ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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LTTE and Its Separate State Project

The ltte's separate Tamil state project faces a "quasi-state trap" in which the group finds that only by war can it defend the state-like entity it has built over the years. But the defensive war it has been engaged in exposes the vulnerability of its state-like behaviour. The ltte's "state" is also overdeveloped militarily but grossly underdeveloped in civilian governance. Making matters more difficult is one fact (the Tamil group has never built a strong and autonomous political movement) and one trend (globally the legitimacy of minority nationalisms is in decline).

LETTER FROM SOUTH ASIAdecember 29, 2007 Economic & Political Weekly8LTTE and Its Separate State ProjectJayadeva UyangodaThe LTTE’S separate Tamil state project faces a “quasi-state trap” in which the group finds that only by war can it defend the state-like entity it has built over the years. But the defensive war it has been engaged in exposes the vulnerability of its state-like behaviour. TheLTTE’S “state” is also overdeveloped militarily but grossly underdeveloped in civilian governance. Making matters more difficult is one fact (the Tamil group has never built a strong and autonomous political movement) and one trend (globally the legitimacy of minority nationalisms is in decline).In the context of the escalating war be-tween the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), it would be quite useful to subject to some critical scrutiny the LTTE’s sepa-rate state project.The LTTE as the leading political- military entity of Sri Lanka’s Tamil nationalism has been seriously pursuing a self-determination goal. The LTTE politics can be described as specifically grounded in a state-seeking minority project. In the development of this project, theLTTEseems to have accorded utmost priority to two strategic paths – engaging in a protracted war and setting up structures of a regional sub-state. During the past few years, the LTTE has also been behaving like the ruling class of an undeclared, regionalquasi-state. Describing theLTTE in these terms might be seen by some in Sri Lanka, and even in India, as blasphemy. Yet, employing the statist concepts to characterise what the LTTE is all about will actually help, rather than hinder the under-standing of the limits of theLTTE’s secessionist project. In some of my recent writings, I have argued that by “thinking and acting like a regional sub-state”, the LTTE has come to be caught up in what may be called “quasi-state trap”. Interestingly, theLTTE has not declared independence, nor is it possible for it to pursue that path under the regional and global conditions at present. In the face of the continuing and relentless military onslaught by the Sri Lankan state, theLTTE has been progres-sively losing the “territories” that have been under the military-administrative control of this undeclared quasi-state. In this sense, the war in the present phase of the conflict has extended the bound-aries of the Sri Lankan state deep into the LTTE’s regional sub-state.I have also been reflecting on the political consequences of the military and quasi-state dimensions of the LTTE strategy on the larger Tamil nationalist project. My tentative thoughts, which may most likely be confirmed or refuted by the way the war develops in 2008, suggest that the Sri Lankan Tamil nationalist project in its LTTE-ist form, has reached a crisis, a way out from which is not easily conceivable. There are four major reasons on which I base this observation. Two of them are about the limits of the LTTE’s strategic path. The third is linked to the limits of minority nationalist politics in the con-temporary global context. The fourth is linked to the resurgence of Sinhalese na-tionalism as the leading and most effec-tive force to define the process of state for-mation in Sri Lanka, despite the armed resistance by minority Tamil nationalism. TheLTTE’s strategic path, as mentioned earlier, has had two major components: the protracted armed struggle as the only and exclusive means to achieve Tamil na-tionalist rights, and the setting up of struc-tures of a regional sub-state as the proto-type of the institutionalisation of gains of the armed struggle. The strategy of armed struggle appears to have now reached a point beyond which it can no longer serve the Tamil national goals. The fact that the LTTE has built up over the years a formi-dable fighting machine is probably correct. But, the armed struggle has not taken the politics of Tamil resistance to a realm in which secession can be politically and morally justified, or even feasible as a project. What it means is that the LTTE may possess the capacity, the commitment and the will to continue the war with the Sri Lankan state for many more years to come, but such protraction of the armed struggle is not likely to emancipate the Tamils as a sub-nation in Sri Lanka. Historical TrapThis backdrop makes it possible to argue that theLTTE is caught up in the trap of armed struggle. This is, one can also say, a historical trap. The Tamil armed struggle began in Sri Lanka in a world-historical context in which armed resistance against Jayadeva Uyangoda (uyangoda@gmail.com) teaches political science at the University of Colombo, Sri Lanka.

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