The question as to what Gandhi may have done in
Pirabaharan's timespace is
an interesting and important one. I can only conjecture.
Gandhi's deep commitment to non violence, I would
imagine that he would have sought to mobilise the Tamil people to disobey the
unjust laws that discriminated against them and he would have
launched a civil disobedience movement to secure freedom from
alien Sinhala rule.
Initially, he would have been attacked in the same way as the
Tamil satyagrahis in Colombo were attacked in 1956
when they protested against the Sinhala Only
"What happened on 6 June 1956 when the Sinhala Only Bill was being
debated in Parliament? The members of the Federal Party, exercising their undoubted
constitutional right, wanted to protest against the imposition of (the Sinhala Only) Bill.
The Members of the Federal Party said that they would sit in silence on the Galle Face
Green... It was a silent protest which they were entitled to make. What happened?
Hooligans, in the very presence of Parliament House, under the very nose of the Prime
Minister of this country, set upon those innocent men seated there, bit their ears and
beat them up mercilessly. ...
"Thereafter on that day, 6 June, every Tamil man was set upon and robbed. He was
beaten up. His fountain pen and wristlet were snatched away. He was thrashed mercilessly,
humiliated and sent home. The police were looking on while all this was happening before
their very eyes. Shops were looted... but the police did nothing... These (hooligans) were
instigated by some members of Parliament... they were heading the gang of hooligans. The
Prime Minister made a remarkably wonderful speech on that occasion. He came, he smiled and
he told the crowd, 'Don't do that. Rain is coming down. They will be cooled in no time.'
That was the type of appeal he made. If Sinhalese men were being thrashed by Tamils and
their ears bitten, I wonder whether the Prime Minister would have adopted the same
attitude." (Senator S.Nadesan Q.C., Sri Lanka Senate Hansard 4 June 1958)
Again, Gandhi may have led a salt march from Jaffna to the shores of
Batticaloa to establish the sovereignty of the Tamil homeland and he may have been
attacked by Sinhala mobs in the same way as those travelling to the Tamil Federal Party
convention in Trincomalee were attacked in 1958:
"The (Tamil) Federal Party's annual public meeting was called for
late May (1958). The conclave was to decide whether or not to undertake a Satyagraha
campaign now that the (Sinhala) Prime Minister had withdrawn his support from the
agreement he had endorsed a year before (the
Bandaranaike Chelvanayagam Pact).
"The outbreak of violence began when a train, presumed to be carrying Tamil delegates
to the meetings, was derailed and its passengers beaten up by ruffians. The next day
Sinhalese labourers set fire to Tamil shops and homes in nearby villages where they lived
intermingled with Sinhalese...
"Arson and beatings spread rapidly to Colombo. Gangs roamed the districts where
Tamils lived, ransacking and setting fire to homes and cars, and looting shops. Individual
Tamils were attacked, humiliated and beaten. Many were subjected to torture and some
killed outright... "
"Some ten thousand Tamils were reported to have fled their homes to seek safety in
improvised refugee camps... Many fled to the North by sea.."(Professor Howard
Wriggins: Ceylon - Dilemmas of a New Nation, Princeton University Press)
And as Gandhi persisted in his struggle, he may have been imprisoned. But,
the one thing that Gandhi would not have done would have been to contest a Parliamentary
seat. One can hardly see Mahatma Gandhi taking office as the
Leader of the Opposition in
Sri Lanka's Parliament.
But, as Gandhi's non violent campaign secured more and more adherents, the Sinhala
dominated Sri Lanka government may have unleashed a
genocidal attack on the Tamil people:
"...Clearly (1983) was not a spontaneous upsurge of communal hatred
among the Sinhala people.. It was a series of deliberate acts, executed in accordance with
a concerted plan, conceived and organised well in advance.... Communal riots in which
Tamils are killed, maimed, robbed and rendered homeless are no longer isolated episodes;
they are beginning to become a pernicious habit." (Paul Sieghart: Report of a
Mission to Sri Lanka on behalf of the International Commission of Jurists, March 1984)
Gandhi himself may have been charged for sedition under
Sri Lanka's 6th Constitutional Amendment for advocating
a separate state, even though such advocacy was by peaceful non violent means:
"...The key to its (the 6th Amendment's) effect is paragraph (1)
which runs as follows:- 'No person shall directly or indirectly, in or outside Sri Lanka,
support, espouse, promote, finance, encourage or advocate the establishment of a separate
State within the territory of Sri Lanka'. Anyone who contravenes that provision becomes
liable to the imposition of civic disability for upto 7 years, the forfeiture of his
movable and immovable property... the loss of his passport... the right to engage in any
trade or profession. In addition if he is a Member of Parliament, he loses his seat."
