May 22, 2000


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The Rediff Interview/P Nedumaran

'The LTTE is a freedom movement'

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There is a huge laminated photograph of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam chief V Prabhakaran in P Nedumaran's office. And that says it all.

As convenor of the Tamil Eelam Supporters Co-ordination Committee, he had organised a pro-LTTE conference in Chidambaram early this month, but the meeting did not take place as Nedumaran and hundreds of associates were arrested for defying a ban and organising a meeting in support of the LTTE. It was only a temporary ban, he insisted, and was hopeful that the court would permit him to hold the meeting soon.

After an interview with Shobha Warrier, he gave her many pamphlets and magazines hailing the struggle of the Sri Lankan Tamils. He then asked her, "You are a Malayali, are you not?" She replied in the affirmative. He then told her that there were many Malayalis in Sri Lanka and they were the first to be driven out of the island in the Thirties; then the Tamils and now the Sri Lankan Tamils! Excerpts from the interview:

The LTTE is banned in India. Why do you support it even though it has been described as a terrorist group by the world?

The LTTE has been banned based on false charges by the previous Congress government. It was charged with wanting to form a Tamil Eelam which included Tamil Nadu in India. But the LTTE has never claimed any part of India. It is a false charge. They also charged that the LTTE trained youths of Tamil Nadu to create trouble in India. In fact, the Tamil Nadu police arrested those youths and filed a case against them. But the court dismissed the case and they were released. The allegations were politically motivated.

So, you don't consider the LTTE a terrorist organisation?

No. It is a freedom movement. There is a great difference between a terrorist organisation and a freedom movement.

Was the LTTE not responsible for the assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi?

The charge has been levelled against the LTTE repeatedly. No court has proved that the LTTE was responsible. A lower court sentenced 26 persons to death. The Supreme Court intervened and released 19 of them. The sentence of three persons has been reduced to life imprisonment. The others have filed mercy petitions. Of the 26 persons, none belong to the LTTE and it has been proved in court.

Why do you support an organisation that functions in another country?

Why do the Indian government and Indian political parties support the freedom struggle of Yasser Arafat? It is the freedom movement of another country.

In this case, it is not the Indian government that is supporting the LTTE and its so-called freedom struggle, but only some political parties and groups in Tamil Nadu.

We want the government to support the cause. We want the government to support the LTTE.

Do we not see parallels in what is happening in Kashmir and Sri Lanka? India criticises Pakistan for supporting militant organisations in Kashmir, but Pakistan says they are helping the freedom struggle. The same can be said of India, if it supports the LTTE.

There is a difference between Kashmir and Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka, Tamils are treated as secondary citizens. No Tamil has become president so far. Only a Sinhalese Buddhist can become president. The Constitution says so. In India, a Kashmiri can become president or prime minister. Anybody who resides in India, any Indian citizen, can occupy the highest posts. But in Sri Lanka, they don't recruit Tamils in the army, they don't recruit Tamils in the police force, they don't give jobs to Tamils. So you just can't compare the situation in Kashmir to Sri Lanka. How can you?

But is it not Sri Lanka's internal matter?

Was not Bangladesh an internal matter of Pakistan? Why did India interfere and support their freedom struggle? Why did you send the Indian Army to free East Bengalis from the clutches of Pakistan? If it was an internal matter of Pakistan, why did you extend support? You have supported the Bengalis, but not the Tamils...

Wouldn't Pakistan say that if India could support the cause of a separate Tamil Eelam, we could support the freedom of Kashmiri Muslims?

What is India's record? India has always supported the cause of oppressed people. In 1946, when an interim government was formed with Jawaharlal Nehru as prime minister, Indonesia was struggling for freedom, and they were opposing the Dutch army. Nehru convened the first Asian conference in New Delhi in support of Indonesia's freedom struggle. From Nehru to Indira Gandhi, every Indian leader supported the cause of oppressed peoples, whether they were Palestinian Arabs or blacks of South Africa or the people of Indonesia.

So you want the Indian government to support the LTTE and not the Sri Lankan government?

Yes, because successive Sinhalese governments have been against India. In 1962, during the Indo-China war, Sri Lanka did not support India. During the Bangladesh war, Sri Lanka allowed Pakistani planes to fly over the country. So Sinhalese governments have always been against India. But Sri Lankan Tamils have always been great supporters of India.

Do you support Sri Lankan Tamils because you consider them brothers?

Yes. They are our kith and kin and we have to support them. In America, New Zealand, Canada and Australia, you have English-speaking people. And they considered Britain their motherland during World War I and World War II. In future too, they will come together and support each other. It is natural. In Fiji, when people of Indian origin are attacked, the Indian government supports them.

Why is Tamil Eelam not getting international support?

Who says so? In 1995, a Canadian parliamentary delegation submitted a report to the Canadian prime minister. It emphasised that Canada should raise the Tamil issue in the Commonwealth. They supported the cause of the Tamils.

Now, when the war is on, no country is openly supporting the LTTE. Every country is supporting the Sri Lankan government.

It is natural to support ruling governments. When the LTTE declares Tamil Eelam, the situation will change and some governments may come forward to support it. What happened in Yugoslavia? What happened in Kosovo? What happened in East Timor? For 10 years, they were struggling and no government came forward to support them. Now, every country is supporting them. When it is necessary, everybody will support the LTTE. There is no doubt about it.

