Most observers expect the forthcoming parliamentary elections in April will throw new light on to the emerging political landscape in Sri Lanka. Taking their own propaganda as the facts the defeat of the LTTE and the end of the civil war are presented as landmark events as though were the politics that lead to that phase has been banished from the island’s history. With what evidence and logical arguments they, mostly weekly column writers, come to this momentous conclusion is not clear. May be that they anticipate the erosion of the Tamil community as a substantial minority to ever challenge the authority of the Sinhala state. Perhaps they are privy to very sensitive briefings from the external powers. For they know, unlike the locals it is they who can characteristically redefine the conditions that shape political trajectories of Sri Lankan people. In end as much in its beginning, the life the LTTE should be a casual cautionary example to this fact. If they mean for the first time in a parliamentary elections Sinhala political parties have to do without the ‘Tamil-issue’ to compete with each other or blaming Indian hegemony, though true they have nothing to do with the outcome of the elections. That doesn’t stop the likes of Gotabhaya and other ultras, who would want to make even demanding a federal constitution a treasonable offence, having a go.
A lesson in history
On a major scale, the British were the colonial overlords for the best part of the modern era in many corners of the world, and have the experience in redefining the socio-economical and ethnological topography of many people. How the introduction of Christianity, unitary administration & bureaucracy, English education, plantation economy and other aspects of English values have reshaped and redefined the whole basis of life of our island and its region are part of our history. When the entire nature and the potency of the fields and charges can be redefined in this manner, speaking about the trajectories alone is meaningless. This self-knowledge was evident when the Foreign Secretary David Miliband helped to launch the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) in the British House of parliament no less, ably assisted by his opposition.
He told the LTTE supporters that, “Tamils know to their cost the price of violence against them and in their name,” and “the civil war is over, and the civil peace has to be won”. Knowing the participants’ past, he also recounted the “countless” atrocities of the LTTE; holding their own supporters as hostages, forcibly recruiting child soldiers, refusing to allow dissent, etc, to justify the decision to eliminate the organisation, one of the fundamental charges in the field. The message was simple; the British don’t fancy the LTTE’s continued existence in any shape or form. No doubt, those studying the global perspective of the so called political trajectories of the Tamils would have made further calculations and deductions from the venue as much as the words spoken; Tamils should forget about setting up their own trajectories and orbits of fantasy, and should get on the one offered without protest.
It would be an attempt at absurdity to understand or explain the fuss made by the Sri Lankan government, its misreading the event as an encouragement to Tamil nationalism, and purposely misrepresenting it for their own anti-West rhetoric, hoping for a few millions at low rate from the Chinese. Unless, if it is their muffled way of ruing their primitive urge that lead to slaughter of thousands and defeat their ‘traditional enemy’ only to become captives of their own dastardly deeds, then it is understandable.
Milliband certainly didn’t identify anything that may be construed as a turning point. If he had, could that have been anything about the democratisation of the islands’ polity? Not a bit. According to Jeyadeva Uyangoda, a respectable reader of the conditions in Sri Lanka, it meant “the agenda of democratic reforms and political rights of the minorities are off the centre of politics as the defeat of the LTTE had reaffirmed the hegemonic hold of majoritarianism over the Sri Lankan state”. Surely, these assertions do not sound or appear like a turning point everyone is writing about? Uyangoda concludes there are no alternatives, therefore he only offers advice to the Tamils the real victims, not to those asserting the hegemonic majoritarinism, just as the British Foreign Secretary has done in his speech. His suggestion is for a “pragmatic approach” by the Tamil politicians by working with Sinhala parties. Many pundits echo this view as though were it is a newfound mantra.
Shouldn’t we have known of the consequences if the civil war ended with one side being a clear victor? Weren’t there a widely stated view by International community that there shouldn’t be such a situation, remember the statements after statements of “no military solution”?
If uprooting the LTTE only confirms the hegemonic hold of the Sinhalese over the state it is inevitable to conclude that LTTE was an important and integral part of an equation of a convoluted process to reform the Sri Lankan state.
That doesn’t mean the LTTE was ever a democratic non-terrorist outfit with the sole aim of democratising the Sri Lankan polity. Just as the convoluted intentions of the involvement of the outside powers in the interest of the Tamils or other communities in the island. Chisels and mallets don’t become weapon of their own, if properly used one can even carve out great art with them.
