Friday, September 17, 2021

The purpose and significance of an MOU: Ravi Sundaralingam (Academic Secretary – ASATiC)

Democracy is an ideology only in the hands of those, who want to dictate. As a tool for the benefit of mankind, it is a practice based on the minimum of understandings reached (MOU) among largest number of people, who differentiate themselves as communities, societies, peoples and nations, and with many other identities, within a geographically defined region.

In this sense striving for such an understanding would be the main purpose of any democracy, which can be loosely stated as consensus building. In other words, democracy in action recognises that differences will and must exist if it to succeed. Differences will exist, as people have multi-faceted identities to suit their socio-economic and cultural needs, which some time have socio-historic basis. Differences must exist as any analysis or assumptions, idea or proposal have the inherent nature to be wrong due to the subjective nature of the subject, namely the nature and behaviour of people as individuals and collective.

If we subscribe to these observations, then democracy can only thrive when differences exist and trying to reach for an MOU is part of the process we call the social-transformation of a society. It is MOU that proposes and builds a community, nation, country, and a union such as India or European Union. It is the commitment and quality of such a search that binds these social-constructs together, and gives purpose and sustenance for human endeavour. Therefore at least in theory, no human issue can be excluded from these premises and left to some externally defined group or society.

It is our argument there cannot be a ‘unity’ among communities and peoples without MOU, defining the purpose for the unity and securing the necessary commitment towards it. Imposing an arbitrary unity on communities, largely feudal in their socio-economic and cultural activities has adverse effects as we have experienced of the Tamil communities in the recent past. The same is also true for the imposition of unity proposed under Sri Lanka, without a MOU to accept the plural nature of the peoples and the society.

Democracy as concept may be argued about, for its original ownership and about its practice within a particular political system. These have resulted in its identification with the West and the exploitation of the working masses within and outside. However, MOU need not suffer the same fate as the benign humans realised persuasion based on knowledge and understanding are superior to the strength and might of the forceful, therefore have been a feature of every society, from East to West and North to South, which had made that social transition.

MOU is also a restoring socio-cultural tool, especially among the societies where extremism and impositions of will of an individual have become the norm after a period of social attrition. Among the Tamil speaking communities it is observable, the transformation of those who conducted the most atrocious anti-humane acts as part of the LTTE or in the name of being against the LTTE, and denied all forms of democracy to others, speak the language of democracy, only among themselves in small groups. We see similar extreme transformations among some of the LTTE or one-time Tamileelam supporters, who have made the transition from being the admirers of Pirabahran to Mahinda Rajapackse in one clean sweep. This extreme oscillations like a pendulum, from one extreme end to other, is indicative that there are no equilibrium position they could recognise, a force to restore their self-confidence as ‘good-people’, who can do ‘good’, to reconcile with they said and did before and after, and the responsibilities thereof, which is for feudal societies is the failure of democracy in action, an absence of a MOU.

When Muslims were expelled from Jaffna almost all of us from the Jaffna communities kept quiet, now everyone of us have an Islamic-buddy, even to the extend of inviting Jihadies as ‘brovers’ into our bosoms. So we watch and hear the extremists renounce their past along with their own culpability or responsibility, by denouncing their past associates and leaders, and washing the consequences off their hands by loudness and abstinence from real action, except to propagate their self-interests.  With it they also renounce the fundamental causes that gave raise to the Tamil resistance movement and the peoples innate rights, without a care in the world about their positions just a few years ago.

Yet we should know, in a feudal society blaming and renouncing individuals for their indulgence would not do, when everyone can with all their problems find solace and refuge within a process of MOU.  In other words, MOU is also a cleansing process for the benefit of him or herself as well as the wider societies. The Truth Commission that sat through in sessions to receive the confessions of atrocities in South Africa was a process of MOU we can cite as an example, providing a basis for continuing social-dialogue though different avenues.

We cannot argue for the importance and purposes of having a MOU more so than we have already done and beyond many others who participate many other meetings and gatherings with this single purpose in mind. There were attempts within the Tamil movement when it was in its heady days attempts build consensus among the groups, knowing the socio-economic basis for the differences of the groups, under extraneous conditions to widen the differences. The ENLF was the product of this endeavour but, its benefits were forfeited by the LTTE by its criminal attacks on its fellow fighters, all in the name of arresting control to deny “outsider’s” penetration. Even for this betrayals those believe in the necessity of MOU persisted, and despite being confronted by adverse press proposed the possibility of achieving a result under the tutelage of Tamil Nadu CM, Kurunanithy, and even formed a discussion committee with the LTTE.

Though these efforts have nothing concrete to show for it, the relationships built and the experience shared has enabled many of those to go ahead and conduct the confidence building exercises, which materialised as the August the 2nd MOU Group. Its proclamations and resolution though are valid contributions to the process, it is only when others playing similar roles among the various other settings bringing their activities together, the real meaning of MOU can be achieved. It is to this end we must all work with a resolve as shown in the past irrespective of the obstacles.

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