In any case, the Sri Lankan Government’s proposal to create a “humanitarian corridor” to enable civilians trapped in the conflict zones to leave should address some of the concerns voiced by political parties in Tamil Nadu.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has, in his interview with N. Ram published in The Hindu today, reiterated his commitment to avoiding harm to civilians and to ending their suffering in a short time.

He has welcomed the offer of relief material from India and particularly from Tamil Nadu, and said his Government will facilitate delivery and cooperate with the Government of India in addressing the humanitarian issue.

With Karunanidhi leading the mobilisation of resources in the cause of the civilian Tamil population, the efforts in Tamil Nadu should be directed towards easing the humanitarian crisis and not bailing out the LTTE. After all, as Mukherjee pointed out, India could not have restored a ceasefire that it had neither put in place nor broken.”

The Four Ds

It is now seen that when it came to a matter of face saving, the Basil Diplomacy certainly helped Sri Lanka and Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee to make it possible for Karunanidhi to show that all he was ever interested in was humanitarian aid for the Tamils, and had no interest in the activities and aims of the LTTE.

This puts Prabhakaran and the LTTE on a limb in the face of the relentless forward march of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces.

The same issue of The Hindu carried an important interview that its Editor, N. Ram, had with President Rajapaksa shortly after the Joint Press Release was issued by Sri Lanka and India.

The Sri Lankan President reiterated his position that he did not believe in nor stand for a military solution to the issue faced by the Tamil people, and that the current military operations are strictly to defeat and disarm terrorism.

I am absolutely clear that there is, and can be, no military solution to political questions. I have always maintained this. A military solution is for the terrorists; a political solution is for the people living in this country”, he said.

In an interesting revelation of both political thinking and strategy, President Rajapaksa gave what one can see as the 4-D formula, in his evolving Chinthana on the current situation in the country and the search for a solution.

He told the Editor of The Hindu that his approach to a political solution rests on four ‘D’s - Demilitarisation, Democratisation, Development, and Devolution. He also said he would now set up a committee to benchmark the devolution process in the Eastern Province.

As The Hindu reported it exclusively, President Rajapaksa said: “Let me reiterate that my Government is firmly committed to a negotiated political solution - based on devolution of power and ensuring the democratic, political, including linguistic, rights of all our Tamil brethren within an undivided Sri Lanka,” “As President of Sri Lanka,” he explained in this tranquil setting (at Temple Trees), the official residence of former Prime Ministers, “I am absolutely clear that there is, and can be, no military solution to political questions. I have always maintained this. A military solution is for the terrorists; a political solution is for the people living in this country.”

“Noting the tardiness of the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) in coming up with its final proposals, he asserted: “I myself will take charge of the political process and see it through politically.”

He emphasised that “our military operations are directed exclusively at the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam” - a terrorists and secessionist organisation banned or designated as terrorist in more than 30 countries, including India - he renewed his call to the LTTE even at this late stage to “lay down its arms, surrender, and enter the democratic political process.”

“Maha puthra”

Still on India, one is increasingly concerned at the direction that Indian politics is taking when one sees the developments in Mumbai, the financial capital of India, where a deadly campaign is under way to attack anyone from outside the State of Maharashtra (where Mumbai is located) who works there or even seeks qualification or employment there.

The recent killing of a rail passenger in this frenzy of ‘alien’ hatred, spanned by the Shiv Sena and the Nav Nirman Sena, the Raj Thackery political outfit, is frightening to anyone who values India’s secular traditions in modern democracy and the tradition of tolerance from which it draws strength.

The mobs in Mumbai are now targeting North Indians, mainly from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, regarding them as “aliens” who have no business to be or work in Mumbai, little realising that most of Mumbai’s slum quarters are populated by these people doing the essential low paid jobs that helps keep Mumbai ticking, even when the Sensex Index is down, thanks the credit crunch in the USA.