From this standpoint, the trajectories one would expect aren’t new but exactly what was expected if the Tamil militancy was defeated without a political settlement, unless foreign inputs are there to redefine them.
Other lessons from our recent history
The Tamils or any other people don’t choose to become violent and brutalised because they like it. History shows, barring a few with criminal tendencies most of the psychopaths become respectable leaders of ‘their time’ to guide ‘their people’ though difficulties or take them to historical peaks.
As youngsters in our villages in the North and East the violence we witnessed was the cruelty of castism in every facet of our lives, and in our mistreatment of our women. But the collective physical and mental violence we all endured are due to the periodic orgy of violence and killings against ordinary Tamils organised by the Sinhala politicians and later by the Sri Lankan security forces. The brutalisation of our passive society was so crude and our socio-economic progress was such that, we gave birth to an organisation like the LTTE. Every Tamil lived though this horrific period that ended with the massacre of 20 – 40 thousand Tamils in Vanni, was a witness, and a passive and silent participant in that process.
Yet despite the cruelty and blindness of the LTTE, arming ourselves wasn’t an option but a natural course of action. Pitted against a huge bully armed with all the state powers, and an ideology to match its brutality what other choice did we have? Further, if India was involved in the arming and assisting of the Tamil militancy for whatever it’s ulterior motives what other possibilities could have existed? Those asking us to look at ourselves can rightly point out the ineptness or the barbaric leadership of the LTTE and naivety in their political and military strategy. But could anyone ask us to reassess any of these events out of context, without any reference to the history and its period, the internal and external conditions that existed at that time?
While confusions due to the mixing the time and circumstances or importance of the defeat of the LTTE and any pivotal points in history are purposely perpetuated, we witness the opportunity is used to perpetrate one of the most heinous of crimes in the island’s history.
LTTE bashing was a pastime for many, and some Tamils argued everything would fall into to place once it was removed from the equation, which the Sinhala statists and chauvinists did as their duty without any kickbacks. Now the Sinhala hegemony over the island is established, and Sinhala chauvinist rhetoric is getting louder, the intellectual pretensions of those Tamils are nowhere to be seen. Some have begun to parrot the newly established Sinhala hegemonic nature of the state as a reality they had always accepted. Their intellectual acumen and honesty would have the respect if they hadn’t supported Tamil nationalism ever or repented and campaigned that Tamils should integrate into the Sinhala societies without any claims for political identities.
Our absolute horror and disgust however, are not at these shallow-minded image seekers but at the opportunism of the eminent members of the Sinhala communities at the attempt to wash away their sins for the systematic crimes of the state and some of their people against the Tamil speaking communities, along with the condemnations of the excesses and criminality of the LTTE.
Whatever the LTTE did in the name of the Tamils, we note mostly against Tamils, cannot be equated to the genocidal brutality of the Sri Lankan state to justify or wash away the responsibilities of the Sinhala people and their state. Until they repent and recompense and make effort to reconcile with their own past they should be ashamed to be even consider themselves to be part of humane family. And if anyone were to hold them in par with the Germans for their crimes against all the peoples in Europe, Turks for the massacres against the Armenians, and the Australians and Americans against the natives, which some Sinhala scholars might even consider an honour at their present state of mind, then they are perfectly justified.
In the same token we as Tamils must take full responsibility for all the brutality and criminality of the LTTE against all the communities in the island, particularly the Tamil speaking Islamic communities without any conditions or reservations. Furthermore, unlike the LTTE and other Tamil nationalists such as the TNA we must accept the Tamil speaking Islamic people have exactly the same ownership and rights over the lands they live, the so called ‘Traditional Homelands’.
TNA and the politics of the past
If the promise of a new dawn in the Sinhala polity is a false prophecy, for the Tamils it is back to square one with the TNA. Reading its manifesto one would have realised its attempt to steal the Tamil-nationalist cloak, accumulated by the painful scarifies of the LTTE’s cadres and other Tamil militant groups without taking any responsibilities for LTTE’s wrongs, despite being part of the LTTE for more than a decade. A trait that runs deeply ingrained in the behaviour of the ‘moderates’ Tamil politicians. When as young hired hands in TULF’s Youth Front Pirabaharan and his friends eliminated the opponents of the party its leaders gave refuge to the killers, only to distance themselves whenever it was politically convenient.
