Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Life without the Tigers

It is a difficult part of the year for many in India this year - the heat and the elections coming together. Temperatures across the country are soaring; heat waves and deaths resulting from them can be expected any time now. The poor in the villages are perhaps the worst affected, with no money to go to a doctor when an emergency strikes.

As far as the elections are concerned, the cacophony is yet to start, of drumbeats, fire crackers and loudspeakers, all used to tempt people to vote for candidates whom they hardly know. In Tamil Nadu, the elections are quickly coming under the shadow of the catastrophe that is unfolding in Sri Lanka. A 'general strike' has been called for tomorrow, to protest against the Lankan advance into LTTE's last bastion. Images that are coming from the last-held LTTE territories are most discomforting. Civilians are fleeing, families, the elderly and children. Most people are in a state of sever shock. People are dying by the dozens daily and many, many more are getting killed in the firing. With the Sri Lankan government keen to finish the war against the Tigers, a war that has been raging more 26 years now, there seems to be little chance of a ceasefire.

Many of those fleeing have been shown in videos worldwide. They say that they are looking forward to the war getting over quickly so that at least future generations will be able to lead a life of peace. Sri Lanka or Ceylon as it was called in the days when I was a child was once considered 'paradise on earth' - loving and warm-hearted people, great countrysides and tea and coffee estates, and an old-world charm everywhere. 1983 changed all that, with the LTTE and other Tamil groups surfacing and demanding a separate Tamil state, and the massacres that followed. Repercussions of all that did not take too long to hit Madras. There were shootouts in T Nagar and in Kodambakkam. And, of course, we all know about the IPKF and the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi.

What started as a possible legitimate demand by the Tamils veered out of control, so much so that the LTTE was banned as a terrorist organisation by even the United States. Many LTTE leaders have died over the years, but more in recent months and weeks. Others have deserted the force, significantly one of its trusted lieutenants at one time, Karuna, now part of the Lankan government machinery. The script is long dead, and as the end of the war draws near and when you think of the future generations of Tamils in Lanka, you know that the past 26 years have not really been an investment for them. It was in many ways a script that went terribly wrong.

A word about Prabhakaran. Charismatic, even good looking (he could have made a dashing hero in a Kollywood film), he was ruthless and brooked no dissent, qualities that are needed to run an organisation like the LTTE. He created a cult following and has remained elusive in recent years, adding to the legend. What will happen to him eventually is anybody's guess, but if any harm were to come to him, the echoes will be strongly felt in Tamil Nadu.

If only the LTTE and the other Tamil groups had agreed years earlier to a power-sharing agreement with the Lankan government, with the territories in the northeast under their suzerainty, things might have been different today. Nobody here is actually looking forward to the finale. The thought of a Tiger, long held under captivity, being driven to extinction is not really the perfect ending for this story. But then, reality can throw surprises.

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