To make matters worse when there is the emergence of the “Saffron bomb” with reliable information that Hindu extremists are also involved in terrorist explosions, which the Indian establishment, the media and most of society believed was the activity of Islamic Jihadists only.

Organisations such as the Shiv Sena and politicians such as Bal Thackeray, with undertones of support from the BJP, and those who are engaging in increased terror in Assam, as well as anti-Christian terror in Orissa, are doing their own thing to tear apart the fabric of the secularism of the Indian State; which is frightening to those who expect India to give the lead in this part of the world to the aims and objectives of a tolerant democracy. In the various centres of violent conflict that are emerging in India today, one can see the rise of the “Bhumiputhra” or the “Maha Puthra” of Maharashtra mentality, with its highly insular and intolerant attitudes that do not match the scientific advance or the rising economic strength of India.

Media Awards

The Mass Media Foundation (MMF) had its third awards ceremony at the BMICH last Tuesday (28). It was well attended, and the honours largely went to well deserving persons from the media. Interestingly the MMF maintains it is not an organisation of Media Persons, but of ordinary citizens who have a keen interest in ensuring that the Media lives up to its social responsibility in carrying out its functions.

One cannot find fault with this aim, especially in the light of the list of near forgotten giants of the local media who were recognised for their contributions, as well as the number of excellent and rising journalists who were also chosen for accolades.

However, there seems to be some people who are hurt or see themselves as either being left out of the kudos that others received, angered about some others who did receive awards and recognition, with considerable caviling going on about it especially by e-mail. There are several such unwanted missives that I have received (and so have others).

Most have a common theme. It is the poor knowledge of English, among those involved in the MMF. One such e-mail of despicable frivolity titled: “Sakvithi Awards for Media”, (the implication is not in doubt) which was forwarded to me as private mail by another recipient.

I was present at that awards ceremony, and glad to see among those who were honoured persons such as Dr. Gamini Hatthtotuwa, Dr. Sucharitha Gamalath, Dharmasena Pathiraja, Tilekeratne Kuruvita Bandara, and Palitha Perera among the giants from the not so distant past and such examples of performing excellence as Sundara Nihathamana de Mel - as a Columnist and Editor, and Buddhika Weerasinghe in News Photography.

There were many useful categories for awards such as Feature and Supplement Editing, Magazine Editing and Advertising in the media too, which award went to JWT for its campaign for World Press Freedom Day.

The Editor of The Hindu of India was present to collect what the MMF adjudged was the award for Asia’s best journalist, and he had beaten Kundar Dixit of Nepal and Mohan Samaranayake from Sri Lanka.

With such a wealth of talent, experience and commitment to the cause of media being honoured, it can only be some mental aberration, if not contemptible jealousy that makes those who are engaged in this e-mail barrage against MMF raise questions about the rights of those who do not belong to the media to choose who is best in the media.

No doubt it is very good to be judged by one’s peers in any profession. But this does not mean that one is any less good if genuine talent and excellent performance is also judged as such by those who can look at things from outside.

But the infantile nature of these mailers is exposed when the most they can say for calling these awards a hoax, is that the organizers do not know their English, as if that is any criterion in choosing the best in anything, but awards for English writing.

The gravamen of their charge is that “The Media Foundation, a pretty absurd outfit seems to be encroaching into the arena of media, to set standards that they themselves are not aware of.” Obviously for those of cavil mail fraternity, media is the arena that is the preserve of those within it, and no others can set standards for it. Gone is the social responsibility of the media, as seen by others.

As for the poor English of the organisers there is misspellings galore in the mails I have received with “out fit” as two words and so too “news papers”. The mailer adds: “They seem to be doling out awards to English newspapers not knowing their own English murders not only the Queen, but her mother as well.”

Apart from the quality of English, pray, why drag the Queen Mother too, to display one’s own fragile knowledge of the Queen’s language, even if you believe it is your forte?


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