Now also, no government has come forward to support the Sri Lankan government except the enemies of India: Pakistan, Israel and China. Nobody else supports them. When India refused to give arms to Sri Lanka, they immediately went to Pakistan. What does it mean? At the same time, the LTTE never approached Pakistan or China for support. They do that because they do not want friends among India's enemies.

As convenor of the Eelam Supporters Co-ordination Committee, you were to address a pro-Eelam meeting in Chidambaram early this month, but the government did not grant you permission and you and many others was arrested for defying ban orders. You later said you would approach the court and it would grant you permission. Why are you so confident?

We don't bother about any ban. It is our duty to support the cause of brothers and sisters who are fighting for their motherland. In a democracy, we have got every right to speak or preach. You have banned the LTTE. We say it is an illegal ban. Do we have no right to say that? We have every right to say that the ban is illegal.

You are giving only moral support to the LTTE?

Yes. We are also approaching people to gather more support.

Has support from people in Tamil Nadu ended?

No, go to the people and see for yourself.

The government also said there is no sympathy for the LTTE. Many newspapers also wrote so.

Some from the media here are trying to create a false notion.

Was the charge false?

The Hindu and some other Brahminical newspapers have ganged up against us on Tamil Eelam and many other issues. We want Tamil as the official language in Tamil Nadu. They oppose it. We want Tamil to be taught in schools. They oppose it. We want Tamil in temples. They oppose it. They are always against Tamil.

But they are also Tamilians.

No, you can't consider them Tamilians. How can we consider them Tamils when they oppose the language and Tamil Nadu? In Tughlaq, Cho Ramaswamy wrote against making Tamil compulsory in schools. He wrote that Sanskrit should be taught. So I asked Cho why he was publishing his magazine in Tamil and not in Sanskrit? He kept quiet.

A Dravidian party is ruling Tamil Nadu. The chief minister is not openly supporting the LTTE, though he did earlier. In fact, he was for the continuance of the ban on the LTTE. Comment.

He may change his opinion any time. He has done that in the past and there is no doubt he will change colours in future.

You mean he will support the LTTE in future?


Why is he not supporting it now? Is it because he is in power?

Ask him that.

Why is he opposing the LTTE? Is it because his party is part of the National Democratic Alliance at the Centre?

He will change his stance soon. When the Indian Peace-Keeping Force returned from Sri Lanka, he said on the floor of the assembly that he didn't want to receive the IPKF because they killed his people! He did not attend the function. But when questioned by the Jain Commission, he denied that and added, "I really pity the IPKF because so many soldiers lost their lives and they suffered a lot. So I didn't want to attend the function." There is a great difference between these statements. The press should write about this.

What are your plans for the LTTE? How will you support the Sri Lankan Tamils?

We have formed the Tamil Eelam Liberation Supporters Organisation and I am its convenor. More than 80 parties and organisations are under its umbrella.

Are the MDMK and PMK part of the organisation?

No, they are co-operating with us. We conduct seminars and conferences. Last year, we had organised a seminar. The government banned it. Then we approached the high court which declared the government order illegal. More than 20,000 people attended the conference.

What about India's stand?

It is very good. Almost all political parties endorse it. It is a good beginning.

You mean, not interfering in what is happening in Sri Lanka?

Not interfering militarily.

The Indian government says it will give humanitarian help.

When and how? The Sri Lankan government wants to evacuate 30,000 stranded soldiers under the guise of humanitarian help. Humanitarian help should not be given to an army; it should be given only to the people. When army personnel surrender and lay down arms, they become prisoners of war. Only then the issue of humanitarian help arises. If the Indian government helps them get out of the Jaffna peninsula, you can call it humanitarian help. In that case, you are not helping the army. If you help the army escape with its arms, it will be considered military help. It should not be given.

What happened at the time of the Bangladesh war? About a lakh [100,000] Pakistani soldiers surrendered and with the help of the Red Cross, they were evacuated from East Bengal. They never allowed the Pakistan Army to get out with weapons.

You expect the Indian government to act the way they did during the Bangladesh war?

Yes, yes.

Is your ultimate aim a separate Tamil Eelam?

There is no alternative for the Sri Lankan Tamils. For 10 years, they tried peacefully. They did not get anything from the Sinhalese government through peaceful means. Two successive governments signed agreements with Tamil leaders, but they were never implemented. The LTTE wanted Tamilians to be treated equal with the Sinhalese and they wanted Tamil to be treated equal with the Sinhalese language, but the Sri Lankan government does not agree. They want to treat Sri Lankan Tamils as secondary citizens.

Do you agree with the violent acts of the LTTE?

If you can agree with what Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose did, you must accept this too. We hail Netaji as a national hero. You must apply the same yardstick to Prabhakaran. But you treat him as a terrorist. It is wrong to treat him as a terrorist. You hail Netaji as a national hero, but treat Prabhakaran as a terrorist! No, no.

Are you in regular touch with Prabhakaran?

Not now. There is no way to contact him.

Do you expect victory for the LTTE?

Certainly. There is no doubt about that. It is only a matter of time. The Sri Lankan Army can never enter Tamil areas again.

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