Beyond this, some of its members have even started to claim, ‘the reorganised Federal party with an assortment of all sorts are the “sole-representatives of the Tamils”. An amazingly unfortunate and discredited phrase borrowed from the world’s shortest book on political phrases, by the LTTE and its supporters. Another was the meaningless phrase, the “internal-right to self-determination”, to represent its climb down from “Pullikalin thaham Tamileela thayaham” (Sole aim of the Tigers is Tamileelam) to a practically valid federal proposition, to create an ambiguity that it had an option of a separate to please its backers abroad.
Though the TNA has declared itself away from the call for a Tamil separate state it uses the same language of ambiguity, “internal-right to self-determination” and other LTTE phrases. Its insincerity on this nonsense unfolds on two fronts. Firstly, it is the question of the feasibility of achieving a “federal solution” by itself, in the parliament and perhaps with no more than 15 MPs, and secondly the absence of a strategy towards this grand cause.
Three decades of LTTE’s protracted war and its many military victories, three phases of International mediation and negotiations, and the MoU and the ‘Vanni-Government’, lead us nowhere but to the cul de sac where the total destruction of the LTTE and the disorientation of the Tamils were guaranteed. Those with memory and political insight will recall it was the disenfranchisation of the Tamils in the parliamentary process that lead the TULF to declare for a separate state in Vaddukoddai, with total customary insincerity. It is no surprise TNA continue with this trait and has returned to the politics of three decades ago. For it knows the only thing that holds true today as in the TULF’s days is the ineffectiveness of the Tamil MPs in the Sinhala house of parliament. Under these circumstances apart from the noise what promises the new crop of Tamil warrior MPs could keep, which the LTTE couldn’t for years of tears and blood is question the TNA would never answer.
If TNA meant what said in its manifesto it would have taken the lessons from LTTE’s mistakes and worked out a ‘Minimum of Understanding’ among all the Tamil parties, and fielded candidates to represent that ‘unity of purpose’. Instead, it has spurned all such chances, apparently even offers from other parties, undermined those who are already in their fold and placed the ‘restoration-Federal Party’ as its priority. It may be its behaviour fits in with the expectations of any outside powers to weed out the “militancy” from the Tamil polity, but says nothing about TNA’s leadership.
Its sincerity could have been assumed if it had sought and ensured political partnership or at least a Minimum of Understanding with major Muslim political groups. How can the TNA propose any solution for the North and East without consulting the Islamic communities, who share the “Tamil Traditional Homelands” is unbelievable, and naturally enrages many Muslim politicians.
When these major structural flaws are not addressed and ways to approach them are not even explored and discussed how can its manifesto speak with sincerity for a solution to the people in the North and East?
Then there is the question of those in the military prisons and detention camps. The TNA if it is sincere about their welfare and release, shouldn’t they have presented a comprehensive program? That would mean TNA taking a political stand and posture that would not unduly worry anyone of the security needs about any residual violence, and a sustainable socio-economic program to get everyone, including the Expatriate communities, constructively engaged? Instead TNA is making ‘demands’ from a ‘nationalist’ platform knowing it would only ensure the captivity of those people, while its candidates promised to “work” for their release and so on. Very least, couldn’t the TNA have at least set up a process through their organisations to compile a list of those who have perished in the death zones and those in the military camps to share information and empathy with those, who after all volunteered to sacrifice themselves on our behalf?
Just as its former TULF-self, TNA could or would not speak about the socio-economic conditions of the ordinary people in the North and East, and the Tamils in the Upcountry. Its only remote reference to the basic needs is its ‘demand’ for constitutional powers to negotiate foreign investments directly.
Many of its leading members having been residents of Colombo, during and after the LTTE, couldn’t have been blind to the mushrooming of many parts of Colombo and its adjoining regions on Tamil Expatriates foreign exchanges and investments? Yet, they have blindly rededicated themselves to the single task of “liberating the Tamils”. Are they also blind to the fact, many LTTE supporting Tamil Expatriates are now in the island with investment portfolios and bags full of foreign currencies and in partnership with one or the other Rajapaksas? Why is that these alleged LTTE people want to make deals with their killers than the ‘new sole representatives’ of the North and East?
