Annamalai, BJP, Tamil Nadu, Britain, LTTE, Sri Lanka
Tamil Nadu BJP chief K Annamalai interacting with students from India at Warwick University in the UK on June 25. (Image: Twitter/@annamalai_k)

On British soil, Annamalai berates India’s pre-2014 Sri Lanka policy

It will be totally erroneous to say that India could have 'easily intervened' to stop the war in Sri Lanka in 2009

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If the BJP president in Tamil Nadu is to be believed, India could have easily intervened in 2009 to halt Sri Lanka’s military blitzkrieg against the Tamil Tigers that ended up massacring innocent Tamils, but it did not do anything. On the contrary, those in Tamil Nadu then who called themselves friends of Eelam Tamils were busy coveting plum ministers’ jobs as the Congress-led UPA alliance prepared for a second term in office in New Delhi.

Predictably, K Annamalai’s remarks in London elicited wild clapping from the dominantly pro-LTTE audiences he addressed. Those in the Tamil diaspora who have stood by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) even after its military defeat were happy to hear what they always believed in: that the LTTE could have lived on but for the “betrayal” by the Congress-led Indian government.

Watch: Tamils battle minority status in eastern Sri Lanka

Annamalai, who has undoubtedly taken the BJP’s standing in Tamil Nadu media to a new high since becoming the state unit president in July 2021, also took potshots in London at the traditional Dravidian leadership. He accused the Dravidian politicians of doing nothing solid for Sri Lankan Tamils except to make emotive speeches. The BJP, he told the Sri Lankans, is different, and, for good measure, underlined that he was only speaking half of what he wanted to say because he, an Indian leader, had to be careful with his choice of words.

Pro-LTTE diaspora finds new friend in Annamalai

It is not surprising that the pro-LTTE diaspora appears to have given up on Tamil Nadu’s traditional political leadership despite the decades of vocal backing for the Tamil Eelam cause and have opted for Annamalai, who could be a good bridge to the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. On his part, Annamalai, both in London and during his earlier trips to Sri Lanka’s northern region, has constantly spoken about the Hindu Tamils, much to the chagrin of those in the island nation who are more eager to flaunt their Tamil ethnicity than religion.

Just as Tamil Nadu’s traditional leaders refused to speak the truth to the LTTE during the long war, Annamalai made no mention – unless he did so in private conversations – about the LTTE’s role in hoisting a totalitarian thinking on the Tamil society at the expense of democracy, the wanton decimation of all Tamil critics, armed and unarmed, the forcible recruitment of children in its fighting ranks, the slow but sure turn against India over the years, the war against the Indian military in 1987-90, the assassination of former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi (for which the LTTE remains outlawed in India), the way it derailed the Norway-led peace process and how it covertly helped Mahinda Rajapaksa to be the president, an act that ultimately led to its own destruction.

LTTE’s obduracy in rejecting peace process

No amount of grief over the killing of thousands of innocent Tamils in Sri Lanka’s north in 2008-09, during the end stages of the war, should gloss over the fact that the LTTE’s obduracy was one of the prime reasons for the way a prolonged conflict for a Tamil homeland ended up in a bloody mess. As Western and other diplomats who dealt with the LTTE have repeatedly said, if only the Tigers and their chief Velupillai Prabhakaran had embraced the Western-backed peace process from 2002 sincerely, the future of Tamils would have been better, if not rosy.

Opinion: Why LTTE can never be revived

By covertly helping Rajapaksa to become the president by ordering Tamils not to vote for Ranil Wickremesinghe in the 2005 presidential election, the LTTE betrayed the man who took political risks by signing a peace pact with Prabhakaran. The LTTE then provoked President Rajapaksa in 2006 and got a war it could not win. In less than three years of the final phase of the bloodbath, the LTTE became history.

If Annamalai had spoken any of the bitter truths about the LTTE, the reception he got from those who heard him would not have been so cordial. Indeed, even as the BJP leader underlined the importance of the 1987 India-Sri Lanka peace accord and the 13th amendment that flowed from it to devolve powers in the island’s northeast, the Tamil Guardian immediately pointed out that “the 13th amendment has been roundly criticised by Tamil activists for failing to deliver meaningful devolution or a lasting solution to the ethnic issue”.

Indian intervention in Sri Lanka in 2009 was not feasible

India has made many mistakes vis-à-vis Sri Lanka, particularly since it launched a covert intervention after anti-Tamil riots gripped Colombo in 1983. But it will be totally erroneous to say that India could have “easily intervened” to stop the war in 2009. Indeed, no country, not even the United States, could have butted in at that stage. New Delhi poked its nose when the Sri Lankan military was about to deliver a huge blow to the LTTE in February 1987, only to see the Tigers launch a war on India months later. Any Indian intervention in 2009, when Sri Lanka was determined to wipe out the LTTE, would have led to a far more horribly messy situation. But Annamalai made it sound as if it would have been child’s play for India!

Also read | 13 years too late: As ethnic fault lines blur, what it means for Sri Lankan Tamils

Tamil Nadu politicians may have added fuel to the Tamil fire in Sri Lanka. Tamil groups from Sri Lanka were themselves caught up in the vortex of Tamil Nadu politics. Then chief minister MG Ramachandran covertly funded the LTTE and allowed various groups to have training camps in Tamil Nadu. When he took power, M Karunanidhi also tried to humour the LTTE. But the mass of people in Tamil Nadu sincerely backed the Tamil cause until developments both in India and Sri Lanka slowly undid the popular support.

Annamalai’s week-long visit to London and whatever he spoke would please a section of people in Tamil Nadu and perhaps deliver some votes to the BJP in a state where it is desperate to expand. Without taking names, he hit out at the DMK and the Congress, the latter for not doing enough for Eelam Tamils till 2014 when Annamalai insisted India’s policy has become Tamil-friendly. All this is unlikely to change the nature of the pro-LTTE diaspora. Curiously, a Sri Lankan Tamil MP who put out flyers in London hailing Annamalai was just then touring China – a country the BJP leader targeted in one of his speeches as a “Big Brother”.

Also read | Sri Lanka’s mass graves: 75-page report reveals chilling findings

Where Annamalai sounded refreshing was when he spoke about the long suffering of the Indian Tamils who populate Sri Lanka’s tea-growing hills. It is a community most Tamil Nadu politicians and the Sri Lankan diaspora normally don’t bother about. One thing is certain – there will be many more interactions between the Sri Lankan diaspora and Annamalai, as long as he helms the BJP in Tamil Nadu or, better still, goes up the political ladder.

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