"The freedom to express political opinions, to seek to persuade others of their
merits, to seek to have them represented in Parliament, and thereafter seek Parliament to
give effect to them, are all fundamental to democracy itself. These are precisely the
freedoms which Article 25 (of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights)
recognises and guarantees - and in respect of advocacy for the establishment of an
independent Tamil State in Sri Lanka, those which the 6th Amendment is designed to outlaw.
"It therefore appears to me plain that this enactment constitutes a clear violation
by Sri Lanka of its obligations in international law under the Covenant ..."
Sieghart: Report of a Mission to Sri Lanka in January 1984 on behalf of the International
Commission of Jurists, March 1984)
Gandhi may have been sentenced to prison for sedition and may have been
killed in a convenient 'prison riot' in the same way as
and Kuttimuni were killed inside Welikade jail in 1983:
"Selvarajah Yogachandran, popularly known as Kuttimuni, a nominated
member of the Sri Lankan Parliament... one of the 52 prisoners killed in the maximum
security Welikade prison in Colombo two weeks ago, (on July 25) was forced to kneel in his
cell, where he was under solitary confinement, by his assailants and ordered to pray to
them. When he refused, he was taunted by his tormentors about his last wish, when he was
sentenced to death. He had willed that his eyes be donated to some one so that at least
that person would see an independent Tamil Eelam. The assailants then gouged his eyes...He
was then stabbed to death and his testicles were wrenched from his body. This was
confirmed by one of the doctors who had conducted the postmortem of the first group of 35
prisoners." (Madras Hindu, 10 August 1983)
And, ofcourse, if Gandhi had fasted, the fate that befell
Poopathy may have fallen on him - and Gandhi would have been allowed to die, and
labelled as an unreasonable trouble maker, who had not accepted
compromise of Provincial Councils instead of insisting on freedom, and who by his
actions was fomenting unrest which would spiral out of his control.
And Sri Lanka Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar (to use the temperate language that he
has recently used in respect of Pirabaharan) may have called Gandhi a "suicidal,
maniacal kind of a man who would ultimately prefer to bring his whole house down rather
than give in."
But in his death, Gandhi would not have failed - just as much as Thileepan and Annai
Poopathy have not failed in their deaths. As Aurobindo
wrote many years ago on ideas such as freedom:
"The idea creates its martyrs. And in martyrdom there is an
incalculable spiritual magnetism which works miracles. A whole nation, a whole world
catches the fire which burned in a few hearts; the soil which has drunk the blood of the
martyr imbibes with it a sort of divine madness which it breathes into the heart of all
its children, until there is but one overmastering idea, one imperishable resolution in
the minds of all besides which all other hopes and interests fade into significance and
until it is fulfilled, there can be no peace or rest for the land or its rulers.
It is at this moment that the idea creates its heroes and fighters, whose numbers and
courage defeat only multiplies and confirms until the idea militant has become the idea
triumphant. Such is the history of the idea, so invariable in its broad outlines that it
is evidently the working of a natural law...
But the despot will not recognise
the teachings of history have no
meaning for him. ..He is deceived also by the temporary triumph of his
repressive measures.. and thinks, “Oh, the circumstances in my case are quite different, I
am a different thing from any yet recorded in history, stronger, more virtuous
and moral, better organised. I am God’s favourite and can never come to
harm.” And so the old drama is staged again and acted till it
reaches the old catastrophe..."
And Gandhi, perhaps, would have said of
as he had said of Baghat Singh:
"His way is not my way, but I bow my head before one
who is prepared to give his life for the freedom of his people."
And, here I may be wrong, (and as I have said, I can only conjecture) I believe that
Gandhi would have also recognised that the cyanide capsule in the hands of the Liberation
Tigers of Tamil Eelam was evidence not of a simple minded willingness of a suicide to die
but of a fierce determination that cried out: ''I will not lose my freedom except with my
life'' and that it was this determination and this willingness to suffer, this
thyagam, which had found an answering response in the hearts and
minds of hundreds of thousands of Tamils living in many lands and across distant seas.