We know large project need large sums of money and cannot be relied upon the drip and drab effect of the Tamil Expatriates. Still, our concern should be about those volunteered on our behalf, readily willing to suffer pain and death and did so profoundly. Now the TNA’s has come to collect their ‘good karma’, claiming what they had earned, shouldn’t they be offering something in return other than mere words?
Then again, the TULF and its real origin the Federal Party or the Tamil Congress Party have no history of fighting for the ordinary man, except to ask him to fight their high-browed courses. Federal Party conducted a Satyagraha campaign against the Sinhala letter ‘Sri’ appearing on vehicle registrations, while the Tamil civil service union organised a strike against the state directives, sat through the parliamentary sessions when the state banned the export of tobacco, the life blood of the ordinary Tamil farmers in the North, and in its entire life said nothing about the Tamil working men and women.
It is they, the poor and the socially and economically weaker elements of our society that paid the price for fighting the course of the wealthy and the propertied classes. With its history, it is only the false philosophers can now expect the TNA, the Federal Party (Tamil Arasu Kaddchi) but in name; you only have to visit its web-site to confirm this, to be any different. If you failed to notice, then the general profile of the candidates it has picked to fight its protracted war, i.e. all kind of elections, will give you that message ‘in your face’ without any hesitations.
Without the number to make any difference in the parliament, having denied of the LTTE’s military as a leverage, and not made an effort to make a common understanding among the Tamil groups let alone the Muslim groups, the only strength TNA could be counting on are the pressure from the foreign powers and, on the long run, the support of the Expatriate communities.
It is unlikely the ‘International Community’ approves the noises TNA maks nor we are provided with any evidence to that effect. The Expatriate communities are still under the influences of the former LTTE fronts going about their own merry ways of voting for Vaddukoddai, Sithankerni and for the very ambitious Trans Global Tamileelam, and the TNA has done nothing to persuade their support for them or desist them from supporting these groups.
Understanding our history
While the former political allies of the Tigers are quick off the mark to harvest the LTTE’s pain without any due for their sins, only fools will expect the new Federal Party (TNA) to understand the commonness in conditions between the various communities without the label ‘Tamil’, a consistent criticism by other progressive thinkers of the Tamil politics. For TNA, Uyangoda’s “pragmatic approach to Sinhala polity” would only mean making unattainable demands in order to gain coalition party positions in the governments and its institutions for its members, families and friends.
It is a painfully logical conclusion that LTTE as a militant unit could have played an important role to democratise the political structure of the island if and only if it had not embroiled itself in the TULF’s (Federal party) politics of Tamileelam nationalism. The elimination of the LTTE would have been meaningful if it were the Tamileelam politics that was destroyed.
That would have given us a chance, a cleaned-slate, to understand the history of the island differently from the TNA, TULF and their parent the Federal Party. Then we would have relearned to understand every struggle from the point of view of the common workingman consistently, irrespective of his self-identities, based on his experience as a person living outside the Western province, within the context of his particular experiences due to his self-identities. We understand without job prospects self-worth and wealth in all regions, democracy is undermined and meant nothing in practice. In this context, how can we avoid seeing the similarities between the two uprisings of the rural Sinhala youth under the misguided leadership of the JVP and the liberation war under the LTTE?
Naturally nationalist see a world as truncated entity full of sovereign states, therefore a brighter future for ‘the people’ only in a separate state. While some social revolutionaries think by simply making the common ownership of the production and the means of production, democracies can naturally evolve everywhere.
Neither is true of course, not viable without the flow of capital whether organised and regulated by the market or the state.
The regional youth gained a huge amount from the free education system, but were failed by the state that created not enough jobs for them. The education in Sinhala and Tamil brought inclusivity to many, which also placated the nationalists on both sides, but restricted intellectual transfer, cross fertilisation of ideas and money and real employment.
Investments outside the Western province since ‘independence’, particularly in the dry zones have been sparse while being discriminatory against the Tamils, but the consequences are there for all the communities to share. Chauvinists taking control of the state misappropriated the ordinary man using ultra Sinhala nationalism, and make use of the ‘Tamil-issue’ to promote insecurity among the Sinhala people. Tamil nationalism fell into the trap of the TULF and extended into Tamil-Internationalism without a thought of the poor, thereby increasingly distancing itself from the struggle of the other communities.
EROS founder Ratnasabapathy understood these basic arguments when he proposed an alliance among all the Tamil communities in 1975 for a collective campaign for the democratisation of the state. His thesis was based on these points: (1) Tamil speaking communities face discrimination on two counts; firstly as working people by a system supervised by the state, secondly as Tamils by the state in the hands of the chauvinists. (2) Without the restoration of the full democratic of rights the Tamil speaking communities social democracy for all the people in the island would not be possible (3) A fundamental social change is necessary among the Tamil communities if their struggle is to succeed. (4) Tamil speaking communities constitute a nation. (5) Given the internal, regional and international conditions a struggle by the Tamil speaking communities is the best means to democratise the state.
Three decades and four Tamileelam wars later how should we pursue or reassess these basic positions today? That is, twenty years after the collapse of the bipolar world and in the context of a multidimensional world and the globalisation of the world trough market economy which of these are tenable and which need reinterpretations?
It is perhaps instructive to note the changes in attitude of our brethren across the waters towards the Indian union and Hindi, and the influx of Hindi speaking people into their state. But, more interestingly we should also take a closer look at their positive attitude for the SEZs (Special Economic Zones). There is always opposition to the these foreign investment zones with respect to the competition for resources, environmental concerns, real term commercial and financial benefits, and sustainability in many parts of India, not in Tamil Nadu.
The fact that Tamil Nadu is firmly committed to the union of India is not a news and the integration process is not just about its economic progress and cabinet seats in the central government. Globalisation cycles money, ideas and people beyond the recognised state borders, creating renewed flow of wealth and energy, and with it newer meaning to state borders and people within them. During the past two decades India has also been involved with its own ‘internal-globalisation’ among it various nations and communities. These have direct reflections on the economical and social progress they have made during that time.
Under these circumstances, SEZs are seen as a means for social progress, especially by those form the lower rungs in terms of wealth and cast. Tamils of all casts are willing to sell their lands to SEZs are a major step away from traditional farming activities, the main stay of the economy until now, which is a clue that they are on the verge of a major social transition in these parts. It also shows our feudal attachments with the land are only temporary and we would gladly exchange them for higher social attainments. It would not be a surprise for us to find out that the Tamils in the island, particularly in the North have also reached that stage where the claims over their land are an exaggeration, and perhaps even an impediment for their social progress.
However, the Tamils in Tamil Nadu didn’t tumble on to this position simply by central government coercion or Dravidian capitulation. It was a process that involved the Expatriate know how, flow of capital, ascendancy of ethnically pluralistic and representative central government, and above all the rejection of regionalism and parochialism by the Tamil politicians in realisation of the potential of their people. The confidence they have gained due to these as Tamils in India is no doubt a tremendous boost to any policymaking regarding the state.
How can Tamils in Sri Lanka feel the same when the conditions faced by them are quite the opposite?
In Tamil Nadu, gone are the days when the mock-Bramins were flocked by the black-shirts in the front of political parades. Now they are a sought out breed, with money and knowledge gathered elsewhere, once reviled and driven out of Tamil Nadu. Tamils of Sri Lanka are no different, vilified for their successes, condemned for their political aspirations and massacred by the state and some section of the Sinhala people for being Tamils, they have proved to be even bigger success elsewhere. Can they play a constructive role in the rehabilitation of the socio-economic situation in the areas where they live and its surrounding districts? Could it be that instead of being the failed revolutionaries, they become successful farmers of an economy that empower the people in the dry zones? If they stand on to the flawed beliefs about ‘traditional homelands’ and “internal self-determination”, and speak of a politics of democratisation and social progress exclusively for the Tamils, then they will only draw the attention of the type given by the likes of Gotabhaya and suffer without any gain for them.
Tamils under the ‘new sole-representatives’ or those on the Mahinda family’s payroll are very unlikely to surmount these conceptual mountains and speak of a trajectory away from the past. In our feudal democracies, with the power concentrated in the hands of a few families, they are likely to be the orbits around the donkey fodder of a history, unless there is a determined effort by the International Community, particularly its neighbour India.
Until such time arrives, the field is clear for the self-declared charges with inflated egos to flex their parched veins as Olympian muscles to impress their friends and relatives to their heart content.
Academic Secretary, ASATiC.
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